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Teacher is proud to be 'weird'

White City Elementary School's self-admitted "weird teacher" flourishes his short yellow wand, using the tip of its little, white-gloved hand to emphasize the syllables in the day's vocabulary lesson.

"Cau-tious-ly," Doug Robertson says, flailing his arms. "You don't just hold scissors and wave them around. You handle them cau-tious-ly."

Next word — Ap-pre-ci-ate.

"Use it in a sentence," Robertson challenges his charges, in a booming voice.

Robertson's theater arts minor stands him in good stead as he deftly trades his wand for a mustachioed yardstick and wanders between aisles in his third-grade class.

"I appreciate your smile," says 8-year-old Katheryne Galea.

Robertson cracks a faux scowl and immediately denies smiling. Ever.

"I never smile," he says, with a twinkle in his eye. "I don't know what you guys are talking about."

Indeed, several scowling images of Robertson are plastered high on the classroom walls, staring down on the 20 students.

"Children are ridiculous and fantastic," Robertson says. "I tell them I'm mean and that I never smile. And, of course, I do, so it cracks them up."

Robertson's teaching philosophy for keeping students engaged in a carefully controlled-yet-chaotic classroom is laid out in his self-published book, "He's the Weird Teacher ... and other things students whisper about me."

"You need to be kind of an actor. You need to make it better, make it interesting. Fractions are not necessarily fun," he says.

In his 259-page primer, Robertson, now in his eighth year in education, mixes schoolhouse stories, positive teaching methods, thoughts on handling parents and administrators, and taking responsibility for student learning.

"I feel I have something to say to the profession as a whole," Robertson says. "Children are in a classroom 180 days a year. That shouldn't suck. It should be fun and interesting. This book is an inside view of what my classroom is like from an inside perspective."

Robertson says it's a rare week that doesn't find him climbing up on a desk and waving his yardstick around.

I don't believe you should just 'park and bark,' " he says. "Everyone knows emotions are contagious. I want my kids to feel this is an exciting place to be."

He's also known to mix things up in the schoolyard in hopes of getting younger students intrigued with the goings-on in the "weird teacher's classroom," he says.

He randomly disrupts orderly lines of kindergartners by offering up high-fives.

"Everyone knows if you put your hand out, it shall be fived," Robertson says. "And the kindergarten teacher is too nice to yell at me. But I'm building that culture. 'He's the weird teacher.' Kids who are in kindergarten are excited to be in my class. When I finally get them, that (playground high-five) has already done part of my job for me."

Robertson says becoming a weird teacher was in the stars.

"I was the weird kid, too," Robertson says.

But it's not all "laughing and rainbows every day," he says.

"I need to be able to take them from silly to serious in two seconds," Robertson says. "The goal, after all, is education."

Standardized teaching is "where the pendulum of education is right now," he says. But that doesn't mean kids shouldn't learn how to be critical thinkers. Keeping students on their toes with seemingly silly nonsense is a good way to create "thinking, productive members of society," he says.

Robertson knows some of his high-energy teaching methods are not for every teacher — and perhaps not for every student. Empathy is important, too, he says.

"Empathy is one of the themes that runs through the book that I hope people take away from it," Robertson says. "A lot of these kids have things going on in their homes I don't want to think about."

Lowering his energy, Robertson slips onto a tall stool in the front of the class. The students snack quietly on grapefruit slices as Robertson cracks open a well-worn copy of "Charlotte's Web" and reads to them the last word the wise spider will spin above Wilber's pen at the fair.

"The word 'humble' was neatly woven in the center ..."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.

White City Elementary School third-grade teacher Doug Robertson demonstrates new vocabulary words. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell photo - Bob Pennell