I remember this old Calvin and Hobbs cartoon in which Calvin is in class chewing gum. His teacher, with the intention of getting him to spit out the gum, asks him if he has enough for the entire class. The inferred response is that no, Calvin probably does not have enough for the entire class. However, the next picture in the cartoon shows Calvin holding a large glob of chewed gum dripping saliva. His answer to his teacher was “Probably, but do you really think they’d want it?” They next picture shows him standing in front of his principal’s desk saying, “It was her idea.”
Sometimes, a teacher asks a question with an answer already in mind. Well, to be truthful, the majority of questions that I ask have an intended response. However, I’ve found that many times, like Calvin’s teacher, I don’t actually get the answer I was expecting. So, here are some simple anecdotes of times when I got an answer that I wasn’t expecting.
All the names have been changed to protect the…well not exactly innocent.
The Strongest Man Competition
I was walking down the hallway when I heard yelling coming from one of our first grade rooms. I stopped in front of the door and their teacher asked if I wouldn’t mind sorting out what had happened. There were two first grade boys involved and both were yelling and crying. I started by separating the boys and then finding the most truthful student in first grade and asking her what happened. She said, “I’m not sure Mr. Steidl, all I saw was Shane twisting Paul’s arm.” Oh boy. So I called Shane out in the hallway and asked him what happened. Well, Shane wasn’t about to tell me anything. He stood there stonefaced and refused to either confirm or deny the twisting of the arm or any events surrounding the alleged incident. So, at this point I was starting to get annoyed and sent Shane back into class and called Paul out in the hallway. Paul came out to the hallway all teary eyed with his nose dripping. I gave him my sternest teacher look (still a work in progress to be sure) and asked him to tell me in his own words what happened. Through sniffles, he told me how he, Shane, and a boy named Cam had been having an arm wrestling contest during class. He then shamefully told me how Shane had started winning in their contest so he had used two hands. Shane got angry since Paul had cheated and twisted his arm.
So the truth comes out but it’s not really a big deal. It was just a case of first grade boys being first grade boys. However, I felt at this time that I needed to put my teacher face back on and give him a good talking to about how it’s not ok to arm wrestle in class. However, the way I went about this was entirely wrong. I phrased it as a rhetorical question. “Paul, why were you arm wrestling in class?!?! You’re there to learn, not arm wrestle!” At this point, he looked up at me blinking his teary eyes and said, “But we was just trying to find out who the strongest man was.” I had to turn around so he didn’t see me laughing.
Running with your eyes closed
As someone in the building with advanced first aid training, I was called to most injuries that occurred; especially those involving blood. So, one day, as I was teaching my Title One reading group, our school secretary came over the PA system and said, “Mr. Steidl, please report to gym as soon as possible.” This was the signal for either a student that was injured or needed restraining. My students in the group new the drill and picked up their work and headed right back to their mainstream class while I took off for the gym. I walked in to one of our second grade students sitting in a small pool of blood holding his head. Our P.E. teacher had already gotten the bleeding mostly stopped, so it was just a matter of cleaning him up, calling his parent/guardian, and getting him further medical aid. He had been running and had hit his head on a pole in the gym that, for one reason or another, is a square shape with 90* corners instead of being circular. His head had a fairly large bump that was split down the middle. His grandfather came to get him and we then turned to the arduous process of discovering what really happened.
As is want to happen, the investigation started with volunteers. A group of second grade boys ran up yelling that another student had pushed the boy into the pole. That boy of course began vehemently denying that he had. The P.E. teacher had been turned the other way and had not seen anything. So I had one group telling me one thing happened and another group saying another. I thought that, as usual, the truth lay somewhere in between. Maybe the student had bumped him or tripped him accidentally. Or maybe they had both been pushing each other. Or something along those lines. However, as I was about to leave the room, one little girl quietly came up to me and asked to speak with me in the hall. I took her out there and she looked around to make sure no one heard and said, “Mr. Steidl, Timothy didn’t push Carl into the pole. He wasn’t even close to him.” “Ok,” I said, “What happened then?” She again looked around and said, “Well, Carl just ran into the pole.” “That’s all? He was just running and hit the pole?” “Well…kind of…He had his eyes closed.” “Why did he have his eyes closed?” “Well, they dared him to run for ten seconds with his eyes closed.”…I had no words. But I think that nothing better summarizes second grade boys than that exchange of words. He ran into the pole because he had been, on a dare, running with his eyes closed.
A few years ago I was working with a group of students for Title One reading. We were working on how to write a personal letter. I had the layout of a letter up on the Starboard with date, greeting, body, conclusion, and signature all displayed. We worked through an example letter that we would write to the school principal. They then began writing their own letters. I allowed them to choose to whom they were writing their letter and the topic of their letter. After they completed the rough draft, they each brought their letter to me to check over.
As I was reading over one little girl’s letter, I noticed that in the signature of the letter she’d written “Mrs. Steidl.” I assumed that she had the greeting and the signature confused and had intended to address her letter to either me or my wife (the abbreviations of mister, missus, miss, etc. is always an issue). I explained it to her and said, “See up here is where you write the name of the person receiving the letter. Down here is where you put your name. You put Mrs. Steidl down here.” She looked at me, winked, and said, “Oh I know what I wrote there.” Then grabbed her paper and ran giggling back to her friends. I’ve never felt more awkward around an 8 year old.