Friday, January 16, 2015

slam books

We're reading The Crucible in English 12.  I have 30 copies.  A classroom set.  This means all the reading takes place in class because with 96 students there aren't enough copies for each student to have their own.  It's a play.  That's fine.  We're reading it out loud anyway.  Besides, the school board in the Happyland School District is all about thrift and frugality so 30 copies is what you get, and that's 10 more copies than the other plays sitting in the book cupboard.  (Seriously.  Thrift and frugality are the baseline for 99.3% most of the decisions they make.)

In previous years students must have had their own copies when reading The Crucible.  Their names are written on the inside cover, in cursive, in print, in ink, in pencil.  I didn't ask my students to write names in the books because:
a. I don't have a seating chart
b. Two of the six hours I teach are not reading The Crucible, so they get stacked to the side throughout the day which means they move around the room
c. They can't take the books home anyway.

But a few students did write their names in the books.  And then a few other students added their opinions of these students and within a couple days I noticed a trend of kids eagerly opening their books to the inside covers to read what had been added or written.  They showed each other.  They laughed.  Some of the kids wrote more stuff (presumably).  Some took pictures with their gaming /phone/camera/bane of my existence devices. Today I heard people reading out loud what had been written in some of the books.

Cruel things.
Mean things.
Vulgar things.
Unimaginative things.

It made me think of those slam books from my youth.  The slam books documented by Judy Blume.  The slam books I figured were long gone and the only harassment I needed to keep a vigilant eye out for was the online kind. I did NOT expect this.


I spent 20 minutes today during my only prep period erasing and whiting out inside covers.  They're seniors, immature and stupid, senseless and self-absorbed.  With the books moving around the room it's impossible to track down the offenders and I'm not about to start witch hunt (although, it would be fitting, no?).  Instead I'll have to verbally warn each class and check the insides of the books each hour to make sure nothing new gets written.  I guess I'll treat the situation like graffiti.  Scrub out every shred of it so no one feels empowered to add to it--that's usually the best approach.

Inside I'm groaning, though.  It pisses me off to deal with something so stupid and dumb and petty and hateful when I have a million more important ways to spend my time lately.  I feel bad for the kids who got "slammed" but I think the damage was minimal--the comments were generic enough that it doesn't qualify as intentional harassment. 

So, the frazzled lady in Room 212 working overtime with a stack of papers to grade, a final exam to write, two units of curriculum to plan, and a mound of red tape paperwork to file so she can prove she's an effective teacher?  She'll be opening 30 book covers at the end of first, third, fifth and sixth hours to prevent future harassment and keep the school district's property in good shape for years to come. 

If I wrote a slam book it might read like this:

The senior class is:
mostly funny
sometimes stupid
very irritating
not as clever as they think they are
likeable (usually)
too loaded with boys

Ugh.  What a cruddy grumpy post after a two-week hiatus!  Let's try this again with something cheer-inducing.

This year's Oscars:
biased towards the Brits (but they totally deserve it)
mostly white
annoying because The Lego Movie got snubbed
funny because my secret gay boyfriend is hosting!
better not run late because I'll have to work in the morning

Spill it, reader.  Write the slam book entry with me. 

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved


  1. Huh. I'd never heard of a slam book. I'm older, so they must've come about later, I guess. I am saddened by how intentionally mean teens can be, and especially when egged on by other teens. Teens are best in a one-on-one way.

    I am also really saddened that schools can't afford enough books for students to have the change of engaging with them outside of class time. I'm sure some parents (like me) would buy their student a copy, or have a copy already at home. But those are not the students who most need the opportunity to engage.

    A typical problem in a college classroom is that students don't know how to engage with a text on their own, because they were never allowed to bring any of their books home.

    1. It's not "can't" afford, it's won't. I kind of wish we could just have a book fee so kids could buy their own copy and then mark them up. I print a lot of articles so they have that kind of practice...engaging with the text.

  2. I sure remember those. The thing was, on the first page or the last page of the book everyone wrote their name next to a number. Then when they commented on something, they wrote the number under their comment. So everyone knew who was saying what.

  3. That is terrible, and just crappy that you have to deal with it.

    There might have been slam books when I was in high school, but if there were I didn't know about them. But I think we each got our own textbook and would have been charged a big fee if we had written in it.

  4. Arghghgh. I'm made crazed on your behalf. This is not what you needed to be doing--and not what they should have been doing, either. I hate it when young folks try to be cool at the expense of being respectful. Yea, I know that's dumb of me, but it's what differentiates Most Teens from The Ones I Like.

    I'm sorry, friend.

  5. Canyou make a 3 min assignment where they all write something nice about someone else... Maybe they all pick a name from a jar and have to write 3 things about that person that is nice and uplifting? Shows how words can either bring you down or bring you up?

  6. I've never heard of a slam book (does that make me old?) but I agree, a witch hunt would be entirely apropos -- and alas, too time-consuming.
    Words have power. Isn't that what the story teaches? (Well, that and more...)

  7. That would make me grumpy too. I remember doing The Crucible. I also remember slam books. Sigh.

  8. Can't say I know about the slam books - older than you. Incredible waste of your time whiting out the words and having to check them each period. Seniors? You are scaring me.

  9. GAHHHHHH! I just read a Huffpo article about how the rest of the world looks at the US and wonders WHY we are so crazy. Simple: the schools are bad and the kids aren't trying very hard. It seems like a lot of good teachers have to try to do the job with both hands tied behind their backs....

  10. Ugh. How awful to come face to face with the not-so-nice side of your students.

  11. I was never cool enough to be asked to sign a slam book. The idea of writing in a book boggles my mind -you only do that with cookbooks!

  12. Dang. Nasty kids. Just so dumb sometimes. And disappointing. I would have a really hard time not giving the class a 30 minute lecture about being mean and dumb. Ugh.

  13. Oh, how frustrating. I am glad you caught on to what they were doing.

    A school spending money on books seems like the cost of doing business, does it not?!

  14. You are so much nicer than I am. I would have made the kids listen to you read them all out loud and ask them how they would feel if that was written about them.


Spill it, reader.