“I Didn’t Know I Was An Alpha Until I Cracked”

take pencils out of ceiling“Dear Teach,” read the email from a friend, 23 years old and two months into her very first teaching job at a Title 1 school.  “Teach me how to be a teacher in one minute or less.  Ready?  Go!  BWAHAHAHAHAHA.”

“Yup,” I thought to myself.  “She’s about to crack.”

It’s that gosh-durn hysterical laughter.  Clues me into a teacher on the edge, every time.

Take a school like hers, if you will.  Title 1 (which for you non American-ed folks, means that the school has a high population on free or reduced lunch, a major poverty indicator), a non-traditional public school (we’ll leave the details be, for her privacy) in an inner city situation.  Four principals in less than two years, a regular teacher turnover rate of 75% a year, and more child abuse hotline calls than Lindsay Lohan makes trips to rehab.

I got a whole load of blog posts about unstable schools, revolving door administrators, and the shit-show that inner city education can be, racing around in this snarky little head of mine. But that’s not why we’re here today.  No, my dear Singing Pigs.

We’re here to talk about losing it.  And gaining it all when you do.

Confused?  That’s because you’re behind.  Go back and read my last friggin’ post so I don’t have to summarize-schmumarize and waste a bunch of time.   If you’re with me, then 1) Thanks.  You’re my favs.  And 2)  sometimes…it only takes a tiny pice of paper to realize that you’re the boss, as I discovered when I sat down to follow up with this friend a year after her hysterical email.

Greta, as we’ll call her, was another one of the those diminutive, tiny-ass teachers who have no choice but to run their classrooms by the sheer presence of their shining  personalities because, even on a good day wearing three inch heels (which no teacher in her right mind would wear more than two days before realizing it’s a hopeless exercise in pain), they’re no bigger than a leprechaun in clogs.

In addition to the leprechaun-in-clogs height issue, this friend also faced the reality that her personality is about as intimidating as one might expect from an Irish mythological creature wearing a baffling style of Dutch shoe.  And, although not even I can clarify that last metaphor for you, I think we can all agree that scary, it is not.

But teeny tiny paper wads can put even the kindest of leprechauns over the edge.

“I knew they had them,” she told me.  “I don’t know what the f-bomb you call them, but they were flying all over my room.  And I was f-bombing sick of it.”

Harmless shreds of paper folded up into neat little projectiles and whizzed astronomical distances propelled by nothing more than rubber bands and a pre-teen aversion to paying attention.

Ping.  Ping, ping, ping, PING.


They shot around her classroom, under desks, behind a knee, when her back was turned, always present, but never visible until they came to rest on the floor, tiny little white projectiles of anarchy, staring her in the face.

“Guys, knock it off,” she said.


“Guys, stop.”  She turned around to resume teaching.  Ten more spent projectiles appeared on the floor.

“Alright.  I know you are shooting paper when I’m not looking.  It’s all over the floor.  It’s a distraction.  I am serious.  Stop shooting them immediately, or there are going to be consequences.”

Consequences? In a school preoccupied with abusive parents, breaking up fights, and dealing with teachers quitting mid-year?

Zing.  Pow.  Ping!

Greta looked at the clock.

Fifteen minutes left.

She looked at her students.

They stared back defiantly.

“That’s…it.  Get up!”  She said, loudly.

The kids blinked.

“I said, get up!”  She hissed.  The kids scrambled and stood.

“Move!”  She yanked a table roughly to the side, displaying the projectile-covered floor below.  The kids at the table quickly backed away .  Greta made her way around the room, yanking out table and chairs and scattering the students up against the walls in the process.  She grabbed a broom and started sweeping.

“Here, let us help you, Ms…” a couple of the more well-behaved kids made a move in her direction.

“Stay where you are!”  she continued her methodical projectile sweeping until the entire floor’s worth of paper sat in one neat, snowy-white mountain.

Then she pulled up a trashcan.

And a chair.

She sat down.

And one-by-one picked up each, individual, tiny, piece of paper and dropped it in the trashcan.  Methodically.  Slowly.  Each one.

One… she counted.


“Three…”  she glanced up at her students blankly.

They stared back in utter, freaked-out silence.

“Four…” she continued.



For the next ten minutes (ten minutes!) she counted, mechanically, until every last projectile was in the trash.

The bell rang.

The kids filed out.

“I don’t know what it is,” she told me, taking a sip of her wine as she recounted the story.  “But the next day, they came into my class completely silent.  And I haven’t really had trouble with them since.  I think I was just sick of being annoyed.”

I grinned.

Kudos, friend.

You just found your Alpha.

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14 Responses to “I Didn’t Know I Was An Alpha Until I Cracked”

  1. Finding your alpha–it’s a kind of mystic zen thing.

  2. R. says:

    Love it! Congratulations to your friend. She won more than one battle that day.

  3. eM says:

    She wasted their time (because she chose to clean up their mess) as they had wasted hers (while she tried to teach)–a natural consequence. Learning is far better than watching her pick up one tiny paper projectile after another, counting by ones. Plus (and I know this is politically incorrect) they felt ashamed, their own shame–and that is a powerful lesson.

  4. I used to have alpha but it gradually eroded away every time the school talked about ‘consistency’ being the way to excellence. There is no room for alpha in the ranks, then. If I used alpha in my class, and word got out, I’d end up having the smotheringly-dreaded word ‘unacceptable’ used against me, or, even worse, ‘unprofessional’. I have noticed my interaction with classes become more and more stilted, formal, slogan-reliant, and eventually stupid. I have learnt only to be stupid in all my years of teaching … military-teaching never works.

    • singingpigs says:

      I’m sad to hear you have had such a negative experience with teacher. There is, admittedly, a lot of BS, but in the end I do believe there are good schools out there, with good administrators and sharp teachers…but…there are a few not-so-brilliant ones as well!

  5. David says:

    As a principal I taught a workshop entitled, “How to be the Alpha Dog in your Classroom.” I think it is essential to sanity and a caring environment
    Watch Cesar Milan!

  6. i totally get it. –cracked. 😉

  7. NewTeacher says:

    Teach me your ways! I am in a VERY similar situation and NEED to find my inner Alpha!

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