Amy: Math teacher shares his 'horror stories'

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • October 12, 2012 - 1:04 PM

Dear Amy: I am a high school student. My math teacher has been telling us stories that are in the news. I wouldn't normally be seeing this as a bad thing, but the stories he tells us are grotesque and very disturbing.

After reading the "highlights" of the article, he mocks them! He read us a story about an athlete who killed himself. I thought this was very sad, but my teacher said how dumb it was that because this athlete didn't get a medal, he killed himself.

In addition to reading these horror stories to us every other day, he sometimes shows us pictures to go with the story.

I feel awful in that class with a teacher constantly mocking the dead. It's impossible to concentrate on the actual lesson he's teaching with all this running through my head. I want to tell him to back off, but he's the type of person to tell the whole school about it. Also, I don't want to make a big deal out of this. That would be even worse because everyone would know. I've tried plugging my ears and shutting my eyes. What should I do?

Amy says: You need to see this as a big deal because it is a big deal. Your teacher has strayed very far off the lesson plan, and is introducing his own personal and disturbing thoughts and imagery, which definitely don't have anything to do with math. He's soaking up class time and distracting you (and other students).

I realize you don't want to raise this issue with him (because he sounds like a bully). But this is important. Your parents, guidance counselor and school administration should know what is going on. You should try to be removed from the class and -- in my opinion, anyway -- this teacher should be removed from the classroom.

Pushy neighbor

Dear Amy: I have a serious problem. My neighbor, who is this very old lady, asks me to take her garbage out every time I pass her front door to get into my apartment. She doesn't say "please" or "thank you" and she just expects me to take her garbage out every time!

I'm a nice guy and don't like to be rude to old people, but now I'm getting anxiety attacks every time I have to go back to my apartment.

What should I do?

Amy says: If you really, truly want to be a nice guy (and not just think of yourself as a nice guy), you will simply accept that this encounter will happen and open your heart to be your neighbor's garbage-helper. If you accept this as your little neighborly "mitzvah," your anxiety will be relieved because you won't feel ambushed. You'll expect it.

You can control this process by introducing yourself. Also ask her name. Then you can say, "Well, Mrs. Clark, how about you leave this bag outside in the morning and I'll take it downstairs on my way out. Would that work?"

If your neighbor seems to be having problems you would consider more extreme, or if she seems confused or impaired, tell your building's manager.

Teacher can't spell

Dear Amy: My son began kindergarten this year. Maybe it's an overreaction, but I was shocked to see a note about head lice in his class. Was I worried about head lice? No. What concerned me was the number of spelling and grammatical errors in the four-paragraph letter. I don't want to subject my son to resentment from his teachers or the principal, but really, this is the institution to which I have entrusted my son for his early education!

At the very least, mistakes are unprofessional and unnecessary with spell-check. The letter doesn't inspire much confidence. I have considered writing an anonymous letter to the principal but don't want to seem nitpicky (excuse the pun). Do you think I should point it out to the school or let it ride?

Amy says: There is no need to send an anonymous note about this. This is an issue familiar to many parents, and you should raise it openly with the principal. Your child's teacher may be terrific and perfectly placed at the kindergarten level. But part of her job is to communicate effectively with the parents, and in this regard, she needs to be more professional.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Av., Chicago, IL 60611.

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