I decided that on slow days when I can’t think of anything more pressing to blog about, I should regale you with some of the many stories I’ve collected over my years. Many of these stories come from my days as a teacher. I taught high school for five years. Three of these years were teaching math (mostly geometry) and two were teaching English. High schoolers, especially freshmen, offer no end to the humor.
I remember one freshman in particular. He was a football player that fit almost every stereotype: big, bulky, friendly with lots of girls, a huge flirt, and…well…lacking in brain cells sometimes. His friends all called him by his last name, so when I think back to this child, I think of him by that last name. I’ll call him Smith here (obviously a pseudonym).
Smith caught my attention quickly in the first few days of school, even when I was still learning names. He had chosen to sit in a desk next to the wall. I noticed him picking at the wall one day during class. I asked what he was doing, but he acted innocent. Instead of arguing, I just kept an eye on him the rest of the class period. Finally I figured out what he was doing. I still can’t believe the words ever had to leave my mouth: “Smith! Stop eating staples!” He was pulling staples out of the posters on my walls and actually eating them. Yes, a freshman in high school.
Several months later, we were working on a poetry project. We spent about a week and a half working on nothing but the project in class, and most students finished it easily. A few students, though, made very little progress in that time, and Smith was one of them. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the finished product. Surprisingly, it was done well. I was already suspicious because this was far beyond the work I had seen him produce in class so far during the year. I did find two or three poems that he had clearly finished and printed out during class. They were simplistic and silly, but fit the qualifications. I still wondered about the rest of it, though, until I saw the poem that he’d chosen to save as the finale. It was a beautiful ode about how wonderful his mother was.
That wasn’t the only time his mother did a project for him. We had a major paper at the end of the year (only major for freshman; in reality it was easy). I spent day after day after day showing examples of the most basic parenthetical documentation in MLA format. I checked paper after paper after paper to make sure the students were doing it correctly. When I started grading the papers, almost nobody had it right. I was so frustrated at how little they had listened. Then I pulled out Smith’s paper to read. It was done absolutely perfectly–in APA format, with footnotes and everything. If he couldn’t even figure out MLA’s parenthesis-author’s name-space-page number-end parenthesis, how on earth could he figure out an entirely different format with incredibly intricate footnotes on his own? Too bad I couldn’t give a separate grade to his mom.
Even though he let his mom do most of his homework, I still found him disarmingly charming sometimes. He had a real soft spot for animals. More than once he came into class with stories about a puppy dog he had seen during his morning football practice. One day, though, the story he told was about a baby chicken he had found and rescued that morning. Every girl in class listened with open mouths as he explained that it was sitting in his locker until he could take it home that afternoon. I was as stunned as the rest of them. I didn’t even want to think about what his books would smell like by the end of the day. Of course, they probably already smelled like dirty clothes from football practice, so I pitited the poor chicken just as much.
The end of school came, and I was responsible for reminding them about the locker clean-up scheduled for later in the day. I advised them to clean out anything not essential or embarrassing before the official locker clean-up. Trying to be silly, I listed some of these items: previously mentioned dirty gym clothes, old rotting lunches, notes from ex-girlfriends…and dead bodies of baby chicks. Everybody looked at Smith, of course. He grinned from ear to ear. I didn’t know whether to take that as an admission that he’d found a dead chick in his locker or if he just knew I was poking fun at him. I didn’t really want to know.
I kept up with him the next year through stories from his sophomore English teacher. He apparently caused her no end of trouble. And she always started her stories with, “Remember your staple-eater…?”