As a card-carrying member of the Old Geezer Party, I take great pleasure chewing the fat with contemporaries over tales of bygone school days — you know, back when teachers were mean, ugly, stupid dinosaurs, and all the kids were brilliant scholars.
“Do you remember that goofy old Miz Gluttenflugger? One time she told me, ‘Mister Office, I want to see you in my Gluttenflugger.’”
“Yeah, she was stupid, but she wasn’t mean. You take Old Man Boyd, the band teacher, now he was nasty. One time I saw him bend a clarinet over Virgil Crotchmire’s head and stuff Smooth Heine down a sousaphone.”
But there’s a flip side to recalling good old days. Lurking there on the dark side are teachers who also like to compare memories, mostly about their students who were the meanest, ugliest, stupidest rodents. How crass. You’d think teachers could find more productive activities to occupy their minds.
Anyway, I’ve kept track of this personality flaw in teachers over the years, because my wife Marilyn spent her life as a bona fide schoolmarm, and she and her cronies liked to mull wistfully over war stories. I always tagged along as comic relief and heard them all.
One time a teacher told about her first job, when her boss gave her the most unruly students in school. But she was young and inspired, so she looked through the din and picked out the biggest, dumbest, meanest bully in class. His name was Arnold.
She asked him, “Arnold, how would you like to get an A?”
“Who you want me to kill?” he said.
She shook her head. “No, no. I’m appointing you my law-and-order deputy. If someone gets out of line, I want you to lean on him. When semester ends, I’ll pay you with an A.”
Arnold at first looked vexed, but a tiny, cruel smile finally broke across his face. “How hard can I lean?” he said.
A second teacher told about a student who couldn’t stay awake. He often fell out of his chair and slept on the floor. When that happened, she put him in the hall, where he still fell out of his chair, but at least he didn’t disturb the class.
One day the superintendent visited her school and found the boy asleep on the hall floor, and the teacher had to explain, “I’m just trying to keep order in the classroom.”
“Well, couldn’t you find a better solution?” said the superintendent, looking at the reclining boy. “I mean, what if a board member happened to come by?”
“Oh, I’m working on it,” said the teacher. “Each day after school I’m training him to sleep sitting up. Eventually he’ll be able to stand and sleep. When we reach that level, I’ll get him a job as a school administrator.”
And so the stories went until an elementary school teacher raised the ante with the story of a joke turned inside out:
One day over lunch she told the other teachers she read nursery rhymes each day to her students, and she always asked them for their favorites such as “Mother Goose” or “Uncle Wiggly.” But her kids always raised a fuss. “No, no, Miss Foster,” they yelled. “Tell us about the time you played piano in a Kansas City bawdy house.”
Her inflated joke spread among the faculty, and everyone thought it was a cute yarn until one day a mother showed up in the principal’s office and demanded an audience. “I thought I was in for it,” the teacher said, but instead the mother reached out, hugged her, and said, “I’m so happy to meet you. I used to be a Kansas City pro myself.”
And finally a kindly, white-haired little teacher matched the pot and tossed this story in:
“I was ready to retire at the end of the year, but I had this particularly obnoxious child in my class who drove me up the wall. He just wouldn’t shut up, and his language was — well, it was just awful. Finally one day I caught him blathering, disturbing everyone and embarrassing me. So I walked up behind him, leaned over, and whispered these five little words in his ear: “Willy, shut the BLEEP up!”
She paused for dramatic effect, and finally went on. “I never heard another peep out of that boy. I just hadn’t been using the proper communications skills.”
This column is for you, Marilyn. See you later.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. His wife Marilyn died last week.