Beardless, But Still Trying to Help
I've lost my beard. A few months ago the students at my school undertook a pizza fund-raiser. As an incentive, I agreed to shave if they met what I hoped would prove an impossible goal. Well, the little buggers made it.
When the accursed day of reckoning finally arrived, a committee of over-eager miscreants tracked me down during lunch, and dragged me out to the courtyard. There a merciless barber stood grinning cruelly.
I hammed it up and pretended to struggle tooth and nail. At one moment I even slipped from the committee's grasp and dashed away, pursued by hundreds of shrieking kids. I let them catch me, of course, and then bravely faced my executioner.
You would think the students would appreciate this supreme sacrifice of mine. But no, ever devious, at the last moment they instructed the barber to shave only the left half of my beard. I had to walk around the rest of the day looking completely ridiculous.
Speaking of missing hair...a new student--a cute immigrant girl from China--knocked meekly at my office door recently. She inquired about a small, red placard hanging on the wall across from my desk. I'd obtained it during an Asian Pride Week, when Chinese students were creating such placards for everyone. They'd write whatever you wanted in beautiful Chinese calligraphy. I'd asked them to put “Welcome,” and I've hung the placard proudly in my classroom--and now my office--for years.
I pointed towards it and grinned broadly at the timid girl. “Do you like it? Welcome! Welcome!”
She shook her head ominously, and a dull knot of anxiety formed in my stomach. “It does say that,” I gulped, “doesn't it?”
“No, it say, `Man with bald head.’”
“Why those rotten...,” I muttered, gnashing my teeth. Nonetheless, I've left the placard right where it was. I've decided I like in now more than ever.
Many of my best efforts seem to end in disasters like that. I recall, for example, one instance when I tried to assist a woman in the office. I'd come up behind her at the front counter, and I could tell she was furious.
I quickly learned she'd had a bitter argument with her daughter the night before. The third day of our Spirit Week, everyone was supposed to wear their pajamas to school, and thus, in a silly, fun way, show their school spirit. Evidently, the daughter had decided her normal PJ's just weren't good enough. She'd insisted on some new, expensive, flashy ones. The mother had ultimately acquiesced, but now seemed to have regretted it. She blamed the school for the whole mess. “This stupid Pajama Day ruined my relationship with my daughter!” she complained for the whole office to hear. “Which is not even to mention the money I wasted!”
I stepped next to her and proffered, “Good morning, Ma'am. I'm Mr. Ellison, an assistant principal here. Can I be of assistance?”
She turned and eyed me standing there in my full-length plaid flannel nightgown. Rolling her eyes, she threw her arms up in exasperation, screamed “Aaaagggh!” and stormed out.
I was just trying to help....
I've always prided myself on my ability to spot gum-chewers at fifty paces. And when I do, I usually subject them to my infamous, scathing lecture: “Now, you knew when you put that gum in your mouth that you were breaking the rules. What's the matter with you?”
I don't fool myself, of course. I know that, once around the corner, the miscreants will unrepentantly stick another wad of gum in their mouths. Kids these days!
But yesterday when I nabbed Francie chomping on some Double Bubble trouble, I couldn't even begin my customary tirade. You see, I'd have been a hypocrite.
Over the weekend I had gone to an A's game with a bunch of other teachers, including my principal. On my way to meet them at the stadium, I’d stopped by a convenience store to pick up three cold sodas. It wasn't until I came to the Coliseum gate that I’d remembered cans were forbidden in the stadium.
“Dang!” I thought to myself. “I can't let these sodas go to waste!” I pondered the problem for a while, and then hit upon a devious plan: I'd smuggle them in.
I went around the corner and, as inconspicuously as possible, hid the sodas beneath my jacket, holding them in the small of my back with my loosened belt. I knew the guards would check my pack; but they wouldn't frisk me. Ingenious!
As I approached the gate, I imagined that I was a secret agent, attempting to smuggle a microdot through Checkpoint Charlie. Nonetheless, I tried to appear nonchalant, and calmly handed the guard my pack. A moment later he carelessly waved me on through.
There was a moment of terror, just after I passed the gate. One of the cans slipped free and began to slide down into my pants. Gasp! How would I explain myself if an illicit can plopped out from my pants' leg? Fortunately, I hobbled to my seat before anyone noticed what was going on.
“Ah, I fooled them all!” I thought with glee. I had yet again saved the Free World! Or, at least I'd have my three cans of soda.
With a mischievous grin, I opened the first can. It's funny how the fact that it was contraband made it taste even better.
“Hey you!” It was one of the ushers! “Yeah, you with the soda can. Come on, get your things together. You're out of here!” My principal rolled her eyes in embarrassment.
The usher marched me to the nearest trash can and, to the amusement of all around, made me pour out all three cans, one by one. “Now, you knew when you brought them in that you were breaking the rules! What's the matter with you?”
I cowered in shame, and profusely pleaded for mercy (the fate of the Free World forgotten).
Well, the usher relented. (Bless his soul!)
Chastened, I slunk back to my seat--to be greeted by the wild applause of my colleagues, and the stern, shaking head of my principal.
That’s why I spared Francie my usual lecture. It was my turn to show a little mercy. I merely asked her to spit the gum out.
And, as she trotted off to the trash can, I smiled and reminisced that it really wasn't so long ago that I myself was a disobedient teenager. Like, last weekend for instance.
Teachers these days!
Blah, Blah, Blah
I read a cartoon once--I don't recall whose it was--which went something like this: A man stood pointing his finger at a dog. The caption beneath read, “What we say: `Now listen, Fido, I want you to stop burying your bones in the garden....’” The next frame was identical except for the caption, “What dogs hear: `Blah, blah, Fido, blah, blah, blah, blah....’”
Joni Gilbertson intercepted the note during her fourth period science class. She was accustomed to such illicit messages, as she already had five years experience teaching junior high school students. (There will be a special place for her in heaven.)
Joni had come to her profession late in life, after overcoming myriad obstacles including one sexist high school guidance counselor long ago. She still recalled with righteous rage his advice: that in order to ever become a science teacher, she'd have to take physics; and, well, that would really be much too hard for her. Only boys took that course. She ought to consider something else.
Joni had foolishly acquiesced, set her dreams aside, only to rekindle them many years later. She ended up earning an “A” in Physics, perhaps more out of spite than anything else.
Now she was determined to prove to all her students, especially the girls, that they could accomplish anything, be anything. She was living proof.
And there she stood, staring down at the impertinent note, a dialogue between two of her young, female students. Off task again. It was maddening! She read:
“Isn't Ms. Gilbertson great?” the first girl had written.
“Yeah, I really admire her,” the second had replied.
Joni took a long, triumphant breath. She'd succeeded! She'd become the powerful role model she'd so aspired to be! All those years of anguished struggle and persistence had paid off. Now, perhaps, these young girls might confidently follow in her footsteps, study Physics one day, maybe even become famous scientists!
Unfortunately, Joni continued reading to the end of the note: “Yep. Gilbertson's cool. I wish my hair looked like hers. I wonder where she gets her nails done....”
Michael Howey was a new teacher, still clinging to the naive idealism which brings many such bright college graduates into a classroom. He taught Language Arts and history, hoping to impart not only a love of the English language and literature, but also an appreciation for the Earth's continents and cultures.
One boy, however, remained apathetic. He'd done no homework, passed no exams.
So, one morning after Michael had gotten the class started on a silent reading activity, he crouched next to the boy, and cajoled him passionately. “I know you can do it,” he whispered in conclusion.
Just before he stood to leave, though, Michael remembered from his teacher education classes how he ought to get the student to talk at least a bit, make the encounter a conversation instead of just a scolding. “Do you have anything you'd like to say or ask?” he inquired hopefully.
The boy rolled his eyes at the ceiling, and then responded, “Do you like wearing corduroy pants, Mr. Howey?”
Michael blinked a few times, took a deep breath, and then answered tersely, “Get to work.”
What children hear: “Blah, blah, blah, blah....”
When I first started teaching, I made a point of dressing casually. Young, idealistic, I rebelled against the pervasive image-conscious culture that judged a person by such a frivolous criteria as clothes. I typically sported faded corduroys, a striped polo shirt with a frayed collar, and a pair of dilapidated Keds. I would earn respect with my competence, my skills and ability.
Nonetheless, when parents dropped their children off and spied the slovenly character to whom they were entrusting their children, they weren't exactly assured. “He did go to college, didn't he?" they murmured apprehensively. And all the hapless principal could offer in defense was, "He seemed OK during the phone interview."
You see, I wasn't an easy new teacher for any principal to direct.
When Halloween came, for example, and everyone wore an outlandish outfit to school, I showed up in my best suit and tie. "I'm masquerading as a teacher," I explained with a smirk. The principal shook his head and shuffled away muttering to himself. That was his usual response to my antics.
A few, weeks later I interrupted my students' lunchtime keep-away game.
"All right! All right! Give me the ball," I scolded in feigned anger, as if I'd caught the kids tackling again. Once I had the ball in hand, though, my frown gave way to a mischievous grin. "I'm it," I laughed, and took off running.
Well, I was fast. I kept that class at bay for nearly five minutes before cunning little Conrad blindsided me, and brought me panting to the ground.
Then the kids showed no mercy. At the end of lunch, I limped disheveled past the principal, one Keds missing, dried grass hanging from my hair and stuffed down my shirt, my students prancing triumphantly around me. He shook his head and shuffled away, muttering to himself.
In the spring, it was my class' turn to perform at the PTA meeting, and so lure parents into attending. There would be no boring songs or puppet shows for us! No, I convinced my students we needed to do something really unique.
Little Jennifer took the stage. Carefully opening a ponderous text, she began to read "The Desiderata": "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste. . ."
Then, little by little, according to my meticulous directions, all hell broke loose on stage. A baby dropped his lollipop and wailed. His mother shrieked at him to stop. Bank robbers entered, shooting their cap guns, pursued by policemen blowing their whistles. Dogs barked. Elvis sang.
And all the while Jennifer read, oblivious: "And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should...."
Meanwhile, Conrad slowly assembled a huge bomb in the center of the stage.
In the end, there was a gigantic crash, the lights went out, silence prevailed.
A few moments later the lights came back on revealing Jennifer serenely finishing her reading, "It is still a beautiful world . . ." while the rest of my students lay helter-skelter on stage in various grotesque poses of death.
I thought it was brilliant. The parents in attendance, though, after a stunned moment of disbelief, merely applauded perfunctorily.
Hurt, I asked the principal what he thought of the performance.
"Dave," he sighed in exasperation, "it was very . . . you." Then he shook his head and shuffled away, muttering to himself.
That was a compliment, right?