Teaching In The Ice Age

I just bought a bag of frozen peas for my classroom thermostat.

The vegetable fix was the  genius idea of one of my students after I gave up a five year battle with an irrational heating and cooling system.

Señora, can I pleeeeease go get my coat?”  a student begged me my first week teaching at a brand new school.

“It’s August.  Nobody has a coat in their locker in August,” I retorted, certain the kid just wanted to pull one over on the new teacher.

“I knooooow,” she moaned.  “But it’s freakin’ freezing in here.  Someone in this building has to have a coat I can borrow.”

“You want to wander the hallway looking for some random jacket?”

The girl wrapped her arms around her body.  Her lips turned blue.

I sighed. “Go.”

“75!”  The digital thermostat insisted.  “82! 71!”

Suddenly, I realized what was happening.

My thermostat was dyslexic.

57…28…17…Of course!  Those temperatures perfectly matched my classroom in the summer air conditioning season!  And, being the experienced teacher I was, I knew exactly how to handle my thermostat’s little learning disability.  I wrote up an IEP and gave it to my facilities director.

“Preferential adjustments,” I listed under the Accommodations section.  “Time and a half for maintenance.  Copies of high-functioning thermostats’ user manuals.  Modeling of what appropriate temperatures look like.”

The facilities office responded with resounding silence.  I started collecting sleeping bags to hand out to students as they walked in the door.

“Soon,”  I told them.  “Soon it will be winter and the heat will come on.”  We whiled away the late summer days, waiting for that first morning frost, that first little dip in temperature that would produce the glorious click of a heater kicking on.  Oh, that marvelous burnt-dust smell of first heat!  Oh, hot dry air racing past my face!  Cracked hands, chapped lips, it was going to be great!

Turns out my thermostat wasn’t dyslexic.  It’s just plain cold-blooded.

The motivation of this horrible little gadget to maintain my classroom well below freezing when it was ninety degrees outside simply didn’t exist in reverse.  I watched both the leaves and the temperatures drop as September turned to October turned to November.

“45,” said the local weather report on TV.

“44,” countered my thermostat.  Which it hid very well, by pretending on its digital face that it was set to 70.

“Noooo,” I moaned realizing, suddenly, that I would never be warm again.

“32,” said the weather report.

“40,” offered my thermostat in an uncharacteristically generous moment.

Señora, you have got to to something, please!”  my kids begged as we huddled in our down coats and lit fires made from recycled homework in order to keep the ink in our pens from freezing.  “Why don’t you just turn it up?”

I glared at the clear plastic box, four inches wide by eight inches long that protected the device from all teacher retaliation for its poor behavior.

“See that little lock?”  I asked the kids, pointing to the box.  “I don’t have the key to that little lock.”

“Stick a paperclip in it!”  they replied.  “You could totally get a paperclip through one of those little holes.”

We spent the next fifteen minutes of class devising a paperclip contraption capable of pushing the elusive “up” button.  I slipped it though a small crack in the box and reached it toward the thermostat’s face.  Closer…closer…I hit the button and cranked the thermostat to 80.  We held our breaths.  The thermostat paused, thought about it, then bounced back down to 69 and blasted cold air at my face.  The little bastard had an automatic setting controlled by an Ice Queen.

There it had stayed ever since, blinking at me with not only the blatant lie of mild temperatures, but stubbornly settling on the most awkward number possible when dealing with teenagers.

“Seriously, Teach, how cold is it in here?” my new kids ask every year as they scrape the frost from their desks.

“69,” I say glancing at nemesis.

The kids snigger.  Then shiver.

Until, in one glowing moment of inspiration, the girl who had the bad luck to be sitting not only in my ice box of a room, but right by windows possessing an insulation ability comparable to that of a trash bag, thought up the pea solution.

Señora,” she said practically, while rubbing her hands together in cotton gloves.  “Why don’t you just set a bag of ice on top of the thermostat box or something?  Heat rises, cold sinks, the cold air will pass right in front of…”

“Genius!!” I shouted.  I bolted right then and there from my room to the grocery store.  Ice would drip water as it melted and possibly fritz the entire contraption, but veggies…veggies were good for you on so many levels. I returned the next morning peas in hand and a short sleeved blouse hidden under my wool sweater.

“Bring it,” I said to the thermostat, the peas still hidden behind my back.

“69,” it replied, then merrily kicked on the heat.  “70, 71…” Warm air poured through the room.

“Why you little…”

Señora…shush!  You might make it mad!”  My students interrupted my tirade before it began.  The girl by the window gently removed the peas from my hand and stuck them in my mini-fridge.  Then we held our breaths for a moment, stripped off our outermost layers of animal fur and quietly went back to work.

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11 Responses to Teaching In The Ice Age

  1. jesi says:

    Oh man when I work in certain rooms I cover the vents because they blow out cold air in the winter… books are GREAT for this… 🙂

  2. momx5 says:

    Love it!

  3. David Hazen says:


  4. NanG says:

    Just another of the MANY grievances we suffer in the classroom! Love your story!

  5. Susan says:

    I used to have to do the same thing with my thermostat. I had a cough syrup cup that I put an ice cube in. If you need cool air when it gets hot, put hot water in the cough syrup cup. One day a worker came by the check my thermostat because they were getting a funny reading on the computers. He saw what I had done, but he wouldn’t tell. I taught him. He knew I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t unbearable in the room. Of course, the designer of our buildings put in “shared” thermostats. If I left my room and turned off the lights, the thermostat cut down, thinking no one was in the room while the class in session next door suffered. I had to leave my lights on, which totally defeated the purpose of saving power…. The things we have to do.

    • singingpigs says:

      You are genius like my student. Never occurred to me. We have the shared thermostats as well, which often results in the teacher next door busting in my room to see who is colder/hotter or to try and get me to open my windows to regulate her class. 🙂

  6. beadstork says:

    Lovely. And I just thought my husband was the cause of my thermostat woes. He keeps them on 65 in the winter. “Wear layers,” he tells me.

  7. Laura Runco says:

    THIS IS MY CLASSROOM! ha ha!!!! AWESOME! We play all the same games trying to trick that little bugger!!!!!

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