Accurate, Succinct, Unhelpful

In the middle of the lesson, the phone rings. On behalf of my master teacher, I answer it.

My standard greeting: “Bonjour?”

Whoever said four years of high school French wouldn’t help anyone? If you have, you’ve never been a student teacher, a practical joker or to Belgium.

The standard response: “I’m sorry, I was trying to call Mrs. V’s room. I guess I have the wrong number.”

“No, this is her classroom. I’m her student teacher.”

“Is she available?”

“No.” Accurate, succinct and unhelpful. That should be my motto. If nothing else, it’s also my signature approach on really tough students.

The beauty of having a student teacher is that my teacher can up-and-leave halfway through class, and I’m in charge. It leads, at times, to awkward reminders of who’s really in charge.

Oh well.

It isn’t like I want to avoid offering information. I just happen to have that habit.

If a student asks me what they’re supposed to be doing, I refer them to the directions in front of them. I gave my sophomores a timeline activity for World War I, and, even after explaining it to the class, some of the students insisted that I hadn’t told them how to find the information.

I force them, then, to read out loud the first eight words of the directions.

“‘Use Chapter 13, sections 2 and 3 to.’ Oh.”

A few minutes later, they call me over again, confused over the list of events in the Great War.

“I can’t find which of these came first.” Their book is open to Chapter 13, section 2.

“Read the first six words.”

“‘The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.’ Oh.”

This approach works well on the obstinate. If I’m in a really good mood, I get them to say how they can’t find the information loudly enough for the rest of the class to hear, and then I have them read out as loudly the first six words of Chapter 13, section 2.

Students know that if they’re trying their work, I won’t use The Method on them.

But woe to they who have their books open to Chapter 13, section 1.

Moral of the story? Humiliation works. Try it sometime.


  1. I like to have a teacher answer the phone with their room number and name; and when a student answers the phone, I train them to say, Mrs. Zody’s room, student speaking.” Teachers and staff are busy, they don’t need extra work in extracting information from the person they are calling.

    Also, be careful with the humiliation method; you may find yourself in the principal’s office with an unhappy parent. Words to the wise.

  2. On the other end of the spectrum, my high school French teacher allowed us to call any John Hughes in the phone book, since he was the only person mentioned by name in the lessons. The catch was we had to speak only in French to use the phone. Needless to say, I learned basic French chit chat.

  3. I will find myself in the principal’s office with an unhappy parent.

    I will also have three copies of my syllabus, where such philosophy is laid out, with the following clause.

    “By not dropping out of this class or switching to another within one (1) week of receiving this document, the student relinquishes any and all complaint privileges related to the topics covered by the above syllabus.”

    It’s worth a shot.

  4. dkzody

    Depends on your principal…he may be ok with having parents complain or even going over his head and heading downtown to see John Marinovich. It happens a lot in this district.

  5. I say even anonymously that I really like our school’s principal. The administration, by all reports, really seems to have it together.

    I’m not sure, though, where they’d land on this. Maybe this is one of those stunts I should hold off on until my third year.

  1. 1 Buses Don’t Arrive That Soon After the Bell « On the Tenure Track

    […] Two drops of keeping them past the bell plus a dash of peer pressure is a recipe for success. Add humiliation to taste. No Comments Leave a Commenttrackback addressThere was an error with your comment, […]




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