“Great” Moments In Teaching, Part Three


When I was 22, I was a substitute teacher in a number of districts, hoping to get noticed and hired for a full-time position. 

One of those districts, which had a “rough” reputation, wound up to have a faculty that welcomed substitute teachers, and students who were a lot better than that reputation.  

They also had a social studies teacher retiring on January 1st.

When I introduced myself to the Social Studies supervisor, he told me that he did not expect me to know how to teach; he only needed me to know the material, then proceeded to give me a quiz. 

There were twenty questions, but he stopped the quiz after I explained in detail:

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. 

I was hired.

As you would expect, we have our own copy of The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
Because, you know, it comes up, like, all of the time.

At that time, I didn’t heed his belief that I couldn’t teach, yet ten years later when I returned to an American classroom, I understood what he meant. 

Before, I would literally offer notes and more notes on the board, hoping the students absorbed the material like a sponge; after all, that’s what my teachers had done. By then, however, I recognized that I should be teaching skills, and using the material as a vehicle to accomplish those.  

One of the most important skills I felt was public speaking. It was a very nerve-wracking experience for many kids, so I tried to make the circumstances for presentations by students as comfortable as possible…until, one day, I didn’t.

Custom ringtones were first developed in 1996 in Japan, but they weren’t the actual songs – instead, they were beeps and boops that recreated popular songs. Technology improved, however, and by 2005 it was a billion dollar industry. 

That year I bought a Motorola RAZR-V3, and downloaded my first ringtone: Insomnia, by Faithless, which had just received a remix and re-release.  

(From the multiplatinum album:
“thegue: Call Me, Maybe”)

While sharing a few beers at the Plough and the Stars in Old City and planning my New Year’s Eve adventures in Brazil, my partner in crime, Painter, taught me how to download ringtones. He also shared with me how to record sounds and voices, then use them on the phone. 

His girlfriend at the time was a beautiful Filipino woman with a beautiful voice, and he dropped her message onto my phone. 

Delighted with my newfound discoveries, we went back to discussing how great Ipanema was going to be.

Side note: The trip was wonderful,
and served as an inspiration to Antonio Carlos Jobim.

In January, I gave my classes case studies on Africa, and each day a group of four would present their project to the class for the entire forty minutes. Students were nervous, but I asked all students to put electronic devices away and respect the kids.

As one of the groups presented (in that favorite class of mine), a song erupted in the middle of the presentation: 

“I can’t get no sleep…”

I never put my phone on silent; the group’s focus was shot. The class turned to look at me as I fumbled apologies and reached into my phone to silence the class. I was beet red:  “I’m so sorry…” I muttered, while the students returned to their presentation.  

But I hadn’t pulled the phone out, and in my haste I’d pressed the wrong button. 

The call was silenced, but the person calling left a message. Fifteen seconds later, a sultry Filipino’s voice rang out over the group presentation:

You have a message, master…

And that was it for the presentation.

For the rest of the year, when I saw one of the students in the hallway and I said hello to her, she responded with a smirk:

“Hello, MASTER…”

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JJ Live At Leeds
Famed Member
October 11, 2022 11:51 am

I’m sure the students loved being able to hold that over you. All part of the learning process, for teacher as well as the students.

At least you had a decent tune as a ringtone. Had it been something with less credibility I imagine they could have made it worse for you.

Mention of substitute teachers brings back memories of many a poor unfortunate teacher trying to hold forth to a disinterested and disrespectful classroom liberated from the strictures and expectations of the normal teacher / student relationship. With a substitute we were in control. As individuals we were all perfectly nice (well, mostly) but as a pack we knew when we could smell blood.

In hindsight, it was fun at the time but we were a bunch of little s#*ts. I hope your substitute teaching experience was more positive than the one we delivered to our poor unfortunate replacements.

Famed Member
October 11, 2022 1:09 pm

I was thinking the same thing:
If was going to happen, at least it was a hip song.
I understand that teaching can’t be a popularity contest. But, hey, at least you kept your cred.

Famed Member
October 11, 2022 3:19 pm
Reply to  thegue

Without y’all? I got nothin’.

Thank you, friend thegue.

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
October 11, 2022 7:21 pm

Am I the only person who tried Googling “Breast Litovsk” to see what the heck might come up?



….Just the crickets??

Famed Member
October 11, 2022 9:25 pm

Looks like you weren’t the first:

Famed Member
October 12, 2022 2:13 pm

I found this on Dictionary.com after googling the key words: Martin Brest and Litovsk.


What happened to Martin Brest By Matt Peaches, Playboy He directed Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, and yes, Gigli.

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