Is a Graphic a “Novel?”

Welcome to the world of graphic novels and young adult (YA) lit. I never knew James Patterson has a whole series of young adult novels, but there they were on the desks in an 8th grade English class. I noticed a few of the kids had graphic novels that they were reading during the 20 minute “Independent Reading” segment. Before I could even get my question out, a boy defended himself, “Our teacher lets us read them.” I’m old school where graphic novels are equated with (God forbid) comic books. Anyway, an adorable boy was stumped about how to express the mood that was created in his book. He said it was “kind of like when you eat a Tic Tac and it has a lot of flavor at first, but then it wears off.” Hopefully he can find some textual details to support this great imagery. This Tic Tac Queen never thought of that one.

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Sub Stories

Melinda Ehrlich

April 5 at 7:30pm ·

In a World History class the kids were working on Document Based Questions (DBQ) about Gorbachev and glasnost. I was circulating around the room when a hand went up.
Me: Do you need some help?
Girl: No, but my friend really likes your nails.
OMG! Flashback to my Maxwell days where hair and nails ruled.


“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!” Wow! When was the last time I taught “Romeo and Juliet!” It had to be around the Millennium since I didn’t teach freshmen for a few years before I retired in ’05. But I’ll tell ya, it’s like getting back on a bike. You never forget. The kids have a quiz tomorrow and reviewing the 6 scenes of Act II with them felt so natural. The best part is that I may “exeunt” today and need not be thither on the morrow.

Talk about spacing out! A class was taking a practice Living Environment Regents exam (better known to us as Bio.) The real deal is scheduled for next week. Fifteen minutes in, I noticed a girl totally immersed in splitting the ends of her hair. I went over to remind her to start her test and she looked up and thanked me. The kicker is I can relate to this behavior. True confession.

Here’s a very heartening story. There is a young man with whom I have had a less than warm relationship whenever I’ve substituted in his classes. In fact, he was such a hostile presence one day that I “wrote him up.” (OMG! He hated me even more after that.) Nothing too serious; he’s just a senior who’s had senioritis ALL year. Today I covered a self-contained special ed. class for 3 periods and who shows up to have one of the school aides in the room sign his yearbook? You guessed it. We ignored each other and I allowed him to get his book signed. But while he was waiting, I couldn’t help but notice how he fraternized with the 8 developmentally delayed kids in the class. He was high-fiving, even hugging a couple of them and they all knew him. I went over and said, “Joe (not his real name), I’m seeing a whole other side to you right now and it’s really nice.” He smiled (at me – wow!) and said, “This is the field I’m going into.” He’s planning to minor in special education in college. That’s all.

Covering science classes today when a young lady walks in with a full head of purple hair. “Aren’t you the teacher who wrote the book?” she asked. Flattered that she remembered, I said, “Yes, but did you have purple hair the last time I saw you?”
“No, it was green,” she answered matter of factly.
ROY G BIV lives.



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It’s Greek To Us

One day last week I covered a math program – Common Core mathematics, which confuses the issue in a new and improved way. I never saw more baffled students as they left their math class and went on to their next subject. I know because I’ve talked to them. I sat in on a geometry lesson (an Inclusion class) in which the teacher was introducing pre-trig. concepts. She appeared to be a good teacher – well-prepared and familiar with the subject at hand. She presented well. She incorporated the good old SOHCAHTOA formula for finding tangent, sine and cosine. I got those concepts, but not with the method that was being scrawled all over the Smart board. My deepest sympathy to the struggling students. Thankfully, many of them have a math review class in their schedules. Just don’t ask me to help; Common Core is Greek to me: Sigma, delta and theta.

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Take Off Your Crown and Spit Out Your Gum

Covering a great English program today. Honors, A.P. English and Creative Writing. What could be bad – and how can one teacher be so lucky to have this program? (And with a program like this, why is she absent?) Meeting an 11th grade Honors class in the computer lab, I assisted with “memoirs,” really one-page autobiographical essays. They had been previously written and edited and had to be printed and ready to be submitted to a contest tomorrow. Semicolons, or a lack thereof, posed a problem in every paper I looked at. They just didn’t use them, but who did in high school? When I was teaching writing, I always made it a point to teach usage and punctuation, even when it was out of favor in the dumbing down of America’s curricula. Oh well, these kids will survive. Their stories were otherwise nicely written. The A.P. English class was reading about Nietzsche’s theory of the Ubermensch. They actually sat quietly all period and concentrated on this. Their homework assignment was to read Part I of Crime and Punishment. Very lofty, but it’s Advanced Placement with the exam coming up this spring. On the flip side, the class clowns are in their glory whenever there’s a sub. In today’s Creative Wriitng class, a senior (yes, a senior!) was sporting a Burger King crown. The weird thing is, I think I was the only one who noticed it. It’s been 11 years since I walked away from the classroom and it feels nice to be back on this very limited basis. No strings attached, no emotional investment and best of all, no papers to grade.

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Relax, It’s Only Tennis

At my Friday doubles game, Marie, my partner extraordinaire, was playing very well. I was just okay. We were neck and neck with our opponents, but every time I made a stupid error I became more aggravated with myself. Marie knows me so well. She said, “Relax – it’s only tennis.” I joked, “If I’m like this with tennis, imagine me in real life.” So I heeded her advice, took a deep breath, but  lost the next two points! That was it. My intensity (aka tension) returned and we closed out the set 6-4. We looked at each other and Marie sheepishly admitted, “It’s never only tennis.”

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The Difference Between a Teacher and a Sub

Setting: The hallway on the second  floor of the local high school in which I have been substitute teaching. This period I am assigned to hall patrol in a school where the halls are dead for the most part.  There’s really nothing to patrol. I brought a book with me and would have read a few pages during the period, had it not been for the friendly fellow substitute teacher I met. I didn’t know he was a sub until we introduced ourselves. He told me that he is a retired cop with a teaching license  (wait a second – shouldn’t he be doing the patrolling?) who has been working per diem in this school for a few years. He loves it, he says, and “they know can call me as late as 7:35 in the morning (school starts at 7:50) and I can get here because, hey, I don’t have to blow dry my hair (he’s pretty bald) and I live right across the street.” All this I found out within the first five minutes of our conversation. He was walking down the hall and stopped at my post – and didn’t leave until the bell rang! I mentioned the word “golf” in the conversation and bingo! He talked golf for the rest of the period. Golfers can do that. I managed to get a few words in edgewise, but he was fired up about the birdie that eluded him. I get it. I sized him up as the type of guy who knows all the ropes at this school; hence, a good person to know.

Now here’s my point. If I were working as a regular English teacher, would I have time to schmooze for 40 minutes? Never! So as Diane Keaton liked to say in “Annie Hall,” la di da.

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Marji, Allan Ginsberg and Me

Marji & Me @ the Museum
Back in college, Marji’s dorm room was decorated with the sensuous posters of Maxfield Parrish. How do I remember that? Posters were important statements of who we were in those days. I had a “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” poster whose slogan was ascribed to Carl Sandburg. Of course we can’t forget that black & white pop art poster of Paul Newman in a T-shirt hanging on the ceiling over my bed. (TMI?) We had good times, no doubt.
Recently the Nassau County Museum of Art mounted an exhibit of Maxfield
Parrish’s work. I contacted Marji and we made a date to see it. A docent-led tour filled in the blanks on Parrish’s technique of achieving that luminosity and the cobalt blues that he used have come to be known as “Parrish Blue.” His posters, magazine and calendar illustrations are really stunning & Marji & I are glad we reconnected for the occasion.

As for the posters that adorned our rooms, many were wavy, psychedelic abstract designs painted in Day-Glo. If you had a black light, it would glow in the dark, often providing an evening’s entertainment. We didn’t need much. Peter Max was big, as my friend Barb reminded me when she read the above post on Facebook. So was artist Milton Glaser, whose now-iconic Dylan poster was included as a bonus in the album cover  of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits in 1967. Lots of vinyl record albums included posters as bonus material and they were decorating the rooms of a whole generation of baby boomers. My roommate and I even took a trip to the Village expressly to buy posters for our room. Hendrix and Jim Morrison were prominently pinned up on walls, as were any band you can name from the Sixties. Posters of Jefferson Airplane from the Surrealistic Pillow days and Fillmore East and West concert posters were everywhere. Marijuana was still very illegal and you had to be careful about the posters you hung up. In fact, paranoia struck so deep (sic) that I removed a poster of a peace march featuring Allen Ginsberg flaunting a sign that said, “Pot is Fun.”  Getting busted for a poster would not have been fun.

The ubiquity of peace signs and anti-war messages reminded everyone that the Vietnam “conflict” was a-raging. Picasso’s famous bouquet of flowers (Fleurs et Mains) and Maxfield Parrish’s mellow, sensuous landscapes…Dorm room décor included them all.


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A Can o’ Worms

Oh my! That last blog opened up a can ‘o worms. All the funny stuff that happened while I was a teacher is rushing back. Stuff that was not included in my book like that overweight teacher who wore a sweat band while she was teaching. What a workout! And it was not in the gym!

I had commented on the “Wizard of Oz” poster that adorned the French classroom at the local high school in which I am currently subbing. Well,  I had forgotten to point out another – a take-off on that familiar morale boosting poster: Restez Calmes et Parlez Francais. Originally “Keep calm and carry on” was a British slogan/poster, created in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. As I carry on calmly, I have a new ploy. Next time I face a new class, I don’t introduce myself in the mundane manner I have been doing: Hello, my name is Mrs. Ehrlich and I taught English in New York City for  over 30 years.” Bor-ing! My new line is,”Hi, I am not a sub; I am here to gather material for my next book.” Let’s see how this is received…

Ah, to be in a suburban English classroom filled with lots of book shelves and class sets of the books you plan to teach for the term at your fingertips (instead of trudging down the hall or even to a different floor to count out books and pray that there are enough. I refer to NYC.) I saw neatly shelved copies of “The Crucible,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Macbeth,” “A Separate Peace, “The Odyssey,” “The Namesake,” and “Sophie’s World,” a new one for me, but billed as “a page-turning novel that is also an exploration of the great philosophical concepts of Western thought.” Good stuff. In today’s subbing assignment, the classes were reading Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” After meeting these classes, I think those last two books may be a stretch, but one never knows. It all depends  upon the teacher and how ambitious he or she is.

Kids are kids and they are intent on seeing what they can get away with once they get wind of a sub in the room, but look out, ’cause I’ve got “skills” from years of classroom management. I could easily wing it, but thankfully the teachers leave detailed plans for every class – even enough photocopies for every student. There seems to be a nice camaraderie amongst the teachers who share the rooms and everyone I’ve met has been helpful. I had to laugh when I saw a young teacher writing an “Aim” and a “Do Now” on the whiteboard. I noticed the Aim began with “To read Chapter One and discover the main characters.” I told her in New York City, that structure went  out the window 20 years ago. Instead, it would have to be written in the form of a question: What have we discovered about the characters we met in Chapter One?” Such nonsense. She agreed.

We acted out the screenplay of “A Few Good Men” – expletives and all – in one class and those who read parts were really good! In any other class, a kid who used such language would be written up, but not here. They could “handle the truth.” Now I have to see the movie again.  Another class took a quiz and once it was handed in, they were instructed to read a chapter from the Chabon novel, which segued into talking amongst themselves. Since there were only a few minutes left, and being the talker that I am, I jumped right in. Then the bell rang. School’s out till next week…

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Pimples, Pimples Everywhere

Now that golf season is just about over (who can complain when it extended well into December – in New York!), it’s time to go indoors for a little something different. So I interviewed at a local high school to work as a sub two days a week. Ha ha, a sub, you laugh. But it’s a very civilized little school with polite kids, a courteous, well-dressed (no jeans) staff and four minutes from my house.


Day 1: I haven’t seen this many pimples since I retired ten years ago.

Spent one period on hall patrol (they seem to assign regular teachers this period of R & R) and in 40 minutes, only two Ugg-clad students shuffled by my post – and both had cameras for the yearbook. What happened to the stragglers and the cutters I was so used to seeing in the city? They don’t exist here.

During the first period, which runs from 7:50 a.m. to roughly 8:35, the halls were alive with the sound of music – not piped in, but band practice around the bend. (The school layout is square-shaped.) On my first morning I was instructed on how to take attendance on the computer and I had to do very little in most classes whose teachers had left detailed lessons for the kids to complete. (I did come prepared with a couple of my own emergency poetry lesson just in case. ) And get this: In 5 class periods that I covered, only 2 kids were absent! I don’t want to ever hear a teacher in this school district complain how hellish the teaching profession is. They are truly sheltered and can be considered blessed, in some circles. Of course, I thrived on the daily challenges thrust upon me for 33 years in the NYC public school system. It made for great material – and in retrospect, something to be proud of. This is not to say the teachers aren’t teaching here; they most certainly are.

A few kids even thanked me as they exited the room at the end of the period. Were they thrilled that they had a sub or did they thank me for providing them with some entertainment? I read the French classes an excerpt from my book, Take Off Your Hat and Spit Out Your Gum – A Teacher’s Memoir. I carry a copy to school since it’s about high school and for the French classes, I read a section entitled, “The Only Thing To Fear is the French Teacher Herself.” The French teacher who was absent has a beautifully decorated classroom, adorned with knickknacks and souvenirs from France and even a magazine rack stocked with French magazines and comics for the students to read. My favorite poster was one of Dorothy that said, “Toto, je dois le sentiment que nous ne sommes pas plus au Kansas.”

Let’s see what the New Year brings in the wonderful world of substitute teaching. All I know is it feels great to leave the building without a care in the world about having to come back the next day.

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New Year’s Car Story

I rarely carry any cash to speak of – maybe a twenty dollar bill, which, once it’s broken, it’s gone in a flash. The rest is all paid for in plastic. But today I happened to have five singles and a ten dollar bill in my wallet and for the first time in many years my car battery died. I was waiting to find a parking spot on East 58th Street in Manhattan (one of the only streets in this Upper East Side neighborhood where parking is permitted before 6 or 7 p.m. during the week.) So it’s a popular hangout for cars hoping to nab a coveted spot. Once I got there, I gave myself 20 minutes before giving up and going to a garage. That’s my routine. Sometimes I’m lucky, most times not. I set my iPhone for 20 minutes, put on the car’s emergency flashers and read a book while waiting. Mildly startled by the alarm, I then turned the key, only to hear a repetitive clicking sound. What?! Tried again, and again, the clicking. After a few more futile tries, I called AAA and miracle of miracles, a truck arrived in under ten minutes!

The mechanic jump started the battery in no time and gently asked me to step out of the car so he could point something out to me. What an idiot I am! I had left the headlights on in addition to running the emergency flashers, thereby draining the battery. He told me not to turn the engine off for about an hour so the battery can recharge. I handed him five bucks (a dollar for each minute he was there) and we both went  on our merry ways.

Keeping the car on for an hour could pose a problem because I had a date to take my 94 year old mother to lunch at 1 p.m. (it was 12:30) and we were meeting her friend at the restaurant, but I decided to ask the garage attendant to run the engine. I handed him ten bucks – and so, my cash was depleted. New Year’s resolution: to carry an emergency $20 bill at all times.

Happy New Year to all of my friends out there and may you keep all of your resolutions for 2016.


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