Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Climbing the Great Wall & Heads in the Freezer

Although I have never been out of the country, yesterday I sat atop the Great Wall of China and felt the exhilaration that comes from being 24 years old again.

You see, I live vicariously. While some parents live their lives through their children, I experience life through my former students. Not only do I revel in those experiences, I can honestly say I've learned more from my students than I have ever learned from any professional development session or teacher inservice.

Yesterday, I just happened to get an e-mail from one of my favorite former students, Jonathan Magee, and with it was a photograph of him sitting atop the Great Wall of China. What a thrill.

Of course, hearing from Jonathan sent me down a memory lane of former newspaper deadlines and threats of heads in the freezer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with an advanced organizer (don't you love that teacher lingo?) to keep you focused on the topics at hand…

•Teachers say the darnest things
•Kids repeat the darnest things
•I am not Jeffrey Dahmer

When Jonathan was on newspaper staff, we had a particularly rough deadline. I was exasperated and teetering on the outward edges of my sanity when I shouted at the newspaper staff: “If you don’t get this paper done, I’m going to cut off your heads and put them in the freezer and you won’t like it, not one bit.”

Silence.

A few smirks.

“Well, you won’t,” I said, slightly faltering, “like it.”

“Eewww,” one girl said. “That’s just nasty.”

“I think it’s illegal,” another said.

Sleep-deprived and stress-depraved, we all laughed, but from that point on, the staff was not rated by who was in the doghouse, but rather whose head was in the freezer. We even had levels. The higher up you were on the shelf, the more trouble you were in.

Jonathan was so enamored by the entire freezer motif that he actually wanted to shoot mug shots of all staff members, make cut-outs of their heads, fashion a makeshift facsimile of the inside of a freezer and move people’s heads around according to their standing on deadline.

I should have known the freezer thing would come back to haunt me, though. The school had a tradition during football season of honoring the top five seniors in class rank before a home game. The senior selected his or her most influential teacher who then accompanied the student out to the 50-yard line. The announcer would say something nice about the student and read something that the student wrote about the teacher.

Jonathan picked me so there we stood on the 50-yard line with the superintendent of schools standing on one side and a school board member standing on the other.

Throughout the stadium, the announcer’s voice boomed: “Jonathan says that, ‘Richie pushes everyone to do their work to the best of their abilities with an odd combination of friendly coercion and blunt threats of having their head put into a freezer. However….”

My students in the stands laughed; others gasped; Jonathan giggled. After catching a nervous glance from my superintendent, I assured him that he was welcome to come and inspect the freezer in the journalism room, that I hadn’t yet lopped off any heads nor had I stashed any in the freezer.

I dreaded the day when Jonathan graduated.

You see, I had him programmed into my speed dial. Jonathan was one of only two students who I have religiously and regularly baked a cheesecake for from scratch. Really and truly from scratch—not a box in sight. Call it the barter system. I bake you a cheesecake; you fix my computer. I bake you a cheesecake; you tell me why this software program went batty. I bake you a cheesecake; you tell me how to make the printer actually print. I bake you…well, you get the picture.

Jonathan went off to college and later went to study abroad. So much for speed dial. His current e-mail places him in Hong Kong working for the International Herald Tribune and doing—as always—exceptionally well.

While I’m happy for him, there still isn’t a school year that goes by that I don’t miss something about Jonathan. Here’s a short list of things I learned from Jonathan…

•It’s important not to take yourself so seriously. Take time to laugh at yourself.
•Never say anything you wouldn’t want to have repeated on a football field.
•You should probably stay away from sentences that mention any body parts.
• It’s good to occasionally feel that edge of panic and to depend on a kid. It develops a certain sense of empathy since children depend so much on adults.

1 comment:

george said...

That's damn funny. But you need a "d" in "darndest"
Sorry to bust b*** , your stories are funny.