After writing about some unusual events in education, I realized that I had run across a bunch more usual people and events during my 48 years in education. Here are a few more.
A man, I’ll call him Bill Smith, and I were both first-year teachers at an old boarding school. Smith had never lived on his own and apparently his mother had never let him do anything in the kitchen.
One day he bought a quart of fresh strawberries and in preparing them, he ended up with strawberry soup. Someone had to explain to him that, even though he’d looked them up somewhere and discovered that they were a vegetable, he could not clean them with a vegetable brush.
Another time he told me that something was wrong with his refrigerator. When I opened its door, I saw everything was frozen solid. All the eggs had burst and formed eggwhite icicles. He said that the higher he turned the temp setting, the more things froze. It was set as high as it would go. He was amazed to learn that the higher settings meant more cold rather than more heat.
At that school, it was a tradition for the boys, beginning after Thanksgiving, to count down the days to Christmas break. During the dinner meal, they would sing “Hark the heavenly angels shout/23 days and we’ll be out.”
Bill thought this singing at dinner to be unmannerly. Also during this time our chorus director, who taught German and Spanish, would be teaching her classes to sing Christmas carols in those languages. I was teaching a reading/writing class and during this time I asked them to write an essay about one of their teachers.
All of these factors came together in a perfect storm. “Mack” wrote about Bill Smith. Mack was a poor writer, but he knew how to “capture the moment.” I will never forget one of his paragraphs.
“One day in English class, they were singing across the hall in Germany. Mr. Smith jump up and he say, ‘They sing at dinner. Now they sing in class.’ And he slamp the door. The door stop. But the glass keep going. Out into the hall. And broke in many pieces.”
I gave Mack’s essay to Bill to read. After he quit laughing, he said, “That’s exactly what happened.”
Keys to success
One day our BGA cross country coach took his team up to one of the Warner parks in south Nashville for practice. The park had several courses. One boy made a wrong turn at some point and ended up finishing third in a race in which he was not entered.
Some days later, that same boy drove up to that park to do a practice run. Not wanting to carry his car keys on his run, he kicked up some dirt and buried them near his car. When he got back, it was getting dark and he had forgotten there he’d buried them. He had to scratch up a lot of dirt before they were found.
His coach suggested that maybe he should try another sport.
Grappling with a dilemma
We had a wrestler one year who was sort of odd. His coach never knew what he might do next. During one match, he tried some unusual maneuver. At the break, his coach asked him what the heck he was doing.
He replied, “I was trying to do the pile driver I saw Jackie Fargo do the other night on live studio wrestling.”
“You cannot do that stuff in high school wrestling,” his coach exclaimed. “You’ll be disqualified.”
That was bad enough, but he was livid when the boy won the match and did the “Fargo strut” around the mat.
Young ‘Voice’ in hallway
Late one afternoon, I was in my office at BGA catching up on some paperwork. Hearing something in the hall, I walked out to find a young fellow I knew was not one of our students wandering about. When I asked if I could help him, he responded, “I’m looking for a place to go to school.” I took him to my office so we could talk.
Just looking at the basics, he was not much of a candidate. He was in his third high school. When he’d asked to change again, his parents told him he was on his own finding a new school. They were not going to find another school for him that he didn’t want to stay in.
Initially, I thought both of us were wasting our time, but as we talked, I saw something positive in the boy, just a feeling that there was some sort of spark there.
As we finished, I gave him my phone number and told him to have his folks call me if they wanted to pursue admission. To my surprise, they called the next day.
Fortunately, he had taken solid courses and had good grades, so I was able to work out a course load that allowed him to graduate on schedule. He enrolled and spent 2½ years with us.
He was a good student, played football and baseball and became a student leader. His college career was equally as good. We are still in touch.
Now, I call him “The Voice” because he is. He is the radio voice of the Tennessee Titans, Mike Keith.
I’m glad I was not too busy to talk to him that afternoon.