There has to be some type of draw to your class for the kids to remember you and what you teach them. I am naturally an introvert and tend to be shy; however, I have strong opinions and feelings about certain topics that prompt me to step out of my shell. I am passionate about good grammar and consider myself a grammar cop. I tell the kids, “I don’t make the rules; I enforce them.” I believe that a certain amount of schtick is involved in teaching. You have to have some gimmicks, tools, and catch phrases/idiosyncracies, or they go to sleep. Sleeping is not permitted in my class. I use Mr. Hammer to cure the sleepies. Mr. Hammer aka the “Hillbilly Attitude Adjuster” is a rather crude-looking mallet Mama gave me years ago. It stays locked up in my closet at school until I find a dozing student. Taking off my shoes and tiptoeing softly, I slip up on Jimmy Badboy like a panther. He doesn’t hear me coming. I warn other students to be very quiet as I’m hunting rabbit a la Elmer Fudd. Sleeeping Beauty dreams on. I find an empty desk nearby and loudly whack the mallet. Sleeping Beauty awakens and never ever dozes off again. Jimmy Badboy sees the gleam in my eyes and realizes the error of his ways.
For Red Ribbon week, I have a glitzy red page boy hat along with my ruby red slippers to complete my “woman in red” look complete with a red dress. This is the outfit I wear in the kids’ nightmares. I tell them they can never outrun me in their nightmares and even give them a time when I’ll haunt them. I usually complain that I don’t have an opening at something like 3:15 A.M. but mention that I can fit them in at 3:14 A.M. I say, “When you roll over tomorrow morning and see that bright red digital display reading 3:14 A.M., you know that you’ve seen me, baby. You can’t ever outrun me in your nightmares!” I’ve actually had a couple of students tell me, “Mrs. Johnson, I really did see you in the red dress.” I smile and laugh wickedly. You have to keep your bluff in and keep them guessing about what you’ll say or do next. I tell them I’m predictable about what we do each day; I am unpredictable about what will come out of my mouth.
Some kids were squabbling in class years ago, and one called the other one a name. I asked if his name was Adam. He replied in the negative. “Ah, so if your name isn’t Adam, you aren’t the first man, and you don’t have the privilege of naming all of God’s creatures like he did. Do you have a belly button?” The student’s eyes were saucer-sized, so he didn’t dare lie to me at this point. With a rather sweet-looking smile, I said, “If you have a belly button, your name isn’t Adam. He was the first man God created, and he didn’t have a belly button. When you have your own kids or discover a new country, then you can name something.” He didn’t name anyone else within my hearing for the rest of year. I think I shocked him.
One day while something else was going on in class, a student loudly said, “Oh my God.” Bad move. “We do not take the name of the LORD in vain. We do not swear by Heaven because it is His throne nor by the earth because it is His footstool.” He was speechless. The words just came to me. I didn’t rehearse them, but I sure said them.
Some kids make me laugh with their antics, so I lovingly refer to them as turkeys. Last year, it occurred to me to ask my prospective turkey about the stuffing I will use. “Do you like white, wheat, or corn bread?” They make a choice. “How do you feel about onions, celery, and butter?” I tell them it doesn’t matter since I’ll be stuffing them with whatever I choose anyway. One group called themselves the Turkey Brigade and made a flag that I had laminated as a keepsake of that notorious second period group. They wrote their names on it so I would never forget them. I love those kids!
I enjoy a strong rapport with most of my students. One day, several years back, in my sixth/seventh period class, I told one student he was dead meat on a stick. “Oh, you mean a corndog!” I laughed that he was right and then told him I use mustard on my corndogs. Ever since then I have kept an unopened container of mustard on my desk. I shake it at recalcitrant students who are about to be made into corndogs. Some wits have retorted that ketchup was better. I told them, “If you’re the corndog, it doesn’t matter what you like. What matters is what I like.” The nerve!