Stories from school and college

Are You OK, Boomer?

, , , , , , | Learning | November 3, 2020

In the late 1970s, I am a junior taking chemistry in high school. This is basic chemistry, essentially giving students the opportunity to get familiar with the methods and procedures they’ll need to use when taking chemistry in college. Because the school is located in a small town, it is on the small side, as well. This means that chemistry, biology, and other science classes share the same modest lab space.

We are using Bunsen burners to heat up small coils of magnesium which are placed in the bottom of little ceramic crucibles. The experiment is supposed to be demonstrating how heating the coiled metal will change the metal’s shape as it expands. Really basic stuff.

Before we get started, my lab partner and I notice some sort of off-white gunk baked into the bottom of the crucible. The gunk won’t rinse out, so I ask the teacher for a new crucible. The teacher takes a look at it and tells us to just use the crucible as-is.

Teacher: “It’s not going to affect the experiment.”

Me: “Are you sure? We don’t even know what this stuff is.”

Teacher: “I’m sure. Get started. You guys are way behind everyone else.”

So, we drop the coiled strip of magnesium into the bottom of the crucible and place it in the stand over the burner. We light it up and take turns observing the metal as it heats. We both speculate about the nature of the baked-on gunk while we wait for the coil to start changing shape from the heat.

I have just slid safety goggles over my eyes and leaned forward to look into the crucible when there is a loud BANG, followed by a streak of red flying past my ear and bits of shattered crucible flying all over the lab bench, floor, and me. My lab partner shuts off the burner while I make sure I’m not hurt, and then we turn to see what flew past me.

The chemistry teacher is about six feet away, using tongs to pick up something which seems to be melting its way through one of the plastic mats on the floor by another lab bench. There is quite a bit of smoke which reeks of burning plastic, and other students are scrambling to open windows to get rid of the stench.

The teacher drops the burning magnesium into a bucket full of sand kept handy for just that purpose and then comes over to make sure my lab partner and I are okay. Neither of us are hurt, fortunately, although we are both scared and excited the way people get when the danger has passed. The teacher is pretty pale, too.

He checks the lab record book and figures out that the gunk left in the crucible was potassium carbonate from a Chemistry 2 class the previous month.

Teacher: “Okay! Let’s never do that again. What just happened is called a ‘violent exothermic reaction.’ This was not what we were supposed to be learning about today, but everyone now has a better understanding of why lab safety is so important. It also emphasizes the importance of cleaning your lab equipment after each use. Any questions?”

I raise my hand.

Teacher: “Yes, [My Name]?”

Me: “Didn’t you say it wouldn’t affect the experiment?”

Teacher: *Looking pained* “That’s another important lesson: be careful of your assumptions. I assumed no one would have been stupid enough to leave a crucible coated with a known catalyst in the lab supply cage.”

My lab partner and I weren’t penalized for not completing the experiment, and the chemistry teacher called me “Boomer” for the rest of my time at school.

I did not sign up for Chemistry 2 class in my senior year.

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Everyone Can See The Problem Here

, , , , , | Learning | November 1, 2020

In the late 1990s, when we were in second grade, my twin sister and I got glasses. This was still the second week of school. My sister and I looked (and still look) very similar to each other, though we weren’t (and still aren’t) identical twins. We had ordered them before the start of the school year but for some reason it took some time for them to come. It was surprising that no one had realized we needed glasses before, since at the time I had 20/350 vision and my sister’s was much worse, one of her eyes being functionally blind.

We went to school the Monday after we got glasses. For me, everything was fine. My friend fawned over my glasses because it meant I could watch movies with him now. I had the teacher everyone liked. She was young, fun, and friendly and always had a joke ready for any occasion. My sister had the teacher that everyone dreaded. She was old and rather deaf and would yell at anything she found unacceptable.

Just before lunch, I was called into the main office. I went to the meeting room to see the principal and vice principal looking uncomfortable, my sister’s teacher looking very livid, another woman looking very angry as well with a hand on my sister’s shoulder, and my sister curled up in a chair crying. I went over to my sister and hugged her, and just then my dad burst into the room.

With everyone there, the meeting began. Essentially, what happened was that the teacher believed my sister was breaking the dress code because she was wearing glasses, which “pretty little blonde girls shouldn’t do,” and she tried to take my sister’s glasses off. The assistant teacher intervened. The vice principal actually seemed to be taking the teacher’s side. 

My dad smiled, and then stood up, gestured towards the vice principal and spoke very calmly and matter-of-factly.

Dad: “Firstly, I’m pretty sure I remember your daughter wore glasses in third grade. She’s friends with my son, remember? Secondly, I’m fairly certain when my son was in elementary school he had this hag as his teacher and we specifically requested that none of our other children would ever have her. Thirdly, if by the start of next week [Sister] isn’t transferred out of that witch’s class, I will lawyer up and get the press involved.”

The principal was just sitting there with a smile on his face. The vice principal was stuttering.

Vice Principal: “There are only two second-grade classes, and it’s school policy to not put twins in the same class.” 

Dad: “You can break the policy. Unless you are suggesting my daughter would fare worse in a class with her twin sister and best friend than in a class where the teacher bullies her and doesn’t believe she should be able to see the board.”

Vice Principal: “Well, how do you know that [my teacher] won’t think the same way?”

I exclaimed proudly:

Me: “Because I have her and she said my glasses were really cute this morning!”

The principal turned to the vice principal.

Principal: “You must admit, [Vice Principal], he’s got you beat on all fronts.”

Then, he turned to my dad.

Principal: “Your daughter will be out of [teacher’s] class by tomorrow.”

Even though my dad was smiling the whole time, it was the scariest my sister and I had ever seen him. My sister was transferred into my class the next day, and the year continued without much incident. The teacher was later fired midway through the year for an unrelated incident, and my sister and big brother helped bake a cake to celebrate.

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It Came From Beneath The Partition

, , , , , , , | Learning | October 31, 2020

The elementary school I attended had an annual Halloween party where teachers, parents, and the oldest students would host games, scares, and general candy giveaways. There was everything you’d expect: a “feel the scary spaghetti” booth, bobbing for apples, group trivia, and, of course, a haunted house.

Well, haunted music room, really. They brought in partitions and covered them with decorated butcher paper to create a small haunted house experience. Students wanting to go through would be led through in groups by a guide who would tell us about all the spooky things we were seeing. Again, it was all fairly typical. A witch with a boiling cauldron, a skeleton pretending to be dead until we got close, and so on.

About halfway through, we came to a stretch where there was a gap at the bottom of the partition walls. Older students lying on the ground on the other side would reach through to grasp at our legs and spook us. Notice I say, “grasp at,” not, “grab.”

I was at the back of the group, so nobody noticed when one of the hands locked on my ankle, yanked me off my feet, and pulled me under the wall. It happened so fast I didn’t even make a noise and just lay there feeling stunned.

Eventually, my seven-year-old mind concluded that I must have been selected to help scare other groups and that I’d be grabbing at legs, too. This lasted up until the guide came back and hustled me out to my bemused parents.

Looking back, they probably thought I got scared and hid. I never did tell anybody about being volunteered to join the haunted house.

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It Can All Change In Five Minutes

, , , , | Learning | October 30, 2020

I have severe major depression and a sister who is not good at getting organised/ready to leave on time.

We have a teacher at my school who I’ve always despised. He has an unspoken rule that he will lock students out of the class for five-ten minutes further when they are late.

I am five minutes late to his class (first period – 8:45 am) due to my sister throwing a tantrum. I knock on the door, and:

Teacher: “Was the bus late?”

Apparently, this is his only valid excuse for running late to class.

Me: “No, but…”

Teacher: “You can’t come in.”

He shuts the door in my face.

After bursting into tears, I decided that his unspoken rule of being left outside the classroom for five minutes when one attended late never actually stated one was required to wait outside the door to enter the room when he deigned to let the student in. 

So I wander off to the library to find something interesting to read.

Apparently, after he opened the door and found me missing, the school had to call my parents and explain they’d misplaced me and why. I was eventually ‘found’ and the teacher had the nerve to ask – in front of my parents and the principal:

Teacher: “Why didn’t you tell me the reason you were late?”

Me: “Because you didn’t let me say so.”

Teacher: “Why didn’t you wait outside the door?”

Me: “Because you didn’t say so, and I wasn’t going to waste valuable learning time that my parents pay for standing and staring at a door.”

My parents ripped them a new one, and the teacher didn’t lock anyone out of his classroom for at least the next seven years (so my younger brother tells me). 

It gave me great pleasure to get one up on such a hard-headed, infuriating teacher.

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The Nut Jokes Are Too Easy

, , , , , , | Learning | October 28, 2020

I’m going to my college to use one of the engineering labs during the weekend. There is some sort of event happening on campus and a small group of people is there walking around.

My campus has a very large amount of trees. As a result of those trees, we have a large population of grey squirrels. After many generations of the students and faculty feeding them snacks and not chasing them around, the squirrels are very tame and you can feed them out of your hands.

Two mothers and their son, who appears to be eight or nine, are looking at a squirrel a few feet away from them that’s standing on her hind legs. I walk up to them because they are by the entrance to the building.

Boy: “Wow, it’s just standing there. It’s not running away.”

Me: “She is very tame; she thinks you might give her food.”

Boy: “Oh, it’s a girl? How can you tell?”

Me: “Well, how do you tell apart boy and girl humans?”

Boy: “Uh… in animals, aren’t the boys more beautiful?”

Me: “That’s birds.”

Boy: “Oh.”

He stands there looking at the squirrel, trying to figure out how I have deduced its sex.

I turn to the mothers and they are quieting their giggles, having caught on to what the boy has not.

Me: “Can I say it?”

The mothers nod.

Me: *To the boy* “You can see her vagina.”

Boy: *Suddenly realizing* “Ohhhhh!”

The mothers just laughed.

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