My Trashy Girlfriend: A Lesson on Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll

My Trashy Girlfriend

I always believed that working at occupations other than teaching before I became a teacher was very beneficial. Doing other jobs helped me keep the joys, the challenges, and the frustrations of teaching in a manageable perspective. Those other jobs also gave me a rich background of examples to make my lessons more real and relatable. I’d recommend that all teachers get experience at things other than teaching before entering the field.

I’d done it all: bus boy; service station attendant; cab driver; construction laborer (a member of the Hod Carriers Union) and more and through all of it – professional musician. It was as a musician I learned something I later turned into life lessons for my kids. I learned that no matter how much you love your woman, when she gets banned from the biker bar where you are working you have to face it, “You’ve got a trashy girlfriend!”

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Are You Gay?

Are You Gay?

“Are You Gay?” Students have asked this question a lot in classrooms where I have taught, particularly when I was a substitute teacher. Why? Because it’s an easy way to derail a lesson. Once asked, it must be EFFECTIVELY answered or the class/lesson descends into homophobic giggling or worse.

This isn’t about being ashamed or trying to hide. It’s about keeping the class on task. I live in West Hollywood. My wife swam with West Hollywood Aquatics (a predominately, but not exclusively, openly gay swim team) and so I have met more than a few gay and lesbian teachers who have been asked this inappropriate question and some did not know how to respond. I write this for them and for any teacher who doesn’t want to be trapped by this question.

It is important to note that I was never asked about my sexual orientation by any openly gay students (see Embarrassing Questions). I am spectacularly handsome but I don’t think I give off a particularly gay vibe. When I was gigging with drummer PT (he’s the guy who recommended I should substitute teach for additional income which started my teaching career), he used to get angry with me on the job and on the break one night he fiercely scolded me, “Would you please get your head into the job? I can always tell when a pretty girl comes in the room because your playing goes to hell. Stop checking out the girls and get your head into the music!” He was right.

Mad Magazine and a word of caution

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Don’t Blink! The Truth is Mo’ Stranger Than Fiction!

4.22.15 OMG iStock_000023209114_FullI’m a Troublemaker

I told you before, my boss told me I was being watched downtown because I’m so highly qualified, too highly paid and too much of a troublemaker!  What this means is they could/might/will walk on campus at any time looking for some reason to overcrowd my classroom, transfer me, or worse.  What made this particularly nerve-racking was knowing that many administrators erroneously believed that they were expert enough to judge any teacher in the blink of an eye.

Don’t judge teachers in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, this erroneous belief is supported by science!  In his wonderful book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell explains the area of study known as rapid cognition or ‘thin slicing’, the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye.  He makes a very convincing case and I agree with most of his well researched findings.  When talking about evaluating teachers he refers to a study out of Harvard by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in which they assert that students were reliably able to judge a teacher’s effectiveness by watching a ten second video!  Wow!

I would not want to be judged that way, and yet I was.  Rather than argue about the misuse of their science (I read Ambady & Rosenthal’s paper and would be happy to discuss details), let me share two stories of ‘thin slicing’ gone wrong and a masterpiece of classroom mischief that turned into a comedic thermonuclear meltdown which, thankfully, did not get ‘thin sliced’.  Judge for yourself if you would like to be evaluated in the blink of an eye.

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #1

OwlpussycatContent Alert:
Politically Incorrect Material
The following contains
sexually suggestive language
which may not be suitable for all audiences.

We all do stupid things.

One year, I left the water running in the sink and flooded my bathroom.  That was stupid.  I know better but I let myself get distracted.  As a teacher I was regularly cautioned to never use the word ‘stupid’.  But to be honest with you, we teachers regularly see behaviors (and policies) that can only be described as stupid.  Some examples of stupidity we can fix.  But there is one form of stupidity that we can’t fix; it is deadly and we need to be able to recognize it to protect our children.  Now, before you get angry, let me do a little clarifying of terms.  This is important because at the time of this writing (early 2015) there is a measles outbreak sweeping the nation and the word stupid is being used with abandon. 

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Embarrassing Questions

11.25.14 Question MarkChildren ask a lot of questions.  They’re supposed to.  It is a cornerstone of learning.  And I believe it is the duty of adults, parents, teachers, even the whole village, to answer those questions as honestly and unemotionally as we can.  But it’s not always easy.

Now, I’m not talking about the kinds of questions which are asked as distractions (those are a different problem).  I’m talking about the kinds of questions in which the child really does want an honest answer but where an honest answer can be embarrassing to the adult or a serious challenge to adult dignity.

If you have ever changed a diaper, cleaned up after a sick cat, or used a bedpan in a hospital ward you probably know that some situations require actions which are necessary but inherently undignified.  It is in those moments in which we learn that dignity is carried in the heart and not dictated by circumstance.

When children are young and the questions are things like: “Daddy, why do I get boogers in my nose?” or “Mommy, why do Daddy’s farts smell so bad?” the challenge to dignity isn’t all that great.  But as our children mature and the questions become more sexual in nature, far too many adults/teachers shy away in embarrassment from these assaults on adult dignity.  Among the many embarrassing questions I’ve been asked, the following three questions stand out for me.  They were serious questions asked in class.  Although they challenged my dignity, I felt they were worthy of serious, dignified, honest answers.

I was asked: “Mr. D., what’s a stiffy?”  “Mr. D., why do your nipples look like that?”  and finally, “Mr. D., have you ever kissed a man?”

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Sex Education #1: Water Based Lube

Durex Play Intimate Lube an important sex education tool for your lucky condom.Content Alert:

Politically Incorrect Material to Follow

The Importance of Sex Education

As an Algebra teacher who believes in rigorous high standards for my students, I believe that sex education, family planning and life skills are far more important subjects for our students than Algebra!  There I said it; and I stand by it.  I do believe a firm grounding in Algebra is important, it’s just not as important as a firm grounding in sex education, family planning and life skills.  But I can hear your snorts and guffaws of indignation out there already.  Perhaps you think I’m being a bit extreme.  Perhaps you disagree.

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Sex Education #2: Condoms

Hand holding a condom isolated on whiteDifficulties with sex education

It’s hard to imagine the power of bad information from the home or the street until you experience it.  All too often we teachers, trying to present a lesson in as clear, believable and understandable a fashion as we can, wind up seeing our best efforts swept away by some student’s belief that has no bearing on reality or science.  Sex Education often shows how much bad information is floating around out there.

I always start early in any discussion of reproductive biology by making sure I am on safe ground.  I frequently would ask, “Am I telling you to have sex?”  To which I’d expect a resounding, “NO” from the class.  Then I’d ask, “Am I giving you permission to have sex?”  To which, I’d also be expecting a “No.”

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The Laughable Paradox of Naive Sophistication

Sexy baby pink patent platform high heelsNaive Sophistication

Some adults (parents, teachers and pundits) believe that today’s teens are very sophisticated (see my posts on sex education).  Some adults (mostly parents and politicians) believe that teens are still very naive (or you could say innocent).  What I have observed is a strange combination of both.  This can lead to very comedic situations.  And although this concept of naive sophistication applies to both boys and girls, the following narrative is about the girls.  Now don’t get upset.  This probably doesn’t apply to your daughter but it most probably applies to the girl sitting next to her.

The most glaring example of this laughable juxtaposition of worldliness and naiveté can be witnessed in the teenaged girl who comes to school in the morning dressed as if she was looking for love in all the wrong places on a Saturday night and then she flops down a ‘Little Mermaid’ backpack, takes out a ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ pencil and begins writing in her ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ notebook.

A more subtle example of precocious sophistication can be found in the lyrics of the Eagles song ‘Lying Eyes’ in which they sing about “girls… [who] find out early, how to open doors with just a smile.”  This is a story of just such a smile; but it didn’t work on me.

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