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Teacher Cartoon Dude

Thursday, 05 Sep 2019, 19:57 UTC

There is a cartoon stick figure who makes an appearance in my algebra classes from time to time. He wears a top hat for no other reason than he is the teacher cartoon dude, and I need to distinguish him from the cartoon students who are usually seated. His role is to make sidebar comments about things that I don’t bother to say… um… except that I’m clearly saying them as I write his words.

Today cartoon teacher dude made his first appearance for a while. He was telling the kids what to do with extraneous solutions: “Ignore them!” As I drew the figure and began writing the words, one of the kids in the room threw down their pen and said, “I’m not writing that.” 

“That’s fine. You don’t need to.” I told them all that a long time ago.

Later, two of the students asked, “Mister, how to you draw your cartoons?” The two of them had a bet related to whether or not I picked up my pen when I drew the two legs. The bet ended in a draw (!).

Friday Night Game

Saturday, 31 Aug 2019, 13:32 UTC

For the most part, students like seeing teachers outside of school, although they don’t always know quite what to do. Some are enthusiastic (“Mr. Hasan!”). Some are nervous (“How are you?” “Ok… I guess. I mean…”). And some just pretend you’re not there.

In no particular order…

1. Fast Food

The guy behind the cash register at the burger joint was one of my students. We both smiled when he noticed me in line. He and I had previously talked about where he worked, and he had declined to be specific. (“Oh, I work at a place.”) Now I knew his secret: working fast food in high school — a fine American tradition.

After he ordered, he joked with me. “You took my phone today. I won’t accept your money. … Just kidding!”

But his demeanor was nervous, and it was hard to make conversation. He kept ending his sentences with “… I don’t know…”. Which is just fine with me. He was smiling and joking and talking, and that’s more than enough.

But then he said, “I’ll give you my employee discount, Mr. Hasan.” 

He punched up a couple buttons and my total went down by four dollars.

“Now you need to give me a good grade. … Just kidding!”

2. Trainers

Those must be your students, Mac said, pointing at the sidelines.

Intermingled with jugs of water, misting fans, a training table, and football players milling around, there was a group of student physical managers/trainers. They were looking in our direction. Several were students from last year. Others were students from this year.  They started shouting and waving.

“Hi, Mr. Hasan!” 

I waved my hands back and forth. They all laughed.

3. Four Feet Away

We were sitting in the parent section, one block over from the students. These were parents who clearly knew the kids well. They shouted hellos to the kids in the stands next to us and to other kids along the sidelines.

Around halfway thru the game, a student walked up to talk to the parents in front of us. She gave them hugs. She answered their questions. She had been in my class last year — easily one of the brightest students. 

She stood just below us facing up the stadium, looking directly in our direction. I smiled, expecting to make eye contact with her. She intentionally avoided me as she answered questions that the other parents were peppering her with. 

It was a bit odd. Her face was about four feet in front of mine. She certainly knew I was there. She couldn’t avoid seeing my smile, even if out of the corners of her averted gaze. But there was no break in the conversation when I could say hi to her. Then she sat down next to the parents with her back to us, dove into an animated conversation, and then got up and quickly left.

The Red Rocket and The Dangling Else

Thursday, 29 Aug 2019, 20:28 UTC

There was a cartoon on the screen at the front of the room. It was a hand-drawn thing, the sort I use a lot in class. The ground was green. The sea was blue. The rocket was red. … Yes. There was a rocket. What else would you use for a visual aid if you’re trying to illustrate real world applications of “order of algebraic operations”?

And then there was some code on the screen. Pseudocode to illustrate the point I was trying to make. An if-statement with a dangling else that made the code ambiguous in a glaringly obvious way. 

These were what they call a “hook”, something to get their attention. It seemed to work.

“Mister,” one of the kids in the back of the room said. “Did you really do this stuff?”

I paused and then said, “Yes. Yes I did.”

Upon Return

Wednesday, 28 Aug 2019, 20:47 UTC

I know. I went dark. But that’s the prerogative of a teacher, right? To go dark in the summer.

There is much to tell, and perhaps I might get around to telling some of it. But school has begun so for now, some things the kids said today…

1. Band

I was talking to a student who missed a test. She looked over her shoulder to another kid and said something about playing an instrument.

“Are you in band?” I asked. I had stopped by the field last night to watch them practice, and I didn’t remember seeing her.

“Yes, but I was gone yesterday.”

“I stopped by to watch practice.”

“Yes,” she said, “I heard.”

Um… what? She heard that I stopped by to watch them practice? I guess I earned points.

2. Smooth

I haven’t figured out the whole hand-shaking/greeting thing. Although as for that, I never figured out the hand-shaking protocol in high school, either.

I’m walking in the hallway before school. I see two of my students from last year. I say hi and reach out to slap hands with one and then the other. Just kind of winging it with the whole “what comes after the hand slap” thing. With one of them, the slap transitioned into a loose finger grip. With the other, it transitioned into a fist bump.

“Ooooh,” said the first kid. “Smooth.”

“Yeah, smooth Mr. Hasan,” said the second.

Smooth? Um… wait what was it I did, again?

3. Penmanship

I use colored pens in class. I write in my notebook that’s projected on the screen, and they write along with me. I draw red circles and blue arrows. I highlight multistep procedures in blue and math rules in red.

Today I was starting a new example, and I turned to the kids to have them talk to their partners about something.

One of them looked at the screen and said, “Mister, your handwriting is so neat.”

Okay! I explicitly told them on day one that our three objectives for the year were to learn to (1) think clearly, (2) communicate well, and (3) do some new math. I might have checked off #2 with them. And it’s only week three.

Um… of course there’s that “do some new math” thing. The year’s only just begun.

Not Nearly As

Wednesday, 28 Aug 2019, 20:26 UTC

And so year two has begun…

My throat hurt badly after the first day, although it didn’t hurt nearly as long as last year. My feet are sore again, although not nearly as bad as last year. I’m still one of the last teachers to leave my side of the building, although not nearly as late as last year. I’m a walking zombie living for sleeping on the weekend, although not nearly as undead as last year.

And here’s the thing of it. Unlike last year, when the weekend rolls around, I just can’t wait to get up and go to school on Monday morning. What a difference a year can make.

It Comes with Experience

Thursday, 23 May 2019, 19:32 UTC

Two grasshopper moments from this past week…

1. Sharpening Pencils

He came to sharpen his pencil. There is an electric sharpener sitting on a low table by the wall just below the whiteboard, and the students know that they may come up at any time to sharpen their pencils. A student who wants an effective writing instrument is a cause of celebration, not a reason to take offense at the interruption. (Although I confess that even I will roll my eyes mockingly if the interruption is particularly ill-timed and long.)

So there he was, bending over the table trying to sharpen his pencil.

They are not particularly good at this, these students. The world is too much with them. They push into the machine, and it jams. They are in a rush and do not wait long enough, and their pencils don’t get sharp, causing them to spend far more time at the machine than is warranted. This kid was no exception.

He jammed the pencil in. The sharpener stopped. He pulled it out and repeated the process with the same result. His frustration at failing to sharpen his pencil while the teacher quietly waited for him was evident. So I walked over to the table.

He looked at me. I reached out and without saying anything, I took his pencil, held it gently, and slid it into the sharpener which began to grind and whir. In a few seconds, a perfectly sharpened pencil emerged. I handed it back without saying anything and returned to my document camera.

He looked at me with a smile on his face — a smile somewhere between, “Yes I have learned the lesson” and “I see what you did there.”

2. Rolling and Unrolling Posters

She was struggling with a cardboard tube, trying to get something out. After watching her fiddle for a while, I walked up.

“Having trouble?” I asked.

“I can’t get the pictures out of this tube.”

These were panoramic photos of the graduating class taken the week before. The school hires a photographer, prints the photos and gives them to the seniors as a graduation gift. She wanted to see the photo.

I reached for the tube. She raised her eyebrows doubtfully but handed it over. Everyone in the room stopped to watch.

I took the tube in one hand and put two fingers from the other hand into the tube. I turned my hand a few times, and then I slipped the pictures out of the tube.

“Where did you learn to do that!?” she said.

They were great photos. The entire graduating class was arrayed on the bleachers in the gym wearing blue robes. She unrolled the prints and showed them to the other kids. Then she tried to put them back. After a moment, she looked at me.

“I can’t put them back.”

Everyone stopped to watch.

I rolled up the prints loosely and took the roll in one hand and put two fingers from the other hand into the roll. I turned my hand a few times, tightening the roll. I slipped it into the tube and handed it back.

Checking Her Answers

Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 20:24 UTC

The period was over. Most of the students had turned in their tests. I scanned the room and saw a student closely examining hers — not rushing to get one more answers in but rather looking it over closely.

She was done. She had answered every question. And yet, she didn’t just hop up and hand it in to quickly be rid of it. She was double checking, going thru the questions one by one to make sure that she bubbled what she intended. With one hand, she would point to a piece of scratch paper where she must have done her work and then move her other hand down one line on the answer sheet, looking briefly at each sheet before she continued.

I haven’t seen this before — this kind of attention to detail. I have good students, so I’m sure I’ve missed some of it. And I must tell you that it was a fine thing to see.

So Happy Day

Monday, 20 May 2019, 20:14 UTC

A student came into my classroom one day after school last week. She wanted help going over some problems. She found a spot to sit and took the chair down from the desk. We started working problems.

I would help her a bit and then suggest that she see how far she could get while I worked on the other side of the room packing up my teacher stuff for summer. After a while, she would ask for help. We would work together, and then she’d work alone again.

We spent much time in this back-and-forth. At least an hour, and then she came back the next day to continue. She was patient, even when the problems were difficult. I’m not sure how deeply she absorbed the material, but then ask yourself how deeply you absorbed algebra when you took it.

When we were done, she packed her things and got ready to leave. She turned and looked at me.

“You know, Mister, today is Teacher’s Day in Mexico.”

“It is?” 

“So…” she said, searching briefly for the words, “…Happy Day!”

I smiled broadly and said thank you. Then she went to catch her ride.


Sunday, 19 May 2019, 18:04 UTC

When I came out onto the patio, Miss Izzy was playing with some young girls, much to the glee of the fair and industrious Trudy who had her on a short leash. Nearby, two boys were at a small table horsing around. They were standing in the chairs, and one was shouting to a homeless man standing in the median of the street just beyond the wall ran along the edge of the patio. (Where were this kid’s parents? For heaven’s sake, accosting a homeless person!?) 

I had just ordered our catfish tacos, and was coming out onto the patio to meet Trudy. (It was Friday afternoon, and we had converged at this spot as a kind of midpoint.) I still had my school ID hanging from a lanyard about my neck. I wore a collared shirt and dress pants and black shoes. As I approached, the boys ceased their horsing around and sat flat in their chairs.

“Are you with security?” one of them asked.

I chuckled to myself. Trudy laughed.

“Well, is there something you boys are up to that security should know about?” I asked in my best teacher voice.

“No,” the same boy said as the other sat still.

Do I really radiate an aura of a security guard!? Perhaps this explains why on the whole my students are well behaved — and here I thought it had something to do with classroom culture!

Rainy Day Pencils

Tuesday, 14 May 2019, 19:38 UTC

It was a rainy day. On days like that, the ag classes which are in the portables stay inside, scrounging for space in rooms where teachers have a planning period (and so no students). This is why, during fifth period, they came into my room.

One of the students was working on a project. She asked for something (tape or a stapler, maybe). I do have tape. And I do have a stapler. Whatever it was, she borrowed it, thanked me sincerely, and returned to her chosen spot in the back of the room.

“Do you want to use my colored pencils?” I asked in jest, holding up the box.

Now, you must know that a few weeks before, on another rainy day, she had indeed used my colored pencils. The room that day was full of the sound of her rattling through the pencils looking for just the right color. So, recalling that day and that sound, I held up my box of colored pencils with my eyebrows raised, suggesting, “Here they are, if you need them.”

The ag teacher chuckled. 

“No thank you,” the student said, not quite sure how to react to a teacher with a thing about colored pencils.

I frowned in mock disappointment, and we all returned to whatever it was we had been doing.

A few minutes later, she walked up and confessed that she would indeed like to use the pencils. And so we all sat there in the waning moments of that rainy day fifth period with the sound of rattling pencils as she again searched for just the right color.