Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chickens on Crack

Every once in a while when my daughter tells me about her school experiences, I am amazed at some of the things her teachers say to the students. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that professors feel less restricted about the expressions they use (idioms, similes, metaphors, synecdoche, preterition) when teaching than do K-8 teachers, but now I think otherwise.

Example: When students turn in homework or exams with handwriting that is impossible or difficult to decipher, making the already-painful task of grading even more painful, I talk to the class, explain the importance of writing in such a way that I can read what they have written, and gently threaten to assume that an answer is wrong if I can't read it. This typically works to improve handwriting to a legible, if not beautiful, level. In extreme cases, I write illegible comments on student work, and when the student comes to talk to me about my poor handwriting, we chat about the importance of legibility.

My daughter's teacher, however, yelled at her class last week and told them that they all write like "chickens on crack". My daughter and her friends thought that was very funny and they have been joking about chickens on crack for days. The teacher also made some other comment involving reference to "meth", and now there is a group of pre-teens who think meth is funny.

I am not upset about the teacher's casual references to drugs, but I am surprised at her use of these expressions in class. I attempt to make jokes in my classes, but so far have not had occasion to joke about drug use by humans or barnyard animals. I asked a few professor colleagues if they would make a similar joke, and all said no. It's not that we think our students will descend into a self-destructive abyss of drug addiction if we make a drug-themed joke in class, but somehow it just doesn't seem appropriate.

I suppose one use of unusual expressions -- perhaps even somewhat shocking expressions -- is to get students' attention and to make your point especially memorable. If you say something that the students don't expect, maybe what you say will have a greater impact. This would be one situation in which "chickens on crack" type expressions would come in handy, whether you are teaching at an elementary school or a university.

It is somewhat tempting to do an experiment. In one class, politely request that the students write in a legible way, calmly stating that it would be really nice if they made an effort with penmanship so that you could read their assignments and exams more easily. In another class, raise your voice and tell the students they write like "chickens on crack". Would there be any difference in level of improvement of penmanship of the two classes?

10 comments:

The Bear Maiden said...

I was at my son's school the other day, hanging out, and the 4th/5th grade teacher I know (she used to be my nieces 5th/6th grade teacher--niece is now in high school) came in to use the copier. Offhandedly she said "I now know the major secret to teaching." What? I asked her, expecting something deep. "I'm going to have my lesson etched into my fingernail polish."

She went on to say that if she went to her class and asked them what they read and discussed in the reading literacy component of the day she would get one of two answers "I dunno" or "what, we had reading today?"

But she had come in with a manicure that day... her fingernails were bright red and it created such a stir that her entire class not only noticed it, but discussed it. She said they paid such close attention to her nails that if she had put a useful lesson on them as well as the polish, they would have learned.

Don't know how old your daughter is, but from what I've observed it's the funny/shocking that gets their attention. Everything else is "wahwahwah".

And I can see where it WOULD feel inappropriate to say something like "chickens on crack" in university. Which is odd... you would think the (semi) adults would handle it better...

And I don't know that it's appropriate to joke about drug use--especially with little kids... but on the other hand... the thing is the kids DO know about crack and meth. And the thought of chickens on crack is downright funny. I'm still laughing....

Eugenie said...

I've heard "crickets on crack" in reference to a fire alarm. (in all fairness, if crickets could be on crack, they would have made that sound)

I remember in high school that the popular teachers always made bizarre comments (or gestures..he got fired....) to keep the class awake/paying attention.

Now, in college I've heard terrible references Last week one guy used "Jerking off" in a sentence and I was quite mortified....(me being the only female in class...)

What ever happened to the bengin clich├ęs?

EthidiumBromide said...

My guess would be it also has a significant amount to do with the age of the students and how they react to the type of comment. Telling an 8th grade class they write like "chickens on crack" will probably be met with laughs and lots of references, and drove the point home, while telling a university class the same thing would likely be met with eye-rolls and whispers of "I can't believe (s)he just said that." At least that would have been my reaction if I heard a phrase like that over the age of 12. :)

lylebot said...

It seems to me the problem with using expressions like that to grab attention is that you have to keep topping yourself. If you use "chickens on crack" in September, where do you go from there? How do you grab them in December when they already know your tricks?

another female post-doc said...

yes, in first class there is some chance that some students will take it seriously and will try to improve their hand-writing putting efforts, however in second case, I suspects chances are very little. and then you will need to find more shocking phrase. I think it all depends on teacher's personality, how she/he carries any way of improving anything.

Lisa said...

When I was a kid, "on crack" was a common phrase, though I don't think we knew what it meant when we first started saying it. In fact, when I read "chickens on crack" it just brought to mind crazed, wacky chickens instead of chickens that are actively doing drugs. Perhaps the phrase just rolls off the tongue of the teacher, and she didn't think of it as a drug reference until it was too late? Although I would expect that teachers be better able to filter their thoughts than that!

Anonymous said...

I have similar issues with profanity. I can never seem to get my students to read the handouts that I have so laboriously written. So one year I stood in front of the class answering the billionth question about something that was in the handout, I found myself saying "READ THE FUCKING HANDOUT." It was memorable, and after that I just had to shorthand it as RTFH.

Did it raise the probability that they would read before asking questions the next time? I'd like to think so. But who knows. Not a controlled experiment.

Ms.PhD said...

I think this is one of those comical cross-generational games of telephone. When I was a kid, everyone said bad handwriting was like "chicken scratch." You know, like chickens scratching randomly in the dirt?

My guess is that this teacher heard the phrase wrong, and has been using it wrong ever since.

Still, it's pretty funny. I know someone who has been teaching children and does not seem in the slightest like the old fuddy-duddies I had in school. It gives me hope for the new generation that they might not die of boredom.

Lisa said...

*Different lisa here.

Anyway, I wonder about the community surrounding your daughter's school. I live in Southeastern Ohio, and a joke about meth use would go over like a lead balloon.

Imonly14butdontjudgeme! said...

You need to loosen up. Drugs are bad, but the teacher is only warming up to her students so she can teach them more efficiently. I really almost agree with you, but I would rather have an agreeable teacher in a sucky class, than a sucky teacher, and a good class.