A substitute teacher in the town of Land-O-Lakes, Florida (just east of Tampa on the west coast, and one of the shooting locations for Edward Scissorhands), is out of a job this week. He’s accused of teaching his students . . . wizardry.
According to the Tampa Tribune, teacher Jim Piculas made a toothpick disappear and then re-appear in front of a classroom full of rapt fifth-graders.
About a week after that bit of legerdemain, Piculas was summoned to the phone. The call was from Pat Sinclair, who oversees substitute teachers in the Pasco County School District. She told Piculas there had been a complaint about his performance at Rushe Middle School.
“I get a call the middle of the day. ‘Jim, we have a huge issue,’ she said. ‘You can’t take any more assignments. You need to come in right away.’
“I said, ‘Well, Pat, can you explain this to me?’
“‘I really don’t know how to put this, Jim, except to say that you’ve been accused of wizardry.’
“‘Wizardry?’ I said. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.'” He thought the statement seemed bizarre, “like something out of Harry Potter.” When she clarified that it was the sleight-of-hand demonstration, he told her, “It’s not black magic. It’s a toothpick.”
Those wacky Muggles!
However, Assistant Superintendent Renalia DuBose denied the district ever used the word “wizardry” in its dealings with Piculas. DuBose also said “there was a lot more involved” than a simple magic trick demonstration.
She also noted that the trick was far down the list of reasons he is not being asked back. Things like not following lesson plans, allowing students to use computers despite being told not to by another teacher, and leaving a student in charge during his fifth-period class. Heinous stuff.
“Those other reasons are just window dressing,” Piculas replied. He said he finished the lesson plan, another teacher knew the students were on the computers, and he never put the student peer in charge.
Piculas said he thinks his troubles all come down to the disappearing toothpick trick and a student who may have interpreted the trick as wizardry.
The trick requires a toothpick and transparent tape. A sleight-of-hand maneuver causes the toothpick to disappear then reappear. At least, so it seems. In reality, the toothpick hides behind the performer’s thumb, held in place by the tape.
Here is stage magician Criss Angel explaining how to do the Disappearing Toothpick Trick:
“The whole thing lasted 45 seconds,” Piculas said.
He said the students liked the trick. He showed them how to do it so they could perform it at home.
One student in the Rushe Middle class apparently took the trick the wrong way, Piculas said. He said he was told the student became so traumatized that the student’s father complained.
Sinclair wrote Piculas a letter to say the district would “no longer be using your services.” The letter mentioned magic tricks at the end of the list of other classroom offenses he is accused of committing.
The word “wizardry” does not appear in the letter.
“I think she was trying to downplay it because it sounded so goofy,” Piculas said.
Piculas had worked as a substitute teacher for eight or nine months, spending time at fifteen schools. He said he also was working toward teacher certification with the dream of being hired full time.
That appears unlikely now. Piculas said he applied for a job as a GED instructor but wasn’t allowed to interview.
“My whole career is in limbo,” he said.
As an ex-public school thrall, this is not a surprise.
Gee. I can see why someone would get fired because of that.
I once had a substitute teacher tell the class a really good ghost story while sitting cross legged on the desk of a very prim and proper English teacher. He didn’t finish the story and invited some of us to come back after school to hear the ending. He ended up coming back the next day and telling another. No lesson plans were followed. Of course, this was in the mid-1970’s where “anything goes” was the motto.
I went to college in the seventies, and everyone was big into cross-disciplinary, make-up-your-own-major stuff. My senior thesis was on the image of Babylon in Jewish apocalyptic literature, so I was able to span Literature, Religion, History, and a little Psychology. Jack of all trades, master of…uh oh.