Gas. [image:]

Gas. [image:]

It happens. Even to me. Before you know it, it’s too late, the deed is done, the event has passed. Best not to be embarrassed about such things, the way I figure it. Still, most people are. And when it happens, when the dreaded event occurs to you…in that split second between teaching life or death, the one thing that matters most is how you react. That’s what makes or breaks an entire teaching career. It’s the moment of truth when the sound waves rumble through the air and every single person turns their head toward the epicenter. And the epicenter is…you.


I’m a vegetarian. I eat healthy. I avoid processed food when possible, bring entire vegetables to school (Miss is that a vegetable?), and drink home-brew (ice tea) out of mason jars. The truth is ugly. It’s something no paleo, vegetarian, or clean-eating blog will tell you, because you’ll go screaming back to McDonald’s quicker than they can say “two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese…” Vegetarians and healthy eaters process that food like nature intended.  And sometimes, the body plays jokes in public.

In a crowded room, it’s possible to look in a general direction and assign blame. Say “Ugghhhh!” as if the offender were someone else and storm away. Or when the first kid complains be ready with the classic, “You know what they say? He who smelt it, dealt it.”

That works well for high school freshmen. But I was with my seniors. They’re more sophisticated. They’ve spent four years training for the fine art of defeating me. They know when I’m trying to do the same. I have to up my game.

“Yup,” I said. I know what they’re thinking–teachers can read minds, especially minds terribly uncluttered with assignments or other academic information. Oh my God, that was her, and I so didn’t YouTube it!

The secret to life–to defeating students–is to beat them to the punch.

“Yup, that was me! Let me tell you about those vegetables I ate. Or wait, I can just show you….”


“Too bad you didn’t get that one for YouTube! That’d’ve gone viral. Totally would’ve boosted up my ratings.” Maybe I should have added that I’m trying to research alternative fuels. I act disappointed. As if I wanted them to tweet out the side effects of healthy eating.

Within thirty seconds, they’re back working on their project, minds blissfully empty of all thought once again, flowing in that fine balace between zen and true emptiness where only a senior can be.

“I’d have died. I’d have had to go home,” said my friend. That’s what you can’t do. If you show a single flinch, all is lost. In much the same way students pass down the story of how “She exploded a can of soda from across the room with her chi” they’d remember this. Forever.

The secret to defeating students is to beat yourself down first. Many new teachers miss this nuance. Students find some element to satirize in all of us. It’s the natural order of things. Mrs. X’s bad fashion? Mr. Y’s bald? Mrs. C’s speech tics? Mr. D’s coffee breath? To be free of this burden, you must beat them to the punch. I learned this from a bald teacher.

“On the first day of school,” he said, “I tell them, ‘Guys, I have something important to say………I’m bald.'” He says it with great effect. Bald jokes are dead. Teaching begins.

It works. I have bad fashion. When I get a profile-altering zit, I say, “Look, Mount Rushmore!” I exaggerate my bad singing, and I tell them all the things I can’t do. And it works. We become a community of humans–students learning from a human teacher.

Some would say this is dishonest.

Nope. Theatre. Not just theatre but improv. The best teaching is. Ten-percent of kids care about the lesson I have planned. They do care about the experience they will have. “I don’t want to learn!”

“Ha! You just did.” I rattle off the facts, connections, and information they’ve accomplished, even when they thought they were just having fun.

It’s my job to win. To defeat students. To make them learn…to remember my class by any means necessary, even if I have to go to extremes and embarrass myself in the process. I often do.

And that’s ok. Because it works.