Students Say the Darndest Things

By Judy Berman

A bit of mischief, a warped sense of humor, outrageous behavior and that inevitable, unenviable call home have been part of my teaching life for 10 years now.

Sometimes, mischievous behavior can make a 45-minute class seem like a lifetime. After one such occasion, I decided to call a mother to talk about her son’s shenanigans in class.

A young boy answered. When I asked for his Mom, he said she wasn’t home yet. I asked for his Dad, and he said he wasn’t there, either. I became suspicious.

The boy asked who was calling, and I identified myself. (In my mind’s eye, I could just visualize his older brother vigorously shaking his head and pleading with him not to pass the phone on to his parents.)

So I asked if any adult was home.

Then he made his voice sound like the automated one you hear on voice mail.
“I’m sorry. There’s no one home. Please leave a message after the beep. Beep.”

Before he hung up, I’d already checked our files and found his Mom’s mobile phone number. I got her voice mail, but she called back within 15 minutes.

Mom was not amused. She apologized for her son’s behavior. I told her she didn’t need to apologize. Before I hung up, we both laughed about the prank. I knew, however, that she would be having a “frank and earnest” discussion with her sons.

Her son’s behavior did improve. Much to my relief and, I’m sure, his Mom’s.

Gabe Kaplan in "Welcome Back, Kotter"
Gabe Kaplan in “Welcome Back, Kotter”

Another time, a teen and I had a disagreement in the library. We were several feet away, and I playfully tried to end it by telling him: “Talk to the hand.”

His response floored me. “Talk to the booty, cuz the hand’s off duty.”

(I discovered later, that what I thought was a humorous response was actually a dismissive way to tell someone that you’re not listening to them.)

When I relayed our exchange to my husband, he started laughing. I did, too.

The following year, when the teen was in eighth grade, he volunteered to help me move my books into storage. We talked as we lugged books out of my room. I was pleased to see how he had matured and to learn that he wanted to pursue a career where he could help others recover from disasters like the one Haiti had experienced. I could just see him doing that and wished him well.

This year, I realize that my students are now about the same age as my granddaughter. That means they think I’m really living in Old Fogey Town.

So, imagine this exchange when one of my seventh-grade students asked if I twerked.

I raised one eyebrow and said, “If I ever did a Miley Cyrus, the School Board would be doing a tap dance on my head so fast it would make your head spin.”

She was shocked that I even knew what she was talking about and began to laugh. As did several of the other students.

“Mrs. Berman, you’re so young,” she said, admiringly.

Then, it was my turn to laugh. The kids have no idea that that whole twerking thing – involving Miley Cyrus’ vulgar performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards – was Richter Scale H-U-G-E in media buzz. It was impossible to escape unless you’d been living in a cave.

This dinosaur still knows what’s going on.

A year later, or 10, our paths may cross. These encounters frequently yield unexpected and pleasant surprises.

One student stopped to say hello while I was drinking a latte at Barnes & Noble. I remembered him instantly. His essays and humor were “wonderfully warped,” and I’d kid him to use his “powers for good.” He’d recently graduated from high school and told me about his plans to enter the Navy.

“Do you know what I used to think?” the student asked.

“That teachers don’t have lives?” I joked.

The student laughed, conceding I was right.

“How did you know?”

I told him one former student gasped in disbelief when he saw me out shopping. “I guess he thought I lived in my classroom.”

(Thank you, parents, for entrusting your child’s education to me. Thank you for being supportive and for understanding. We both want the same things: success for your child – academically and socially.)

This post marks the second anniversary of my blog. A special thanks to my husband, Dave, for editing my posts. Thank you to all who have left thoughtful and/or funny comments, who “follow” me, and who have given me your support and encouragement. Your blogs also make me laugh, enlighten me and energize me.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: meme: Teacher – what people think I do (Source: Unknown)

Photo: Gabe Kaplan – Welcome Back Kotter – July 25, 1976.

Video – theme song “To Sir With Love” starring Sidney Poitier (1967) As E.R. Braithwaite (Poitier), began “learning from them as well as teaching them.” 

Video – theme song from “Welcome Back, Kotter” starring Gabe Kaplan (TV series ran 1975-1979) The show and the song are a sweet reminder of the day I returned home from vacation, and neighborhood children sang this to me. (I didn’t become a teacher until 2004.) 

  1. Congrats on your blogiversary and it sure sounds like kids do say the darndest things. I don’t think I would have had the patience to teach young kids. I did corporate training which is a lot different — in some ways better and in some ways worse but at least no one ever told me to “talk to the booty!”

    1. Thank you for the blogiversary wishes, Kate. I know you just passed the same milestone.

      I’m glad you didn’t suffer that indignity (“talk to the booty”). I do remember, however, being very appreciative of one of my editors for the way she handled the kids (reporters – I was one of them) in the sandbox (the newsroom). Sometimes, the behavior isn’t all that different. 🙂

  2. One of these days I need to sit down and write out some anecdotes after 33 years in the classroom. My favorite of all time was answer “Angelo Saxon”. Ya know that Italian guy that conquered England.

    1. Hysterical, Carl. Don’t delay in writing those anecdotes. I’ll bet you’d get a great response to that – especially if it included some of your illustrations.

      Your comment reminded me of the “Welcome Back, Kotter” show where Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) talked about the “French Fry Phantom.” His teacher, Gabe Kotter (Gabriel Kaplan), finally figured out what he meant: “You mean the Irish Potato Famine?”

  3. I remember walking past the open door of our church’s convent one day and seeing several nuns inside, eating lunch. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

    Congratulations on the two-year milestone, Judy. Your blog has always been one of my favorites. Keep it going!

  4. Judy, my sister has been a high school teacher. for (mph, mph) years. Once as she was crossing the road a burly policeman who was directing traffic lurched up to her, he seemed pleased to see her. ‘Hello Miss B’ said a former student. She’s one of those teachers that when we look back on those good old days we remember. You sound like you’re in that league.
    I loved to Sir with Love and “Sydney Poitier and Richard Dreyfuss and Gabe Kaplan and I love Mr Richards my third grade teacher who stood on his head because he had promised he would if we did well in our maths test.

    1. Mr. Richards sounds cool. I would never make that promise because I’d be afraid I’d fall and wind up in traction. 🙂

      Thank you for the compliment, Mary. There are days when I feel like a failure – especially in my first couple of years teaching. I think I owe those kids an apology and a re-do. It seemed like what I did then was all on a wing and a prayer. Each year gets better. I do love teaching, seeing kids “get” it and their creativity.

  5. Best wishes on your blogaversary.

    And why DO young people think most adults, especially teachers, don’t have lives? Or never did the things they do, thought the things they think, felt the same way they feel?

    1. Thank you, Tracy, for the good wishes.

      I recall how stunned some of my students were when they learned that I liked “some” rap music. Generally, I think it’s hard to imagine your parents – or any adult – as ever being young. The phrase “you just don’t understand” comes to mind. 🙂

      1. I suppose a very few people with overly-active imaginations can imagine older people as their younger selves… I always could, but likely that is due to my grandmother, who told me such vivid stories of when, as she said, “I was a little girl just like you…”

        comment from earthrider to Tracy:
        From the ages of 5 to 8, I lived in my Grammy’s home – an intergenerational experience. While I don’t think I thought of her as ever being my age, I did appreciate life from her perspective. I was one of her favorites to accompany her to the movies: westerns and Jerry Lewis. My folks did share a lot about their life, so I clearly saw their younger selves enjoying dancing, roller skating and hanging out with friends.

  6. Hi Judy,

    I loved this post. Somehow, somewhere you have brought in this incredible mix of pathos and humour. Reading it I somehow got transported to “Good Bye Mister Chips.” Re-reading your post I just could not understand why that happened.The only similarity I could see is the first person narrative of a well respected teacher.But I suppose that is the way the mind wanders.

    Does teaching children keep us mentally agile and youthful? Though never having been a teacher myself, I would like to believe so. If this be true, that’s a great blessing for all who follow this noble profession.


    1. Thank you, Shakti. I loved “Good Bye Mister Chips,” but it’s been a long while since I’ve seen it. Thank you for the comparison to a “well-respected teacher.”

      I believe being around young people does keep me young. Young thinking, that is. I certainly feel my age on other occasions. 🙂

      I appreciate your presence and heart-felt comments.


      P.S. I just checked out the film’s description. There were two – one in 1939 (the one I watched because my parents introduced me to it), and the one in 1969. I quite enjoy the premise of the first. It starred Robert Donat and Greer Garson.

  7. Thanks for making me smile today. Looks like me on the last picture. What we think and what we do at a given moment may not be all glued together. I guess it’s a way to make life more interesting, challenging. Have a great day!

  8. Your joy in your job comes through in this wonderful post Judy. Must be satisfying to watch those precocious youngsters mature into responsible human beings and knowing you had a small hand in the process 🙂 Congratulations on completing two successful years of blogging! Also belated anniversary wishes to Dave and you 🙂

    1. I only get to see them for two years while they’re in Middle School – 7th and 8th. When they return for a visit, or we cross paths, yes it’s great to see them doing so well.

      Thank you, Madhu, for the anniversary wishes – blogging and marriage. 🙂

  9. This is a great post, you have a way of bringing us all back to our school days when we were wondering about our “cool” teachers. Love the photo’s too.

  10. Oh, I LOVE this, Judy. It brought back so many memories.
    One evening years ago, I called home about a h.s. junior who missed a major deadline. His 4 year-old brother answered and assured me he could take a message. He got a pencil and paper. I told him this was Mrs. Warner, and even carefully spelled my name…twice. I slowly gave my phone number and one statement about why I needed to talk to Steven’s parents.
    I asked the little brother if he had any questions.
    “How do you make a W?” he asked.
    I asked, “Is there anyone BIGGER at your house?”
    Aw. Kids.

    1. That is so precious, Marilyn. I told one of my students not to give me the puppy eyes – the look they hone to perfection to get out of a jam. Of course, he did. Just adorable. Although I tell them “I’m immune to your charms. I had two teenage daughters.” 🙂 That usually makes them laugh.

  11. Dear Judy,
    I maybe be a kin of the White Rabbit because I’m always late for every important date. I enjoy reading your blog so much. I wish you a wonderful third year in blogging and many more to come.

  12. Well I guess all that interaction with the kids at school certainly keeps you young, and very with it Judy!! 😀 If there are any dinosaurs round here, it must be me – I’ve never heard of twerking, so thanks teacher, for the education! 😆 I diverted off to You Tube for a little while just to be absolutely certain what it was! 😉 But, I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about really, I thought stuff like that always happened on TV!? I’ve seen Miss GaGa do a lot worse with some of her male dancers on stage. And in my own teen years it was Madonna in her hanky panky phase. I remember her moves on stage in her concert were pretty raunchy, but maybe I just don’t get that easily shocked by raunchy behaviour from celebrities. I expect them to do crazy things, and let them get on with it, to the point that I don’t even see it – and not know what twerking is!! 😉

    I love the bit about the voice change from that student of yours, pretending he was the answer machine – hilarious!! 😀 I hope he remembers doing that one day when he’s a grown man, and tells his grandchildren how not to speak to their teacher on the phone!

    Your second anniversary! Well done Judy! Do you get a e-card from WordPress with ♥♥♥ on it!? I’ve heard you get something from them wishing you well. I’m getting closer to my first one this November, can’t believe how fast a year has gone, and how many lovely people I’ve had conversations with all round the world. I’m not much of a travelling person, so haven’t really seen a lot of the world beyond where I live, so it’s been a great education in language (phrases people use) and also how many similarities in our lives there are, a lot more than I expected. I think the funniest phrase so far, has to be ‘Hump Day’ we don’t have Hump Day in Britain – even less than we have Waffle Houses! I’m spreading it around a little, it’s a picture to see the frozen stares, when I say “I think it’s Hump Day tomorrow.” It makes sense once you know why, but like you in the US, hump has another meaning in Britain too – causing some confusion as to why it would be a Hump Day tomorrow! 😀

    1. From what I read, twerking has been around since the 90s. I have seen it done on TV, but I do think Miley took it to a whole new lower-basement level. Yes, Madonna and Lady Gaga are over the top as well.

      Suzy, WordPress did send me an anniversary message. I don’t recall getting one my first year. Maybe, I did. Thanks for the good wishes. I love saying that I have an “international” following. 🙂 Plus, I follow folks in other countries. It is a wonderful community to work with.

      Yes, the camel on the Geiko commercials is hilarious. It is a phrase used in the U.S. to signify that half the work week is done. I believe that phrase also has a similar connotation here.

  13. Congratulations on your blogiversary, Judy! I am also a teacher and I can relate to this, but no one tells me “Talk to the booty” Brave teachers-that’s we. I like this post and thank you for making me laugh. Cheers!

      1. I teach Science – Biology and Chemistry in particular.

        comment from earthrider to littlelilly:
        Cool! One of my favorite (science) subjects in college was ecology. Our professor took us to a creek which we got to walk thru and check things out for class. I loved the hands-on part of that course.

Comments are closed.