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Uh-Oh Papers & Three-Point Shots: Confessions of a First-Year Teacher

Updated on April 18, 2016

Mrs. Ennis vs. Lil' Abner

I have a lot of athletes in my class. One kid in particular, who I'll call Lil' Abner, for reasons you may or may not understand, is a heck of one. For only a freshman, this kid easily stands at 6 ft. and around 200 lbs. Lets just say, the kid is a machine.

During this point of the semester, we were currently covering Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird. While not my first choice for freshman, it's part of the curriculum. I decided to listen to the audio book in class for two reasons. First, it keeps me or any students from having to bear the insufferable embarrassment of coming across the "n" word during an oral reading. Second, I felt it ensured the kids would experience the whole book, instead of trusting the kids to read the book in their own time. I don;t know if you've read To Kill a Mockingbird, but it doesn't exactly intrigue the limited interests of fourteen and fifteen year-olds.

With this unique approach, however, came a downside. My first class of the day usually had a hard time staying awake while listening to the audio play. So, I came up with the brilliant idea for "Uh-Oh" Papers. These papers come with an alternative assignment that the student needs to complete if they are caught sleeping or not paying attention in class. These alternative assignments usually consisted of vocabulary from the novel. My students knew that if they received one of these papers, they were to complete the assignment as homework, due the following day.

One day, after a brief reminder of the "Uh-Oh" papers that would mercilessly be thrust upon them should they be caught doing anything but listening, Lil' Abner fell asleep during the first two minutes of the audio book. To ensure he was actually asleep, I walked over to his desk and stood directly in front of him. Nothing. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for him to open his eyes. Still nothing. This kid was out like a light. So, I returned to my desk, filled out an "Uh-Oh" paper, typed and printed the vocab words to the back, then walked over and laid the paper on the kids desk. Still Nothing. I softly placed my hand on the kids shoulder, and he jerked awake. He looked at me in the kind of confusion one only experiences after an intense REM cycle, and then at the paper on his desk. After his mind cleared, and the realization of the situation hit him, he mumbled. "What was that?" I asked, amused. "I said I wasn't sleeping!" He yelled. After a brief explanation of how I came to the conclusion that he was not only sleeping, but sleeping very deeply, I tried explaining that the the assignment was just a short list of vocabulary, and wouldn't take him a very long time. His response? Why, it was completely reasonable given the situation.

Lil' Abner: I'M DROPPING OUT!

Me:...


As the student stood and began to pack his bags, I told him that he was being unreasonable. I know understood that his pride had been wounded, but he was still clearly over-reacting. "This doesn't have to be a huge deal," I told him. "But you're definitely making it into one."

"I don't care," He said. " I'm dropping out!" He yelled again.

"Well, then," I said, resigned. "Be sure to take your assignment with you, because until I hear otherwise from the office, it's still due tomorrow."

The student looked at me furiously, then at the assignment, and then back at me. Then he did something that I'll never forget. He snatched the paper from his desk, crumpled it into a ball, and basketball-shot the assignment fully across the room and right into the trash bin in the corner.

After a brief moment in which I sat in awe of his skills, I snapped back to reality. "To the office," I said as firmly as my voice would allow, "Now." As as I escorted the student to the office, I couldn't help but suppress a smile as I thought myself: It had been one heck of a shot.


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