SPLOT, Round #2

SPLOT #2
(continued from previous entry)
I am obnoxious.  And I really dislike being told I can’t do something.
Which is not to say that I’m a daredevil.  Not even close.  I have a highly developed sense of self-preservation and an overwhelming tendency to use the left side of my brain.  I’ll offer you a standard example:
“Hey, Teach!  I’m going to TP the principal’s office.  You in?  I need you to ask for the keys, because no one trusts me.”
Thought process:
  1. That’s funny as hell.
  2. Principal guards key to his office like a maniac.
  3. Principal never smiles.
  4. I hate getting in trouble.
  5. I’m respected as a competent teacher here.
  6. Why am I respected as a competent teacher here?
  7. Ah, right…because I keep my shenanigans to myself.
  8. I walk the line.  I don’t screech across it in mini clown car wearing a gorilla suit and banging the cymbals.
  9. I have a mortgage to pay.
  10.   That still would be funny as hell.
“Nope.  Too yellow-bellied, friend…but here’s a list of the few folks I know for a fact have copies of the key.”
Do my quick little jig on the line, then go about my merry way.
It’s what kept me somewhat out of hot water these years.  I occasionally sit in the jacuzzi, but I have yet to incur third-degree burns.  I am, at heart, a chicken-shit.
Still, social norms annoy the piss out of me.  So do societal standards.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching someone question what’s “acceptable”, think it through, then do the complete opposite of what is expected.
Which, perhaps, is why I adore teenagers.  It is also what brings me back to SPLOT – the Singing Pigs Laws of Teaching.  Societal norm regarding teaching number 1#:  pretend teaching is all noble, serious hard work that should be addressed in a noble, serious, politically correct manner.
Bullshit.  And if you go all serious and noble on your students, you’re going to be screwed.  Because…
SPLOT #4:   Students will always put more effort into getting around the rules than following them.
I get it.  Oh, I totally get it.  
One achieves some sick pleasure in working the system, that just can’t be experienced by following the rules.  You disagree?  You lose.  You’re reading my blog.  You just threw the system out the window.  And if you’ve ever chuckled at what you read, you’ve undoubtedly joined the dark side.  Admit it.  Getting around the rules is fun. 
So why do teachers get our hackles up when teenagers cheat, plot, mislead or otherwise figure out how to work the system?  Honestly?
Because they’ve outsmarted us.  
Truth be told, we’re even bigger snots than they are, and when the kids beat us at our own game we get madder than hell.  But spun right, a little anger (and a little competition) can do a person good.
They’re figuring out ways to cheat your system.  So figure out ways to cheat theirs.  The number one source for information on how to do that?  The students.  Ask them.  Teenagers love, absolutely adore telling on themselves.  They’re clever enough to come up with some good ideas, cocky enough to try them, and young enough not to have a fully developed brain-to-mouth filter. All you have to do is catch them off-guard (in other words, when they’re not in immediate danger of getting in trouble,) and they’ll give you all sorts of useful information.
Tsk, tsk,”  I fake a disappointed sigh while pretending to grade during my study hall.  “If you’re going to cheat,” I say, loudly enough that the kids sitting closest to me can hear, “at least do a reasonably passable job at it.”  I throw down my pen on a stack of papers and lean back in my chair in mock exasperation.  The students nearest me smile compassionately with brown-nosing sympathy.
“Seriously guys,” I say sincerely.  “I’m going to let you in on a little teacher secret.  I know kids cheat.  I know I don’t catch all of the cheaters.  But if you cheat so badly that you get caught, then you totally deserve it.  So at least put some effort and creativity into it and save me a headache.”  The sentiment is sincere.  If I don’t know someone’s cheating, I’ve just saved myself a lot of time.  But now I’ve totally caught my kids off-guard by acknowledging cheating and sort-of condoning it.  Time to move in for the kill. 
“The trouble is, I know I can never keep up with teenagers and their overactive minds.  Every time I think I’ve got the list of possible manners of cheating down, someone adds something new to it.   It’s freakin’ ridiculous.  Seriously – how do you people come up with these ideas?”
That should do it.  The kids usually pick up the conversation for you, enthusiastically telling the most creative ways their classmates have cheated.  I lean back, relax and take mental notes.  By the time you’re done with your ed degree (or by the time you’re through high school yourself), you should certainly know the most obvious:  writing on a hand, an arm, the desk you sit at.  Shoving papers under folders, taking pictures of test on cell phones, stealing tests out of printers, blah blah blah.  


But one kid, I discovered via my spying, actually made the equivalent of a massive cheat sheet, scanned it into his computer,  reduced it in size, printed it out and put it on his bottle of Vitamin Water with the exact same font as the real thing and neatly labeled “Vitamin Water.”  He then sat and literally drank in the glory during his entire exam.  I howled at that story.  Mostly because what that kid doesn’t realize is that by putting that much effort into cheating, he 1)  spent more time thinking about and planning for the exam than he would have had he just sat and studied and 2) By making  such a detailed cheat sheet, he probably learned all the information he needed to know anyway.
God, I love it when kids totally screw themselves over by learning.  Mr. Vitamin Water, I tip my hat to you.  Even if writing the answers on the inside brim is so 1990.
SPLOT #5:  As a teacher, you will screw up everything, yes everything, you do.
I’m not saying your won’t have shining moments of magnificence.  You are magnificent.  You’re a teacher.  You’re either magnificent or insane.  Likely a combination of insane magnificence.  Or magnificent insanity.  Or…
Whoops.  Sorry.  Back to the point.
If you do manage to do something magnificently, I can guarantee you one of two things: 1) you either screwed up whatever you did the first time and had to tweak it to achieve magnificence or 2) You accidentally achieved magnificence the first time, but in using the exact same activity in the future, will totally screw it up.
Or both.  Without fail.
In Spanish, teaching the preterite and the imperfect bites.  Big time.  It’s a concept for the past tense that doesn’t exist in English, is governed by extensive but ambiguous rules and changes depending on the mood of the speaker or some vague, untranslatable innuendo he/she wishes to make.  It’s like teaching fog.  Misty, murky, and occasionally slimy.
Ok…to be fair, it’s not really slimy.  I just liked the analogy.  But after ten years in the classroom, I finally nailed it.
I watched it approach with dread.  I sighed with annoyance.  I calculated my kids’ grades, figuring they needed to be able to cushion the inevitable lousy score they would get on this test with their standard good work on others.  I changed the assessment calendar, gave them an extra week.   I designed extra practice, held extra office hours, planned, planned, planned, described the rules twenty different ways.  I beat them over the heads with a two-by-four labeled “Understand this!
It worked.
“A. B. B. A. B. A. A. C. B. C….” I read through my test scores skeptically.  “Something’s not right.”  I handed them off to a colleague who skimmed through them.  
“Wow,” she said.  “You’re right.  These are really solid scores.  How’d that happen?”  
One would think that since I had met my SPLOT duty of having pathetically mucked through the preterite and imperfect for the previous nine years, I might be allowed a moment of magnificence.  
Nope.  Not for long.
They did, indeed, nail the test.  And one week later when the exact same material appeared on the final exam…They bombed it.  I, however, found great peace in knowing that the immutable laws of the universe still reigned.  The preterite and the imperfect still suck.
Your lesson plans are going to go over like lead balloons.  You will suddenly forget the rules to an activity you’ve done twenty times.  Students will hate the fun stuff and adore the stuff you hate. Nothing will work every time.  Best you just deal with it now.  Builds character.  Puts hair on your chest.  Makes you learn to whistle.
I dunno…that’s all stuff my grandma used to say when I didn’t like something…
SPLOT #6: You will be smacked upside the head with cuteness at the most inopportune times.
My first hour doesn’t behave like a normal first hour.  A normal first hour in the adolescent world is sleepy, quiet, lethargic and generally disinterested in anything that doesn’t involve returning to bed.
Mine is hyperactive.  
They switch seats when I’m not looking, play physical-contact vocabulary games, talk with anyone and everyone in the room whether they’re friends or not, and do anything they can to break whatever rule it might occur to me to attempt to enforce (see SPLOT #4).  
“Señora?”
“Yes, Pablo?”
“Aw, nothing.” (Pokes neighbor in the eyeball.)
“Señora!  Señora!”
“Yes, again, Pablo?”
“Never mind.  Got it.”  (Steals neighbor’s vocab sheet.  Neighbor stabs him with pencil.  Small battle between desks.)
“Señora!  SeñoraSeñoraSeñora!”
“WHAT, Pablo?!  For the love of (insert deity of your choice), you’re making me insane!”
Pablo grins happily.
“You’re a really good teacher, Señora.  Why don’t you teach other teachers how to teach?”
Stick a fork in me folks…
You teach.  Your job will be long, hard, and painful (and if you didn’t just chuckle at the double entendre in that, I sure as hell hope you’re not teaching high school) but one, just one, of those soulfully cute, sincere as a wide-eyed puppy dog moments…
Just one of those can keep you going another couple of years.  So collect them.  Treasure them.  But dear god, don’t get used to them.  
Your time would be much better spent learning how to dodge spitballs.

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