*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

March 30, 2012

Geez, indeed.

Student: Ms Gettlin, did you tell period 1 that you had a boyfriend?
Me: Yes, but it was an accident. I didn't mean to tell them.
Student: But why didn't you tell us, too? What, you didn't want me to know?
Me: Maybe I thought your class would start teasing me.
Student: Why, cause I'd be jealous? Geez, I'm not jealous. Why would I be jealous? Geez. What have I got to be jealous about?

March 27, 2012

Yet another reason English teachers are not meant to be walking dictionaries.

"Ms Gettlin, will you edit the rough draft of my essay?"
Sure. Um, Drew, can you read this sentence for me?
"He learns that exorcists are impotent."
Is that what you meant to say?
"Yeah." (pause) "No."
How about exercise, instead of exorcists?
"Yeah, yeah, that's it."
Do you know what exorcists are?
"Yeah." (pause) "So, what does impotent mean?"
If you don't know, I'm not telling you.
It's the kind of thing you learn about in health class.
"Oh." (pause) "Ohhhhh." (pause) "Hehehe."

March 25, 2012

Wolf fish sightings: what have my students learned from this unit?

I finally - finally! - finished grading the 85 literary Night essays this week. (Just in time for the students to turn in their poetry essays on Friday.)

Anyway, I found some pretty good wolf fish in my grading. Some beautiful musings on humanity's struggle to survive in the face of tragedy, some thoughtful reflections on the nature of good and evil, some absolutely ridiculous attempts to end an essay with an A+ "make-it-matter." In no particular order, here are some of the wolf fish recently gathered:

"Being betrayed or ignored in life threatening situations is not only unsafe, but it also lowers the trust level in the relationship severely."

"Good people don’t do bad things, because if good people do bad things they became not good people."

"You are a good person, but I bet you’ve done something bad."

"Have you been scared, but made the best of it? This isn’t the same as the Holocaust, but humanity still survived during the Holocaust."

"In a sense there really are no good or bad people, because all people do good and bad things."

"Having your face torn off but not caring about the pain can prove that death is not the only way to die."

"You might feel sorry for the dead. Instead, feel sorry for those who live every day in death. Death is not the only way to die – sometimes living is worse."

"Can good people do bad things? Well I should think so."

"The road to freedom was bumpy, but nothing was bumpier than the end."

"Elie’s story proves that there is always a way out of the worst situations and always a reason to keep moving forward."

"Humanity can, and has, made it through the darkest of times and the book Night gives us hope it could do it again if necessary."

"And I would like to thank Elie for writing such a moving book. Up till now I did not even know how bad the Holocaust was."

March 24, 2012

Fair point, I guess.

Student: Hey, Ms. Gettlin, you kinda look like Tupac today.
Me: Do I, now?
Student: Yeah, cause you got the same blue bandana tied up in your hair.
Me: Oh, okay...
Student: Well, but I mean, you tucked the ends in and he didn't, so I guess you don't really look like him.

March 19, 2012

Wolf fish sightings: early March

So, it occurs to me that twelve and thirteen year-olds are, basically, wolffish. They aren't always pretty, are occasionally slimy, and often have a comparative amount of energy as any other cold-blooded bottom-dweller.

But they can also be wonderful, as when one student spontaneously moves her seat so that a shy wallflower classmate no longer has to sit alone. Or when a student stays late after class to explain to me how his philosophy is grounded on the kind of nihilism that is self-negating, thus allowing true romanticism to take hold and grow. Or when a roomful erupts into applause as the winners of our 2012 Junior Jr Iditarod are announced.

Yes, that's right - I said Iditarod. What, you thought I'd forgotten? No, no, my friends. We've left behind the bitter winter in Auschwitz for the frozen plains of Interior Alaska. Full report coming soon!

March 11, 2012

Heeeeere wolfy, wolfy, wolfy ...

Last week I found myself sitting in a Rhode Island Honey Dew donut shop at 8pm on Tuesday night. The reason for this (I was waiting for a family friend to finish fencing lessons) is less important than the lesson I learned while I was there. However, before I explain what I learned, first let me explain what lessons I did not:

1. How to get grading done at 8pm on a Tuesday night
2. How to resist eating a donut when one is in a donut shop
3. How to avoid watching an Extreme Fishing show on the Animal Planet
4. Why the Animal Planet also has a show about searching for Bigfoot
5. Why the narrator of this Extreme Fishing show was insisting upon the deadly predator-ness of that highly dangerous Amazonian river monster, the wolf fish.

Which brings me to the lesson I did learn last Tuesday night. Namely, I have forgotten about my wolf fish! I can't believe this.

Back when I was in high school I was visiting the aquarium where my father works and, wandering around the tanks, happened upon one of the vets who was working on a tank full of wolf fish. Wolf fish, in case you've never seen either one on your own or via the sensationalism of an extreme fishing show, are not pretty animals. They are, basically, eels with teeth. (This is the part where my biologist friends yell at me that a) some eels have teeth and b) there is more to the wolf fish than that overly simplistic and ignorant description.)

And that's the whole point! The vet I was talking to spent many excited minutes extolling the virtues of the wolf fish. All the things I would never have thought to notice as I was busy thinking about how gross it was. And I walked away thinking to myself that, one day when I was grown up, I wanted to find a job that I loved so much that even the wolf fish of my field could get me excited.

And here we are, entering March - the deadliest of months, a month with all 5-day weeks and no vacations, a month of mud and rain and standardized testing, a month where even the hardiest of veterans succumb to the mountains of grading, the drear of the day-to-day, and the sharp volley of emails from angry parents. (I did also learn something from the Animal Planet channel about the beauty of sensationalist hyperbole, though it all sounds much more dramatic if you read it to yourself in a narrator's pseudo-British accent.) Here we are in March, two thirds of the way through the school year. Here we are in March, the longest uninterrupted stretch of teaching I have ever completed.

Here we are, and I have lost track of my wolf fish. I haven't been looking for them, marking them, listing them. In fact, I had even forgotten that my wolf fish could exist at all.

Thank you, Animal Planet, for reminding me that it was nigh time for me to pull on my waders, jump back in, and go hunting for wolf fish again.

March 5, 2012


As my cousin rightly points out, there are obviously worse things in the world than teaching the Holocaust, even if one is teaching it multiple times a day. Say, for example, actually experiencing it. I was thinking only in the context of the classroom when I made my comparisons. Unintentionally insensitive, but inconsiderate nonetheless. My apologies.