Monday, February 21, 2011

Dad's Adventures In Teaching

As you may already know, my dad was a high-school Math teacher.

Over the years he relayed many tales about his teaching experiences... including the time his students decided to paint holiday representations of the teachers including this one of my dad as Santa:
Santa Dad

There are four anecdotes that have particularly stuck with me over the years.  I thought I'd share them here.

I Need Some Help With This Equation... or RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP!

One day dad had his class working on some math problems when one of his students put up her hand to ask for his help.  He went over to her desk to see where she had gotten lost in the equation, and just as he bent down to peer at the paper, there was an unmistakeable ripping sound from directly behind him.  The class burst into laughter, while dad's face undoubtably became a rather deep shade of red.

Shocked and embarrassed, dad quickly backed away and excused himself from the classroom for a moment.  He wanted to check out the damage.  The thing was, his pants were perfecly in tact.  There was no tear to be found on any of his clothing.

Mollified, he returned to the classroom only to find that the student sitting directly behind the girl who had requested help figuring out the equation had two pieces of cloth stuffed under her desk.  They had planned the entire thing to make him think he had ripped his pants.

I think it was quite some time before he was able to look at this event (or those students) with humour instead of humiliation, but eventually it became one of his favorite stories of pranks pulled by students.

Passing Notes
WARNING!  This is not a happy story.  If you can't handle sad things, skip ahead to the next one.

Dad had a rule in his classroom that if he caught someone passing a note in class, he would not only confiscate it, but read it then and there.  This horrified some of his students, but they never knew the real reason why he was so adamant about it.

Once there was a girl in one of his classes whom he caught passing a note to a friend.  She was a girl like any other in the class, nothing made her particularly stand out.  He saw the note being passed and confiscated it on the spot.  Not looking at the note, he stuffed it into his desk drawer and carried on with the lesson.  He didn't give it another thought.

The following Monday dad arrived at school to the news that one of his students had committed suicide that weekend.  It was not until days or weeks later that dad found the note in his desk.  It said something along the lines of:  "I can't take it anymore.  I'm going to kill my self this weekend."

The note was this girl's last cry for help, and it went unheard.

The incident deeply affected him.  It think it kind of broke him in a way.  I don't know if dad ever fully got over the guilt of that feeling of "what if?"  What if he had read the note?  What if he hadn't confiscated it, and the intended recipient had read it?  What if someone had heard that last deperate plea for help?  What if?

His students may have thought of him as a hard-ass for reading any confiscated notes, but I think it was his way of trying to make things right.  He never wanted to relive that experience, so he did the only thing he could think of to make sure it never happened again.

Your Test Or Mine?

One year, dad suspected some of his students of cheating on their math tests.  In order to catch them he devised a cunning plan.  For the following math test he created two tests.  Each test had questions that were of equal difficulty, but different variables.

For example, one test might have question 1 as "2b + 4 = 14  solve for b"  while the corresponding question on the other test might have "3a + 5 = 23 solve for a."

Dad placed the tests face-down on the desks in a checkerboard pattern so that each person in front and behind as well as to either side had a different test.

The students came in, wrote the test and left.

When dad was marking the tests he found that one of his students had copied every answer (including the wrong ones) from the person in front of him... He hadn't even looked at the questions on his own page... or he would have realized that his neighbour was solving for "a" while he was solving for "b."

Needless to say, that student recieved a big fat zero on the test and a trip to the principal's office.

Dad decided that this method of weeding out the cheaters had worked so well that from that point on he always made two tests for every class, laying them out in a checkerboard pattern.

Singing Detentions

This is probably my favorite story about my dad's teaching experience.

Like most teachers, dad had some students who managed to earn themselves regular detentions.

Unlike most teachers, dad sometimes employed a rather unique method of encouraging his students to avoid being put in detention more than once.

Dad loved music.  He could remember the names of songs and artists that he had heard many years before.  Often he would remember the lyrics to songs that nobody else knew.  My parents were once excluded from a competition in a pub because the person running the "free drinks" bet knew they could sing every word of the obscure song "Propper Cuppa Coffee." They were members of the local Folk Song Society and used to have regular "folkie" parties at their home.

While dad loved music, when it came to singing himself... well lets just be polite and say he was a little on the tone-deaf side.  Added to that, his choice of music would not have fallen into the category of what his students would have concidered "cool."

During one noteable detention he decided to try an experiment.  He sang "The Red Corvette" by John McCutcheon. When he had finished he asked each of the students a question about the song.  If they answered correctly, he let them leave.  If they answered incorrectly, he sang it again.  Most of the students got out of there after the second performance, but one student could not answer a single question right.

"How much did the car cost?"
"I dunno."
(Sings song again.)
"What kind of car was it?"
"I dunno."
(Sings again.)
"Why was she selling the car?"
"I dunno."
(Sings again... and again... and again...finally throwing up his hands and asking:)
"What colour was the Corvette?"

The student still couldn't answer correctly, so they both had to suffer through the full detention.

Years later, former students still warned thier siblings and friends not to get detention with Mr. S, or they might be subjected to the torture of one of his infamous singing detentions.