Do the math: If teachers were paid like babysitters, we would earn $200k+ per year #teacherproblems

At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, teaching really is a job where I get no respect.

Not from the kids—the kids respect me plenty. Mostly because I talk to them like they’re actual people, have high expectations for them, and really care about them. Which is also probably why most of them call me “mom.” But that’s a story for another day.

So where does this lack of respect come from? Well, the answer is society.

We’ve all heard variations of the expression, “Those who can’t do, teach.” This is the single most condescending thing you can say to a teacher, because there isn’t a successful person in this world who would be where they are without their teachers.  

Does that mean that all teachers are wonderful and deserving of Michelle Pfeifer to play them in a movie? No. There are some terrible teachers out there too. Remember those ditsy girls who twirled their hair around their fingers and said, “I’m going to be a teacher when I grow up”? Yeah, they are. But there are also some pretty amazing people in schools today, and let me tell you, we’re not doing it for the money.

Let’s do some basic math here. (And yes, I understand that I am an English teacher, but I can still do basic math. But I’ll use round numbers to make life easier for everyone.)

A babysitter earns about $10-$15 an hour to watch 2-3 kids as the little darlings watch tv, pick their noses, and play with Legos. (Side note: do kids still play with Legos or is everything digital these days? Because my kids are definitely going to play with Legos. If for no other reason, they’ll play with Legos because they need to understand the pain of stepping on one in their bare feet. I’m not raising soft-footed wimps in my house!) Which works out to about $5 per kid per hour.

I watch 30 kids an hour. But my kids aren’t watching tv and stepping on Legos in their bare feet (although that would be an AWESOME punishment for misbehavior. Hmmm…). No, my kids are learning, and I am held accountable for that learning. If I just plopped all 30 of them down in front of a tv every day, I wouldn’t have my job much longer, tenure or no.

But let’s assume for a moment that I was paid babysitter rates for teaching my students. This would mean I’d be making $150/hour, which at eight hours a day, 190 days a year translates to roughly $228,000 per year.

We can quibble over some finer details of that, as I do have two planning periods in my day and don’t actually clock 40 hours in the building at school every week, but I do spend more than eight hours a day working when grading is factored in. But a babysitter isn’t actively involved with kids during the entire time either assuming that the children have a bed time, so using round numbers, the $228,000 a year model still applies without having to add in extra days for the summer, winter break, or spring break.

Living large, huh?

Hah.

In reality, I’m making about $1.50 per kid per hour. And I work in one of the highest paying school districts in the country.

Starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree in my district is $51,128. Ending salary for that same teacher working 25 years or more in the system without obtaining additional degrees is $96,966.

This means that a 25-year-veteran teacher with a master’s degree in education is making less than half of the per-kid, per-hour rate that the 15-year-old girl who watches your kids on a Saturday night, then raids your fridge while watching pay-per-view movies on your account with her boyfriend, is making.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Now I understand that even teacher salaries follow the laws of supply and demand and therefore know that parents are willing to spend extra money to gain the freedom that comes with paying a babysitter to put their kids to bed so they can go to the movies and feel like normal people for an evening instead of just “Mom and Dad.” But if you want to know why school systems around the world are consistently outperforming American schools, that de-prioritizing of educational necessities is a huge factor.

And while there are many extremely gifted teachers who are slogging through the meager-salaried days to do one of the most noble and thankless jobs out there, there are an abundant number of people who would be just as or even more amazing, but who opted out of anything resembling teaching in order to make a more comfortable living.

The moral of my story is simple: If you want to complain that teaching is for those who can’t do, then start paying us what those who are out there “doing” are earning. Because I can promise you that if you raise teaching salaries to even just those bare bones babysitter rates, you’ll have one of the most competitive job markets around.

            

                

You know you’re a teacher when… this post makes perfect sense! #teacherproblems

 There are days when I know that I have the best job in the world.
And those days typically fall between the middle of June and the middle of August.
 
Which is how you know that I’m a teacher.
 
 Because I am a teacher, I know that everyone brings his or her own set of experiences to the table.  We are all a unique part of the rich fabric of society and all that crap.

  

But the reality is, when you’re a teacher, you’re living a very different life from people who work in the “real world.”*
 
*Their term, not mine. Anyone who tells me that they have a “real” job when I tell them that I’m a teacher can expect a swift punch to the face. Seriously. Can you read this? Thank a freaking teacher. You’re welcome.
 
For those of you who are also in the trenches, I salute you. Enjoy.
 
For those of you who aren’t, use this as a guide to identify teachers and therefore know which individuals deserve your respect. Long gone are the days when teachers were required to be single women of virtue, but even without the schoolmarm dress and hairdo, there are certain tells that will allow you to spot a teacher in the wild.

 

You know you’re a teacher when:

  •   You have the strongest bladder of anyone you know. 
  • You know that yelling isn’t necessary. The power of your eyes alone can silence even the worst class. Looks may not be able to kill, but they can certainly tell you to sit down and STFU.
 
  • You think Michelle Obama’s side-eye is impressive… for a non-teacher.
  • You are an expert at hiding things in Facebook pictures. When scholars and historians look back at the social media revolution, they’ll think that standing with a hand behind your back at a bar or concert was a popular picture pose, such as the Napoleonic hand-in-the-coat stance.

Not so. It just means we’re held to a higher standard than normal people and are not allowed to be photographed near anything containing alcohol, even though we’re legally allowed to consume it.

  • You use more acronyms than a covert government organization. “Oh no, I can’t make the pre-BTSN IB/AP PLC during STEP because my RT booked me into a T2 MYP training with my AP and SDT about whether PARCC has BCRs and ECRs on it like the old HSAs and what the MOD looks like for IEPs and 504s.” THAT SENTENCE ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE TO TEACHERS! 
  •  You develop an ulcer from all of the coffee you need to keep you alive. Crippling pain in your stomach and sixty more Huck Finn essays to grade? Oh well, make it a venti, please!

  • You know that there is no hell worse than grading. Dante had no idea what he was talking about. The inner circle of hell is an endless stack of essays filled with grammatical errors and helicopter parents arguing every point with you.
  
  • You have an intimate relationship with at least one Xerox machine in the building and feel it should buy you dinner after the amount of time you’ve spent with your bodily appendages inside of it.
 
  • Any unlabeled food in your department office is fair game. It doesn’t matter if they’re stale, cookies are cookies. 
  • People who let you cut in front of them to run off 30 quick copies are gods. People who say they don’t have a lot to copy but actually do deserve to be thrown in a dungeon. People who jam the copy machine and leave it jammed deserve execution.
  • You get WAY more excited about snow days than the kids do.
  • You start hoping for snow in September.
  •  Back to School ads over the summer are scarier than horror movies.
  • Your signature has morphed into something completely unintelligible from the number of passes that you’ve signed.
  • You have become a human lie detector. “Oh your dog ate your homework? Nice try.” “Your grandma died? If I call your mom right now is she going to tell me the same thing? No? Didn’t think so.” “Your leg is broken? No way, that’s a minor fracture, I don’t care what the doctor says!”
  • You tell adults to put their phones away out of habit. And they do it. 
  • You have a Pavlovian response to bells of any kind. They aren’t the knell that summons Duncan to heaven or to hell—they mean you can run to the bathroom or that you have 45 minutes left until you can run to the bathroom.
  • You got the Macbeth reference above. 
  • Why yes, Diet Coke IS an acceptable form of currency. 
  • You have been exposed to every germ known to man and several that aren’t.
  • You spend more money on hand sanitizer annually than the GNP of many mid-sized nations. 
  • You ask a question and the entire class freezes, leading you to wonder if they secretly think you’re a T-Rex and can’t see them if they don’t move.
  • You can type without looking at the keyboard or screen. The computer has autocorrect, the kids do not.  
  • You’ve been called “mom,” even if you don’t have any kids.  
  • You have a preternatural ability to sense what’s happening behind you. This would make you an excellent driver, if you weren’t so sleep deprived.
  • You never sleep well on Sunday nights, even when there’s no school the next day.
  • You have students who tell you that they want to teach and you have to fight the urge to yell, “NO! Do something where you’ll earn money! Save yourself while there’s still time!” 
  • You understand that Murphy’s Law dictates that as soon as you are out in public someplace where seeing students and/or their parents would be disastrous, you will see students AND their parents. Who will post that they saw you on social media. Sometimes with pictures.
  • You despise light neon pen colors with an unabashed hatred. 
  • Calculating tips at restaurants is easy because 15% is the amount you take off for a late assignment. 
  • You know that taking a day off is much more effort than going to work sick.
  • You are the subject of someone’s dinner table conversation every night of your life. 
  • You love your kids, even on the days when they make you want to tear your hair out.
  • You make a difference every single day. 

     
     
     
     

    Thanksgiving may only be my 5th favorite holiday, but I’m still thankful for it

    Ah, Thanksgiving. My fifth favorite holiday.

    Mostly because it gets me out of school for four sweet, glorious, sleep-filled days.

    Well not this year, because I’m going to LA at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (literally. The VERY crack of dawn), and coming home on the red eye Saturday night because my dad is a complete and utter psychopath and the antithesis of sleep.

    Why is it my fifth favorite holiday? Well Purim is the clear winner because you get to dress up in costumes and (they don’t tell you this part in Hebrew school!) you’re SUPPOSED to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Jews know how to celebrate a holiday.

     Of course, all of our holidays are basically about the same thing. Someone or something tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

    Hanukkah is number two because I love presents. And the hot firemen who show up when I almost burn my house down every year. That alone makes it an awesome holiday, even though it’s a little weak on the religion side.

    Thanksgiving probably used to be higher on the list, but the combination of crazy family drama (my desserts aren’t kosher enough for the very recently ultra-orthodox branch of my family. Hypocrisy at its finest considering how often I’ve seen them eat shellfish, but I digress.) and the major weight loss this year that makes me feel that food is my absolute arch enemy has lowered it in the ranking. Now it’s somewhere in between Rosh Hashanah (I like apples. I like honey. Win.) and Tu B’Shvat (which I think is the tree holiday. I’m not really sure what it is, but it doesn’t require that I do anything and I can claim it’s a holiday so I don’t have to do work).

    I get to avoid the majority of the drama this year because we’ll be in LA, but that makes this year’s celebration a religious experience for my parents. Their religion? Adamism. They will be spending the long weekend worshipping at the altar of my brother’s feet, while I gag in the corner and try not to incur the wrath of Adam’s most fervent followers while looking at all the yummy food that I no longer eat.

    Oh joy, rapture!

    Sorry, do I sound bitter?

    I’m really not.

    And to prove it, here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the things that I’m thankful for this year.

    1) Bruce Springsteen is alive and well and touring. I know it’s an odd thing to be thankful for, but it’s been a hell of a year for me and Bruce! The future of the E Street Band looked uncertain at this time last year because of Clarence’s death, but I did four shows in the same week in the spring run, and then had my own personal Courtney Cox moment when I got pulled up on stage to dance with Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew. Seriously, one of the best nights of my life and I’m thankful that I got to experience that!

    Hugging Bruce. Yeah.  It happened.
    Dancing with Jake. Because he rules.
    Campaigning with Bruce.  I still don’t know how this wasn’t the official Obama campaign ad.
    Yup.  Just holding hands with Bruce Springsteen.  Typical day in the life of Sara Goodman.

    2) My newspaper kids—I promised them a shout-out! It’s no secret that I was pretty miserable at my old school, and I still don’t want to be a teacher when I grow up. But my newspaper kids are the ones who get me out of bed in the morning. Okay, technically, my psychotic addiction to exercise gets me out of bed in the morning, but my newspaper kids are the ones who get me to school. Love you guys!

    3) The new version of the Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio in it.  Leo + Gatsby? Oh, there aren’t words to describe the level of thankful that I am for this combination! If there was just a Bruce song in this movie, it would be the most perfect thing EVER in the history of mankind. Just saying.

    4) Obama winning! Woohoo! I don’t have to get my ass back in the kitchen and make you a pie!

    5) My super awesome boyfriend, who I am sending home for Thanksgiving with a pie that I made. Not because I had to because Romney won, but because I WANT to. See the difference? (But seriously, I’m thankful that this year, when I have to deal with my family, I’m no longer the sad, pathetic, schoolmarm-ish spinster. Not that I ever was, but I was treated that way, which was almost as bad. He seriously quoted Springsteen to me at 7am yesterday. Epic win.)

    6) Rosie. That little furball ruined the carpet in my apartment, pretty much destroyed my leather sofas, and has basically destroyed everything else I love. But she’s my baby, and I’m grateful that the little demon is in my life every day.

    7) My parents. They annoy the bejeesus out of me. They call me every three minutes with absolutely nothing to say, try to run my life, yell at me constantly, and are generally pretty mean to me. Because they love me very much. They won’t SAY that. But they show it through the constant need to talk to me and the presents they buy me instead of saying they’re sorry when they’re REALLY mean to me (or in my mom’s case, when she creeps me out by picking out baby clothes. STOP IT MOM!)  But my mom did FIND me number 5 on my list, so thanks for that too… JUST STOP BEING CREEPY!

    8) That my best friend’s divorce is final. Seriously, I did a little happy dance when that came through. She’s the best and deserves the best and now she has a chance to find it, which I am VERY thankful for!

    9) The people who buy and read my books! Someday, when I’m a famous author, you get to say you were reading me before everyone else. You’re my Obie (the Bruce fans get that one) and I appreciate and love you all!

    10) Cake. Do I need to explain this one?  (The people who got the joke just died laughing, I promise.)

    11) RGIII. Again, no explanation needed. He is the Luke Skywalker of the DC area. He is our hope. He is our future. He will hopefully not kiss his own sister like Luke Skywalker did. But if he does, it’s okay. Because the Redskins suck significantly LESS with him in town.

    12) The block feature on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of you know why I’m so thankful for this one. And to Verizon, yes even Verizon, for allowing me to block phone numbers when stalking gets scary.  Thanks guys.

    13) Apple products. They all just work, and they work together, and they can do anything and everything. (Hint hint Nick.)

    14) Black Friday sales. Because losing weight was REALLY a ploy to get my mother to buy me new clothes. It’s working beautifully.

     

    15) Sushi. I’m a newbie, but I’m obsessed. It rocks.

    Obviously this isn’t an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start. And thinking about what we’re thankful for is really what this holiday is about.

    That and carbo-loading for all the Black Friday shopping! Stock up on that stuffing and cornbread now! You’re gonna need it to keep your strength up for tomorrow!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    Teaching 9/11 to students too young to remember

    It’s first period and, as I do most years on this day, I’m staring at a computer screen, debating scrapping my lesson plans for the day in favor of some kind of September 11 activity.

    Some years I’ve gone with my gut and done it, some years I’ve gone with my gut and haven’t. With ninth graders, it’s usually a huge flop anyway, as they tend to have the attention span of fruit flies on acid. In journalism, you can focus on the news coverage, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t depending on what you use. I’ve found that the falling man images are a little too extreme for me, let alone kids.

    But this year, I realized something: I can’t do a “Where were you when you first heard what happened?” activity. Or one about how the events of that day changed you. Because my freshmen were three years old on September 11, 2001, and if they did know something big was going on, they certainly weren’t able to understand the magnitude of it.

    In a sense, I envy these kids. They never experienced the lost feeling of safety that none of us who remember it well will probably ever fully recover. They don’t remember the utter incomprehension of that day. The frantic phone calls. The sighs of relief when they went through. The panic when they didn’t.

    To these kids, 9/11 is no more real than the Cold War was to me. I was alive during the end of it, but it never meant anything to me. I never hid under my desk in a bomb drill or had nightmares about the Soviets blowing us up. My first understanding that my world might not be impenetrably safe came when my elementary school teacher let us watch CNN when the Gulf War started—something so unheard of that we were glued to the screen, fascinated. I remember hearing the phrase “terrorist reprisals” mentioned and, in my young mind, the only image I could fathom was silent, Arabian Nights-style extremists climbing up to my window, a pirate-like cutlass between their teeth, to slit my little American throat. But when I confessed this fear to my parents and was assured that a) that wasn’t what the phrase meant and b) that I was perfectly safe, I went on with my unworried childhood.

    I don’t even remember thinking the word “terrorism” again until the Oklahoma City bombing, which only had a strong impact on me because my brother’s friend’s father died in that. And as a teenager, it was still something that happened to other people, someplace far away, even though I knew someone involved.

    But for my generation, 9/11 changed our collective social consciousness, probably in a similar way to the effect that the Kennedy assassination had on my parents’ generation. It became our “Where were you when?” moment. Maybe every generation has one of those. Maybe every generation needs one. And I’m sure that my current students, who are too young to remember mine, will have their innocence stripped away in one of those moments all too soon.

    Maybe it’s wrong to not focus on it in my classes today. You could certainly argue that I’m not doing my part to honor the memory of the innocent people who died eleven years ago. And I would agree with you. But I don’t know that there’s an appropriate English-class way to make them understand why it’s so important. I personally could write a paper on the Kennedy assassination or the Cold War or Hiroshima, but I couldn’t really feel it because I didn’t live it. And that’s part of my decision to stick to the curriculum today.

    But the other part is that while I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose anyone eleven years ago, it was still a day that changed me. It changed all of us who are old enough to really remember it. And part of me wants to let these kids keep their innocence until the world forces them to lose it. Yes, by all means, teach them what happened in history class and at home. Explain the significance. Help them to understand what happened in a way that those of who saw that second plane crash into the World Trade Center never truly will. But don’t teach them that they have to live with the fear that we never completely lost because of the events of 9/11.

    They’ll learn that lesson on their own soon enough.

    Summer vacation isn’t the only benefit to teaching–you learn new profantity too!

    Whenever people ask me if I like teaching, my standard response is to make the Jenna Marbles face.

    (If you haven’t seen the video explaining the face, go watch this video immediately. It’s only like 3 minutes and hilarious. She’s my new hero.)

    That usually ends the conversation.

    But some people just aren’t deterred by the face and want an explanation of why I feel that way.

    Which means I have to explain, and the answer is super complicated.

    Why? Because there are a lot of things about teaching that are mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly awful. Like grading. And waking up in time to be there when school starts at 7:25. And teaching the same thing period after period, day after day, year after year to the kids who didn’t bother reading the books you’re teaching and couldn’t care less who Atticus Finch or Hamlet or Jay Gatsby are.

    But that’s also not the whole answer. Because there are great parts too.

    Like having summers off.

    No really. That part is awesome. It’s everything you always thought it would be. It’s like when you were a kid, but better. And it’s coming in less than two weeks.

    Be jealous.

    But there are also the kids, who, for the most part, are awesome. Granted, I teach high school kids, who are almost like people. Almost. I mean, okay, they’re not QUITE there yet, but you can usually have a real conversation with them and they very seldom pick their noses or have potty-training accidents in MY classes at least.

    And probably the best part about teaching is that I learn something new every single day.

    Which can also be a crappy part of teaching. Like the day I had to learn that you can’t accidentally say a certain word in front of ninth graders without them running home to tell mommy and daddy what Miss Goodman said in class. Learning that one sucked.

    Although most of what I learn at school isn’t totally school appropriate. But that’s what makes that aspect of the job so much fun.

    For example, last week, I learned a new word: “asswich.” Now, as an English teacher, when a kid introduces me to a new word, I want to make sure that I fully understand its meaning and correct usage. So I made the kid define it. He told me that it’s a noun that originated as a combination of a part of the human anatomy and the word sandwich and, to the best of his knowledge, was first used by his father. I then asked him to use it in a sentence. He asked another student for a piece of gum, was refused (as he knew he would be), and said to the other student, “Come on, stop being such an asswich and give me a piece of gum!”

    That’s my favorite new one to use in traffic. I taught it to my dad that afternoon as well. And used it just yesterday when my computer wasn’t working right. (And definitely used it to describe Steve Jobs as I had to go to my parents’ house to use a PC to get my next book ready to be uploaded for the Kindle. Yes, Steve Jobs, you’re an asswich.)

    I’ve also learned some great life lessons from my kids. Like when we were reading A Streetcar Named Desire (one of my personal favorites) and I asked the kids why Stella stays with Stanley after he hits her. I was looking for something along the lines of because she has low self-esteem.

    (I would have also accepted anyone saying because, at least in the movie version, Stanley was REALLY freaking hot!)

    So I ask the question and a kid raises his hand, extremely politely, and waits to be called on. I call on him and he, very calmly and still very politely tells me that Stella stays because “Bitches be schemin’.”

    I tried to keep a straight face. I really and truly did. And I’d love to say that I succeeded. But I didn’t.

    And when you think about it, considering the end of the play, that’s not actually a terrible answer.

    Of course, then it became the answer to every question I asked in class. And as I eventually realized, that’s actually a really good answer to almost any question you could possibly ask.

    “Why do the Duke and the Dauphin turn Jim in in Huckleberry Finn?”

    “Because bitches be schemin’.”

    “Why does Lady Macbeth convince her husband to kill King Duncan?”

    “Because bitches be schemin’.”

    “Why doesn’t Daisy Buchanan have any real intention of leaving her husband?”

    “Because bitches be schemin’.”

    “Why does Rosie poop on my rug when she’s mad at me?”

    (That one works on two levels!)

    “Why isn’t the iPhone 5 coming out until September when I need a new phone now?”

    You get the idea.

    They’ve also shown me my favorite YouTube videos. Like Sassy Gay Friend.

    If you don’t know who he is yet, you’re really going to need to watch his videos. Basically, they take a lot of the classic tragedies (and some modern stories) and explain how the entire tragedy could be avoided with the help of a Sassy Gay Friend. He tells Juliet Capulet that she’s a 14-year-old idiot who took a roofie from a priest, tells Ophelia to go write in her journal instead of killing herself over Hamlet, and tells Lady Macbeth that her problem is that she needs a hobby or an orgasm right now.

    In other words, he’s awesome.

    And he’s also a character in half of the skits that my kids did in class last week when they had to take characters from different books we’d read this year and have them meet in a skit.

    Which brings me to one of the other important things I learned this year: Google is the root of all evil in our society today.

    Why?

    Because when we were watching the videos of the skits in class, one group had Stanley Kowalski standing in the street yelling. Except instead of yelling “Stella,” he was yelling “Sara” and instead of standing in front of Elysian Fields in New Orleans, he was standing in front of MY house.

    I hate you Google. I really do.  Stop giving out my address to my students.

    You’re a serious asswich sometimes.

    Tricks to ensure a snow day–Warning: ONLY use these for school days!

    The news yesterday was pretty bleak and ominous.

    And I’m not even talking about the horrors that happened in Arizona over the weekend.

    I’m just talking about the weather forecast. Snow developing sometime today into tonight, with small accumulations of about one to three inches.

    In other words, my worst nightmare. Because it’s going to start while I’m at school but not be bad enough to get us out early, and it will probably end too soon to have an impact on school for tomorrow.

    But it’ll be just enough to ensure that the kids are COMPLETELY insane.

    Because kids, when snow is in the forecast, lose all sense of sanity, reason, and humanity. I usually hide under my desk until the threat of snow is over, but I decided to make this weather forecast into a teachable moment for my students. So today I plan to teach the one lesson that high school kids will be able to focus on and learn from once those flakes start falling from the sky: I’m going to teach them how to make it snow enough to get us out of some school.

    Because yes, I know how to control the weather. And I’m going to share my secret with you, as long as you PROMISE to only use the knowledge for good snow that will get us out of school, NOT snow that will ruin weekend plans.

    Do you promise?

    Good.

    Some of the tricks, you probably already know. For example, everyone knows that you’re supposed to go to bed with your pajamas on inside out and backwards the night before you want it to snow. If you’re JUST wearing them inside out, it’s not going to work. Inside out AND backwards. And if you don’t normally sleep in pajamas, DO IT ANYWAY. I mean, it’s winter. It’s cold out. Like I told the kid who showed up at school in shorts yesterday, PUT SOME CLOTHES ON. Just do it inside out and backwards when you want snow.

    However, JUST wearing your pajamas inside out and backwards isn’t going to get you out of school. Literally. Even if they’re calling for a blizzard, if that’s all you do, you’re going to school tomorrow. On time. And staying for the full day. Trust me.

    In order to guarantee a snow day, you have to do ALL of the following things. The order, in general, doesn’t matter. But if you skip a step, you WILL have school.

    First of all, you need to do a snow dance. This one is tricky. Because doing the wrong dance moves could, in fact, cause other weather phenomenon and/or your neighbors to videotape you and put your horrendous moves on YouTube. In which case I will laugh at you, and be very angry at you for not doing a proper dance that will ensure a day off.

    There are a ton of videos of how to do this incorrectly on YouTube. Here are some of my favorites:

    However, the ONLY proper snow dance is the following:

    If you’re doing it any other way, you’re doing it wrong and when we have school, it’s YOUR fault.

    The next thing you need to do is get as many ice cubes as you can. Take them into the bathroom and flush them, one at a time, down the toilet. I don’t know why this one works, but it does.

    Note: I take no responsibility for any damage this does to your toilet and/or pipes.

    I don’t make the snow rules. I just tell you how to follow them.

    Next, take a spoon and stick it in the freezer for an hour. Then place the frozen spoon on your windowsill and leave it there overnight. You also need to find a white crayon and leave it in your freezer overnight. Failure to follow these steps will result in a full day of school.

    However, there’s really only one thing that you MUST do to guarantee a snow day. You’re not going to like this one. But if you ignore this step, I can promise that you will have school, no matter what, every time. DO ALL YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE BED.

    That’s the trickiest step. I don’t know how the snow gods know if you did your homework or not, but they do. And if I have to go to school because YOU didn’t feel like doing your homework, I WILL find out and I will be very, VERY angry with you. Which, considering that I think I killed my next-door neighbor with my mind, is NOT something you want. (We’ll get to that one once I figure out if he’s actually dead or not.)

    And if you have a job that isn’t in a school, you still have to do your homework if you want a day off.  Spend at least 20 minutes on math problems and read three chapters in a book to help your teacher friends out!

    Now go practice your snow dance. And remember, if it’s not the OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED SNOW DANCE, it’s not going to work and I’ll direct my mental death ray at you next. Because I need a snow day. Right now.

    The Disney-fication of Huck Finn: An American Travesty

    When I got home from school yesterday, I was greeted by some disturbing news on Twitter. No, the disturbing news isn’t that the trending topics on Twitter are now my primary source of news (although I DO immediately Google anyone who’s trending to see if they’re trending because they died). It was something far more disturbing to an English teacher and a writer.

    New versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are going to be printed substituting the word “slave” for the much more controversial “n” word that is used approximately 220 times in the book.

    On the surface, this change is long over overdue and a step in the right direction. No student should be subjected to a word that is so unapologetically racist and hurtful in any classroom, and I appreciate the idea triggering people who protest against novels that contain that kind of language.

    But as a writer, I’m appalled. And as an English teacher, I think this is a huge mistake and a far more offensive move than anything that Twain wrote.

    I know that sounds strange. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say by explaining that I do not tolerate students using that particular racial epithet in my classroom, nor do I tolerate students mocking or belittling others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Under ANY circumstances. And when I’m teaching a book that has the “n” word in it, I personally am not comfortable saying the word, even in the context of reading aloud from the book.

    With that said, however, I do teach Huck Finn. And I think it’s an important part of the curriculum and an even more valuable teaching tool to a generation of students who have largely grown up thinking that the “n” word is appropriate slang amongst friends.

    If you haven’t read the novel, or haven’t read it in many years, I’ll outline the issue for you. Huck Finn takes place before the Civil War in Missouri. In other words, the blatant racism in it is absolutely appalling. Huck refers to Jim using the “n” word without even beginning to comprehend that there’s any problem with that. And Huck often, particularly at the beginning of the novel, views Jim as less than a person. And even though I’m a white woman writing this 150 years after the action of the novel takes place, I find a tremendous amount of what’s in the book to be grossly offensive.

    Which is exactly the point and why it NEEDS to be taught.

    Because a huge amount of what happened in this country WAS grossly offensive.

    And I’m not even just talking about before the Civil War. Electing Barack Obama by no means heralded the end of racism in America. But to remove accurate historical elements of the atrocities that occurred is, in my mind at least, far more offensive than teaching about it could ever be.

    It’s easy to dismiss Twain as racist if you’re not familiar with a lot of the context of the novel. He was a southerner who grew up before the Civil War in the deep south. It’d be pretty much impossible to come from that environment without being a racist.

    Which is why Twain is so celebrated. The most amazing thing about him isn’t the quality of his writing. It’s the fact that he was able to come from the background that he came from and write such a powerful anti-racism novel. Because the use of language in the book isn’t there to belittle or degrade. It’s there to show just how bad things were in the south for a black man.

    My students just wrote their research papers on this exact topic. And the point that they made, again and again, was that if Mark Twain wanted Huckleberry Finn to be a racist novel, he failed miserably in that task because Huck goes from being an ignorant child, who sees Jim as nothing more than property, to a young man who is willing to defy society and give up his immortal soul for the “sin” of helping Jim escape from the life of slavery that he was born into. Huck knows that he’s breaking the law by helping Jim, and he has been taught that freeing a slave was equivalent to stealing.  And he has countless opportunities to turn him in and even make money off his capture. But by the end of the novel, he understands that Jim is a person, just like he is, and that his own freedom is worth no more than Jim’s. Which, for the time period that the novel was written and set in, was an absolutely revolutionary concept.

    Every year, I get kids who complain that we’re reading “another book about racism.” They feel it’s been done to death, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. And so each year, I tell them the following story:

    When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about having to learn about the Holocaust every year in Hebrew school. It was depressing, and I felt that the topic had already been covered in such depth that it was overkill to hear over and over again about what happened in Germany. And my parents (whom I respect tremendously for the fact that they never once in my childhood gave me the answer “because I said so”) gave me an answer that really stuck with me. They sat me down to talk to me and explained that it IS, in fact, necessary to learn about the Holocaust because educating people about it is the only way to prevent that kind of horror from happening again.

    I feel strongly that this concept applies in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

    And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space, like the lie that parents tell children when they don’t want to let them know that their dog died?

    If we gloss over the horrors and racism of slavery, we’re dishonoring the memory of both the people who suffered through it and the people who fought and died to end it.  And even worse, by ignoring the issue and refusing to teach it because it’s controversial and unpleasant, we’re opening the door to allow that sort of atrocity to happen again.

    Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow… unless it doesn’t get me out of school!

    Yesterday, as I was going about my job (you know, nothing too exciting, just educating the youth of America), I experienced one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher.

    It began to snow.

    Now, I personally get more excited about snow than any student could ever understand. Because when the kids get a snow day, they just get a day off from doing their homework. When I get a snow day, I get a PAID day off from doing my homework. Sorry kids, I win this one.

    But when the snow starts during the school day, it turns into every teacher’s worst nightmare. Because the second even a single flake falls from the sky, all hints of civilization vanish from the classroom and it descends into complete and utter anarchy. The kind of anarchy that makes Lord of the Flies look like a British etiquette class run by Audrey Hepburn.

    It’s pretty scary. Once it starts snowing, I tend to hide under my desk bomb-drill style and pray that I survive until they let us leave for the day. And if the kids find me, I’ve learned that playing dead works pretty well. Just like when you’re attacked by a bear. Lay perfectly still and you might survive.

    I also try to avoid ever finding myself in this situation by keeping the blinds of my classroom completely closed when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Why 40 degrees? Because the DC area’s weather is so screwed up that apparently the freezing point ranges from 4 to 25 degrees and 36 to 40 degrees. Between 26 and 35 degrees, water is still a liquid. It’s one of those paradoxes of the universe that no one can explain. I mean, there was an eight year period when I thought I understood—clearly God was mad at the Bush administration. But I don’t know how to explain the freakish DC area weather now.

    So even if there’s no hint of snow in the weather forecast, I’ve learned that it’s better not to take chances. I plan ahead and book as much time in the school computer labs as I can during the winter months because most of them in my school are windowless.

    But that doesn’t help much. Kids can sense snow the way dogs sense fear. The way animals sense earthquakes and tsunamis. The way I sense shoe sales. It’s instinctual and unavoidable.

     Although cell phones don’t help. Because as soon as one kid knows it’s snowing, the news spreads faster than the rumor of a celebrity death on Twitter.

    Last week for example, it flurried for about an hour. Now, I’m personally of the belief that flurries are the cruelest of all weather phenomenons. I’d take a tornado or typhoon over flurries any day. Because flurries get your hopes up for a snow day, but don’t deliver. And they make everyone and their mother forget how to drive even though the roads aren’t even damp, let alone treacherous.

    And when the first of the microscopic snowflakes fell last week, my classroom turned into a scene that would make a European soccer riot look sane. Literally. A kid whipped his shirt off and ran around my classroom at full speed yelling “IT’S SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWING! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” while waving his shirt over his head.

    Granted, that particular situation was my fault. I hadn’t closed the blinds that day.

    But once a kid is screaming and waving his shirt like a flag, there’s no real way to regain control of the class that day. Like honestly, what do you do then? Send the kid out, shirtless and screaming? Then the rest of the school will know how ridiculous my class got! Although, to be fair, I’m pretty sure my class wasn’t the worst of the snow-mania. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I heard a rumor that some kids literally climbed out of a classroom window to roll in the snow. At least mine stayed in my room that day.

    Yesterday was worse, however. Because the weather had predicted that it would snow all day. So every three seconds, a student would run to the window to see if it had started. And short of covering the windows in electrified barbed wire or bringing a cattle prod to school (which I’ve been told is frowned upon… they don’t let teachers have ANY fun), there just isn’t any way to keep this from happening.

    It’s actually not that bad when we get out of school early though. I’m not going to lie, I don’t mind getting paid to go home. And even though the kids are more amped up than if they’d chugged six gallons of 5 Hour Energy (which I’m 100 percent positive shouldn’t be legal. I swear I had heart palpitations after drinking half of one. To misquote Shakespeare, an amphetamine by any other name is still an amphetamine), if they know they’re going home, they’re amped up and HAPPY.

    But when the message comes down from the powers that be that we’re staying for a full day of school, that excess energy turns to horror movie-esque rage. And it’s not directed at the people who actually make the decision about whether schools stay open or not. Oh no. It’s directed at any authority figure that the kids can find.

    Luckily, I’ve developed a solution to keep from being sacrificed to the snow gods when this rage strikes. If I complain before they do and louder than they do about the travesty of staying for the full day, they think I’m one of them.

    Which, let’s be honest, I am. At least when it comes to getting out of school early.

    Need a psychic reading? I’m your girl! Need accuracy? Look elsewhere…

    When the school that I currently teach at opened, I was surprised by how small the Jewish population was. Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I kind of always thought that we were everywhere, so going to an area with so few Jews provided me with a bit of culture shock.

    And having a Jewish teacher provided my students with even more culture shock.

    Of course, there were a handful of Jewish kids at my school. Like the one who came in during Passover and proudly displayed a baggie full of macaroons. Then he pulled out and ate his ham and cheese sandwich. On Wonder Bread. Yeah.

    For the most part, the kids’ understanding of Jewish culture comes from two main sources: Fiddler on the Roof and Borat. In other words, as far as they’re concerned, I’m a singing cockroach who can be distracted by cash.

    Okay, it’s not REALLY that bad. Yes, whenever I mention my grandmother’s ring that I wear every day, they quote The Hangover and say, “I didn’t know they gave out rings in the Holocaust.”

    But they don’t say stuff like that to be rude; they really just haven’t been exposed to Jewish culture.

    Which works to my advantage sometimes.

    For example, a kid was describing an odd dream that she’d had during my newspaper class one day, and, being funny, I quoted Fiddler on the Roof and said, in my best Yiddish accent, “Tell me what you dreamt and I’ll tell you what it meant.”

    The kids all got very quiet all of a sudden. “Can you do that?” one of them asked.

    I could have confessed that I have zero training in dream interpretation. Or I could have told them that no, not everything that happened in Fiddler on the Roof is accurate for every Jew.

    But I didn’t.

    “Of course,” I said. “All Jewish women interpret dreams. Didn’t you know that?”

    Thus began the era of Miss Goodman: Jewish psychic.

     To be fair, the first thing that Madame Marie’s granddaughter said to me when I sat down to have her read my tarot cards was that I was psychic (I laughed and said, “My parents will say you meant ‘psycho,’” which they did as soon as I told them about it, PROVING that I AM in fact, psychic). Not that I believe any of that stuff. Especially because when I do it, it’s just me making up crap that sounds believable to mess with people’s heads.

    Which just happens to be one of my favorite things in the world to do.

    So now, whenever my newspaper students have a weird dream, they come to me and ask me to interpret it. And I do. Wildly inaccurately. But the awesome part about claiming any kind of psychic powers is that, no matter how bizarre it seems, if you act like you know what you’re talking about, people will believe you. They’ll say they don’t. But they secretly will.

    Like last week, when a girl told me that she had a dream that a tiger was attacking her. She tried to shut the basement door to avoid it, even though in real life, her basement doesn’t have a door. But it broke through and was attacking her and no one came to help her.

    That was an easy one.

    I nodded and looked very wise and told her that she was trying to control her future by closing the door, which represented her college applications, but in the end, factors outside her control were going to determine her destiny. And it was a tiger mauling her because she was worried about what was going to happen. But she didn’t die in the dream, which meant that she would overcome any obstacle that she faced. 

    See? Easy. Of course, with that particular kid, I would have given her that answer even if she’d said her dream was about eating a giant pile of bananas while tap dancing on a cruise ship.

    Another kid told me that she dreamed that her dog had turned into a giant purple talking poodle, but no one in her family could hear it talking except her.

    Which obviously meant that her family didn’t understand her. Because the poodle didn’t represent her dog, it represented HER, and it was purple because she felt underappreciated. She was stunned by the accuracy of my interpretation.

    Of course the area where my psychic abilities truly shine is in the tarot card readings that I do for my friends. Which is utterly ridiculous because I know NOTHING about tarot cards, and I don’t even have a deck, I do it with a normal deck of cards. But if I SAY that I know what I’m doing, the kids all believe it. So I’ll have them shuffle and cut the deck, then I’ll lay out the first nine cards. (I don’t even think that’s the right number, but they don’t know that, so who cares?) And I’ll make up random BS that could apply to any high school kid and watch their reactions to see where to go next.

    In other words, no matter what cards they deal, I say that they’re facing drama in their personal lives (because let’s face it, that’s true of ALL high school kids. And all high school teachers for that matter). Then I say the next one represents the feeling of being misunderstood at home. Again, true of every teenager. Then I throw in something about how they’re destined for greatness to stroke their egos a little bit. And after that, even the most skeptical of skeptics are convinced of my fortune telling skills.

    Because I’m Jewish. And that’s the moral of this story after all: all Jewish women are psychic. So don’t mess with us. Or we’ll put a gypsy curse on you. And you’ll need to find a leprechaun to undo the curse.  And they’re not real.

    Just ask Madame Marie’s granddaughter. She’ll tell you. Just like how she told me that I’m psychic. And clearly, psychics never lie.

    Things your teacher never told you: I want to grade your paper less than you want to write it!

    I spent a large chunk of my Sunday afternoon performing the single worst, most tedious, soul-destroying task on the planet.

    No, I wasn’t rooting for the Cowboys or teaching my grandmother to use some new form of technology. It was far, far worse.

    I was grading papers.

    I know, I know, it doesn’t SEEM like grading papers would be that bad.

    Trust me. It is. In fact, it’s worse than that bad. I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spoon than grade papers.

    Which means that I truly picked a terrible profession as my day job until writing starts to pay the bills.

    It probably serves me right that I’m stuck grading papers, because I was the obnoxious student who was typically outraged that my teachers didn’t run straight home and spend their entire lives grading my work so that I could get my five page paper (which I had spent no more than an hour writing, because unlike them, I had a life) back the next day. If any of my former teachers are reading this, I’m sorry.

    When my students complain about a writing assignment that I’m giving them, I mentally pause and evaluate the arguments that they’re making against having to do the paper. And their arguments usually sound REALLY good. Mostly because I want to grade them FAR less than they want to write them. They don’t know how good they have it. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat, because WRITING a paper is millions of times better than having to grade sixty papers on the EXACT SAME TOPIC.

    Literally, I spent hours yesterday grading essays on Twain’s use of satire in Huck Finn. One essay on that? No problem. Sixty? FML.

    I’ve discovered that I have two favorite types of students when I’m grading essays: the kids who do a flawless job, requiring me to write nothing more than “Great work!” at the top with a smiley face, and the kids who don’t bother turning their work in at all. The latter group, in fact, tends to REALLY be my favorite, because they make my job that much easier. Just put a zero in the grade book and I’m done.

    Unfortunately, in an honors (but not AP) English class, most of my students don’t fall into either of those categories. And if I had to write on one more paper that the writer needed to address the sarcasm that Twain used in answering the librarian who wanted to ban Huck Finn from the children’s shelf at the New York Public Library, I was going to lose it, find a megaphone, and start teaching my lessons with that because apparently when speaking at a normal volume, my explanations of satire are inaudible to teenage ears.

    But the fact that I explained in excessive detail exactly what needed to be in their papers (to the point that if they brought a tape recorder and transcribed what I said word-for-word, they’d get an A+, even if they hadn’t read the book), isn’t what annoys me most about grading. Nor is it the sheer tedium of reading the same paper sixty times. It’s not even the amount of time that grading takes—time that I would far rather be spending in ANY other way.

    No, the worst part of grading is that I actually take the time to do it (granted, because I have to. If I could get away without grading at all and not get fired, I would never grade another paper again), and then the kids look at the grade and promptly drop their papers in the trashcan. Not even the recycling bin. The trash. And then proceed to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKES on every other paper that they turn in for the rest of the year.

    I mean, okay, I get it, you don’t care what I have to say about your writing (even though I’m a freaking published author. That’s cool. Ignore my advice), but can you AT LEAST show some environmental awareness in your choice of disposal method, just so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time AND contributing to the ruination of the planet?

    And I thought the guy standing on Rockville Pike in the tuxedo-wearing chicken suit in the rain had a thankless job.

    In college, I was the queen of testing professors when I didn’t think they were reading my work. I would screw with the page numbers, leaving out a couple of numbers when my work wasn’t long enough, or using multiples with the same page number when it was too long and I didn’t feel like cutting anything out. I would mess with the margins, font size, and line spacing (for example, most people won’t spot the difference between a paper written in 12.3 point font and 12 point font—12.4 is where it starts to look obvious). And in one case, when I was positive that my professor wasn’t REALLY reading my work, I inserted a page long explanation of how I didn’t actually read the book into a ten page paper on a Willa Cather novel.

    Not a single professor ever caught on.

    Now, I’m tempted to use some of the same tricks with my grading, just to see if the kids are paying attention.

    For example, if they got an A on the paper, would they really notice that the comments said that it was unreadable drivel, on par with the ramblings that a psychotic third grader would write entirely in goat’s blood? Or a B that said I think the author will have a fulfilling career in miniature golf ahead of him, based on his ability to fabricate information with a tiny pencil?

    I haven’t done anything like that yet, but I’m pretty sure that I could get away with it.

    Although, to be honest, if a kid DID put anything super creative in a paper to see if I was reading it, I’d probably give him or her an A, just for breaking up the tedium of grading.

    No, not really.   I’m going to keep grading for real in the vain hope that SOME student will someday actually learn from my comments on his or her paper.

    But it would still make grading a lot less mind-numbingly awful.