A New Guide for Emerging Terms and Euphemisms

– A portmanteau of “administrator” and “trivial” describing unnecessary work upper-level managers consider essential, including but not limited to: meeting in department teams to establish norms for professional learning communities, meeting in professional learning communities to “unpack” an organization’s mission statement, and plugging boxes on Professional Development Time Sheets.

07summer_feature02_ex4Ain’t-it-awful – The recounting of work-related difficulties such as, “I fell off the high-rise scaffolding,” “The trench collapsed,” and, for the teacher, “I spent all weekend grading.” Such conversational threads thrive in lunchrooms where unionized laborers and like-minded individuals conspire, and die in balanced, heterogeneous contexts. A teacher at a holiday party describing to other professionals the difficulties of working with young people should expect to be met with, “Give me a break. You teachers never roll off your bed of nails.” Syn.: woe-is-us, bug list, gritch. See: crab bucket 

ATTO (“All That Time Off”) – PD days, three-day weekends, winter breaks, spring breaks, summer vacations, et al. where teachers are paid to do nothing.

BODYSPRAYSAxe Body Spray – The all-purpose fragrance doubling as a psychological defense against the world. Scents range from Tsunami to Dark Temptation.

Binge-and-purge – 1. Bulimic behavior. 2. Pre-exam consumption of information followed by the regurgitation of information on fill-in-the-blank exams provided by Mr. Smith, the teacher. Information consists of terms and definitions Mr. Smith infodumps on students, and students hurl the information back at Mr. Smith at rates comparable to which it is consumed. Ant.: cumulative exam. See: infodump

canaryinacoalmineCanary in the coal mine – 1. A highly responsive bird capable of sensing dangerous accumulations of methane and carbon monoxide in mine shafts. So long as miners hear the song of the canary, air is safe. When the canary stops chirping, miners know to evacuate. 2. An unfailingly optimistic teacher sensitive to levels of toxicity in a school. As long as colleagues hear the teacher whistling, levels of workplace listlessness and negativity are within reason.

Crab Bucket Syndrome – 1. A crab climbs the sides of a bucket to escape, but other crabs drag it down. 2. A culture of low expectations where students attempting good work must suffer. “Why’d you do your homework?” an influential teen asks an ambitious peer. “If no one does the work, the teacher can’t do anything.” Students desiring escape must be equalized, for no student should violate the three-tenet crab bucket credo keeping everyone sharing the same fate: 1) no crab leaves the bucket; 2) everyone waddles side-to-side; 3) the biggest organisms make the case for everyone. Students who do good work say, “Oh, I had extra time because I was grounded,” or, “Mom made me do this. I had no choice.” See: Lost Boys, equalizers. Ant: Valedictocracy

20111216-183962-standing-room-only-doughnut-vault-3Donut class – A group of young people whose inclinations, dispositions, and actions leave little or nothing in the middle. The bloated perimeter consists of stellar and stupid students who keep Mr. Smith busy writing detention slips and letters of recommendation. A circular image for a linear concept, “donut class” is a term with limited productivity. Syn.: mayonnaise sandwich

Earthquake Class – A group thought by the teacher to endure disaster with grace. Though emergency states necessitate authority figures care for all humans, Mr. Smith has preferences, especially when selecting a cohort with survivalist skills. “Third period could endure squalor,” Mr. Smith said once at lunch, “but fourth period communicates without cruelty. I guess first period could steal from the cafeteria if they had to.”

Equalizers – Incentives and standards ensuring students absorb material at identical rates. A popular equalizer is the “rubric,” a teacher-provided spreadsheet prescribing skills and content students should learn while completing an assignment.

whiteboard_switchesFlipping switches – The moment a teacher turns lights off, and turns lights on, to solicit a class’ attention. Lacking the knowledge or nerve to command young people’s attention by changing his volume or tone, Mr. Smith flips light switches.

Floobie joobie – Content area vernacular spread in classrooms, conference rooms, peer-reviewed journals, and two-foot radii of professional development coaches who love multi-syllabic words in silly phrases. Examples include: “Aggregate data suggests school-wide efforts to embed essential learning requirements in daily content objectives will correlate with improved test scores,” and, “The simultaneity of oppression and self-determination was evident in the linearity of the character’s being-looked-at-ness.” Though shared references and vocabularies aid communication across boundaries, floobie joobie surpasses the necessary degree of specialization. Syn.: jargon, gibberish, pedagogese, edutalk

todaPlaneFrequent Flyers – Students like Jared who skip class to go elsewhere on campus. Smoking cigarettes under bleachers during intercom announcements, skipping assemblies to befriend security guards, and cutting Biology to play three-on-three basketball in the gym, Jared is like a bee in spring: known by everyone but hard to pin down. Jared finds his way into classrooms to make a show about leaving. Ant.: Kling-on

p1228228966179515Getting blooded – Rite of passage where animal blood is wiped on the face of the hunter who killed it.

GED (“Good Enough Degree”) – Certification awarded to students like Jared who cannot complete diploma requirements in general education settings but desire academic credentials. Like most degrees, the GED is printed in color and signed by one or more individuals with extensive certification, usually an MFA (“mother fucking assholery”) or PHD (“pile it higher and deeper”). Syn. “Ds get degrees”

HMT (“High Moral Tone”) – Self-righteous attitude assumed by Mr. Smith at the start of a semester (“This syllabus will tell you when each assignment is due”), sustained through mid-terms (“I didn’t think review was necessary but…”), and abandoned during course evaluations (“I certainly enjoyed working with you…”).

0134358996bInfodump – The sharing of handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and lecture notes in one fell swoop. In the modern world, infodumping occurs when Mr. Smith prepares “below standard” students for state and national exams the week before exams are given. Classically, infodumping was the domain of history teachers wanting students to “get” all of American History in one year, so while the unit on Westward Expansion was planned for three weeks in May, four days in June sufficed. Ant.: edutainment, funderstanding. See: binge-and-purge

List, the – When a non-teaching friend asks Mr. Smith about online dating and Mr. Smith replies, “Teachers are asked to be more than teachers. I am a counselor, a secretary, an entertainer, a guide, a confidante, a hallway monitor, a babysitter, and a friend. I teach English, but I also teach consumer awareness, drug and alcohol prevention, conflict mediation, keyboarding, internet safety, character education, and more. I check for lice, censor T-shirts, and provide deodorant… I practically raise these kids!”

Living in the footnotes – When confused students dwell in the explanations at the bottoms of pages. [i]

Load-bearing wall – 1. The support beam that holds the weight of a house or structure. 2. An advanced student like Lindsey who does most of the work in a group project.

lost boysLost Boys – 1. According to Pan legend, Lost Boys fell out of their baby carriages when nurses and nannies weren’t looking. If unclaimed for seven days, the boys went to Neverland to live with Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Lost Girls did not exist because girls were happy sleeping in strollers and staring at clouds. 2. According to Mr. Smith, fifth period is overrun with Lost Boys who make their needs known, shouting their thoughts and moving about the room at will. Lindsey gets no attention because she stares at her lap and contemplates girl things.

Manky – A hybrid of “man” and “stinky,” manky describes a young man’s concentrated odor. See: Axe Body Spray 

Neverland – Where students go to never think about school. See also: Teacher Narnia

Peter Principle, the – Management theory suggesting people will be promoted until they reach a position of “maximum incompetence.” See: walking clipboard, or, “Why Things Always Go Wrong” by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull

Preparation H
Preparation H
– 1. The process by which driven parents prepare children for Harvard. Preparation H begins at birth and continues through high school and beyond, when parents contact Mr. Smith about changes in seating charts and stop him after Sunday service to ask why Joel received half credit on a lab report. “With more grades like that,” the parent says, “Joel will not be eligible for Harvard or Yale, much less UW.” 2. Hemorrhoid cream. Related: smothering mothering, alpha parenting, helicopter parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Homework Helper, VIP (Virtually Irate Parent), HYP (Harvard-Yale-Princeton)

austrian_tetris-wallpaperSeating Chart Tetris – When a teacher assigns or reassigns seats and asks, “Is separating Andy from Jared a good idea? What if separating Andy from Jared makes Jared pick up a desk and wave it around? What if placing Andy in the vicinity of Jared but out of arm’s reach frustrates Jared more? Jared started coming to class.” The teacher believing constant change stumbles on improvement reassigns seats monthly. The teacher knowing the hours required by one round of Seating Chart Tetris assigns seats at the start of the year and at the semester. The teacher ignorant of the correlation between assigned seats and the development of a healthy classroom community allows students to segregate themselves by personality (Organized and Female, Disorganized and Male, Uglies, Extras) and spends class time monitoring airspace for paper footballs. Syn.: Musical Chairs

Smile file – A folder where Mr. Smith stores thank-you notes, drawings, nice emails, and notes left by substitutes that say, “Good kids. I had no problems.” Syn.: rainy day file

Teacher Fort 3Teacher fort – Bookshelf, cabinet, computer, and desk assembled to look like an “office.” Generally, furniture arrangement communicates a teacher’s willingness to interact with students, e.g. the open construction of a “campsite fort” invites approach from a variety of angles while the blockaded stronghold of a “castle fort” divides and isolates.

Teacher Narnia – 1. Fantasyland where students sharpen pencils before class, take notes during lecture, and ask personality-specific questions after the bell. Teachers imagine this fictional setting while preparing lessons on topics about which they care. 2. The place students imagine teachers go when school is over. Rather than drive to the grocery store to purchase frozen chicken nuggets for their families or Fancy Feast for their cats, teachers lock their classroom doors from the inside, step inside their corner closets, and crawl over DVD cases and bee traps toward a realm where animals speak, authority figures fly, and morality is at stake. See: Neverland

wild-turkey-morro-bay-state-park-7283w20pcTurkey trot, the – The shuffling of bad teachers or administrators from one school or district to another. Syn.: the lemon dance

Voluntold – When a superior says to an employee, “I wanted to check with you… or rather, wanted to let you know… I should tell you we’ve decided you’ll be part of the school improvement team… and we appreciate your flexibility.” Syn.: WTF NJD (What The Fuck? Not in my Job Description)

Waking the giant – 1. Children unwisely interrupting the slumber of a creature who may seethe and storm when roused. 2. A phone call in which a teacher provokes an apathetic parent into action by providing unexpectedly negative information about his or her child or children. When the parent responds angrily to the information, saying, “Tomorrow Eric will show up to class in a body cast,” and the teacher remains silent, and the parent continues, “Oh, that’s right, you’re from the Oprah generation” and ends the call, the teacher wonders what punishment awaits the young person. A good teacher wakes the giant only when necessary.

observeWalking clipboard – Any visiting administrator, pedagogue, or technocrat standing or kneeling next to students, asking, “What is the objective of this lesson?” for the purpose of recording the answers on an iPad. Syn.: snoopervisor, curriculum cop

Working sails – Fabric surfaces used in normal winds to move a vessel forward.

[i] With minimal recall of what happened in the past and little ability to predict what will happen in the future.

(Derek Smith)

Or, How to Have a Summer Vacation in December

Bring out the Magical Teacher mojo:
2/3 cup light rum
1/4 cup crushed and torn mint leaves (from your balcony herb pots)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
4-6 tablespoons sugar (to taste) or Splenda
Club soda
4 slices lime and 4 sprigs mint for garnish

Place half a dozen ice cubes in a beverage shaker and add the rum, mint leaves, key lime juice, and sugar. Shake well, long enough for the sugar to dissolve. Strain mixture over additional ice into high ball or martini glasses.  Garnish the drinks with lime and mint sprigs.


Sheryl Cornett currently teaches English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has also taught high school French in Kenya, East Africa, homeschooled her own kids, and conducted creative writing workshops in the public schools. Her recent poems, stories, and essays appear in the North Carolina Literary Review, Image, Pembroke Magazine, Mars Hill Review, and The Independent Weekly among other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University.

Paul Willis Green Studies 2
I like the way that shrubs and flowers
lean against my classroom windows
as if wanting to enroll.  What would the azalea
say when asked about the Forest of Arden?
And would the red, red rose respond
to my mistress’ eyes as something,
after all, like the sun?  What’s not to like
in these my vernal, budding pupils—
so firmly rooted in this soil, so curiously
intertwined?  My vegetable love should grow
with each new bell of earnest fragrance,
fair and passing fair, each one.
As Eve once more eats of that fruit,
I hear their universal groan.


Previously published in Christian Century.

Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collections of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009) and Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). He is also the co-editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).

David Yearbook Photo
Elementary (I)

I turn the pages of my yearbook until I find the varsity baseball team. The wave in Steve DeVoss’s hair kills me. While my third-grade teacher has me building a California mission sugar cube by sticky sugar cube, DeVoss is an honest-to-god baseball player, spinning curveballs past every middle school hitter in the valley.

His wave—shining with hydrogen peroxide—rises from the razor-straight part lining the left side of his head, crests in a gelled swell, and finally breaks across the right side of his forehead before washing past his ear. He seems a god. Like what a god would look like after being sent to earth to live as a twelve-year-old with the wisp of a mustache. Straight teeth, straight ahead, straight at everything that matters.


I met Jeff in Introduction to Water when I was five. He puckered like a fish and taught me to exhale a stream of bubbles. When I was six, he held me up in the dead man’s float position in the big pool where I couldn’t touch bottom. When I had to jump off the diving board to earn my Red Cross Beginning Swimmer card, I plunged toward him like an octopus, fastening myself around his neck.

Jeff was there every summer: when I was five and six and seven and an Advanced Beginner, eight and passing Intermediate, nine when my father left, ten when I was in Swimmer class all summer, eleven when my father married again.

The summer my father bought a house with his new wife, Jeff romanced Candy, who sat in the elementary school bleachers watching as the pool lifeguards took on the beach guards in a summer slow pitch game. I was there too, barefoot and scabby-kneed like the other kids. We cheered for the pool guards, really for Jeff, a god in mirrored sunglasses with a gleaming smile that matched the zinc oxide on his nose.


Almost every day, I bookmark a website, email myself an article, or highlight a passage in a book with my students in mind. I outline lecture notes and jot conversation starters in the page margins of whatever I’m reading. I craft engaging questions and anticipate my students’ reactions.

The only thing is, I have no students.

I haven’t set foot in a classroom—and no one has called me Ms. Jones—in six months.

I’m not, according to my tax returns, a teacher. According to those tax returns, I’m not even employed.

Even so, I know which day on the syllabus I want to squeeze in a new text, and I know exactly how I want to incorporate a song I heard on the radio into our class discussion about postmodernism.

Why am I constantly aware of my imaginary students? Students with faces, even, and names? Becca, whose ponytail is hidden beneath a camouflage cap, who wears furry boots with Nike gym shorts. Andrew, whose dark eyebrows make him appear perpetually skeptical. Natalia, the volleyball player who towers more than a foot above me when she approaches my podium.

Who are these people?


She is matching professors with classes for next year.
That is what department heads do on a winter evening,
Vivaldi playing his neat solutions in the air.

It is musical chairs with plums and lemons,
all the names trying to sit on the same plum
and staining their shorts in a most undignified way.

They rise warily, sponge themselves off, point and bicker,
shift liked magnets caught in mutual attitudes of antipathy.
There are unruly forces at work.  Tremendous sparks

fly from the paper before her.  Professor A is deeply
insulted by the suggestion that one of his experience
should be asked to teach composition to the freshmen.

Professor B has carefully noted who in the past
has been granted the choice honors sections;
clearly, it is his turn.  Professor C is fine about teaching

at eight o’clock—but she is just fooling!
Professor D would like to teach an overload, just
this once, until he pays for the remodel on his home.


math problems
1. There are 40 teachers on your faculty. If four are retiring (but only two of those are full-time), one is becoming an administrator, two are leaving for graduate school, two are going on parental leave (but they both swear they’re coming back!), one is returning from parental leave (but can only find child care until 1:00 pm), one is following a spouse on sabbatical to Rome (but only until Christmas), one would really like to move up to full time in math, one would really like to cut back from full time in Spanish, one is getting fired in June but doesn’t know it yet, and another threatens to quit if he has to direct one more choir concert, how many hours will you spend in search committee meetings this spring?

2. Fourth period begins in three minutes, and you realize you have yet to make copies of the day’s test. On copy number two out of twenty-six, the photocopier jams. You consult the screen, which instructs you to open the vertical conveyance unit, release lever 9A, lower tray 13, turn knobs G and H, and replace the staple cartridge.

2a. Draw a diagram of the inner workings of the photocopier, accompanied by text explaining how you will fix the jam. Number each step, and remember to title and clearly label your drawing.

2b. Challenge question: Will you get to class on time? Please provide evidence for your argument.


pen caps
For a course on modern theater I was asked to submit a performance review. The play was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” I waited until the last minute to write the review and didn’t bother with the substance of the performance. Instead I focused on the quality of the props. In one section, I compared the rifle that one of the main characters brandished to a prop from Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Even now I’m not going to look up the character’s name on Wikipedia to make it seem as if I truly remember the play.) That line earned me some good laughs when I read it aloud that night in class. I looked down, perfectly abashed, while my classmates laughed.

I thought I was hot shit in college. Substitute any other time period for ‘college’ and you’ll have a good idea of my life story. I took the laughter and the good grade and my feeling of extreme cleverness like they were birthrights.

My prof asked me to stay after class. When the last student was gone, he asked me to sit across from him at the seminar table. He told me he’d given me a high mark because my writing was excellent. (Duh. I was trying to pay attention, but he wasn’t saying anything I didn’t know. Of course the writing was excellent.) Then he told me he wished he could have given me a poor mark. (Huh?) He said I was squandering my talent. He said he expected better of me. He said I could shoot for easy laughs and get them every time. Then he was silent and stared at me and I capped and uncapped my pen and pitted out and mumbled something and tried to pull a door that needed to be pushed and walked back to my dorm room alone.

I wish that had happened to me more. I wish I hadn’t been twenty when it happened first.


David Jacobsen lives in central Oregon where he teaches, edits, and writes. He is the author of Rookie Dad and his website is


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