Have Coffee Will Travel: In the days of fighting dinosaurs with loose leaf paper

Published 8:34 pm Saturday, September 29, 2018

By Michael Cole

In the years that I have been in education, I have seen the classroom as a substitute, an aide; I have seen it from ISS and from Alternative and Regular education. Without a doubt, there are just times that you must just sit back and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Let’s face it, students can be frustrating. However, they can also be entertaining as all heck.

(You know that you are from an education background when you automatically use the “heck” word!)

This particular story, however, does not come from the vast number of tales from the Wild West of Education; this comes from my High School Days.

This particular memory sticks with me from the 90s between fighting loose-leaf notebooks with dinosaurs, (or is it the other way around). I still have to laugh whenever it pops back into my mind.

In my high school, English classes were split in their curriculum. One-half of the six weeks was dedicated to English literature and the senseless dissection of poetry; and English grammar. I have yet to have to use sentence diagramming outside of school. Maybe a wild prepositional phrase will attack me; climate change is chasing them out of their natural habitats after all.

Well, we had just finished our unit on Romeo and Juliet and it was time to continue the hunt for the elusive gerunds. So of course, it would be time to stop bringing the cumbersome literature books to class and start bringing the much smaller grammar textbooks to class.

Before I continue the story, let me take a minute to tell you about the teacher we had then, Mrs. Hill. A tall, skinny, older teacher, with short hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and a loud voice. She enunciated each word.  So that meant that instead of just saying, “class be sure to have your textbooks,” it came out more like this,

“Cah-Las Be-ah Su-re to-ah Haa-Ve YOU-ARE Ta-ex-tah-boooksah!”

We lived in terror of her. She had been teaching a while when we were there and as late as my 20th reunion in 2014, she was still teaching. No one in our class ever dared talk back to her.

Until the day. That day which is burnt into my mind.

So it came to pass that Tommy would be the one to do it. Every class has a Tommy. That one devil may care classmate. Usually one of the more popular ones, the guy the girls all fawn over because he has the suave attitude and the boyish charm and looks to go with it. He gets out of trouble while you go to detention for being out of your seat when the tardy bell rings.

But, I digress.

Either way, the class had begun and it was time for us to open our books. Mrs. Hill told us to open our books to the particular page she wanted.

“Cah-las, turn toooo pahge 2-5-6.”

Immediately, 27 of 28 students dove for books they had brought and furiously flipped through their grammar books to the preassigned page. It was almost as if a minister had asked her flock to flip open their hymnals to prepare to worship the Lord’s name in a song.

Only one of the flock sat silent. His head propped up in his hand, looking disinterested and unafraid.

Only as Tommy could.

Mrs. Hill furiously began her lesson about prepositions. Calling down the eternal damnation of those that used them incorrectly, how the promise land of A’s and command of the English language was ripe for those of us sinners who repented and sought the kingdom of the adverb and conjugated verb.

She then spied Tommy. “An-d Mis-TER Thom-AS. Whe-re is you-ARE the-ex-taht book?”

He shrugged, “In my locker.”

Her ire grew, “And wha-t iss it doo-ing there?”

He smiled, “I don’t know probably, just sitting there.”

A stunned silence fell upon the room. Tommy had dared to talk back to Mrs. Hill. None of us knew what to do. Would she call upon the English gods to smite him down? Would she kill him herself? A few dared to laugh.

Mrs. Hill cracked a smile and went on. To this day I am not sure if the gods smiled down on Tommy or she thought it was funny. But in my years of teaching, I learned one thing, sometimes you just have to laugh.

Maybe that was one of the times for her.