swim, chem, baseball, I talk with my hands


Mel-MelOn most days I feel as though I am a complete idiot. This is not because I don’t know “stuff” or because I don’t occasionally have success at my chosen profession or that I never “win” at anything. This feeling results from saying what I think and expanding on that thought, sometimes regardless of context. The common term for this is “verbal diarrhea” or “foot-in-mouth-disease” and I often refer to students who suffer from this affliction as lacking a proper valve to shut off the flow of incoherencies that teenagers utter. Here I am, three times that age, suffering from the same disease. Sometimes this works for me.

I have this habit of assigning nicknames to my students. Never mean-spirited and always intended to be fun, I enjoy the wordsmithing that is required of such an endeavor. It also results from reaching a point where I think I know my students to some extent, at least what is visible in the classroom. I start every year telling myself that I will keep these custom monikers a secret and many times I am able do that. I remind myself that students don’t like to be labeled, and certainly not by the big, scary man teaching chemistry. As a teacher my words can have great power.

This year it all started when a student during the third week of class wasn’t sure I knew his name. To this I replied, “Of course I do, Joe!” As you might guess, his name is certainly not Joe, but I have used it ever since. Next to develop was the label I assigned to a gymnast in the class, combining it with my love of social media and web tools: “Tumblr.” Well from there it took off. “Spike” is the volleyball player and “Growly” the sometimes glaring senior who visually disagreed with my class decisions. Eventually I needed to come up with one for everyone, so as not to leave out anyone. Some of those were that were initially based upon initials have evolved over the year: what started as “CHO” (a reference to student initials) became “aldehyde.” “AB” became “Bravo” and “MP” became “DQ” (drama queen, an accomplished thespian).

The title of this post refers to a student that I taught over 20 years ago. I had a very bad experience a couple of years into my career which caused me to rethink my classroom disposition: I was physically threatened and almost beat up by a student who thought that I had continually put him down and that I had impeded his emotional development. Since that point I have been hesitant, or at least aware, of the power of joking in the classroom. I was Facebook contacted by a different student a few years later whom I was happy to see thriving in a medical career. Thinking back on my new awareness I apologized for her class nickname, “Mel-Mel” or Mel2 (Melanie), to which she replied that she liked it and helped her feel more included. So to Mel I say a heartfelt “thank you” for appreciating my attempts to connect, as imperfect as they may have been.

And to this year’s amazing AP Chemistry crew, you will not be forgotten…

Tumblr Spike Aldehyde
Em-Dog Roginator Ferkolator
P-Dub Juice Bod
Growly Eyes DQ Bravo
See-Mert A-Sum Jay-Zee
Kay Eeyore Silver
EEEEE Cebu Joe


This entry was posted on 2013-05-16 by in Nonsense, Philosophy, Stories and tagged .


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