I was teaching sophomores in my second year. They were a really fun class – and up for almost anything I threw at them. It was Honors English, so I tried to keep things as rigorous as possible while still trying to be the cool, hip and connected teacher I imagined I was.
One of my….skills?….is to mimic voices of cartoons, Muppets and animals. I can do my son’s sounds really well, too – so well that my husband doesn’t really know if it’s the baby or me making the noise. However, doing an animal or a baby noise wouldn’t have been hip or cool in my sophomore English class. They couldn’t connect to that.
They could, however, connect to South Park‘s Eric Cartman, whose voice I had perfected during South Park‘s early years.
It was a half day, and conferences with parents were scheduled for that afternoon and evening – the first time I would have met these parents. The kids were a bit crazy that day, and I needed to get their attention and focus. So instead of my usual “silence and wait” trick, I belted out a famous line from Eric Cartman: “YOU WILL RESPECT MY AUTHORITAAAAY!”
Silence. Snickers. All out laughter. A couple of kids: “WHAT the….?”
One of my students pipes up.
Brandon: Could you say that again, Ms. HB?
Me: Say what?
Brandon: What you just said.
Me (giving the people what they want): YOU WILL RESPECT MY AUTHORITAAAAAY!
Brandon: What was that? One more time?
Me (hip, cool, connected, smiling): YOU WILL RESPECT MY AUTHORITAAAAAY!
Brandon, holding up a portable tape recorder and hitting the stop button: Thank you. Conferences are tonight, right?
My Students: BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
I probably turned a few shades of red and purple simultaneously. And laughed myself sick over it.
We did get into the Shakespeare we were covering that day, and they smiled their way through it. Brandon’s parents did come to conferences, and we were able to laugh about his ability to catch me doing something goofy and completely unprofessional. That day went down in history as The Day Brandon Got Ms. HB.
The thing is, I was trying to be the “cool” teacher, but what I learned was that I was cool not just for knowing and doing the Cartman voice, but for handling it well after that. They knew I trusted them and I could take a joke, and they knew from me that they could relax and have fun while learning a few things along the way. I wanted all of us in the classroom to be authentic, and me TRYING to be authentic was to completely miss the point. Once I figured that out, I was able to go about the business of teaching and connecting without worrying about the “hip” and “cool” part of it.
It was fun, but I was lucky Brandon’s parents were as great as they were. Dodged a bullet there. Whew. Have you ever tried to do something really cool in your classroom, only to have it backfire? Tell us about it!