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

A collection of Facebook status updates narrating my daily life in Seoul, working as a high school EFL teacher

Part 1 [2010]

October 15
Explaining complicated words and phrases with other complicated words and phrases.

November 26
Today, one of my students asked if I had a cold. I said yes. She said she liked the way my voice sounded. I said thanks.

December 1
Spent a fair amount of time this morning explaining the difference between ‘That’s bomb,’ and ‘That bombed,’ to my co-teacher. Such intellectual, American expressions to clarify.

December 2
My favorite ‘descriptions’ given by a group of students during today’s speaking game: 1. Hotel=’Motel’s friend!’ 2. Train=’Subway’s friend!’ Garbage=’Trash’s friend!’ Beautiful=’Pretty’s friend!’

December 5
Mentally preparing for my professional development day tomorrow: early morning, 2 hours of desk warming, 2 hour bus ride (my school rented 2 buses to hold all 100+ teachers), lunch, jump rope contest, hula hoop contest, dodgeball tournament, dinner, 2 hour bus ride home.

December 31
One of my students just came to (optional winter camp) class with a neck brace on. Apparently, she fell on the ice yesterday.


whoopi in sister act
What Sister Mary Clarence Taught Me About Being a Magical Teacher (or “This Is No Longer a Bird Course. The Bird Has Flown”: The Importance of Coming Out from Behind the Teaching Pulpit)

This week, for the first time in my five-year teaching career, I came out to my students as a gay man.

One of my goals for the year was to model for my students what it means to live a readerly and writerly life. Writing a blog accomplishes the latter. Writing with my students does the same. So as we began writing personal narratives on “overcoming adversity,” I did the same activities they did to come up with one of my own.

“Pencils up!” I said. We were poised for the freewriting challenge.

“…and begin!” I used my freshly sharpened Ticonderoga No. 2, to begin the journey. And suddenly, I stopped. I had forgotten to turn off the LCD projector. My writing was displayed for the whole world—the middle school classroom in which I teach—to see.

“Mr. Shinn! Keep writing!” a student yelled from the corner of the classroom.

So I wrote. And at some point during my freewriting challenge the words coming out came out.


greatblueheronNinety-five percent of those who read this poem
will experience a sense of wonder.  The other
five percent are wondering how to arrive
at this statistic.  For evidence is what is needed.

Otherwise the poem will never gain accreditation,
and no one will want to attend.  We could ask
for a show of hands, but some of the readers are related
to the poet, and nothing surprises them anymore.

If the poem is read aloud, carefully trained monitors
could be placed in the audience to count
the number of mouths agape in stupefaction
or in slumber.  How many persons are leaning

forward, eager for the next word?  This is an angle
our monitors can quietly measure, pulling
from their back pockets a gathering hush
of collapsible wooden protractors.


If I was to steal Officer Gene’s parking security golf cart and hit highway 32, how far could I get?

Take your time working through your 11:48 dump in the faculty restroom next door, Mrs. Zimmerman. You left your salmon on defrost in the microwave for sixteen minutes.

I need thirty-five seconds to heat up two slices of cold pizza.

Did I humiliate Melisa with that sarcastic comment this morning?

You aren’t supposed to be in the teacher’s lounge, Kyle. It’s my friggin’ twenty-minute lunch “hour” and your dead dog story is harshing my turkey-cheddar buzz and, well, I can’t concentrate on my Hawaii Blast Capri Sun when you’re in here.

Is everyone else in here just pretending they’re great at this?


James Pencil
Every quarter, I swear that I’m going to quit teaching the personal essay.

Every quarter I teach it again.

I’m an adjunct college instructor not just at a community college—“junior” colleges, they used to call them: colleges designed for high-school dropouts, single parents, out-of-work mechanics and millworkers and refugees of all kinds, all this mixed together with four or five bright-eyed, motivated, Running Start high-school-students (they show up having actually bought the books, the idiots, and they actually lean forward in their seats ready to learn, charmingly unaware that they’re about to get a real education, through their classmates, in what life looks like when you don’t get an education)—but at an extension site of the community college. Our extension-site campus is so small—tucked here in the inner corner of the wet, forested Olympic Peninsula—that it’s just one building, and not even a full building. The top floor stands empty; the basement was a former morgue. We utilize the four rooms on the ground floor, plus an eight-person computer lab, and an office where Maggie sits. She’s the friendly registrar / office manager / janitor / computer technician / car mechanic / maintenance worker. She also fills in as an instructor when a faculty member is sick.

We offer four classes: English composition, English literature, basic math, and political science. We used to offer history, I’m told, but it was cut for budgetary reasons. So was biology, physics, advanced math, philosophy, sociology, accounting, chemistry, and environmental science. All the tenured faculty were moved to the main campus, and the top floor was shuttered. I’m told the floor is haunted by the ghosts of people from around the turn of the century, but whenever I heard chairs being dragged around up there, or desks being moved, I know it’s merely the ghosts of the former professors, and the ghostly hopes of a lost generation of students, vanished into ghostly budgets.

But I digress.


standing on desks.png
What Ron Clark Taught Me about Being a Magical Teacher (or “Make It Happen: The Importance of Making Memories”)

The Essential 55.

It was the first teaching book I ever bought and was written by him. The American Teacher Awards Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark.

Yes, I watch the American Teacher Awards.

Yes, I was only a junior in high school.

I’ve known since I was little I wanted to be a teacher. When I was seven, I made my own whiteboard out of a white lap-desk and Crayola markers I got for Christmas. It didn’t take long before I was lecturing my stuffed animals on the importance of learning. (My teddy bear was the most out of control student.)

In fourth grade I got a real whiteboard and never looked back.



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