A Total Surprise:
“Are you going to wear that again on Friday?” Debbie asked me one afternoon.
An odd sort of a question I thought, especially coming from Debbie. Everyone knows that I wear a white shirt and black pants to school every day. This was our school uniform at the time. The kids were required to wear this outfit every day, and I wanted in my own small way to support and encourage them in this effort. Debbie knows this already. She’s the student I wrote about earlier who nicknamed me “Mr. Menopause”. The word “unaware” does not enter into any description of her.
A couple of days later, through the corner of my eye, I see someone run by my classroom door. Something just seemed a bit odd about it to me. When I see this fleeting figure running by once again, and into the classroom across the hall, I get up to see what’s going on. As I enter into the room the class’ teacher has a grin on her face and I follow her eyes to where she was looking.
“What the ____?” I couldn’t help say.
There was Debbie in a white shirt, black pants, eyeglasses, a fake mustache, and a pillow (sadly rather mid-sized) tucked under her shirt across her belly. Her hair was pulled back as well.
I burst out laughing. That day was our school’s annual “twin day” and Debbie came dressed as yours truly.
The first person I texted was her mother. She texted me back that the two of them had been planning this for a while. I took a picture together with Debbie and sent it along to her mom.
How does the phrase go: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? Flattered doesn’t begin to describe how I felt that day.
And I Should’ve Seen It Coming Surprise:
I was teaching an AP U.S. History class one beautiful spring day. We were all seated and engaged in the day’s lesson. All of a sudden, in the middle of the discussion every student stood up and began walking out of the classroom. What?! I didn’t tell anyone to leave! I begin to shift in to my grizzly bear (angry) persona. The kids see my brow furrow, my teeth clench, and I’m about to raise my voice – very loudly. Just as suddenly, the students break out into laughter and collectively point to a corner of the classroom.
I’d been pranked! There, strategically placed in the corner, was a cell phone recording their stunt. I burst out laughing too. This was America’s fad of the moment. I’d survived pet rocks in the 70’s and the Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy of the 80’s. This latest craze was a walk in the park. Of course I ask if I can see the recording. They show it to me and I laugh some more. Then I go faux-grizzly and say that I had better not see this on YouTube or hear about it being on Facebook.
A Payback Surprise:
I don’t remember why – I honestly don’t have a clue – but one day I’m teasing Denise. She is a very, very talented dancer. A group of students and I were simply chatting.
“Well, other than when you’re performing I’ve never seen you in anything but pants,” I said to her.
“I wear skirts and dresses once in a while,” came her earnest reply.
“When was this? I must have been absent. No, wait, I’m never absent.”
“Ooh girl! He got you there,” one of her friends added in.
The next morning guess who comes knocking on my classroom door. There was Denise decked out in a stylish business attire skirt ensemble.
“Do you have something to say, mister?”
“Yeah. I stand corrected.”
A Thoughtful Surprise:
“Somebody get this man a cup of coffee so he can calm down!”
My daily ritual during class is to nurse along a cup of Starbucks instant coffee. It helps to sooth this savage beast. Over the years, students and staff have presented me with coffee mugs as gifts. Iris gave to me my first one – polka-dotted. Ms. Long brought me a large mug from her annual spring college tour road trip. Candi gave to me a mug from Paris. She’d taken a father-daughter trip there with her dad, and knew how special Paris is to me. I spend part of most summers there. The mug had a series of photographs of the Eiffel Tower.
Most recently, Robin – a student I taught last year – came up to me one day and asked me what kind of tea did I drink? I’m thinking “tea”? She knows that I’m a coffee drinker. Not sure where she was going with this I simply said “Lipton”. She says OK and goes on to her class.
Within a week or so, I’m in my classroom grading papers and Robin comes in with a friend. She hands me the most special gift. Along with a few bags of Lipton tea, was a coffee mug that she’d had made just for me. Inscribed on one side was her name and graduation date. On the other side was a series of my catchphrases and admonitions I’ve shared with my students over the years:
“No Homework No Pass!
“Connect the ____ dots”
“Y’all need to pass these tests”
I was speechless. But I found my voice and stood up and announced to her and her friend that I was going to break my rule and pulled her into a brief hug.
A week or so later I’m covering a class of seniors for an absent teacher. Robin was in this class. I seize the moment to give her a shout-out and share the mug with her classmates. This was met with a chorus of:
“Don’t forget ‘Choose to think.’”
“Remember to ‘Act like you care about it.’”
They weren’t mocking me. They were reinforcing the “wisdoms” I’d shared with them to make them better students, and better young women and young men.
I’m retiring at the end of this school year. I’m going to miss times like each one of these, and many other unforgettable moments.