Blood. Guts. Gore. Murder. Mystery. Believe it or not, these are some of the most popular student interests this year in my 8th grade class. After giving out personal interest surveys asking them which TV shows, movies, and books they enjoy, I’ve received an overwhelming response of ‘Paranormal Activity 1-3’, ‘Fright Night’, ‘Scream 4’, and other psycho-killer-make-you-scream titles .
With this wealth of information about what interests my students, this year I’ve been trying to make my class has fun as possible by using videos and readings that they can get excited about. If I can reel them in and engage them in the material, with the endgame being they READ and WRITE, I’m fine with showing them a little PG-13 horror content. If you know me, you know very well that I myself have less of a stomach for this kind of stuff, but I guess it can serve as another way for them to poke fun at me.
On Halloween, we did a little research on Edgar Allan Poe and read a nice adaptation of “A Tell-Tale Heart” in kid friendly play form. The following week, I decided to continue the über spooky theme by planning the context of my lessons about ghosts. I showed them the classic Sixth Sense trailer, and followed with an activity where they did a little writing about whether they believed in ghosts and spirits or not. Interestingly enough, 12 out of 12 students in the seminar believed whole-heartedly that spirits and ghosts existed, and many said that they or their close relatives had had close encounters with ghoulish entities (A few related it to their cultural heritage – Caribbean or Mexican for instance).
So the kids are excited, I’m learning more about their lives, and all is well. This leads us to our most eventful lesson about the infamous ‘Winchester Mystery House’. The story of the Winchester Penis Rifle has been the funniest single moment this year, and it’s about how I came dangerously close to a disastrous drawing mistake.
To prep the class on an article about the story of the haunted ‘Winchester Mystery House’, the class watched a few clips from ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘Ghost Hunters’. Apparently all the kids these days love this stuff more than Selena Gomez or even Lil Wayne or Drake. The clips gave a good summary of the story of Sarah Winchester and her famous mystery house. I will recap shortly for those of you who do not know.
Sarah Winchester, born in New Haven Connecticut in 1839, was the wife of prominent gun corporation owner William Winchester. After their lone daughter tragically died shortly after birth, and then William of Tuberculosis in 1880, Sarah Winchester was insanely depressed. Aided by ‘mediums’ (psychics who communicate with the dead), she was absolutely certain that she and her family were cursed. Legend has it that a popular medium alleged that spirits of all the men killed by the Winchester Rifle in the Civil War (so many ghosts!) had put a serious curse on her and her family. They told her to move to California to build a house for them to live, so of course, she did. In the end, the totally crazed Winchester woman moved to San Jose, built a mammoth, labyrinthine mansion full of odd and kooky staircases to nowhere and doors opening into walls. She spent over 20 million dollars of her inheritance and continued to build the house for almost 40 years to keep the spirits at bay until she died at the age of 83.
Ahhhhh, I felt like I needed to tell that story because 1) It’s awesome, and 2) I inadvertently drew the biggest penis-rifle in the history of the teaching profession while explaining the Winchester story.
During the article, I needed to clarify how this lady was so rich, and why spirits from the Civil War would want to spook her. Off the cusp, as teachers occasionally do, I decided to use our fancy SmartBoard to illustrate the answer to both of these questions: The famous Winchester Rifle.
I started my drawing at what I thought would be the handle, and curved it up too quickly to the right. I extended a looonnnng line straight across the board, over two feet long, and drew another back to the left to signify a barrel of a long gun. Finally, I inexplicably wanted to emphasize the muzzle by boldly outlining the tip of the gun. As I finished my god-awful drawing of the rifle, I knew it immediately. The greatest moment was not my realization of my error, but the stunned and horrified face of my co-teacher sitting behind the students in the back of the room.
As he mouthed “Nooooooo!!!!”, slightly laughing with a face blushing red, I anxiously grabbed the SmartBoard marker to try to fix up the drawing before one of the kids made the connection. Of course, I went for the tip of the “rifle” again and wound of nervously making the bulbous head of the penis-gun more pronounced than before. I knew it wasn’t working so I tried to draw in a trigger near the handle. This didn’t work so well either. You can guess what the trigger ended up looking like. As my attempts to fix the drawing were increasingly backfiring, a few students confusedly yelled out, “What IS that?”, and just as fast as they said it, I snapped back “A Rifle!” With a giant sigh of relief, I erased the drawing by hitting the next slide on the Powerpoint.
As close of a call my penis-rifle incident was, I think the moral of the story is that phallic symbols can arise at anytime, in any work environment. Being a male teacher at a middle school for girls is one work environment that could be considered the most dangerous one for this particular scenario. I think we should just have each other’s backs, and let naive children do the drawings from now on. —————————>>>>>>>>>>>>>