It’s June, beautiful June, and I despair that I am losing the battle.

This is not the despair of the unexperienced, not the despair of the uninitiated. I’ve been teaching for ten years. I’ve raised four children. I have survived everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to the advent of facebook. I have been sworn at, cursed at, blasphemed at, spat at… I once had a kid tell me I was a pain in the ass. I have stopped fights, dried tears, wiped up blood, settled relationship disputes… all in my classroom, never mind what my own kids have put me through.

But this semester… this semester I have taught grade ten English. To thirty-two darling fifteen year olds. Thirty-two fifteen year old Millenials, if I may use the word with the kindest of sentiments.

First of all, let me say how much I enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, they exhaust me. They frustrate me. They leave the room at the end of a 75 minute class and I have to lie on the floor for ten minutes to recover. But they’re funny. They smile, they say hilarious things, they laugh at my jokes and my ridiculous accents that pop up when whenever I talk about literature or Singapore noodles. They seem to genuinely like each other, for the most part, and they seem… oddly enough… to like me, especially when that vein in my forehead starts pulsing. But…

They do not read. They have incredibly short attention spans. They have limited control of grammatical elements. And everything is boring.


I try.

I have a curriculum to follow, of course. We have to read, we have to write, we have to view and talk and share and consider and persuade and infer and visualize and text the guy two seats over and take a photo of the teacher when she’s not looking and go on facebook because WTF? Did you see that picture she put up of herself?

I try.

Thirty-two bodies is not to be underestimated. When they are all in attendance I can barely make my way through the room to distribute papers. Papers? Oh yeah, didn’t those die out with the dinosaurs?

This group of students are, for the first time in my experience, truly addicted to technology. Cell phones and facebook have been present for several years in the schools, and the issues around them have gradually been increasing, but this is the first year that I find myself losing the battle. I’m not just meaning the battle of “put away your cell phone”. That part of it is easy. I take them. I put them on my desk… the ones who are brazen enough to hold them in front of their faces while I’m instructing. Five cell phones buzzing, clicking and flashing on my desk. Twenty-seven cell phones vibrating in pockets. These are children who can text blindfolded in a howling snow storm on a mountain peak surrounded by slavering wolves. With a sense of entitlement. They dare that wolf to chew off their arm before they’ve finished their text message. I am not winning.

The texting takes an even more subversive role when it comes to classroom management. If a kid leaves the room and I either go into the hall to find him, or reach for the phone to get the office to search for the wayward child, his friends are texting him before I even cross the threshold. “She’s coming to get you.” They text each other from across the room as I am mingling while they use the laptops, alerting each other seconds before I see them on facebook, or kijiji.

Full points for Surveillance Techniques and Evasive Maneuvers, neither of which are curriculum outcomes for English 10.

But it’s not the physical addiction to the cell phone that is the problem here… it’s the evolution of these kids that is making it hard for me to adapt to their ways. They want immediate gratification. They want the answer NOW, they don’t want to problem solve, they don’t want to actively ponder and sort and find their own individual creative solution… they want to google. Google knows. “Why don’t you just google it?”

These children have no filter. The social barriers that would not be crossed when I was a kid, and when my children were kids, are melting. It seems that if you can post anything on-line, you can also talk about anything in-class. If there is no restriction on what you can read, and see, and share, and like in the digital world, why should there be restrictions in the real world? I hear graphic discussions about sex, drugs, family situations, crime,  inappropriate slang and teasing, and of course the ever-present F-bomb… things that I did not hear ten years ago when I started teaching, things I did not hear even five years ago. When I shut them down… with the twitching forehead vein in full hyper-pulsating mode… they look at me and say:  “What? What’s wrong?” They honestly don’t see a problem with their conversations, in a classroom, right in front of a teacher’s desk, with a teacher sitting in it.

They apologize… and continue talking, because they “aren’t finished yet.”

But I love them. They are so, SO funny. These kids have wit and charm and sarcasm at their fingertips. Without a filter, they often amaze me with their eloquence. And at times, they are so foul.

“This is fuckin’ stupid.”

“I hate this fuckin’ shit.”

“Who the fuck cares?” : This, in response to Shakespeare.

“Whaddafuckyadodatfer?” : This, in response to one student drawing a penis on another student’s binder. (We didn’t draw phallic symbols when I was a child. Pot leaves, yes. Peace signs, yes. Penises? No.)

“Giiiiiiiiiit.”:  This, in response to almost everything.

Translation: “Giiiiit”, is a monosyllabic exaggeration of “Please remove yourself from my personal space, field of vision, general vicinity, and life”. It is accompanied by a hand gesture reminiscent of an Italian Pizza Chef giving the backhand to an annoying delivery boy who has made a bad smell in the vicinity of the pizza oven.


For maximum auditory impact and accuracy of delivery, the “iiiiiit” sound must be somewhat guttural, as if one is attempting to expel a small rodent from one’s esophagus. It takes a while to get it right, but once one has mastered the intonation and appropriate physicality of both the gesture and the enunciation, it is surprisingly effective. Try it. Raise your left hand to ear level, palm facing you, fingers erect, thumb clenched strongly against the side of your palm. Wave your hand toward the offending Bad-Smell-Producer as though calling upon the Gods of Frustrated Teachers and Parents the World Over and articulate your displeasure with a good-old-fashioned, gutteral “Giiiiiiiiiiit”. One small wave of the hand for each i of the “Giiiiiit” is quite dramatic. I tried it with my weiner after a particularly offensive exhalation and found it most effective. (Weiner dogs are very sensitive.)

This has been the running joke all semester, as it is a phrase that encompasses a world of meaning in one syllable. That’s what these Millenials seem to want from the world. A gesture, a word, something quick and easy that gets to the point so they can move on to more important things, like twitter. I’mlinking a video here by Sulibreaks which is brilliant piece of spoken word poetry that speaks to exactly what young people are looking for in education today. I get it. I sympathize. But what does this mean:

“So this one is for my generation, the ones who found what they were looking for on google, the ones who followed their dreams on twitter, pictured their future on instagram, accepted destiny on facebook.” (Breaks, Suli. “I will not let exam results decide my fate” 2012)

Um. Destiny on facebook? I think this is a whole other blog post. For when I feel stronger.

It’s the end of the school year. I’m exhausted. The little darlings wrote their final exam today and I am through with them until next September when many of them will come back to me for Grade 11 English. Until then, I will bask in the good memories… or try to erase them from my soul.

But for now? Giiiiiiit!

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Roadside assistance

“Maybe you’ll write about this in your next novel,” he said, his Scottish accent lilting like melted caramel across the stick shift between us. His name was Rod, with a rolling R. My weiner was on my lap. It took great fortitude on my part to refrain from making the offer … “would you like to stroke my weiner?”

I had only just met these foreigners, after all, and I am all about avoiding international incidents with people from ‘away’. Jeep looked at him with mournful eyes. If ever a weiner needed stroking, Jeepy is the one.

The Scot’s wife, Chris, sat in the back seat, oblivious to the effect of her husband’s accent, madly scratching at the five thousand bug bites on her arms, neck, face and hands.  Midges. I felt that weiner stroking paled in comparison to the scratching of her particular itch.

“In Nova Scotia, we call them mosquitoes, and they can pick up a small child and carry it away before you can say ‘tea and crumpets’.”

I’m great with foreigners. I’m a veritable font of wisdom. I wonder if she realizes that her husband’s accent is every Nova Scotia woman’s fantasy?

Today, I rescued two travellers on the side of the road. I was sweaty, they were bug-bitten, it was fate. They had come all the way from England to visit Canada and had just had the quintessential Nova Scotia experience of hitting a deer on the highway. I feel they should receive badges at the airport when they leave… a certificate, or diploma, or a stamp on their passport that reads:  “You have created road kill. You are an Honorary Canadian.”

These hapless travellers were givin’ ‘er down the 103 when Bambi leapt in front of them, dead-center of their rented Jeep Cherokee. Immediately after the carnage on the highway, they turned… guided no doubt, by fate… down the Port Medway Road, leaking coolant and other essential fluids for several miles before seizing up dramatically in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere. (I also heroically refrained from describing our location as the Middle of Butt-Fuck, and should also receive a medal for my diplomacy. One sometimes forgets how crude one may seem when one is not often obligated to serve as an ambassador for one’s country. Kudos to me, for holding the crudity in check.)

I was biking. Like the wind. Which is how I bike.

I have been eating cream-cheese-and-sour-cream-everything all winter and my ass is threatening to declare itself as a new province, so I have been biking. Like the wind. I passed the hapless travellers on my way out, and, a good forty minutes later I began to pass them again, on my way home. On my first pass I thought nothing of it… lady on cell phone beside vehicle. I mean, sheesh, no one in NS talks on the cell phone while they are driving, so I simply applauded her caution and biked on. Like the wind. However, a forty-minute cell phone conversation on the side of the road in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere implies some sort of emergency.

I stopped. Which is really hard when you are biking like the wind. I was only gasping a little. And sweating. Like Argentina in the rainy season.

They hit a deer, their rented vehicle went tits up, the tow truck was coming… from Halifax! Good Lord, that’s like sending help from Mars! It would take hours! This poor cute little British woman was being devoured by midges. Her husband had a Scottish accent. What choice did I have? I had to rescue them!

“Hop on my bike, I will carry you to safety!”

Apparently that is not the British way, so I had to madly bike home alone and retrieve my car… and the weiner, obviously. No rescue operation is complete without the weens… and go back to pick them up.

I love doing good deeds. It’s the Nova Scotia way. I even jealously hoped no one else would try to save them whilst I was biking wildly home because they were my helpless wanderers, dammit. If I wasn’t gonna save them, ain’t nobody gonna save them!

(I think I may be a deeply flawed samaritan deep in my soul.)

I brought them to my house, I gave them tea, I tried very hard not to adopt a British accent which is what I automatically do when I am with British people. It’s in my genes. Great Aunt Tilly and teatime and egad and God Save the Queen and all that. Marmite. Yorkshire Puddings. Horlicks.

I showed them the seals in the river, who chose just that exact moment to cavort, as they are wont to do. (Dammit, I wrote that with a British accent!) We called the rental company, we sorted out the dilemma, we had the barest of minimal moments of “we have two kids, we’re here for two weeks”, and , “I have four kids, I’ve been marking English essays all day”, and then I drove them back to their ruined vehicle which the tow truck was hoisting, and I sent them on their way.

Before they left, however… and I was sad to see them go. I had visions of taking them shark fishing and feeding them fresh-dug clams and explaining the intricacies of South Shore geneaology… I gave them my book. I muttered something like “I write stuff, like this, I dunno, ya know? Maybe you’ll read it, whatever” because I’m shy and ridiculous when it comes to promoting my work. That’s my foray into the international market. Done.

I have now cornered the European market on self-published South Shore Nova Scotia fiction because I was able to make venison jokes with visitors from the Home Country.

“You know, it tastes delicious if you can scrape it off the bumper.”

I said that. To the nice British people.

“Maybe you’ll write about this in your next novel,” he said.

Maybe I will. I’m a total sucker for a Scottish accent.

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Available now on Amazon

Apoplectic ennuie

Have you ever made bread? It’s quite a lot of work. The mixing, the kneading, the rising, the hoping that the loaves will rise and be light and fluffy, tasting like summer. And in your culinary efforts, as you are taking the loaves out of the oven, the air redolent with the fruits of your labor… have you ever noticed the carefully measured salt still sitting on the counter?

The end of the school year is upon us, and once again I am torn between maniacal laughter because I will be sending the wee delinquents on their way, sadness that I won’t teach some of them ever again, and absolute bleak despair because I fear so many of my lessons have missed the mark. I’m sending my students out into the world without salt.

It is a time fraught with sentimental nostalgia for the potential of September, and concern for the reality of June. Did I teach them anything? Have I made any kind of impact on their lives? Did they hear me swearing at them under my breath?

I recently asked my grade eleven students to write to me, to let me know their thoughts on my lessons about apocalyptic literature. We have read Brave New World, and Oryx and Crake. I have ranted about Wall-E and Tom Cruise movies. I have talked about conspiracy theories, and the zombie apocalypse. I have waved my arms and stood on my head and begged them to respond, to argue with me, to disagree, to breathe…

“For the past few days my teacher… Broadbent… has been droning on about world issues. The questions she has asked have floated over my head like hundreds of buzzing mosquitoes…”

I suppose I should be thrilled with the use of metaphor, and the correct spelling of mosquitoes since one of my favorite quotes is from a student writing about camping: “It is just terrible to be ate alive by misquotes.” Yes. Yes it is. Being ate alive is terrible no matter how accurate the quoting.

“The things that we’ve been going over for the past few days make me feel like… blaaaahhgg.”

These kinds of responses are the carefully measured salt still sitting on the counter after the loaves are already in the oven, realizing too late that all my efforts are bland and tasteless. It looks like bread, but no one wants a slice.

This week I have had kids tell me I gave them too much work, too little feedback, too much writing, not enough writing, not enough choice, too many smiley faces on their work, too many expectations, too many questions, not enough time… my head, and my heart, are in a whirl. I spend hours… hours… trying to find things that will intrigue them. Video clips, articles, songs, images… I have integrated facebook, ipads, twitter, youtube and yes, even Duck Dynasty into my lessons but still they stare at me, complaining that they aren’t entertained, that none of it is relevant, that I am as inspiring as a droning cloud of mosquitoes.

Sometimes I simply don’t know what else to do. I have a curriculum, I have outcomes, I have students. And never the twain shall meet. I like to think I have a creative brain and a varied toolkit of strategies which I sometime deliver accompanied by singing, terrible foreign accents, illustrations and rap.  And yes, I’ve been criticized for the accents. Zumtimez zere is just no pleazink people!

I lost my mind one day because a kid yawned. Sitting in the front row, not five feet from me. Not a delicate, behind the palm kind of yawn. No. A full stretch, jaw-cracking, howling yawn right in the middle of my lesson. The lesson I had spent several hours concocting. With video and surround sound. (Ok, maybe it didn’t have surround sound, but it did when I roasted him for yawning all over my best intentions). I indicated to him… with the vein in my neck pulsing wildly… that he was rude.

“So, like… I’m not allowed to yawn? What? I’m bored.”

Over the last few days I have talked to a young lady who thought she might be pregnant, another one who couldn’t decide if she wanted to pierce her nipple or her lip, another one whose boyfriend is an asshole, and a young man who promised he would no longer sneak out the back door of my classroom during class. Instead, he snuck the projector remote with the laser pointer and tracked little red dots all over me while I was teaching and I didn’t catch on for a good five minutes. I have intervened with a student who was cutting, another who needed a job, another who needed a letter for his parole officer. I have spent hours and hours marking, and planning and worrying about my students. And so have all the other teachers in my school. All the boring teachers, because I’m not so vain as to think I’m the only one worthy of the title. Most Boring Teacher of the Year. It’s what we all strive for.

I love my job, I love these kids, I get so tired of the varied rants about teachers not caring, not working hard enough, not being there enough. Are these kids asking their moms if they should pierce the lip or the nipple? I hope so. And I hope we’re on the same page, the mom and me, with our answers, because judging by the tattoos I see marching up young ladies’ legs and the bolts of metal I see sticking out of their faces I have to wonder. But I’m just a teacher. And a boring one at that.

I begin to fear that I will never keep their attention for more than three minutes. Unless I text them my lessons. Shakespeare in less than 140 characters. Get it, characters? What? Sorry, lame twitter humor. No wonder you’re bored.

It isn’t all torture, though. We laugh a lot, my students and I, in between the bouts of apoplectic ennuie. They tell me funny stories, and we have rap battles that I usually win. (wink, wink) A couple of sweeties left a note on my desk which read: “You weren’t here LBro, so we left some madlove for you!” I taped it to my wall. It was covered with smiley faces and little hearts, and that is enough to make me show up again come Monday morning. There’s only a few weeks left ‘til summer vacation when I will spend many happy hours planning a plethora of boredoms with which to regale my new charges. In September I will once again give them too much work , and not enough, and too many questions, and not enough, and too many expectations, and not enough, and… thank god for smiley faces.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Check out my novels on


Available now on Amazon
Available now on Amazon