Travel Teacher Oops — “I came to hear The Outsiders, Miss.”

© sashafatcat

A bowl of grits © sashafatcat

If an American from the South had heard my bogus southern accent, that person probably would have thrown a bowl of grits in my direction or doused me with sweet tea. My Australian year 8’s, however, didn’t particularly detect the lack of authenticity.

They actually seemed somewhat engaged as I read them The Outsiders, so I drawled out the dialogue and got my y’alls polished up real good.

Painting by Roelant Savery

Painting by Roelant Savery

It’s not every day that you experience a victory in education. In fact, a VE day can be pretty elusive, like looking for a rare bird or any endangered species. When I was an exchange teacher in Australia, finding success was like searching for the dodo. Non-existent.

I felt like such an incompetent teacher, and every time I talked to my Australian counterpart, Dash, who was teaching my American classes, his updates deflated my spirits even more.

“Ah, yeah! Steph, we had a breakthrough today in Senior English; Madelynn* read a poem, revealing the abuse and torment she experienced as a child,” he e-mailed me one day. “It was the first time she’d told anyone. The event was so cathartic that we all had a good cry.”

© Jade Taylor

The repaired window © Jade Taylor

Fantastic. The other day, when I tried to confiscate a cell phone from a student, the girl stuck the mobile in her bra and told me to “come and get it.”

I also recently dropped the F-bomb in one of my year 8 classes. And a few weeks ago, two kids dislodged a glass pane from its frame as they tried to stand in the window sill.

Basically, it wasn’t going to take much — just the slightest positive moment — for me to declare victory.

© Viking Press

© Viking Press

After experiencing several lead balloon lessons that crashed and burned, I decided to do a unit on S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Not only is it a classic in adolescent literature, but it’s also about gangs, violence and coming of age. Consequently, the story includes heaps of bashing, drama and heartache.  Perfect.

Additionally, in the early 1980s Francis Ford Coppola made a movie version of The Outsiders. At the time, I liked it, of course, because the movie featured all the “babes” of my day.

©  Movieposter.com

©  Movieposter.com

Ultimately, I was pretty sure the hotness of Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell and Emilio Estevez would be timeless. So if I could show the movie after we finished reading, I knew the fighting would enthrall the boys, and the heart-throbs would captivate the girls. It’s a bit of gender stereotyping, but generally, I figured the strategy would work.

I read to my classes every day and really cheesed up the Oklahoman speech. Soon the kids began remembering the characters’ names and wanted to know what would happen to them next. I was on to something.

“Does Ponyboy pash on Cherry?”

“Are they going to bash the Socs?”

“What’s going to happen to Johnny?”

We actually had some fairly meaningful discussions. It was pretty inspiring for me to hear them talk about something other than Facebook or ask a question other than “Do you have a pencil, Miss?”

A true victory arrived the day Mitchell, the class clown, was gone from class. “Where is Mitchell?” I asked the kids.

“He’s on internal (suspension), Miss.”

My disappointment was real since Mitchell, who was quite bright but unmotivated, had shown interest in the story from the beginning. Plus, he was well respected by the derelicts in class. Because Mitchell was sort of their leader, they didn’t act up while he was focused on the story. Some of the troublemakers even followed along, getting into the characters.

Ruby and Mitchell © Stephanie Glaser

Ruby and Mitchell © Stephanie Glaser

“Okay, well, let’s begin.” I started reading, hoping for the best, and after about five minutes, I heard the door open and in sauntered Mitchell.

“Hi, Miss,” he said as he went straight to his usual seat.

“Mitchell,” I began. “What are you doing here?

“I came to hear The Outsiders, Miss,” he said as he got out his photocopied version of the book, dropped his backpack on the ground and then sat down.

“Aren’t you on internal?”  I asked.

“Yeah, but it’s my lunch break now.”

I smiled as I looked down at my copy of The Outsiders.  My hopes were restored.

“All right, we’re glad to have you, but if you’re disruptive, I’ll have to send you back,” I glanced up from the page.

“No dramas, Mrs. Glaser.

As the story heated up, I looked several times at Mitchell who was following along, completely focused on the story. He scanned the text as I read. After a few minutes, his friends Lewis and James began laughing and whispering.

“Shhh!” Mitchell shushed them somewhat loudly.

Not deterred, they persisted in trying to distract Mitchell.

© Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

“Shut the fuck up!” he piped up while still fixated on the book.

“I’m trying to listen to the story, you wankers,” he added.

Suppressing a laugh, I wanted to high five, Mitchell.

“Okay now, guys. Let’s continue.” I said.  “Mitchell, watch the language,” I added but I wasn’t mad at him at all since he relayed what I wanted to say.

Most of the boys were into the story, especially when it came to the fate of the tragic character Johnny. Several girls seemed riveted to the doomed relationship between Cherry and bad boy, Dally. When we finished the book, I don’t think anyone wanted to say goodbye to the characters.

As promised, I showed the film. To my complete surprise, the movie seemed slow, boring and old to me. It came out in 1983, after all. Fortunately, most of the kids were silent and riveted to the movie for the entire double lesson (that is a non-disputable victory in itself.) When it was over, some of the students were irritated because several key plot points were not covered in the film.

“I can’t believe they didn’t even show Johnny’s mom. That movie was crap, Miss Glaser.” Curtis told me definitively.

Ruby, a smart, sweet and pretty girl who often tried too hard to appeal to older students, came over to me after the bell rang.

© David Shankbone

Rob Lowe today. © David Shankbone

“Mrs. Glaser, remember how you said you had a poster of the guy who plays Soda Pop up in your room when you were a teenager?”

“Yes.”

“What’s his name again?”

“Rob Lowe”

“Oh, yeah, Rob Lowe,” she said and turned to leave.

The following day Ruby told me she had googled Rob Lowe.
”He still looks pretty good doesn’t he,” I said nodding.

“Yeah, he does. Especially compared to the other ones. They look like old bogans.”

Again, it didn’t take much to feel victorious. I would have to tell Dash I had a bit of a breakthrough, myself.

Wellington Arch© Kadellar

Wellington Arch© Kadellar

* Not her real name. Some of the other names have been changed in the story.

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18 thoughts on “Travel Teacher Oops — “I came to hear The Outsiders, Miss.”

  1. Priceless!! I admire you so much, I would make the worlds crappest teacher. You must have the patience of a saint. Some of the stories Pete tells me about his teaching days have me in stitches, just like yours! One of his students at graduation came over to him and said ‘When I first started here, I thought you were an absolute wanker….Now I think you are a fucking Legend man!’ definitely a VE day!!

    • LOVE it — what a VE day. I love how kids get really nostalgic around graduation. I always go to graduation just for that reason. Kids who were the biggest pains-in-the-bums are giving you hugs and asking for your e-mail address. Is Pete (aka Fucking Legend) your son? Thanks for the comment, Lottie 🙂

      • No darling, Pete is my Significant other and Theo is my boy. Pete was a uni lecturer (now a Prof) so he has many tales to tell about life with dealing with students! X

      • How funny! I only know Pete as the Irishman…I did know Theo was your son since I remember he got suspended for a risqué (albeit technically sound) film he made. Thanks for clarifying, Lottie. I bet Pete has great stories from being at uni…:)

  2. How cool about Mitchell. Who knows, maybe this gave him the idea to write stories or channel his disruptiveness into something positive. Or maybe not. Haha. “Bad” kids are often simply bored or so used to being pushed aside that they give up.

    • So true, Julie. Actually, Mitchell became one of my favorite students. I had affection for most of the kids by the end of the year. In the beginning, they made things really difficult, but eventually, we had sort of a dysfunctional order. I think once the kids realized I cared about them even if I couldn’t control the classroom very well, they eased up. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Cacking myself laughing right now – I know these characters, and I know what it’s like to feel like the VE days are few and far between, so I think it’s safe to say you hit the proverbial home run here!!

  4. Love this! The “chapter books” that tend to catch the attention of my students all seem to revolve around dogs. Stone Fox, Shiloh, and Where the Red Fern Grows always captivate them as they listen and they are never satisfied with the movie versions of the books. Love it when my kids say “I never knew a book could be better than a movie!” LOL

    • I know, isn’t it awesome when the books rule! I probably should have had these guys reading it on their own, but I knew most of them wouldn’t do it. Plus, for some of them, I don’t think they’d ever been read to at home. It’s amazing how reading to them actually gets them calmed and into a sort of zone. LOVE Where the Red Fern Grows. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  5. Great story – it must be quite the feeling knowing you’ve had a win after putting your heart and soul into finding ways to get your students to truly engage. I loved the Outsiders and so did all my female friends at high school in the mid 80s! And agree, Rob Lowe has aged pretty damn well 🙂

    • It did feel pretty good since the kids seemed to really connect with the book and the characters. It’s nice to know some themes and stories are timeless (as you know, just like Rob Lowe)! 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Hayley.

  6. I see most people commented about the book, I can’t get past the teacher student situation. I taught high school & university for 8 years. Now that I’m out of it my blood pressure is normal again. Education is in such a sad state and we need good and patient teachers. Good for you, you’re doing a difficult job and making a difference.

    • Thank you for the kind praise! I don’t know if I really made much of a difference, but I was happy that some of the kids enjoyed this classic story. I understand about the blood pressure — definitely! When I was in Australia, I went to the beach eery weekend to be close to the ocean, which always calms me down. I’m sure as a geologist and scientist, you know about this!

  7. Your story reminded me of my year 9 French class. I had a few characters. Joe decided to order some fries and had them delivered to the portable classroom one day. I hard a knock at the door and had a student open it figuring it was another student wanting to make an announcement. But noooo, it was the delivery man! How Joe got them to deliver, not to mention the unauthorized food, is a mystery to me. For his punishment, I had the kids take pictures and Joe had to write a story for the class blog.

    Your use of the word Bogan made me laugh too. Every few days I would come home and tell my husband all about a new word I`d learned that day.

    • I love your story! How hilarious — it sounds like a scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with Jeff Spicoli.
      It took me a while to fully get Bogan because I would confuse it with “dag” and “feral” sometimes. It’s such a great term, really.

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