Archive for the ‘Growing Up’ Category

Kenny

“Mr. Shaver,” said Levi, as I was beginning music class, “You seem younger than you said you are.”

My mind went several directions all at once.  During an earlier discussion of Gustav Holst’s “Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age,” I had revealed that I was 45 years old.  Was Levi making fun of me?  Possibly, especially given that my forehead has pushed my hair line clear to the back of my head.  But that would be out of character for him.  So was he serious?  I have been trying to exercise more lately; maybe he had noticed a hint of energy and youthfulness that I have yet to feel myself.  How to respond…

I was just about to award Levi a bonus point when I heard another student say, “Hey, Levi, didn’t he tell us he is 77?”

That was the end of that.

~~~~~~

Students, of course, have no idea how old their teachers are.  Mr. Seward, 6th grade science teacher (ret.), used to tell his students that he was 103, and they believed him because to them anyone who is old enough to be called an adult is just old.

In students eyes teachers are units.  We don’t exist outside of school; we don’t visit the doctor, or buy clothes, or go to the movies; we were never kids who played games and had fun with friends; we have no past; we were never born; we just exist.  We are teaching units.  I remember the first time I saw a teacher outside of school.  My parents had stopped at a grocery store and left my brothers and me in the car while they ran in to pick up a few things.  As I watched out the window for them to return I saw my fourth grade math teacher Mrs. Flanigan come walking out of the store in her everyday clothes carrying bags of groceries.

“She eats food and wears blue jeans?!?” I thought.  “Weird.”

~~~~~~

Of course, it can work both ways.  Students, even ones of the same ages, can have vastly different levels of maturity.  I remember Kenny from my elementary school days back in Metamora, IL, quite similar to the small Hoosier town in which I now teach.  Though we were all about 12 years old in fifth grade, Kenny seemed much older than the rest of us.  He wore button-up shirts, read encyclopedias, and played chess (which he taught me).  He never quite stood straight up, instead letting his head and shoulders slouch down a bit.  And when he placed his hands backwards on his hips he looked more like an old man than a kid.

One day in math class, Kenny had some sort of disagreement with our teacher unit.  Her name was Mrs. Ratcliffe, and many of us were a little afraid of her.  She did not tolerate any nonsense in her class.  She had achieved a reputation for sternness without ever raising her voice or losing her temper.  Some students secretly called her by a different name, one that rhymed with Ratcliffe.  But, it seemed to me that she was a good math teacher who would be fair to those who did not cause trouble.

I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, but I remember Kenny wouldn’t let it drop.  Mrs. Ratcliffe had been more than patient, but Kenny wanted to “discuss” it further even after she told him to return to his seat and resume his studies.  When he kept talking, she gently but firmly told him to go to the principal’s office and see Mr. Martinowski.

Now, I was taught to differentiate the spellings of principle and principal thusly:  “The principal is your pal,” my teacher would say.  But with Mr. Martinowski no one knew for sure.  All we did know was that he had a paddle with holes in it, and he used it to “encourage” students to behave.  Sure, he was friendly with students he saw in the halls or cafeteria, but not so much with the ones he saw in his office, to which Kenny was now being sent.

By this time none of us was working on math; our attention was completely on Kenny and the Unit.  He stood thinking for a moment, hands backward on his hips, head down, before he finally said something like, “That isn’t necessary, Mrs. Ratcliffe.  I’ll be good.”

“No, Kenneth,” she responded, “I gave you that chance.  Please report to the office.”

Kenny grew increasingly worried and upset at this unexpected turn of events, so much so that he almost cried.  He tried to convince her that he didn’t need to go, but she would not change her mind.  He almost pleaded, but she stood firm.  His doom had been pronounced:  to the office he would go.

Most reluctantly, Kenny left the classroom, closing the door behind him.  In all my short life I would never have imagined that he would be sent to Mr. Martinowski’s office.  Mrs. Ratcliffe rose from behind her desk and pulled the string on the intercom to call the office.

“Yes, Mrs. Ratcliffe?” a lady’s voice answered.

“Kenneth is on his way to see Mr. Martinowski,” said the Unit, calmly.

“Thank you,” the voice replied.

The rest of us returned to our work, trying not to imagine what was happening to Kenny.  Several minutes went by before the door opened again and he stepped carefully back into the room.

“Mrs. Ratcliffe, may I please come back in?  I promise I will be good.  I don’t need to go to the office.”  Apparently, he had been out in the hallway all that time and had not yet gone to see the principal!  Maybe now Mrs. Ratcliffe would be convinced of his penitence.  But, alas, we heard her say,

“I’m sorry.  I have already called the office.  They are expecting you.”

Kenny’s head and shoulders slumped even lower as he slowly turned and left the room again.

This time he was gone for quite some time, maybe 30 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, we continued with our lessons while we waited and wondered.

Finally, the door opened and in walked Kenny.  But instead of crying he was almost smiling.  And it wasn’t the smile of one who had gotten away with something.  No, he had the look of someone who had faced the ultimate Unit, and had come out on the other side the better for it.

“May I come in,” he asked politely.

“Have you been to the office, Kenneth?” she asked in reply.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, “And I am sorry for my behavior.”

“Did you see Mr. Martinowski?”  This was the question we had all been waiting for.

“Oh, yes,” said Kenny with a mix of relief and cheerfulness.  “We had a long talk.  He is actually quite nice,”

Wow!  Not only had Kenny been spared the usual “encouragement,” he seemed to have made a friend.  My esteem for him, and for Mr. Martinowski, and for Mrs. Ratcliffe rose substantially that day.

“I’m glad,” said Mrs. Ratcliffe.  I studied her face for any hint of sarcasm, like maybe she was disappointed, but there was none.  She could tell that Kenny’s change of demeanor was sincere, and she was glad to have this wizened old kid back in class.

“Please take your seat.”

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