Saturday, May 26, 2007

As the Parade Passes By

Oh wow, another school year has come and gone. I can hardly believe it. The last day of school was yesterday, and I am left feeling somewhat bittersweet this morning. That’s because of this particular group of wonderful students I had the privilege of teaching this year. I wish I could teach them every year.

Donald Trump has millions of dollars. Professional athletes have skill and admiration. Hollywood celebrities have fame. None of them have the gift that has been granted to me- that of seeing a microcosm of society pass by each and every year; of watching an incredible miracle take place: that of seeing little kids grow up into young teenagers, with all the angst and pain and doubt and searching for identity that goes along with it.

These children are all just people. Their thoughts and aspirations, though young and hormone-crazed, are no less important than anyone else’s. Their significance as individuals in God’s eyes as well as in my own is not diminished by their size or age. By the same token, they are still children, and they need compassion, understanding and correction when they make mistakes. They need encouragement and support to make good decisions, and they also need to be left alone sometimes to make mistakes in order to learn. It’s difficult to balance those needs; patience and wisdom are helpful in this regard (of which I have a limited supply, as I have learned many times!)

At the beginning of the school year they come in, their eyes wide and their anxiety clearly showing. They are all kind of going, whoa, baby…. “The kids are so BIG here! The lockers stretch up to the ceiling! The classes are so demanding!” As is our custom, we ask students still in the hallway at 8:15 to proceed to homeroom. Some children are just so intimidated though that they are afraid to say that they are lost, and do not remember where their homeroom is. You ask them to go to homeroom, and they just sort of sit there and quiver and then they break down into tears. Usually one of my female colleagues will witness this. She will come along and see me next to a crying little girl or boy, and her maternal instinct kicks in. “Come on now… I will protect you from mean old Mr. Houtchens….”

The end of the school year is an entirely different story. At 8:15 you go through the routine and tell groups of kids in the hallway to go to homeroom, and they sort of just look at you, roll their eyes and laugh, and go back to socializing. That’s when I use my secret weapon. It has taken me years of experience to figure this one out. I say to them, unless you move in three seconds, I am going to start hanging out right here and acting cool. This is absolute anathema to them. Nothing is worse than an adult trying to act cool- nothing. Our idea of cool is so antiquated that to them it is preposterous and embarrassing. Usually it is enough to make them scream and run away. If not, I start dancing the hustle. Doot doo doo doo doo-doo doo doot doot…. This usually does it. One year I had a particularly smart group of students who instead of running away, told me “Welcome to our group Mr. Houtchens!” I was then treated to a conversation of “So he goes… So I go… So he goes… So I go… So he goes… So I go….” Ugh. I think in that one case I finally left and let them have the last laugh, hehe.

The boys at the end of the year, besides socializing are sometimes looking for some stunt to pull off. They require a lot of supervision, an ounce of prevention and all that. They are chasing each other around, hockey checking one another, then running to the teacher to prevent repercussions. It’s sort of a one upsmanship kind of thing. Usually I will respond in kind. “If you are going to play hockey, then you get to sit in the penalty booth. Report to my room and sit in the ‘happy chair’ next to my desk.” After leaving them to sweat for a while they are then treated to a lecture of some sorts, depending on the severity of the incident. If it’s just a small amount of horseplay, I tell them to leave all throttling, maiming, folding, spindling, and mutilating of their friends limbs to after school. If it’s more severe, they get the stern warning. “How badly do you want to sit next to me all… day… long… doing work you really don’t want to do?” You can see the cogs turning and they usually get the message.

This year my students were hard workers in class. They took all their notes, and completed homework assignments, for the most part. I feel we had a sort of a working camaraderie of sorts, which did not go beyond the bounds of professionalism. For example, near Christmastime, I think, I was talking about Christmas break, and how it would be so wonderful to be out of school, and I got out my keys to jingle them. “Ho, ho, ho!” I said. “Merry Christmas!” [jingle, jingle, jingle] One of my students, who sits on the front row (and shall remain nameless) said, “Please don’t do that, Mr. Houtchens! It’s annoying!”
“Oh, you mean this?” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
“So this bothers you?” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
“Now you know how I feel.” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
By this time the class was in stitches, and so was this particular student. It became somewhat of a running joke for the rest of the school year. Thereafter, every time that student did something that I considered annoying, the inevitable occurred.
“Hey, Mr. Houtchens, how does it feel to be BALD?”
“Like this.” [jingle, jingle, jingle]

This student began to bring signs to class, to hold up as a form of silent protest, like Wile Coyote. I would say “Get out your notes class… today we are….” And I would look up and see this kid holding up this piece of paper protesting that we did too much work. Stuff like that. That would get ME laughing! This is just one example of how wonderful it was to teach this group of kids this year.

As they leave, I pray for their blessing and protection. That they would grow up safe and well. That perhaps, they would see some small part of God’s love in me, and know that they are truly loved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So great to see that the public school system stil has a few gems like you still with them!