When Your Entire Class Conspires Against You

I’m not even a minute into my right-after-lunch sophomore class when it starts – the quiet tee-hee of laughter among a handful of students, clearly the cool kids enjoying an inside joke.

“Okay, okay, let’s go,” I say, directing attention back to my vocab warm-up on the whiteboard.

Soft snickering continues. Undaunted, I launch my introduction of the word “tenuous.”

“Tenuous, an adjective, means really thin or insubstantial. If something’s tenuous, it’s definitely in need of strengthening.” Like my hold on this class, I think.

Students write the definition, but I still hear muffled laughter. I arch my eyebrow, a classic teacher move to show I know what they’re up to and they need to knock it off. But I don’t what know what they’re doing and it’s throwing off my game.

Vocabulary wraps and it’s onto logical fallacies, part of our current work on argument writing. As I round the room handing out guided notesheets, more kids are laughing now. The infection is spreading. I covertly glance at the front of my pants. Whew, my zipper’s not down. Shoes? Toilet paper free. Okay…what is this about? Everyone’s distracted by the noisy binder snaps of transition, so I lean in to a popular but scholarly girl and whisper, “What’s going on?” But she just shakes her head “no,” silently shrugging her shoulders. Her pink cheeks tell me that she does know, but she’s not cracking.

Is there something on my face? No. Spinach in my teeth? I don’t think so. Their joke is lost on me, but I also suspect the joke is on me.

I’m ready to start the logical fallacies overview, but I just can’t. “Okay, what is going on?” I ask the class.

“Nothing, really, Ms. Randazzo,” says Anthony, self-appointed class spokesman. “It’s nothing. Just a dumb joke we told each other at lunch.” The others nod.

“It’s not about you,” a kind girl quickly adds.

“Okayyyy…then let’s pull ourselves together. Everyone take a deep breath and let it go, so we can move on,” I say.

And then four different boys in four different corners of the room start singing, “Let it gooooo, let it go-ooooo” from Frozen. My blood pressure rises. “Oh no, now let’s not start that,” I admonish with a forced smile, trying to get them back on track.

After a painfully long wait for the group to come to order, I finally begin our study of logical fallacies with a description of hasty generalizations, but the class still isn’t fully mine. Red cheeks. Watery eyes. Small bursts of giggles that physically cannot be contained.

What the hell? Is my entire class stoned? And then Roger’s phone goes off with one of those stupid meowing ring tones. “Really?” I say to him, defeat enveloping me.

“Sorry, Ms. R.,” he says, grabbing the phone from his desk. “I thought I’d turned it off.”

As Roger fumbles with his phone and I move toward his desk, the “phone” meows again, only this time I realize it’s not coming from his phone; the noise is coming from…Ethan’s hoodie. A tiny gray-and-white striped kitten emerges from the fleece and the class erupts in laughter.

I laugh, too, relieved that it wasn’t me, that I haven’t lost my mind, that my whole class isn’t baked. I’ve been upstaged for nearly 15 minutes by this itty-bitty interloper and I had no idea. I sigh with relief and ask Ethan to give me the kitten, a stray he found at the end of lunch who’s already been given the name “Lou.” Gingerly, I take Lou and hold him in the crook of my arm. I can’t help but make an example out of our incident, explaining that my own hasty generalization today was assuming that they’d all lost their minds.

I continue holding Lou and dropping puns in my lecture (Okay, let’s stop kitten around and get back to work…Yes, that’s a purrfect answer…) for a few more minutes until it’s time to walk to the computer lab for our argument research session. “Alright, everyone, we have to paws now and we’ll pick things back up here next time.”

On our way to the lab, we pass the administration office, where I’m able to deposit Ethan and his little distraction. Though it’s against school policy to bring animals to school, I didn’t want Ethan to be punished; his heart is big, even if his judgment needs some refinement.

Turns out that his family couldn’t adopt Lou because Ethan’s step-dad is allergic to cats, but one of their neighbors was willing to give Lou a furever home, just in time for Christmouse. (Okay, I’ll stop.)


Thinking over the craziness of that class period, I’ve had a few insights:

1. The Code of Silence is strong with this group. No one cracked, even while they were cracking up. I asked some of my kids why they just didn’t tell me. One girl said she wasn’t sure how I would react and she didn’t want Ethan to get in trouble. Others said they thought I’d yell at him and kick him out of class. Wow. Even after all of these months, they still don’t know me at all.
(Number of times I’ve yelled at them this year = Zero)

2. Some of them are great liars. Without skipping a beat, Anthony threw out the line about the joke and Roger led me down the ring tone path. I believed them both.

3. My priorities are definitely not their priorities. I’d built what I think is a pretty cool lesson about logical fallacies, but all it took was a few ounces of fluff to distract my students. And they loved the distraction. During our lab time later, one girl told me that this day was The Best Day she’s ever had in my class, all because of the kitten. Seriously? Multimedia lessons with pop culture references, modern articles with real-world relevancy and debates, personalized writing feedback that documents her actual growth, brain games in trio groups – are ANY of the things we’ve done worth getting excited about? Nah, none of that can compete with a cat in a hoodie. Awesome.

4. It’s a huge problem that I was so focused on getting the class through the lesson materials that I missed the elephant (or kitten) in the room. Moment of self-reflection: I need to realize what’s actually happening around me and know when it’s time to set aside the lesson plan.

5. Although incredibly frustrating in the moment, I’m laughing now as I think about Ethan and Lou. One of the reasons I love teaching is that something unexpected and usually pretty wacky happens almost every day. Some adults have jobs where they sit in cubicles and push papers day after day. Me? My days are filled with challenges, laughter, and a lot of growth – for them and me. I’ll take it.

Teach on, everyone!

Note: Student names were changed to protect the goofy.
Photo Credit: Normanack, Flickr, CC2.0.

20 thoughts on “When Your Entire Class Conspires Against You

  1. Mary OConnell says:

    Don’t you sometimes feel like you are back in high school with the same insecurities you had WAY back then (for me at least it’s a loooong time ago!). I suppose nobody likes to be the brunt of a joke! And hey, how many teachers can say a student had a kitty in the hoodie!

  2. Looove your reaction to Fluff! I wish some teachers here would react the same! I know for a fact that most would react as your students thought you would.

    For the sake of the anecdote and in support, I can tell you a friend of my daughter’s did the same thing about a year ago in her class, except that Fluff went into the knapsack! Every time the Fluff meowed, another of her friends would make some sort of a sigh or similar sound to keep the teacher away from the boy, (yes, it was also a boy!), from finding Fluff! The result in this case was that Fluff was not discovered, but did find a forever home!

    Teens will definitely be teens – no matter where in the world! And you can say it again: teachers have a lot more interesting and fun days than other professionals!

  3. Oh my gosh, Mary, that’s EXACTLY how I was feeling! I kept thinking, Is there a kick-me sign on my backside? Total insecurity that kept getting bigger and bigger in my mind until Lou finally revealed himself. Ugh! I’m still just 15 in my neurosis.

  4. I hate to say it and this might be groan worthy, but I think there might be a Trump joke here…

  5. YES, CWE! It’s strangely comforting to realize that Mr. Orr, clearly a super-engaging and talented math teacher, had the same demoralizing moment.

    For those who don’t click CWE’s link, here’s the salient part from Mr. Orr’s blog:

    “My MEL3E class is coming off a two week themed activity where we designed, built and launched rockets. Today we were completing the Sugar Sugar Desmos Activity and a student says to me: ‘When are we going to do something fun?’ I reply, ‘Fun?’ He says, ‘Yeah, like watch a movie.’

    I’m not one to show movies in class.

    Why do students always equate fun in class with movie watching? How does the student who just smiled through two weeks of math class, built and launched rockets, helped me fix the launcher numerous times, and today, yes today, defended his choice on which sugary cereal was the best choice not know he was having fun?

    I guess enjoying class does not equal ‘having fun.'”

    Oh, Mr. Orr, I am right there with you!

  6. Well, Carolyn, I suppose being blind/tricked for 15 minutes is better than not finding Lou for the entire 90-minute period. Some comfort there, as I guess I did stop the next activity to try to figure out what was happening. Honestly, though, if Lou hadn’t meowed at that exact moment, I probably would’ve just taken Roger’s phone and moved back into lecture mode. Aye, aye, aye…

  7. I appreciate this post because it reminds me how much fun I have with the kids. I am seriously in a space where I am grumpier and feeling more burned out than usual. When I have fun with the students, it affirms that my students are kids and they are interesting and they are fun, and teaching is sooooo much more than the administrivia that rolls down from above.

  8. I agree, JAG, that too much “administrivia” (great word, btw) can become the death of enthusiasm. Maybe it’s time for us to close the classroom doors and just teach. Heck, I was tempted to keep Lou with me and cuddle him for the rest of day, but I did need to get something done with my afternoon classes. Glad this post spoke to you.

  9. I love this post. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes I think we lose the fun in all of it when we forget to just acknowledge that we (as teachers) are human as well as our students. I totally can relate and sometimes I do find it relieving at the end of the day knowing I can start all over again the next day.

  10. My pleasure, Courtney! Somehow, blogging about times like this also help me process everything and then “let it go,” too. Thanks for commenting! My bloggy friends help keep me feeling sane.

  11. I feel your pain, Laura. A few weeks ago, one of my 8th grade classes kept looking at the clock and snickering. I heard murmurs of “11:11,” and they kept making furtive glances my way. This was going on for over 30 minutes–I was starting to see my teaching career flash before my eyes.
    At 11:11, they performed the mannequin challenge…well, mannequin challenge fail, anyway.
    I laughed it off and said that they should stay that way. I appreciated their silence and stillness.

    Thank you for your insights. I need to to put moments like this into perspective.

  12. Oh, and I forgot to add: You are a ROCK STAR for using Lou as a teachable moment. 😉

  13. Ha, Michelle! I’d take a mannequin challenge over Lou the kitten every day of the week. If you taught high school instead of 8th grade, I’d suggest we switch classes. 🙂

  14. I know this is about a year ago, but I have to tell you, the same thing happened to me one year, but it was three kittens and I kept one. All three little fluffs stayed with me until the end of the day when students took home the other two. Students are so tender-hearted.

  15. Lynnly Sainsbury says:

    Randazzo…I can’t believe that you felt insecure…I thought it was just me!
    And…I hate the days that I feel like my middle school self… It is important to remember those cubicle jobs…and treasure the days …even of snickers … Maybe I’ll bring in some candy…NOPE…nut allergy! lol…

  16. For sure, Lynnly. We’re all in the same struggle. 🙂

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