There is a fine line between being a teacher and a friend. Teachers are old enough to understand that being friendly does not mean that students are extended the same rights as friends. Sometimes, though, students assume that cool teachers can be treated as if they are adolescent equals.
So it was on April Fool’s Day in 1985…
Of all the classes I have taken in my educational career, Drama, in high school, was the most fun I ever had. My acting was average, my singing was awful, but my enthusiasm for the class was high. There was something about being in the drama room with the different levels, no desks, and freedom to move around that made the day enjoyable. Memorizing the lines was a hassle, but it sure beat math and science.
As we filtered into the room we all found our favorite places. The room was set up like an amphitheater with a stage area down low and three levels. I liked to camp out on the, second level, left side of the room opposite of the teachers desk which occupied a fairly messy space stage right. There was an old, gray couch on the stage that had seen it’s share of life and probably harbored some biological weapon deep within its cushions. Most of the time, we all came in and started trying to learn our lines while we waited for our teacher, but with it being spring and April Fool’s Day, there was a different energy in the room.
Steve, who had known our teacher outside of school since he was a little kid had a crazy idea, “Let’s set a trap.”
That was all it took.
All of the kids who were on the swim team jumped into action. They started piling stuff in front of the lower level entrance. Their goal was for our teacher, who they were very comfortable with, to open the door and be blocked from coming in. Somehow that morphed into the couch being leaned against the door and the cushions being held in place by the door. This was a serious trap and when our teacher entered all of that grossness was going to fall right on his face.
Why I didn’t get involved in the construction is a mystery. I guess I was too lazy or maybe a little scared, but I couldn’t wait for that door to open. For some reason our teacher was running late and we had a bit of time to think about what we had done.
Jennifer asked, “What if he comes in the other door?”
“He never does,” said Steve.
“What if someone else comes in first?” she asked.
“Then they get smashed!” said George. He got a little laugh, but we were starting to think that this was a bad idea.
“Let’s take it down before something happens,” said Mary.
It was too late for that. The door flew open and the cushions came crashing down. Mr. “About-to-Freak-Out” stood there looking at the mess. A tuft hair hung over his eyes as evidence that the trap had gone as far as we had hoped and feared. The redness on his face was not from the cushion, that was pure anger. There was an uneasy laughter on our side of the room as we had gotten what we wanted from the joke, but we knew it was about to get bad.
The door shut with our teacher stepping back into the hallway. He walked up the ramp and burst into the upper level door. I thought the buttons on his shirt were going to pop off because he had morphed into some kind of puffer fish pit bull looking thing. He pointed to the mess and people began scattering.
That was all he said, “You guys.” I thought, “What was that?” The swimmers were at work like it was some kind of sprint workout. Everything was put back in it’s place and everyone went back their spaces without looking at out teacher. He walked to his desk, threw down whatever he was carrying, and worked the moment for every bit of dramatic effect he could squeeze out of the moment. Then he said it again, “You guys,” only this time he said it out of the corner of his mouth.
For three years I had been in this room. I knew the corner of the mouth rant well. I was the target of this teacher’s particular idiosyncratic behavior several times. The worst had been when I flat out admitted that I never read Julius Caeser, instead relying on Cliff’s Notes. Mr. Side Talker let me have it that day, mostly for being a smart ass and being lazy. So today, I was ready for him to go off on his prized swimmers.
“Do you guys know how stupid that was?” Someone could have gotten hurt. In all my years, you guys,…”
“You guys…” I could not let it go. He was saying “you guys” too much. He did it with his teeth clinching and his hands making a fist. I gave it back to him just the same way, side mouth, teeth clinched, fists, and all. Again, his shirt buttons appeared to be about ready to give way. All eyes were now on me. So was the target.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“It’s kind of funny the way you talk out of the side of your mouth when you’re mad. I shouldn’t have said it, but I couldn’t resist.”
“Did you put the couch there?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Then you’re going down for it.”
He started heading to his desk for a referral. I looked across the room to the true construction culprits. We were all friends and they were all stand up people.
“It was me, Jack,” said Steve. “I did it. Brad had nothing to do with it.”
Well played, Mr. Teacher Man. He got what he wanted. He lit into this longtime protege and completely forgot about me. After a bit of acting histrionics our teacher calmed down enough to get us back to rehearsing. All of these years later, I’m not sure I agree with the “Sacrificial Lamb” theory of figuring stuff out, but to borrow from Chris Rock, “I understand.” Occasionally, my students will cross the line between teachers and students and use language or comments not appropriate for such a relationship.
I wonder what they write about me…