Kodak Black

The 5th-period lunch bell rang and the usual parade of hard working, yet sociable, students filed into my rooom.  Short and spunky Chanchita led the charge, carrying a tray of tater tots, meatloaf and other strange sources of student nutrition.

“Hey Mister… can I borrow $1 for the vending machine?” she asked, looking suspiciously at her high tea on a tray.

An understandable request considering the day’s free range, non GMO food selection.

“Sorry… I only carry Benjamins… you know, hundred dollar bills.”

Unphased, she countered back.  “Oh…like Kodak?”

“The camera?”


“It’s a camera brand…back from the days when people printed pictures and put them in albums.”

“No, mister.  Kodak’s not a camera.  He’s a rapper.”

“Wait, wait…is he related to ‘The Weeknd‘?

“No, he’s another guy.”

“Do they ever rap battle… you know, The Camera vs. MC Saturdy/Sundy?” I asked while sharpening a pencil.

Chanchita rolled her eyes and smacked her gum. She pulled out her homework and placed it in front of her.

“You know, he was recently arrested. Had to cancel some upcoming concerts.” She informed me as she looked over her Chemistry notes.

“For what? Using Getty Image photos without permission?” I blew the excess shavings off the pencil and admired my work.

“No.” she ran her finger across the periodic table of elements.  “He violated house arrest.”

“Ahh… broke the ‘no selfie’ regulation,” I countered.

“Umm…no mister.”  She continued scanning Helium and Barium, so I decided to introduce her to Sarcasium.

“If his name were Polaroid, he could have claimed to be the original Instagram.” I placed another artistically sharpened pencil in the pencil cup.

She sighed at my overexposed sense of humor and made another attempt at bringing me into focus.

“Here mister.”  She showed me a picture on her phone.  “Here’s a picture of him.”

“What happened to his teeth?!” I gasped, unable to hide the reaction.

“Mister!” She shot back, offended at my irreverence.  “He’s one of the first rappers to have all his teeth covered in gold.  He’s got a lot of money.”

“Really?”  I paused as I looked at the picture then rubbed my mouth in pain.  “It looks like he got smacked in the mouth with a gold shovel.”

And that, class… would have been the element of surprise.

The Weeknd

There are three skills that will never be endorsed on my LinkedIn profile: nunchuck skills, street fighting skills, and Hip Hop/R&B skills. I was recently reminded of my lackluster R&B knowledge by a student who tried, with a restless heart, to explain to me one of today’s top artists in that genre.

My student Chanchita could best be described in three words: short, smart and sassy.  What she lacks in height she makes up for in attitude. I was helping her with some geometry homework and during one of her many “brain breaks”, she asked me what I was doing this weekend.

“Oh, you know… teacher stuff.  Erasing chalk boards, eating apples, finding practical uses for algebra,” I responded while drawing a one-handed, mad skills circle with my compass.

“Cool,” she nodded as she measured an acute angle.  “Since I got good grades this past quarter, my mom got me tickets to go see The Weeknd.”

My circle stopped mid spin with a screeching sound.

“The what?”

“The Weeknd, mister…he’s like an R&B singer.” She deftly spun the protractor around her index finger.

“And his name is – the Week End?”

“Mmhmm,” she continued her thoughtful geometric calculations.  I was confused.

“See this guy on my shirt?” She pointed to an odd looking fellow. “That’s him.”

“Why does he have 2 black cauliflowers coming out of his head?”

“MISTER!! That’s his hair! And he doesn’t wear it like that any more.” she answered indignantly, slamming her pencil down.

“Ok, ok, sorry. But why is he called ‘The Week End’?  Does he not like to work?”

Chanchita rolled her eyes with disgust.

“Of course he works.  It’s spelled WEEKND.”

“So – he doesn’t work and he needs a dictionary.” I penciled inside my well-constructed circle.  I could see Chanchita’s adolescent fuse sparking.  Excellent.

“Ugh,” she sighed with disappointment at my ignorance.

“Anyway,” she pressed on painfully, rolling her eyes.  “My seats are pretty far back.  To get up close to him is around $1000!!”

“$1000 to get up close to the Weeknd?! I’d rather just wait for Friday at 5pm!”

She ignored my comment, showing raw restraint.

“I’m going to get his new album before the concert.”

“Is it called Saturdy/Sundy?” I continued poking the embers of teenage angst.

“Argh!  Mister!” she growled at my irreverence through gritted teeth.

I leaned back coolly in my chair.  “It’s just not a cool artist name…The Weeknd.  Why’s he hating on the weekdays?” I paused, but no reply.   “You know what a cool band name is?”

“What, mister.”  She was in no mood for games.

“Def Leppard..that’s a cool band name.”

“Deaf Leopard?! Sorry, but that’s a dumb name. How could a deaf animal be a cool name for a band?  It can’t even hear music!” she threw her hands up in confused annoyance.

She has sound logic…although her spelling is flawed. 

“Look, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You have fun this weekend with MC SaturdaySunday, and i’ll enjoy jamming out to deaf animals.”

With an exhausted look of frustration she sighed, “I don’t get you, Mr. Rivera.”

“Don’t worry… YOLO.”

I took this picture in to my local Great Clips as a template for my next cut. Turns out they’re not as “Great” as they claim.

School Supplies

Back in my tight-rolled jeans and GI Joe Lunchbox days, few things put a gleam in my eye like back to school supply shopping.  There was something magical about getting a new Trapper Keeper with hand-picked folders that featured everything from Lamborghinis and Pac-Man to Alf and Garfield.  The Trapper Keeper was a student’s survival pack, so it had to have all essential items for any situation. Letter stencil page with protractor extension? Check.  Plastic pencil pouch?  Check.  Metric measures cheat sheet? Check. Sweet Knight Rider-themed spiral notebook? Check.   Even if I was naked and afraid, I could be dropped in the middle of any school wilderness and emerge victorious over the elements. I still remember my favorite Trapper Keeper: it brandished a hot purple cover with the words Video Rock written in bold, purple neon colors.  The epitome of cool.

Fast forward 20 years and times have changed.  The real Trapper Keeper has been retired to the School Supplies Hall of Fame and i’m constantly updated by my students on what the new Trapper Keeper is.  This year’s supply of choice is an item that is reflecting the changing demographics of our country.  I truly believe that by 2025, when Hispanics are no longer a minority in the U.S, this school supply will be on the list of every elementary teacher’s supply list.

What is the Trapper Keeper of the future?

Behold el futuro… the Burrito Pencil Pouch:

No Spanish required… but good taste is.  It’s time to Learn Mas.  Buen provecho.

The Smell of Tamales

It was a quiet and contemplative time in my chamber of after school tutoring… a time that was ripe for off-the-wall student musings.
Five studious students filled the seats in the over sized computer room designed for 40. One was working on an online class, two were doing math work, one was reading for   English and the last, US government. I was sitting next to US Government Guillermo, who I could tell was thinking about anything but the difference between legislative and executive branches.
“Hey Mister… what can I do to treat acne?”

“Well, diet is a big part of it,” I said, glancing up from my screen.

“Like what?”

“Well, food with a lot of grease in it… and food cooked with lard.”

“Oh… like tamales?… I can’t eat tamales?!” He reasoned, with a quiver of fear in his voice.

“Well, it’s ok to eat tamales, but in moderation,” I assured him, then motioned for him to continue his work.

“The other day I ate a bunch of tamales and then I went for a run.”

US Government was slowly getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror.

“After about 15 minutes I started to sweat really heavy. When I wiped my face…my sweat smelled like tamales! Is that normal?”

“I suppose whatever you eat works its way into your sweat” I said, looking back at my screen, hoping he would get back to his classwork.

Then, in the distance, the student working quietly on his English class chimes in with a monotone, stoic voice (a-la Stanley from the Office)

“Good thing you didn’t  eat s*%t,” without lifting his head from his book.

I would normally scold that type of language, but since this was “after hours”… and it was well placed, I responded the best way I knew how:

“Now that’s good advice. Class — dismissed!” as I  pounded an imaginary gavel.

Major Payne II: More Payne

If you’re looking for a life coach, you don’t hire an elderly Hispanic woman or a retired Army colonel ROTC instructor.  Now if you want a story full of awkwardly painful honesty, give ’em a call.

It was 6th period and Chucho enters my small office for his daily dose of math help. He’s a senior with a bit of a weight issue and a great personality, but not great enough to help him get a passing grade in geometry.  Since his time in high school is quickly winding down, he’s trying to fulfill as many outstanding requirements as possible, math being one of those.  The other is a PE requirement which he is fulfilling via ROTC with non other than Major Payne.  (For those unfamiliar with his unorthodox ways of “motivating” students, I refer you to the blog “Major Payne”.)

A few minutes after he plops himself in the chair and begins computing sine, cosine and tangents, a burst of air rushes into the small room as my office door swings open with a thrust.  Most people poke their head in the window to let me know they’re about to open the door or they do a polite “tap then open”… but that’s for civilians.  Major Payne, having seen one of his cadets with me, bursts on the scene like a Vietnam soldier rushing through the jungle into an open ambush.  He points his finger at Chucho and commands:

“This man needs help with math!”

“He needs a little more than help,” I said… “he needs a math miracle. Maybe you could come up with a special PT exercise for him… like math push ups.”

He gave me a quizzical, unamused look.

“Yeah… put some math problems on the floor and have him push down… math problem… push up… math problem.” I congratulated my excellent (and relevant) idea.

If you ever engage an ROTC instructor, joke at your own risk.

“What he needs,” he began as he continued pointing, “is to push away from the damn mesa!! (table) Come mucho!! (He eats too much)”  He said, using his combat Spanish from his Panama days.

All I could do was find somewhere inconspicuous to stare, wide-eyed, in shock.

As if the words just bounced off his rotund body, Chucho responds unphased and with much gusto, “I got a 95 in the last test!”

“DAMN!” exclaims Payne, for all enemy combatants to hear.  “That’s great!”

So Chucho continues his journey for a passing grade in math, and a bulletproof self-esteem in ROTC.


Major Payne

Public school teachers are real life McGyvers. We have to defuse bombs using random, unconventional tools at our immediate disposal… and sometimes those tools are shockingly inappropriate, yet effective. Thus I warn my readers that this story contains censored language that is essential to reflect the level of inappropriateness (and humor) of the situation.
I was about to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Chachi for skipping my class the previous day.  Having failed several classes and now a senior, he comes to me to make up these classes in hope of graduating on time…. so I was pretty upset at his behavior.  We were about to begin this chat in the hallway when the best tool for “scare them straight” comes marching my way: the ROTC teacher, a retired Army colonel decked out in combat fatigues.   For story purposes, we’ll call him Major Payne, a stone-faced man whose countenance reveals years of enduring the battles of war and teaching.  A man so intense, he signs off every e mail with HOOAHH! I had heard rumors of his unorthodox methods of talking to students.  It’s an unwritten rule that ROTC instructors have certain “freedoms” when motivating students.  I call it the Guantanamo Factor.  Deep down, he cares for students… but you have to use some TNT to get to that part.  Chachi was no exception.

“How’s Chachi doing?” He asks… or commands.

“Major Payne!” (i resist doing an Army salute).  “He’s not doing too well… I was about to talk to him about skipping my class yesterday.”

“That so?” he states, loading his verbal barrage of intimidation as he gives Chachi a cold, firm stare… the kind that makes you digress to your 2 year old state.

“Mmhmm…” I responded…although he wasn’t looking for my response. He was entering his zone, but for some reason I proceeded.  “I think you may need to get Guantanamo on him.” I said, congratulating myself for the clever military remark.

He ignored my foolish civilian comment and proceeded with his mission.

“Your brother is Chancho, right?” He asked Chachi. I couldn’t help but imagine him in a General MacArthur outfit, large pipe in mouth.

“Yeah” came the weak response.

“What’s he doing now?” He said, peering into his unsuspecting soul.

“At home.”

“That’s right.  He’s pissing his life away after almost graduating.  Just like you’re about to do.”

Silence.  My eyes started to widen.

“How many years have you been in school?” He demanded.


“TWELVE!” he barked before Chachi could finish counting.  I was waiting for him to say “MAGGOT!”… but I was starting to realize my movie stereotypes won’t be fulfilled.

“You’ve been in school for TWELVE $%&#ing years, and now you’re going to $%&# it up… this close to the end” he yelled, indicating with his fingers how close he was to the expletive finish line.  At this point, my eyes were maxed out.

“…and Mr. Rivera is here to help you, and you’re skipping his class.  You’re just taking a #$&% on your own life when you do that.  Is that what you want to do?  $%&# on your life? Like your brother?!”

I glanced nervously to the left… then to the right.  I had unleashed the kraken, and there was no stopping him.

“No” came the feeble answer.  I almost answered ‘no’ as well.

“One semester.  That’s all you have left.  Get it right, or you’re gonna #$*& it all up” he snarled unapologetically.  And completely in synch with his last expletive, he spun a 180 turn, and marched down the stairs and into a distant sunset of red, white and blue, leaving me to clean up his verbal napalm attack.

“So… ” I said, trying to transition back to normal conversation.  “You’re not going to skip again, are you?”  It was all I could come up with.

“No.  Not after that.”

“Well, now you know…    and knowing is half the battle.”



Hawaiian Rolls

Since i’ve known many of my  high school students since 6th grade, I get insights into their lives that most teachers don’t get.  Stories range from, “Hey Mr. Rivera, is it illegal if—” (I cut those stories short) to “My cousin Rico will fix your car for half that price!”… and everything in between.  Today’s dialogue was especially insightful.

Miguel enters the room, complaining about having a rough day yesterday.  I inquire about his day, to which he says:

“I’m not sure.  I only ate breakfast all day, so by the time I got home I was starving.”


“My mom wasn’t home and the only food I could find was a pack of Hawaiian rolls…. so I had them as a snack.”

“How many did you eat?”


“Twelve Hawaiian rolls?! Those are meant to be eaten along with a meal… not as a meal!”

“You think so?”

“Yes… you’ve gone from being Mexican to being Hawaiian.”

“After eating all those rolls, I was asleep by 4:30pm.  I didn’t wake up until this morning.  You think that had something to do with it?”

“I’m not sure, but you’re going to need a rotating bathroom pass.”

Dipped in Gold

Ahh the magical moments of working with high school students.

Today, as a student was working on an Algebra 2 exam, he pauses for a time of mental break and reflection. Looking out the window with a pensive look, he asks me, “Mr. Rivera, is it illegal to dip hand guns in liquid gold?”

Unsure of his future career aspirations, I responded, “Well… I suppose if the gun was purchased legally, you can dip it in anything you want. I hear the Swiss dip them in chocolate.”


“No, but that would make for a nice valentine’s day gift.”