Hipster Trish Gets Mad About Maroon 5 and 4/4 Time


Armstrong and Miller were not making me laugh.  I sat on the bed with Hipster Trish, watching her alternatively giggle and apologize.  “This isn’t one of the best episodes,” she’d say, then follow it with, “Oh, that was pretty good.”  I like sketch comedy about as much as the next guy, but this sucked.  We got to a skit where they played WWII members of the Royal Air Force.  They sat in a gloomy room talking about trousers and speaking in Ebonics.

“This sucks!” I couldn’t hold it in anymore.  “Seriously, this is about as clever as when they had the old white lady rap in The Wedding Singer.  Wow, how funny.  They’re in the Royal Air Force but they talk in Ebonics.  That’s crazy!  How do they come up with this stuff?”

“You’re a TOOL!” Hipster Trish shot back.  She was seething.  My Armstrong and Miller rant had gotten to her.  It was as though I had insulted her mother.  Actually, I’m not sure that she would care very much if I actually did go ahead and insult her mother.  That could be forgiven.

But comparing Armstrong and Miller to Adam Sandler…totally out of line.

Hipster Trish is cool because she’s convinced that she’s not a hipster.  She says she hates them.  And yet this is the same person who refused to talk to one of my friends after she, my friend that is, referred to James McAvoy as “the guy from Wanted.”

“I can’t talk to anybody who thinks Wanted is a good movie,” Trish said.  During our friendship I’ve been introduced to a lot of cool stuff through Hipster Trish.  She’s shown me the show “The Misfits” and a pretty decent French Canadian movie called “Heartbeats.”  I now know lots of Canadian bands because of her, too, like the Weakerthans and Wintersleep.  This is a benefit of being friends with a hipster.  The negative part of it is that I get yelled at a lot.

Trish needs to go to Hipster Anger Management class, I believe.  Say something bad about a band she likes and she loses it.  The best example of this is when she played me a few songs by a group called MGMT.  I thought it was okay.  A few weeks later, I couldn’t remember anything specific about the songs she’d played.  I vaguely recollected that they were kind of light and poppy.

“I thought the MGMT was decent,” I said.  Then I unknowingly spoke the name of the devil.  “They sound a bit like Maroon 5.”

She exploded.  “What the fuck!  MGMT sounds nothing like Maroon 5!”

“No,” I said, frightened.   “I just meant it’s light and poppy.”

“It’s not poppy!  How can you say it’s poppy?  Maroon 5?  They’re garbage!”

“Eh…they’re okay.”

“No they’re not!  I can’t believe you compared MGMT to fucking Maroon 5!  You’re a moron!”

Her face was red and I could see the smoke coming out of her ears.  I tried to change my argument later, saying that only the one song “Electric Feel” reminded me of Maroon 5.  It didn’t help any.  If she was American, and not Canadian, she would’ve shot me.

Another violent outburst occurred when she played an album by a band called LCD Soundsystem.  It got off to a bad start because I didn’t care for the first song.

“I’m not saying it’s bad,” I said.  My opinion had to be expressed in a very measured way, as I found out from the Armstrong and Miller debacle.  “It’s good.  Just…you know…if I had my choice, I don’t know that I’d listen to this.  I mean, I like short, hooky little songs…like The Ramones or Elvis Costello.”

The next song – called “Drunk Girls” – started up and I liked it much more.  “Now this is better,” I told her, thinking she’d be happy that I liked the band she was playing for me.  Then I imitated the bass line from the song.

She got up from the table where we were sitting and stormed away.  She spun around towards me and spat out, “You’re a tool!”

“What did I do?” I said, confounded.

“I guess a song can only be good if it’s in 4/4 time,” she said, turning her back to me again.  She had nothing else to say.  I believe I could see her shaking with hipster rage.  I imagined the report the police would have to fill out after she murdered me.  Her motive for the crime would be listed as “time signature disagreement.”

Ever see Jagger do this? Nope, me neither.

As I said before, Hipster Trish is cool.  She’s great.  Not many people are so passionate about things.  Yes, she needs Hipster Anger Management, but that’s part of who she is.  Yes, she calls me a tool all the time, but she’s a friend.  She likes me.  Why wouldn’t she?  I got the moves like Jagger.



Billy Is Gay!


This is the story of how I butted heads with a student, ended up stealing her cell phone, and was eventually reprimanded by my school for giving her an obscene gesture (although I was innocent).  In the course of reading this, I hope you will see how a teacher can never really guess what’s going to happen next.  Teaching is full of surprises, little moments that a reflective person unlike myself can learn from.  I don’t know if I learned anything from the events that transpired with “Miss A,” other than the statement of fact that provides our story with its title:

Billy is gay.

It all began on a Thursday, my first Thursday at the new school.  Up until that point, things had gone wonderfully.  The kids seemed awesome and classes were off to a good start.  That all changed when a heavy-set middle school girl came bounding through the door.  This was my last Thursday class, a group of ten middle school kids.  My attention was quickly gobbled up by the girl I mentioned earlier; she was incredibly loud and seemed to be the leader of the gang of middle school girls that sat around her.  It’s not hard to tell when the “bad” student walks into the room.  They typically like to announce their presence.

“Hello everyone,” I said to the class.  I wrote my name on the board.  “My name is Bill.  It’s easy to remember.  Just like Bill Gates, or Bill Clinton, or Bill Belamy.”

I figured the students would know one of them, most likely Belamy, and that would help them pronounce my name.  Before I could say another word, the girl I’d already started to worry about exploded.

“Billy!” she shouted.  “Hahaha!!!  Billy is gay!  Teacher is gay!”

This caused the rest of the class to go berserk.  Suddenly everyone was saying, “Billy!  Billy!”

“Um,” I said.  “Okay.  It’s actually Bill.  So it would be good if we could stick to that, I guess.  Bill.”

“Teacher!” the girl laughed.  “Billy means gay!”

“Well, that’s nice to know,” I said, and then tried to change the subject.  “What is your name?”

“Billy!  My name is Billy!”

The class was seriously losing it.  I felt embarrassed and it was only two minutes into the first class.  I faked a laugh.  “Nice one.  Really, what is your name?”

“No name,” she said, a huge smile on her face.  “Haha.  Gay.  Billy.

That fifty minute class seemed to go on forever.  When it finally came to a close, Leah, my boss, came in my room.  “How was the big girl?” she asked me.  “She gave the last foreign teacher many problems.”

“She was bad,” I said, admittedly.  “We’ll figure her out.”

I’ve been teaching for awhile now, and so I was confident that I could ease this student back onto the road more travelled

The ladies of Miss A

(the road where students don’t answer ‘how are you?’ with ‘teacher is gay’).  The next time the class met, I gave her lots of attention and was super nice.  She still wouldn’t make up a name for herself, so I dubbed her “Miss A” after the popular Korean music group.  I joked around with her and gave her candy at the end of class.  The following week was more of the same.  This was theory one – win her over.  I rigged the English game we played so that she won and then gave her money (only 1,000 KW, but still) as a prize.

I was convinced that soon she would not see me as an adversary; she would see me as the greatest person ever to step foot in her hogwon.

For that first month, Miss A was still bad, but she was manageable.  She was loud and obsessed with the whole Billy thing, but she did her work and participated in the class.  Things would regress in the second month.  I blame a two week span where I didn’t see her class at all – my English class was cancelled due to testing.  When Miss A came back, it was like the first day times infinity.

“Teacher likes boys!  Teacher is gay!  Gay gay gay!  Billy!”

And then it caught on.  In one of my elementary school classes, a tiny little boy named Daniel pointed at me and said, “Bill Teacher is gay.”  Walking through the hallways, I started to get it from the majority of the middle school kids I’d walk by.  “Hi Billy!” they’d say, cracking up.

The second theory went into effect – ignore it and be above it.  Now, I wish I could say that being called ‘gay’ was no different from them saying ‘stupid’ or ‘ugly.’  That it was just another name.  Really, the whole thing was starting to get under my skin, and I wish I could say that it was because it disrupted class and, hey, I’m human and I just don’t like being laughed at constantly.  That wouldn’t be the truth, though.  I think if it was “teacher is stupid,” I wouldn’t have cared too much.  It probably is a bit homophobic; being called gay all the time bothered me.  Especially because it led to having a bunch of kids, including a lot of young boys, going around the school saying “teacher likes boys.”  That was NOT cool at all.  It was slander, man.  Baseless slander.  Or slander based on, I guess, my name.

“Damn,” I said to myself.  “I should’ve told them my name is William.”

Ignoring it wasn’t making it go away.  It was only getting worse.  Miss A had infected the whole school.

Finally, on a Wednesday, I went straight into theory three – get strict.  I was sitting at my desk when Miss A ran into the classroom, a bunch of girls following behind her.  I was surprised to see her, as she’s not in my Wednesday class.  “Teacher,” she said, smiling, “do you like boys?”

The girls behind her burst into hysterics.  I stood up.  I told the others to leave.  “Listen,” I said in my serious voice, the door closed behind us, “it isn’t funny anymore.  NOT FUNNY.  No more gay joke.  Do you understand?  I want you to STOP IT.  No more.”

She nodded and smiled and laughed like I was telling her the parrot joke.  The next day in class, it was obvious that our little talk was pointless.  “Billy!” she shouted to the delight of her peers.  “Teacher is Billy!”

I wanted to kick her in the face.  As a professional, my judgment told me to refrain from that.  “Deep breaths,” I said to myself.  “Stay cool.”  I told her to stop again.  She didn’t.  Then I noticed that her cell phone was sitting on her desk.  I snatched it up and put it in my pocket.

“Done,” I said.  “The joke is done.  No more.  If you want your phone back, quiet rest of class.  No more talking.  Quiet.”

This was theory four – desperation.

Like its predecessors, it failed miserably.  Miss A kept talking, just now in Korean.  The class kept laughing.  “Okay,” I said.  I took a piece of paper and wrote the following:

“Dear Parents, Your daughter’s phone was taken due to poor behavior.  To get it back, call me.  I would like to talk to you.  My number is ________________.  Thanks.”    

I gave the paper to Miss A.  “You’re not getting your phone back until mom or dad calls,” I said.  This quieted her.  For the rest of class, she wrote a long apology letter.  After the bell rang, she approached me with it.

“Teacher, I am very sorry,” she said.

“That’s nice,” I said.  “You’ll get your phone back when mom or dad calls me.”

She held the note out.  I took it and threw it in the garbage.

“Teacher!” she called to me, frantically.  “I am sorry!  Please give me phone!”

I shut the door.  My serious tone was gone.  I was pissed.  “I tried to be nice to you.  I tried to talk to you.  I told you yesterday to stop it, and you didn’t.  It’s been two months of this!  I took the phone and told you to be quiet, and you kept on talking.  It’s NOT FUNNY.  You’re not getting this phone back until I hear from your parents.  You’re not sorry – you just want your phone back.”

I stormed out of the building before any of the Korean teachers would know what was happening.  Miss A followed me to my apartment.  I left her outside while I put the phone in my nightstand.  I had plans in Incheon that night, and I headed for the subway.  Miss A and her posse followed me almost the entire way.

“Teacher,” they pleaded, “we did not understand.  It is because you are American and we are Korean.  It is culture mistake.”

I did my best not to argue, but once in awhile I couldn’t stay quiet.  “That’s ridiculous.  It has nothing to do with culture.”  They kept following me.  Eventually they gave up.  I walked away as fast as I could, and, with my back turned to them, threw up the peace sign.

Riding the subway I felt nervous.  Had I done the right thing?  Probably not, but did I do something outrageously wrong?  I wondered if I should’ve talked to the Korean teachers.  I didn’t because I’d been told stories that, since a hogwon (private English academy) is more like a business than a school, the students get away with murder – the institutes don’t want to jeopardize a student dropping out and losing the enrollment money.  I told myself to forget about it.  To try and enjoy my night and forget about Miss A for the time being.

At seven o’clock the next morning, I was reminded of the whole thing in the worst way possible.  Miss A’s alarm was going off and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.  Being woken up early, I suppose, is one of the dangers in taking a kid’s cell phone.

On Friday, a Korean teacher I’d never met before came down to talk to me.  “You have my student’s cell phone,” she said.  “She would like to see you and apologize.  She’s very sorry.

“Um,” I said, feeling awkward, “here’s the thing.  I get that she’s sorry.  That’s cool.  This is about making sure it doesn’t happen again, and that’s why I need to speak to her parents.”

“Her parents are very strict, though, and they will be angry.”

“Right.  I guess that’s kind of the point.”

The teacher obviously wanted me to give the phone back.  “She cannot study.  Her mind is thinking about the phone.  She has cried many times.”

“I understand,” I said, not yielding.  “So have the parents call me, and I’ll give the phone back, and everything will be awesome.”

“Her parents don’t speak English.  What can you say?  How will you talk to them?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  It was a good point.  “I just want them to call, I guess.  To show that they’re aware and so I’ll have their number to contact if something else happens later.”

The bell ran and I went to class.  Between every class, the same teacher came down, trying to talk me into giving the phone back.  “What am I supposed to do?” she asked several times.  “How can I help this situation?”

By her fourth visit, I was losing patience.  “Have the parents call me,” I said, in an irritated tone.  “That’s what you can do.”

It got more uncomfortable.  Leah came in to talk to me.  “It is a culture misunderstanding,” she said.  “In Korea, it is okay to be gay.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said.  Then I lied a little.  “But it’s not about the word ‘gay.’  I just want her to stop disrupting class.”
“Her parents are angry with the school,” she said.  “They have called and yelled.  You gave her ‘fuck you’ hand gesture.”

This was a curveball I didn’t expect.  “What?!” I nearly shouted.

“You did this,” she said, and then she did the British two-finger ‘fuck you’ thing.  I thought back to what happened.  When I walked away to get on the subway, I had thrown up the peace sign.  Since my back was to her, it was backwards and probably looked a lot like the two fingered salute.

“I didn’t do that!” I said defensively.  “I’m American!  I don’t do that two fingered thing.  I threw up deuces!  It was deuces, man, not the fuck you thing!  If I wanted to say ‘fuck you,’ I’d put up one finger!”

Everything was wrong.  It was a mess.  To summarize what happened next, I gave Miss A her phone back on Monday.  Then she either dropped out of English class or stopped going to the hogwon altogether.  I’m not sure and I didn’t ask.  I haven’t seen her in three weeks, not since I handed her the phone back.  I was happy to, in a way.  Getting woken up at 7:00 in the morning sucks.

I don’t know what to think of the whole fiasco.  Her former class is very good now, well behaved and positive.  I feel like they get something from the lessons.  Nobody calls me ‘gay’ or says I like boys.  The students on a whole appear to enjoy my English class.  If one believes in a greater good, then I clearly did the right thing by, ultimately, getting her to drop out.  Yet, I can’t help feeling like I failed.  She was my student and now she’s gone.  I didn’t get through to her.  In her mind, I stole her phone and flicked her off.  I was abominable.  Yes, abominable.  An abominable gay man.

Sometimes I sit at my desk and think about what I could’ve done differently.  The other day a thought came to me that I’d never thought of it before.  “Maybe,” I said to myself, “when she asked me if I liked boys, I should’ve just said ‘no.’”


Desk Full of Hate


My Vice Principal has a very clean and lovely desk.  He keeps one framed photograph on it.  I’ve talked to him enough times to know that he has a wife and a daughter.  However, neither of them have found their way onto his desk.  Instead, the one framed photograph is of him and the Principal, standing in front of the school, smiling and looking highly professional.

There’s nothing wrong with that, although it might seem a little odd to a Westerner who’s used to pictures of babies or spouses being on someone’s work station.  In essence, the workplace picture serves two purposes: to show off and to motivate.  The first is obvious.  A person wants their co-workers to notice, to say “what a cute baby!” or “awww! you and your husband look so sweet together!”  The second is for the worker, so that in those head-rubbing moments when the thought “why the hell am I doing this to myself?” goes through the mind, there’s a readily available answer.  You can’t quit because you have a baby.  Look, there’s proof on your desk.  It exists.  Stop typing up that resignation letter.

In thinking about the workplace picture, I stumbled onto what I think is a bright idea.  Personally, I’m mostly motivated by bitterness and resentment, as opposed to silly notions like family or pride.  It might be a good idea, then, to fill my desk with pictures of those people that drive me to do better – the ex-girlfriends and the folks I just don’t like.  I could go through Facebook, print off pictures, buy frames, and stock my desk full of the hated. 

“Say,” a coworker might ask, “who are they?”

“Oh,” I would say, “that’s my ex and her new boyfriend.  They look happy, huh?  Those bastards!”

And then, theoretically, I’d become highly productive in order to show them the excellence I’m capable of.  Having to see, say, a picture of Glen Beck everyday would send me into a working frenzy.

“Hey, Bill,” someone might ask me, “I heard you wrote two novels last year?  Where’d the inspiration come from?”

“My desk full of hate,” I’d answer.  “Yeah, I was having trouble finishing the second one, so I framed a picture of Frank Wycheck from the Music City Miracle.  Then the novel just kind of wrote itself.” 

People keep pictures that make them happy.  There’s a tragedy in looking at a picture and wishing it was you in it and not someone else, or that your team (go Bills!) was the one celebrating in the end zone.  I’d never actually do my “desk full of hate” because of that “show off” factor.  It would be hard to admit, as I would often have to, that the picture doesn’t often turn out the way I’d hoped it would.


Deviants in the Classroom


“In a deviant society, why and how do people avoid deviance?” – Walter Reckless’ Containment Theory

Most of the kids in Miss Tee’s class had what were called “behavior problems.”  It’s one of those nice educational terms that exists so kids aren’t called bad, naughty, or, as I like to think of them, devil children. Another term used to describe Miss Tee’s class was “self-contained.” This is an odd phrase, one that makes it unclear as to whether the teacher works with children or with a contagious disease.  By definition, it just means that the students learn all subject areas in one classroom, but it sounds as though they have the bird flue or something.  I wonder if there was a big meeting somewhere, and the brightest people in the school system chose the term “self-contained classroom” narrowly over “sequestered zone” or “quarantined place of learning.”

In February of 2005, I got my first job in the field of education, becoming Miss Tee’s Teacher Assistant.  I chose to be a TA because I thought that the experience would show me the ropes.  As a TA, I could learn how to be a teacher from the inside.  Miss Tee had taught for ages, and I figured she would show me how to write lesson plans, how to differentiate instruction, and how to implement classroom management techniques that could turn a bunch of hooligans into a class of student-handbook abiding citizens.

For the first few days, this was what happened.  Miss Tee was a slightly older woman in her late forties or early fifties.  She was alternatively stern and kind as I thought a teacher should be.  Despite her name, Miss Tee had been married for years and had a daughter in high school.  I eventually learned that every woman in the South is referred to as “miss” regardless of her marital status.  In addition to Miss Tee, there was also a sign language interpreter in the classroom, an Italian woman around the same age as Miss Tee named Miss Pepperoni (hey, changing real people’s names is hard, cut me some slack on this one).  Of course, Miss Pepperoni was also married.  She and Miss Tee got along famously.  So well, it turned out, that on some days there would be very little interpreting and even less teaching.

As I got used to working in the classroom, I started to grasp the daily routine.  After I got the kids off the bus, the class ate breakfast in the empty cafeteria.  Next came the longest portion of the day, when the kids did a math worksheet independently while Miss Tee and Miss Pepperoni read the newspaper and talked about their lives.  Around mid-afternoon I took the kids to the gym for Adaptive PE.  Miss Tee and Miss Pepperoni stayed in the classroom.  Lunch followed, and then story time.  Finally came my most active duty of the school day: taking the kids to the soccer field to play while Miss Tee and Miss Pepperoni watched Oprah.

Since I considered myself her apprentice, I was a bit disappointed.  When I asked Miss Tee about lesson plans, she simply said, “I don’t do those.” There were no tests and I saw no evidence of any curriculum being followed.  Eventually, Miss Tee laid it out for me nice and clearly.

“We’re self-contained special ed,” she said.  “The school don’t care about us.  How many times does the Principal come in here?  Maybe once or twice to say ‘hi’ to the kids.  These kids don’t take state tests! They don’t do EOGs.  That’s what the school cares about.  We just stay in our room and make it look like everything is nice and happy.”

Way back in the 1950s, a criminologist named Walter Reckless created what he called his “Containment Theory.”  It concerns how individuals resist acting out in deviant ways.  One of the main “buffers” in his theory is the “outer society,” which basically provides rules and dictates what is generally acceptable behavior.  Thinking back on that classroom, with all those “behavior problem” students, it’s striking how the teacher, Miss Tee, might have been the most deviant of anybody.  It makes sense, though.  There was no outer society to keep Miss Tee in line.  She had broken away from it, presumably after years and years of her special education class getting nothing but neglect and indifference from the rest of the school.  Our class wasn’t really a part of the school society.  And as a result, everyone did what they wanted.  The kids played soccer. The teacher watched Oprah.

Remembering my time as her assistant, though, I can clearly recall those days when Miss Tee’s “inner buffer” took over and she did what she knew how to do: she taught.  And man could Miss Tee teach when she wanted to.  When she read the class a story, they sat there riveted.  When she talked, they listened. When they misbehaved, she ended it with just a look.  Being with Miss Tee, I saw glimpses of one heck of an amazing teacher.  And I also saw – maybe more importantly – what can happen to a great teacher stuck in self-containment, in a school system that never bothers to look or say thanks.

(In Self-Containment: Memories of a Teacher’s Assistant is my ongoing serial about the year I spent as a TA in a self-contained special ed middle school classroom.  The names of the students and teachers I talk about have been changed.  “Deviants in the Classroom” is Part Three.)