Monday, August 1, 2011

A "Why I love teaching middle school" Moment: Making Kids Think They're Crazy

(photo @

Middle school students can be enormously frustrating to work with, but they also can make for an excellent source of entertainment and unsuspecting subjects for practical jokes.

Like many male public school teachers, I have a rotation of dress shirts that I run through before laundry day.  Sometimes without thinking (or because I just don't notice), I will go through these shirts in the same order for a few cycles.

I knew this had become a problem when a student was said to me "Mr N, why are you wearing a red shirt?  Don't you usually wear the blue shirt on Tuesdays?"

Good thing they don't see what I wear on Saturdays

I decided to change things up and make a conscience effort to randomly choose which shirts I wore on each day of the week.

Why I cared about what 11-14 year kids thought about my fashion sense, I do not know.  But it was a bit of an embarrassing eye opener  to know that my clothing choices had become so laughibly predictable.

Tim Gunn's disapproving stare was also beginning to take it's toll.

During my first period class that year, I had an excellent 7th grade flute player named Carie.  She was not only a very good young musician, but she was also incredibly observant; sometimes to the point of unfounded paranoia.  As I started mixing up my shirt rotation, Carie began to suspect that something had changed.

A few times a week, she would see me in the afternoon or at after school band rehearsal and accuse/inquire of me "Mr. N, did you change shirts?  I'm certain that you were wearing a different colored shirt this morning in class."

Before any of you assume that this was a joke or sarcasm on her part, this was usually accompanied with a demeaning facial expression that clearly translated (in flute, which is a language) to: "What type of psycho teacher changes their clothes in the middle of the day?"

This rabbit's disapproval, coming instead from a 12 year old girl

So one day, I decided to do exactly what Carie thought I was doing.

I wore a grey button down shirt to school that day and brought a red one as well.  I told all the students I saw that morning (who also knew of Carie's weekly fashion inquisitions) not to let her in on the joke.  Surprisingly and maybe for one of the first times in middle school history, a secret was kept (a small morning class and being in my office before school helped).

After Carie's class ended, I went into my office and changed into my red shirt.  As I strolled through the lunch room later that afternoon, Carie saw me...and completely flipped out  The following exchange took place:

Carie:  Mr. N!! I know that you changed shirts today!

Me:, this is the same shirt I wore to school today; just like it is every day you accuse me of changing shirts during school.

Carie:  No, Mr. N.  I know I'm right this time.  You were wearing a different shirt this morning than you are right now!  I can see it in my mind!!!"

Me:  Sorry Carie, but just like all the other times you say that I changed shirts, I did not.  Maybe you're just crazy."

Carrie:  I know what I saw, Mr N!  I'M NOT CRAZY!!!"

Furthermore, I am Shiva, goddess of death!

At this point, more than a few students turned to observe Carie's high pitched and hilariously ironic defense of her mental stability.

Me:  I think you just proved my point.

I smiled and walked away.  Carie sat at her lunch table with a look that may have been an early warning sign for spontaneous combustion.  Later that day at after school band rehearsal, Carie continued to stick to her story.

Carrie:  "I know what I saw, and I know you changed shirts from the one you wore this morning.  I know it!"

Me:  Just like every day you say I do that, right Carrie?

The other students smiled and chuckled while Carie began to breathe actual fire and smoke from her nostrils.

I figured that the joke could only be allowed to go on for so long before it went from being funny to being mean. I told the students that they didn't need to keep the secret anymore and finally let Carie in on the joke...

...about three weeks later.

Pictured:  My impact as educator that day