Category Archives: Tales From The Schoolroom

A Day at the Zoo

I’m such a weenie, I was wishing I had a zoom function on my phone’s camera so I wouldn’t have to stand so close to the cage to snap this picture.  I could scarcely believe the secretary was leaving me alone and defenseless in the Carlin Combined Zoo all day.

Actually, it was 7:20 AM at Carlin High School.  This dude (real name: “Dude”) greeted my arrival in a biology classroom today.  The class also housed a turtle, 2 chinchillas, a ferret (another reason Nevada is waaaayyyy cooler than California), and a snake.  The kids told me the snake had gotten out of its cage and was lost, but their teacher hadn’t told anyone because he didn’t want to freak them out.

“Did he ever find the snake?”

“Oh ,yeah, it’s back now,” they said.

“Good, because if it wasn’t, they’d be looking for a new sub right now.”

The furry animals were cute.  The ferret put his little ferret feet on the thin bars of the cage, quivering his whiskers and hoping a student would poke their finger through the bars so he could rub against it like a cat or lick the salt off with his little ferret tongue.

The chinchilla hunkered in the corner of his cage, nose twitching wildly.  When a person slithered a hand through the cage door to pet his downy soft fur, he clsoed one eye, flattened his bowl-shaped ears and dodged the hand, looking pissed off. 

I really wanted to pet the cute little sucker, but he was kinda scary.

The kids said, “Oh, it’s fine – you can pet him.”  After watching 2 high school girls successfully pet the chinchilla, I worked up my courage.  Yes, I will put the first ride on a colt and tie down an 8-weight steer outside, but I get trembly when petting a small indoor pet in a cage.

The chinchilla ducked my hand and darted across the cage.  I snapped my hand back so quickly it hit the door frame and rocked the cage.  I laughed, then made myself stick my hand back in for one good, solid pet on the back.  I couldn’t show fear; it would ruin my image as a strict disciplinarian. 

Actually, I’m pretty positive my propensity to blush 18 times per day has already done that.

Yesterday, I spent a day with zoo animals of the bipedal variety.  The Spanish and English classes I taught were impressively disorganized and chaotic.  The teacher left a sub note dated 11/13 (yeah, that was definitely a Sunday) and had written “Dear Bev” at the top. 

After a day of handing out worksheets only to have the kids tell me, “We’ve already done this one.  We turned it in 2 weeks ago.  Our teacher is crazy,” I did what I had to do.  I had them put away their papers, stack their textbooks, and we watched cartoons.  The animated Rio rocks!

Some of the boys wrote a message in Spanish on the whiteboard for the next class.  Literally translated, it  read, “Hello, class.  You love me because you are poor and white.”  Then they drew a ninja. 

Thanks for reading,
The zookeeper


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First Day of School

Today was my first day of the new schoolyear back behind the teacher’s desk.  I gave the high school kids their English worksheets, threatened them at regular intervals with a bad sub report for talking/not doing their work/using their cell phones/throwing things, and caught up on my online reading.

I learned, courtesy of Time Magazine‘s website, that teenagers are angry, explosive people prone to frequent fights.  Seriously, they had a whole article on the subject.  Research and everything.  I read that there are now more normal-weight Americans than overweight Americans, a statistic which may possibly be due to 1) our increased awareness of the fact that we are (were?) fat or 2) Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.  Ok, there were more reasons listed in the actual article, but I stopped at that one because I thought Really?  In three years one woman who is known primarily for her toned biceps reversed a decades-long, steadily increasing, detrimental health trend?  Call me skeptical, but I ain’t buyin’ that.

The author then stated that the data might be skewed because the information used was self-reported.  You don’t say?  People dishonestly self-report their weight to the DMV person looking at them who knows they’re lying; why in the world would they treat an anonymous survey with any more honesty?  Sheesh!

One gal with a big belly recently ran the Chicago Marathon, grabbed a sandwich, drove to the hospital and delivered a healthy, full-term 7-pound baby girl.  Quote of the week: “Of course, my feet hurt!”  Side note: She completed the race faster than her (non-pregnant) husband. 

In the midst of my catching up on the nation’s gossip, in walked a school staff member with a bouquet of flowers.  My first thought was Oh, how pretty!  And just for me! followed by I’m never again telling Jim where I’m working as I felt my face become hotter than a greenhouse tomato.  About the same color, too.

I recovered my wits, took roll, and finished my day with a lovely-smelling vase full of fresh-cut roses, reddish-biggish flowers, smaller-darker-redder flowers, and orange really-neat-looking flowers on my desk.  I don’t know the proper flower names (obviously), but Jim said he called the flower shop and told them “Anything but carnations.”  He did good 🙂  He also pointed out to me that, even though I blushed furiously in front of 20+ people, delivery is still a nicer gesture than driving to the florist’s and picking them up myself. 

I felt like a high schooler walking through the halls after class with my flowers.  I wonder if he’ll ask me to prom?


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“Hi, I’m Jolyn, and I’m 24 years old.”

I try to arrive at sub jobs early, since it’s difficult to navigate foreign hallways crowded with pushy natives, but as I walked through the congested early-morning halls of Spring Creek High the other day, a thought occured to me: almost everyone here is taller than me.

My mom stands 5’5″, my older sister is 5’5 1/2″, and I’m 5′ 4 3/4″.  We make a very uniform Christmas card, and the contents of our 3 closets are so interchangeable it’s creepy.  Well, they don’t raid my wardrobe too much – we live in 3 different states, and I regularly wear jeans I bought when I was 19.  I had a pair of elastic-band cotton shorts my parents bought me for fifth grade track team practice that I wore until college.  They weren’t worn out (I used them for pj’s), but saying, “I’ve had these since I was nine,” was somewhat less cool than “I wear the same size as I did junior year.”

My very first sub job ever was for high school P.E.  I stood in the gym, clipboard and roll sheet in hand, as a student walked up to me and asked, “Where’s our teacher?”

“You’re looking at her,” I replied.  “Now take your hat off, spit out your gum, and get in line.”

Last week I taught special ed at a high school.  I needed to speak with another teacher, so I waited in her doorway while she finished a conversation with the vice principal.  I asked my quick question then headed down the hallway and back to my classroom.

“Thank you for waiting so patiently while the BIG PEOPLE finished talking,” the vice principal, a big, beefy male, said to me with an exaggerated grin and extra emphasis.  I smiled and laughed awkwardly.

“Oh, wait – you’re not a student, are you?” he asked, his face turning red.

I smiled and said, “No, I’m a new sub.”  I didn’t want him to feel bad, but this was the second time he’d mistaken me for a student.  Figure it out already!

Yesterday I walked with my first class to a nearby Head Start program, where the students were to spend half an hour helping the toddlers eat breakfast and dance the Hokey Pokey.  While the little guys ate biscuits and jam, a group of my students played catch with a soft football.

“Guys, take it easy.  We’re indoors,” I admonished when the Nerf game started to threaten the miniblinds.

“Oh, I thought you were a student!” a Head Start teacher said in surprise.

I smiled thinly.  They were eighth graders.

I’m commonly mistaken for a high school senior and asked about my college plans.  I put on my best grown-up smile and tell my questioner that I graduated college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture Business 3 years ago.  Their surprised look is fun, and I know I’ll appreciate my youthful appearance when I’m 40.  In the meantime, maybe I can get the under-12 discount at the movie theater.

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A kindergarten girl today told me she had money in her pocket.  After a short conversation about the coins, I asked her name.

“Gabby,” she replied, then threw her hands up in the air.  “It starts with a G and I don’t even know how to make a G!”

A fourth grade girl told me she and her brother were going to visit their grandfather in the hospital.  “It wasn’t that bad of an accident,” she assured me.  “He just caught on fire.”

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Souls In Different Bodies

I’ve spent the last three days teaching in my favorite kind of classroom: special education.  I enjoy being around people who were born with developmental “handicaps” or conditions, because God made them that way on purpose.  They have great lessons to teach the rest of humanity.

This high school class had 4 students, and it was so nice to instruct students who spent their class time filling out worksheets and asking politely to get a drink of water, rather than the typical classroom full of students who throw things, tell me the wrong name when I’m taking roll, exit the classroom without permission, and complain about every single assignment I announce. 

I realize different conditions affect people in different ways, and some are very painful or make a person less-than-pleasant company.  My heart really goes out to parents of autistic children; these kids are often super smart, but they look at the teacher with a flat, hard look in their eye and can be just plain rude.  It would be so tough to parent a child who was born without a natural desire to show affection.

But back to this week.  These kids were all so sweet and honest!  I helped the lowest-functioning boy one-on-one with assignments while the others worked on their own.  We played Bingo with facts about Arizona (did you know it is the 48th state and joined the US on February 14, 1912?), and when a square was called I pointed to it on his board, and he put a marker on it.

I noticed this boy would put the marker on a square next to the one I specifically pointed at.  He then looked at me sideways with a mischiveous grin on his face, waiting for me to notice his little trick and exclaim “Hey!  What are you doing?” with a big smile of my own.  His trying to fool me and my being extra vigilant to catch him was more fun than the actual game.

This boy, about 16 or 17 years old, can follow directions and write short sentences with quite a bit of concentration.  He can’t read and understand written English, and he doesn’t speak at all.  He knows one word, “Mom,” which he directs at anyone when he wants to get their attention.  He has this handy dandy little electronic deal that looks like a cell phone with several commonly used phrases on it, and to communicate he pulls it out of his pocket and points to a phrase.  Pretty slick, really.

I was just so taken with how happy this kid was!  Always smiling, and truly delighted over a piece of candy or a basketball.  He strove to make sure the tail of his written y’s, g’s and p’s went sufficiently far below the line on the paper, and proudly pointed out his handiwork to us teachers. 

Such a great dose of perspective.  Another reminder that God created all of us individually and specifically, and that we all have value to add to their world.  It may be a very different kind of value that was is commonly taught by the world (go to college, get a good job, volunteer, recycle your milk jugs, open doors for elderly ladies at the grocery store, and set up a substantial retirement fund), but it is an equally important kind of value.  Under all our human striving, we are all just souls in some kind of body.

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Nobility In (A Really Good) Disguise

Are school mascots supposed to be A) menacing, B) inspiring, or C) pitiful?  If you’re like me, you answered D) “I have no idea, because after extensive study in 2 states I have found no discernible pattern.”

As a young ‘un on the family ranch 4 miles south of the Oregon border, I attended one-room Bogus Elementary School.  Along with the one other kid in my kindergarten class, we were the Bogus Bats.  If I were the opponent of a bat, I would shriek and grab a broomstick.  If I were the bat, I’d hide in a cave.

Continuing with an unexplainable “b” theme, my family moved when I was nine and I became a Big Springs Badger.  Badgers are fierce and fang-y, but their diminutive stature classifies them as “varmints” in my mind.  More like a wood chuck than a wolverine.

In high school I was a Yreka Miner.  Our mascot showed a picture of a bearded old man wearing a slouch felt hat and shouldering a pick ax.  Viewing it, I was torn between, “Aww, poor old bum,” and “Is that a used murder weapon?”

What’s up with the Wells (NV) Leopards?  When was the last time (or the first) that a big spotted cat was seen on the high desert? 

Or the Carlin Railroaders.  What’s a railroader?  Is it someone who builds railroads, evoking an image of a virile man capable of vanquishing his opponent in a contest of physical strength and athletic ability?

Or is it someone who hitches free rides on trains and sleeps in a blackberry bush?  Should I step aside in intimidation or hand over my spare change and half a sandwich?

I like the Spring Creek Spartans.  Besides the sibilical alliteration, Spartans are a globally recognized symbol of noble warriors.  Plus, they have nifty helmets with feathers.  Only a Spartan could wear that and still look cool.

Pretty much the reason I didn’t go to college in Santa Cruz, besides the fact that I had absolutely no desire to, is that their mascot is the banana slug.  What effect were they going for?  “Stay away, or I’ll slime you”?  Kind of like the middle school basketball player who continually wipes his snotty nose with his dribbling hand.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what your mascot is, as long as you play nobly and fair.  It just seems easier to channel nobility when you’re a Wildcat than a Bat.


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You Just Can’t Know

As horrendous as Friday was, that’s how good today was. 

For comparison: on Friday, a high school boy looked at me and said, “You’re the cutest sub we’ve ever had!” then winked at me across the room.  Not okay.  A middle schooler later asked me if I had a black eye.  “No, I’m just tired, but thank you….”…..for destroying the last milimeter of self-confidence I possessed for the day.  I was drinking wine by 4:30. 

Working at Capriola’s assauged my frazzled psyche.  Cleaning jewelry cases and vacuuming the staircase calmed me right down.  On my lunch break I checked out Mish Mash and Muddle, a consignment store (that’s a five-dollar word for “thrift store”) and scored an imitation leather jacket for $11.  This jacket is seriously smokin’ hot.  If I wasn’t me, I would so hit on myself. 

And then the sixth grade schoolchildren today were absolute dreams to teach.  I have no idea why, but I just went with it.  They hushed up and listened when I addressed the class, telling their talkative friends to be quiet.  They read their history books.  They calculated their math problems.  They asked me for help.  They raised their hands when they wanted to share an answer.  They read silently. 

During free time, some kids played Go Fish, some played Apples to Apples, and one table played blackjack.  I wondered if I should shut down the gambling on school premises, but then thought Shoot, this is Nevada.  Blackjack is practically a basic survival skill, like honking your car horn while driving in New York City or shoving the bag of oranges under the front seat and telling the ag inspection station attendant, “No, we don’t have any fruit,” when driving over the California line.

I just made sure they didn’t gamble the rent money and no one had two hands on their cards.

The class was so quiet and studious that I got all caught up on my New York Times reading online.  I am now educated on the demise of “marginiality” (writing in the margins of books), lesbians and their sperm donors (yeah, TMI for me, too), female reporters in Egypt (the sexual assaults are horrifying) and the new season of Desperate Housewives: Miami (made me feel much better about myself).

I’m teaching high school art in Wells tomorrow.  I have no idea what to expect.  With subbing, you just can’t know 🙂

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Comic Relief

Here’s some randomly assembled comic relief courtesy of the children.

The other day I taught second grade.  As the class entered the room, I sat in the chair behind the teacher’s desk.  A blonde girl walked over and asked where her regular teacher was.

“She’s not here today.  I’m your sub,” I explained.

“I wish Mrs. Baird was here.  I like her.  But I’m glad you’re here,” the little girl said as she patted me on the head.

I was hyperaware of odd names at this school.  I led the charge after being dubbed, “Miss Lambchopper” by an eight-year-old.  One boy in this class had the last name “McNutt,” the blonde girl who patted my head was “Kate Holmes,” and “Mrs. Lesbo” taught next door.  Today in middle school I instructed “Vidalia.” 

Does anyone else absolutely love that Sammy Kershaw song?  Come on, Erica, you know we do 🙂

As part of her assignment, I asked a second grader how many states were in America.

“Does Mexico count?” she responded. 

Hmmm….is she behind in her geography education or wise beyond her years? 

Another student tried to calculate the number of states. 

“Well, I know there’s Las Vegas and New Vegas….”

I’m reassured that they all know the Pledge of Allegiance by heart.  You don’t have to be able to count to be patriotic.

How about this for a seventh grade insult:
Boy #1: I need to borrow your dictionary.
Boy #2: You need to borrow your face!


I visited with an eighth grade boy during a slow moment in the classroom.  He told me he had a big family; lots of half-siblings from both his parents.  His older half-sister had three kids, his next half-sister had four kids, and his other half-sister had one kid.  He mentioned one half-sister’s name was Jolyn.

“Hey, that’s my name!” I said.

“Really?  Hey, maybe you’re my sister!”

Kids.  Some days, I go to work grumpy, but I’m always smiling within twenty minutes.  They’re funny people!

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I’m A Brunette?

When I was a baby, I had pencil-straight blonde hair.  As I grew up, it darkened and curled with glacial sureness, until I was a bonafide brunette who didn’t need a curling iron.  It took a while to think of myself as a brunette, though.  Some roots run deep.

I once changed a light bulb twice before I realized the lamp wasn’t plugged in.  Hmmm, I thought, another bad bulb.  We gotta switch brands or something. 

My junior year of college, I climbed two flights of stairs and walked down a long hallway to my professor’s office, only to realize I was in the wrong building. 

I frequently confuse Betsy Ross with Diana Ross, and therefore remain mute on American history trivia questions. 

I have recently outdone myself, though.  As a substitute teacher, I sign up for teaching jobs through an online system.  While working at a high school last week, the secretary came in and asked if I’d switch my next day of teaching from my assigned music class to special education, since I did such a good job the week before and the teacher had requested me.

“Sure, that’d be great,” I replied.  The secretary commented that I’d be there the next two days.  I said no, I’d only signed up for one day.

I checked SubFinder online and discovered I had indeed actually signed up for a two-day job.  I hadn’t realized that the one-day jobs and multiple-day jobs weren’t given any special differentiation besides carefully reading the start and end dates. 

I thought back to the previous week when a student asked me, “Are you going to be our sub all three days?”

“No,” I cheerfully answered, “I’m just here today.”


I re-checked my list of past jobs on SubFinder.  Yep, sure as shootin’, I’d signed up for a three-day job the week before.  I’d only showed up once. 

Mortified, I waited until the color receeded from my face to go into the office and apologize profusely for not appearing for work two days in a row. 

The secretary looked at me blankly.  “Oh, you weren’t here?” she asked.

I explained my mistake.  She said the other teachers never said anything; they must’ve taken the handful of students in that class into their own rooms for the two days. 

I don’t show up to school and I get requested by the teacher.  I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.  As long as the jobs keep coming, I won’t be picky how I got the referral.

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What Would You Take?

Yesterday I taught at a small school, so my classroom contained a mixture of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  They finished an assignment early, so I gave them a quick journal write to fill the extra time.

I told the kids to pretend that their house was burning down and they had time to grab only one item.  What would it be and why?

After about two minutes of silence, hands shot up one after the other.  The kids asked, “Does it have to be only one thing?”  “What if we can’t actually carry it up?”  “Can it be a bunch of little things in a box?”  “Does a dog count?” 

Seeing where their young, literal minds were going, I told the class, “The point of this exercise isn’t to determine how much you can physically carry from a burning building.  This is about priorities.  I want to know what you think and why.”

Once they were done writing, I asked volunteers (“volunteers” is teacherspeak for “whomever I call on when no one volunteers”) to share their answers. 

One kid said he’d take his mattress, because that’s where his money is hidden. 

“Why don’t you just take the money?” I asked.

“That would take too much time.”

Another boy said he’d take all his money, so he could buy food and clothing for his family until they could get a new house. 

One girl would grab a box on her desk filled with special gifts people had given her that couldn’t be replaced.  One boy said he’d be sure and grab his dog.  Another kid said he’d take his DS, which I understand is some kind of new handheld video game, so he could connect to the Internet. 

If my house were burning down around me, I’d grab the afghan my Grandma Shelley made for me when I was a baby.  She died when I was four.  Grandma Shelley made adult-sized afghans for everyone in the family, second cousins and in-laws included.  I’m so grateful I have a big afghan, rather than the typical baby blanket that no one uses after age two, to snuggle in and remember the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

What would you take?  And no, you cannot “take the fire and move it somewhere else,” as one boy suggested 🙂  More importantly, ask yourself “why?”


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