school

Best Student Answers Ever

Since it’s finally the time of year when the joys of teaching are realized (ie when we don’t have to deal with people who haven’t turned in a damn thing all year wondering what they need to do to pass), it’s a good time to look at some of the other minor perks.

The pay, for instance. And the respect.

No wait, sorry. I must’ve been thinking about something else. In reality, random politicians who wouldn’t be able to pass my class get to tell me I’m not teaching correctly. Yes, Congressperson, you’re supposed to provide a check and balance on the president, even if he’s in your own party. Grandstanding while bequeathing power to the Executive Branch is not, actually, one of the enumerated powers.

But hey, at least we’re gonna get free guns soon, right?

I won’t spend much time on this one, since I don’t think it’s a good faith argument, but arming teachers would be a phenomenally bad idea. There’s a teacher at my school who’s about 4’10”. Explain to me how she keeps her sidearm when the six-foot linebacker lunges for it. And you know that teacher that you’re convinced hated you? Spoiler alert: They really did. Now imagine that they had a gun every time you mouthed off in class. Should I fire a warning shot into the air to wake up all the kids who think Emmett Till is “boring”? I doubt the second-floor teacher would appreciate that.

No, the real gift of being a teacher, at least for the ten months out of the year not named June and July, are the wonderful answers we get to out insightful questions.

And no, I’m not talking about the good answers.

How did Hitler come to power? He was really popular, you see, because he threw a Nazi party. Ain’t no party like a Nazi party cause a Nazi party don’t stop… until 1945.

After twenty years, bad answers don’t phase me much. Answers I used to find hilarious now seem pat. They lack the flair they once had, and are usually just copied from Wikipedia these days. 

For instance, every year I ask “When and where was the Berlin Conference of 1884?” Wanna guess how many students just write “IDK”? A couple months later, I ask where the Berlin Wall was built. Can you imagine that they STILL haven’t figured out where? Maybe I should give them the hint that it’s in the same place they held the Berlin Conference. 

Paris, naturally.

But I got a response recently that broke through this grizzled vet’s exterior. The type that makes me run to the other teachers in my department and repeat it for guffaws. Ironically, it wasn’t even a wrong answer.

The question, from a random reading (not a test or anything, which is where I usually see the best responses), asked how Leon Trotsky died. The answer read, quite correctly, “A Stalinist agent in Mexico City struck him in the head with an ice pick.”

Ouch. Not a fun way to go. Where’s the joy, you may ask? It stemmed from an unrequested addendum, a cherry on top of that otherwise pat answer.

“I think it was murder.”

Whoa! Slow down, Perry Mason!

After all, I also teach Intro to Law. Doesn’t this eighty-year old “alleged” criminal get any due process? Sure, the fifth amendment doesn’t apply in Mexico City, but considering he was working for the Soviets in Mexico, I think it all cancels out. They call that quid pro decisis.

Sure, the perpetrator (sorry, defendant) had a letter on his body claiming his intention. But it also included lies about who he was. And if we can’t trust a guy to level with us about his name, why should we take at face value his admission of intent? And the fact that he was carrying around an ice pick under a trenchcoat in the middle of August in Mexico is completely circumstantial. I’ve seen plenty of David E. Kelley programs. The DA doesn’t have a case. Maybe he was on his way to the North Pole? Or maybe it was self defense! Yeah, yeah, the sixty-year-old attacked him, totally unprovoked. Good thing my client had that sawed-off ice pick under his summer trenchcoat!

Okay, okay, maybe he did it. Good eye, Student, for delving into the mind of a murderer to get at true intent. Although all you really had to do was describe the act. Save your opinion for things like the decision to drop the atomic bomb. 

But nah, this student was totally mute when I actually asked to debate motive. 

For now, I’m saying this is my third favorite student answer, but that means it wins the bronze medal. The best student answers of my tenure work a lot like the American two-party system. The top two are forever etched in stone, and depending on my mood, they’ll switch who’s in the driver’s seat. Trotsky’s alleged murder and Hitler’s bumpin’ parties are the Ralph Naders and Gary Johnsons. They make me chuckle for a season or two, then are largely forgotten when the newest batch comes in.

Statement number one came on an economics test. The question requested a where to set a price ceiling. A price ceiling, for those of you who haven’t spent much time in an economics class over the past decades, is a maximum price set by the government, which often creates shortages. For a recent example, take a look at that “anti price gouging” bill going through Congress right now. Clearly none of the members of Congress have spent a lot of time in economics classes. Why, it was only a couple years ago they were convinced that macroeconomics was a defunct study, and that inflation wasn’t really a thing anymore. How’d that turn out?

Anyway, for a price ceiling to be effective, it must be set below the market price. This is the concept the question was testing. Many students assume that, since it’s a ceiling, it should be high. Very confusing, I know, but a price FLOOR would have to be high. If that anti-gouging bill said the price of gasoline couldn’t go above $20 a gallon, it wouldn’t be a very effective law. At least for the next month or two, after which that’ll probably be where supply meets demand anyway. 

I know, Congress doesn’t really care about making effective laws. They care about getting YouTube views and Twitter likes. 

Don’t worry if the concept of price ceilings is foreign to you. My student also didn’t understand the concept. Not only did she fail to give me a dollar amount, she didn’t even acknowledge the product the question was about, chocolate chip cookies. Instead, she discussed the price of… ceilings. 

Most ceilings, you see, are similar to each other and should probably be priced the same. It isn’t the price of the ceiling that’s important, she informed me, but the quality. Cheap ceilings are more likely to leak.

Had she delved into the complimentary or supplementary market of roofs vis-a-vis ceilings, I might’ve given her the points. I’m all for bringing in real world examples, and maybe this girl ran a stucco company in her free time. When I asked another student, after reading an article about the supply and demand of illicit drugs, what determines the price of cocaine and marijuana, he happily told me pot is about $50 for a quarter ounce. 

But since ceiling girl couldn’t provide me with an actual price of the top of my house, it’s a big fat zero. 

Zero, it turns out, would’ve been a good answer for an effective price ceiling. I’m surprised Congress hasn’t attempted to make those evil oil companies give us gas for free. Can’t imagine any drawbacks to that plan.

What separates the final answer from those that came before was the fact that it was an unforced error. Price ceilings and Nazi parties and Stalinist Law & Order were in responses to prompts, either after readings or on a test. I applaud ceiling girl for trying to make sense of the question and taking an “educated” guess instead of opting for the ubiquitous “IDK.”

This last answer, however, came on a term paper. He didn’t have to write a damn thing, but opted to go off the board with a phenomenally preposterous statement. Probably shouldn’t be surprising from a guy whose bibliography included, I shit you not, http://www.thegovernment.com. I guess http://www.thegovernment.gov was already taken? 

The term paper could be on any political topic, like abortion or gerrymandering or sin taxes. He opted for the draft, which doesn’t pique too many interests these days, but is always an acceptable foray into timeless queries of individual rights versus societal responsibilities, of implicit versus explicit government powers. So sure, kid, but me up with some knowledge. 

“The U.S. military draft,” he began, “is very similar to the NFL draft.”

Cue the record scratching sound effect 

So wait, which branch of the military has the number one pick this year? Does it rotate between the branches or, like the NFL, does it go to whichever branch had the worst year? How is that determined? I mean, the Afghanistan pullout didn’t go swimmingly, but I don’t know how to assign the blame. I assume the army, but the lasting image was of the airplane leaving Kabul Airport, leaving the top pick to the Wild Blue Yonder.

More questions abound. Let’s say the navy has the number one overall draft pick one year, but the top prospect is a sniper. Do they draft him in the hopes of “developing” him into a submarine captain? Or do they trade that pick to the army or marines? But I can’t imagine they can get a lot in return, since the army knows they won’t draft the guy anyway, and they can just wait to draft him in the two or three spot for less money.

Come to think of it, other than the Marines, I don’t see a lot of overlap in the skills required by the top recruits in the various branches, leaving the draft with little suspense and less action. No wonder they don’t televise that thing.

But wait, Space Force is an expansion franchise, so they should get the first pick. Damn, I really hope the number one pick isn’t infantry. 

I was recently at a minor league baseball team’s military appreciation night. After every inning, they asked all current and former members of a specific armed force to stand up and be applauded. At first I thought they were stretching the definition of military when we had to applaud the Coast Guard and the National Guard. I mean, shit, the latter were all just Vietnam draft dodgers, while the former’s claim to fame is running slow motion in Baywatch scenes.

Come to think of it, that Vietnam War draft was televised. Although the only trades going on that day were people trading their residency to Canada. 

Just like John Elway and Eli Manning. 

Holy shit, my student was right! The military draft IS just like the NFL draft.

I’m never doubting http://www.thegovernment.com again. 

Schrodinger’s Sink

There’s a sink outside my classroom. Or maybe there isn’t. 

Depends on how you define a “sink.”

And that’s just how my district wants it.

My school was built when small learning communities and “academies” were all the rage. My school wasn’t built to house any of those academies, mind you, but the cheapest option was probably to let the construction company use the same plans they’d built elsewhere, so welcome to pod-land. 

Each set of classrooms surrounds a meeting area where teachers can congregate to talk shit about students and other departments. My social science department uses it as a makeshift lunch room in lieu of the mythical “teacher’s lounge.” Those don’t really exist at the high school level because, you know, if they let teachers congregate together, we might realize we have stuff in common with each other. Camaraderie begets humanization. Classic anti-Marxist strategizing there. Let the history and English departments fight over precious copy paper lest we realize we have more in common with each other than not. Before long we’ll, I don’t know, band together and ask for raises. Or copier codes.

The pod has our printer and a couple cabinets where we keep the few supplies we’re granted. Red pens, Expo markers, and whatnot. Number two pencils. Other extravagances, like mechanical pencils or black and blue pens, we’ve gotta purchase ourselves. The good news is we can deduct them from our taxes. But only up to $500 a year, a number that hasn’t changed in the twenty years I’ve been teaching despite inflation roughly doubling the price of most goods and services. Don’t start buying books or a Netflix subscription for use in school and expect to deduct those.

We did get electronic hole punchers, despite not asking for them, from Covid funds. Because we all know that hole punchers are the number one transmitters of disease. I assume the porn industry will start requiring its actors to electronically hole punch any day now.

We also have a mini refrigerator in our pod. It’s against code. We’re only allowed to have Star Authorized appliances, which means they use less of the district’s energy. I mean, technically the mini refrigerator uses less energy than a full-sized refrigerator, but it uses more per cubic inch. The district doesn’t care about wasting money, they care about making things difficult. Because mini fridges cannot be designated efficient. So yes, if you’re following the logic, we can only have an appliance that doesn’t exist. At least the district isn’t being unreasonable.

We also have a microwave, similarly unapproved. Again, if teachers start thinking they’re worthy of heating up their lunches, what’s next? Getting paid for running clubs after school? I mean, if Mr. Scopes Monkey Trial taught without a microwave, we can, too. But no using chalk like in those days, as the chalk dust is hazardous. Oh, and the Expo pens need to be non-toxic. No getting high in front of class! Gotta wait till we’re proctoring those clubs for free before you get lit.

Our pod also contains a kettle for brewing coffee pour-overs. I think an actual Mr. Coffee might be against code. Damn, us teachers are rebels. Good thing the district never follows through with any of its initiatives. We might as well throw a keg in there. At least it wouldn’t catch fire.

There’s also a sink. 

Sort of.

Not sure why there’s a sink in the pod. We are a social science pod. Maybe they’re hoping it’ll form the basis of an epic history vs science conflagration. Unfortunately for our future science department warlords, the sink doesn’t work.

Technically, I suppose, it works. Depends on your definition of what a sink is for. If we turn on the spigot, water comes out. We’re just not allowed to.

The sink leaks. After some contemplation, we alerted custodial. It wasn’t an easy choice. They don’t take kindly to being notified that something needs custodializing. They’re busy emptying our trash cans once a week and sweeping our floors once a month. And really, teachers, you need ANOTHER roll of toilet paper? That’ll come out of your pay raise. 

So something along the lines of “There’s a puddle forming under the sink here” gets met with a hefty round of “Well, what the fuck do you expect us to do about it?”

We should be happy they responded at all. Even if it was just placing a bucket underneath the s-curve that was leaking. Problem solved?

This was back in the Obama administration.

Sometime during the Trump administration, that bucket overflowed.

The water was nastier this time. Brackish, miasmatic, the attack of the black mold! So glad I’m eating my unrefrigerated, unmicrowaved leftovers in here. 

Perhaps we shoulder some of the blame for round two. We could’ve stopped using the sink. Anyone who thinks a bucket is a permanent solution to a leak has never sang any kids’ songs. We could claim ignorance about what happens after five years of standing water. It’s not like we let the science department this close to our supply rations. But we are government teachers, so we should’ve known with perfect certainty that the custodial staff would never return to fix the problem after hours or anything. 

This time, fortunately, they came up with a more long-term solution. 

Let’s see how many of you can play “school upkeep” properly.

We could a) empty out and replace the bucket. Or b)…

Actually, a is pretty much out only option. If you thought a $5 run to Home Depot to get a new s-bend was an option, then you aren’t playing the school repair game. A new pipe today and those rascally teachers might ask to control their own thermostats next. So emptied bucket it is! 

Unless… unless…

The pipe only leaks when there is water going down it. If we could prevent water from descending the pipe, then the problem might solve itself. Like fixing the glitch in Office Space. 

Et voila…

For a while, we thought this was temporary. Until the work order got fixed or something. Escalator out of order, please use stairs. 

Then again, the sign doesn’t mention anything about a timeframe. It just says to not use the sink. The only thing that leads us to doubt its veracity or longevity is that it’s written on a flimsy sheet of paper, adhered via Scotch tape. But what other option did they have? A permanent sign might require a trip to Home Depot. On the aisle next to the sink pipes.

Note, however, that the sink is not “out of order.” We are simply instructed not to use it. 

And you know what? It’s worked. For five-plus years, we haven’t used the sink. And the bucket is almost dry. How’s that for government efficiency?

After a few months, we put money on it. Over/under when will the sink be fixed? We’re well past Price is Right rules. Even the guy who humorously picked a date four years out was wrong. There are no students at this high school who has ever attended while the sink “worked.”

Although maybe we’ve been looking at this the wrong way. We keep waiting for the problem to be fixed. But it already has been. The problem wasn’t the sink not working, it was the pipe leaking. And that pipe hasn’t leaked in close to six years! Mission accomplished. We assumed some work ticket was hanging in the district office stamped with “Waiting for part” hanging in the district office. In reality, it’s was stamped “Completed” and stabbed on the little rod back when the senior class was still in elementary school.

All it took was a piece of paper and tape. Even better, those supplies came from our cabinet, so it comes out of the social science budget. That’ll teach us to complain. My globe’s so groovy it’s got TWO Germanies for the price of one. 

Who says schools can’t think outside the box and find edgy, twenty-first century solutions to problems? It’s like the new SAT policy. Too many students are failing the SAT? How about we stop taking the SAT. Problem, solution.

Shit howdy, that custodian deserves a medal. I think you can find some at Home Depot.

If we wanted to rebellious, we could turn that sink on and to hell with the consequences. Except the consequences will be more black mold creeping across our linoleum floors. And we all know what the district’s response will be if we complain about the bucket being full again. “You didn’t follow directions. We aren’t liable for your medical bills. And is that a non-Star-compliant refrigerator I see?” 

So now we’re faced with a dilemma. The problem is fixed. The pipe is not. As long as we never use the sink, the sink is no longer broken.

We are now faced with Schrodinger’s Sink. 

I never really understood the whole Schrodinger’s Cat thing. Something to do with some fourth dimensional, Quantum Leap shit, where Jesus and Hitler are still alive, sipping Mai Tais in a secret plane on the moon. Or maybe that was a Weekly World News headline.

While I know it’s a physics experiment, it is usually explained as a philosophical question. The cat is both alive and dead until the door is opened. Cause it was alive when the door was closed? It’s what happens when you invoke Einstein to answer the old “Does a falling tree make a sound?” 

But now, I think I finally understand Schrodinger. While the water is turned off, our sink is both fixed and broken.

Turns out the poison that killed the cat was slimy water.