From awkward sex education talks to difficult parents to insidious compliments from their students, brothers Lee and Adam Parkinson have experienced everything modern education has to offer them.
They launched Two Mr Ps In A Pod(Cast) (2mrpspodcast.com) in 2017, sharing their stories and those of many teachers and school staff who contacted them, garnering over four million listeners and then conducting a live tour of the UK with fun stories from the lesson.
The podcast idea came about while they were vacationing in Florida. “We would sit in the pool and tell funny stories,” Lee recalls. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ Adam is very funny with his unique perspective on the world and I thought ‘let’s record it’ and the rest is history.”
Their first book, Put A Wet Paper Towel On It, was a bestseller, and the Manchester brothers have drawn on more didactic anecdotes and observations, drawn from personal stories, for their second, This Is Your Own Time You’re Wasting, drawn from the podcast and your website.
“No two days are the same when it comes to classroom work,” reflects Lee, who has taught elementary schools for 14 years. Adam, a teaching assistant for 10 years, agrees.
They hope to venture into television after appearing on Steph’s Packed Lunch and This Morning but say there is plenty of material for a third book in the meantime.
Here they share some of the funny stories they’ve heard and experienced during their time in – and out of – the classroom.
Show and tell
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“It’s just part of elementary school when children can show something that is part of their lives. It could be some Lego they built or other random things,” Lee explains.
“One thing we learned from the podcast is that the sex toy industry is booming, judging by the amount of pink fluffy handcuffs and Harry Potter wands that aren’t actually Harry Potter wands being brought in.
“There is a story in the book where a kid brought a vibrator. The teacher found it and informed the parents, who denied all knowledge. Then the child admitted that another child had given it to them, so there was another call to another group of parents who denied any knowledge. It turned out that the child had taken the item from his grandmother’s house.”
“It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved,” says Lee. When he asked a class if they knew what a virgin was, one boy raised his hand and asked, “Is it someone who doesn’t eat meat?”
They’ve encountered all sorts of awkward questions that kids have anonymously written down for staff to answer, including: why are condoms flavored? And can nannas still have sex?
“We call it ‘teacher burnings.’ I saw one the other day that said, ‘Miss, I just love the way your gray hair shimmers in the sunlight,'” Lee recalled. Adds Adam, “You have some kids who know more words than others. A teacher reached out and told me she bought this beautiful sparkly summer dress to wear to work. She walked into the classroom and a kid said, “Miss? Who do you Think You Are? Lady Gaga?’ The teacher never wore that dress to school again.”
Lee recalls, “I use a lot of technology in elementary school and am very keen on teaching cyber safety. I’m doing a lesson on filtering and how easy it is to manipulate photos. To do this, I take a selfie and use an app in which you can make adjustments. Then I put two pictures on the board and say to the children: ‘Can you spot the differences?’
“They are brutal. They say, “You’re not that fat anymore, your eczema is gone. It was a really useful lesson and I cried in the staff room afterwards.”
Adam adds, “As a hardened man, you’re an easy target. A sweet little girl, about six years old, came up to me on the playground and said, ‘Mr P, may I tell you a joke?’ I said, ‘Sure you can’ and she just said, ‘You!’ and ran away.”
Codes for school reports
There are typical teacher phrases when it comes to school reports, they explain. These include, “You’re a popular member of the class,” meaning you’re a total talker. “If you make an effort, you can do a good job” translates to never making an effort. “They’re starting to make better decisions” means they know this report is coming, so they’re starting to behave.
“‘A lively member of the class’ means they don’t sit still, while ‘they are very organized’ usually means they tell me what I forgot,” says Lee.
“What you want is, ‘You have a great sense of humor.’ Teachers drop comedy gold, which goes over kids’ heads most of the time. If you find a kid who understands your jokes, that’s great,” he adds.
The brothers agree that there are many interesting characters among the parents of the children they have taught – and their online peers agree, as illustrated in the book. It’s clear that teachers need to be resilient when faced with an odd parental exchange.
A parent sent a letter criticizing a teacher for using a rude word as a weekly spelling. The word was aerosol, but the child had spelled it wrong.
In another incident, an angry parent wrote an aggressive note in a reading log, angry that their child had been given a 1/10. What she didn’t realize was the date of the entry on the reading log, not the marking.
And a third was told by a parent that their child wasn’t given enough time in class to mourn the loss of their rickety tooth from their mouth.
“One of the worst I got was a full length mirror. It was as if the kids were saying, “You have to look at yourself long and hard,” Lee recalls.
“I was given so many bottles of wine my first year as a teacher and I don’t drink wine,” he continues. “So I had to subtly throw in a few clues. There were math problems where I would say, ‘Okay kids, if Mr P has 10 bottles of beer that he really likes to drink and he drinks six of them because they’re so nice, how many are left?’”
Adam recalls that a teacher was sent a cemetery ornament – an angel with flowers on it – that read, “You will be missed.” “It seemed more of a threat than a gift.”
And Lee received a card from a student at the end of a semester that said, “Sorry you’re alive,” a spelling mistake that had her roaring with laughter.
This Is Your Own Time You’re Wasting by Lee & Adam Parkinson is published by HarperCollins. Now available
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/florida-manchester-teachers-school-this-morning-b2136230.html School Teachers Two Mr. Ps about nightmare parents and what your child’s school report card really means