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Sunday, September 2, 2012

From Slime to Self-flagellation: Teachers Prepare for New School Year

New York City - While some teachers prepare to return to their classrooms by reviewing curriculum and purchasing needed supplies, many veteran educators get ready in less traditional ways.  We sent reporters to each of the boroughs to uncover their secrets.

Staten Island
Beginning early in August, Ginny Evans, who has taught middle schoolers at I.S. 352 for twelve years, practices holding her urine. "When school lets out, I get used to peeing when I want to.  Then when August comes around, I can barely go four hours without urinating and that will just not do," Mrs. Evans shakes her head. "I've done a lot of Kegels and had a few accidents but now I can hold it for almost nine hours. My bladder is almost ready for back-to-back coverages plus lunch duty on an after-school tutoring day," Evans says with a proud smile.

Meanwhile over in Queens, you can find pre-K teacher Valerie Winkle in her backyard, donning
goggles and standing in a kiddie pool. "Fire away," she yells to her ten-year-old son Bobby, who is
Slime helps Winkle prepare for the coming school year
armed with a toy gun filled with Nickeloden slime. Dutifully and delightedly, Bobby pulls the trigger. Almost instantly his mom is covered in gooey green muck. Winkle calmly wipes the ooze from her face and forces these words, "That's ok sweetheart." She repeats this cycle approximately twelve times a day during the summer months. The eight-year veteran of Community School 142 explains her training matter-of-factly, "Since I teach the little ones, I know that several times during the year I will be the displeased recipient of bodily fluids which are not my own. This training allows me to graciously handle all the vomit, snot etcetera that awaits me."

Mr. Gold practices dodging spit balls
While some teachers focus on controlling fluids, high school teachers build up other skills. "I've practiced dodging projectiles for years but with the relaxed discipline code, it's especially important," advises seventeen-year veteran William Gold, who will teach ninth grade English at John Lindsay High School. Many times throughout the day and always without warning, Gold can count on his wife Mabel to hurl paper clips and/or spit balls at him. Mabel smiles as she describes her husband's progress, "At the end of July, I nailed him almost every time but now he anticipates my every move." During a demonstration of his skills, the fifty-two-year-old impressed with Matrix-like speed and agility. Assessing his own preparedness, Mr. Gold boasts, "I'm ready for the little pishers."

Silence is the hallmark of Mr. Wallace Edwards' school preparation. "I've taught for nineteen years at the Murdoch School for Communication and for fifteen of them, I've practiced biting my tongue." Edwards says he mostly utilizes the skill during staff meetings and professional development. "Sometimes you want to make suggestions or point out more effective ways to do something but over the years I've realized the administration doesn't really want to hear from teachers." Wallace, whose tongue shows visible scarring, says the skill is also useful at home. "I'm pretty sure our relationship is better for having perfected this skill."  His life-partner Dan Engels is not so sure. "Did he tell you he suffers from ulcers?"

Teacher Lori uses self-flagellation to
prepare for annual abuse
Perhaps the most grueling efforts are made by Dominic Lori, a veteran educator of twenty-five years. "I beat myself twelve to fifteen times a day with a cat o' nine tails." Asked why he practices self-flagellation the soft-spoken Lori explains, "It hardens me to abuse." But if you're thinking Lori instructs hostile juvenile delinquents, think again. "Oh heavens no. The students are fabulous but at every other level, people seem bent on vilifying teachers so it's just my way of getting ready for it." Who exactly is abusing teachers? The Edward Grout High School history teacher has no trouble describing the culprits. "There's Mayor Bloomberg who shifted the responsibility of learning from students to teachers and then shamed us with the publication of discredited value-add scores. We have political leaders like Jeb Bush who compare neighborhood public schools to choosing milk. And of course other reformers like Michelle Rhee conveniently ignore the effects of poverty on student achievement and never discuss the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores which are at their highest point in history for many student groups." Mr. Lori sees the status quo in education as revolving around teacher attacks. "My training simply acclimates me to the pain," Lori says glumly. When it was suggested that perhaps the United Federation of Teachers could help, Lori volunteered, "They already have. They bought me a hair shirt."

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