Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!

       I was a brand new teacher. My newly-born pedagogical skills still had placental blood on them. Tossed into a room with fifteen mentally disturbed and intellectually challenged teenagers, I was in survival mode. Oh, for sure, I ate determination for breakfast every morning, snacked on little bites of encouragement for lunch, but I drank a half bottle of wine the minute I walked into my house at 4:30PM every afternoon. I usually didn't even take off my coat or pour it into a glass. I just walked in the front door, went straight to the refrigerator, popped the cork, and drank it out of the bottle. Chateau Ste.Roseline. My own children ate a lot of Spaghettios that first year of teaching.
      My previous blog post subjects, Jeff, Lida, Rosemary, Troy, Scott, Mark, and Corey, were all in my classroom at the same time. And so was Bobby. Bobby was Lida's non-stop talking fishing friend (see Frankenstein or Jaws? post).
       This post is about Bobby. He was medicated with the gold standard of hyperactivity-battling medication back then in the early 1970s....ritalin. It didn't even phase him. Well, maybe it did, but I never saw him in the evenings, when it probably wore off. I only know for certain that it did not slow his speech down at all during the school day. He was the quintessential "motor mouth". I label him with that only in the most affectionate possible manner. He never used foul language and was always in a chipper mood. Bobby just never stopped talking. He couldn't help it, so that made the non-stop nature of  it much less annoying than you would think, but much of it was nonsense. I suspect Bobby wasn't even sure why he said most of the things that came out of his mouth.
        One day, almost everything Bobby talked about was related to trucks. My two teacher associates and I had listened to him most of the morning. Even with him doing most of his talking from his "office", behind a sound-proofed room divider, we had reached our saturation point. Our other students had also heard enough. We all just needed a couple of minutes of peace. I asked Bobby if he would please just stand out in the hall for five minutes....maybe he'd like to be our classroom policeman...."stand guard" at the door. There were windows in the door, so I could still observe him. Well, Bobby was very interested in this opportunity, but was sure he would need someone to talk to while he was out there. Being such a clever first-year teacher, I thought of the lockers in the hallway...the ones with the ventilation slots across the top of them. I suggested to Bobby that he could just  "talk to the lockers". What a great solution! "Pretend those air slots are a microphone! It will be fun, Bobby."
        Assigning Bobby to the hall for five minutes seemed like a wonderful idea for everyone. The other students could have a brief quiet time of respite, and the classroom staff could get a few minutes to gather our thoughts before moving to the next activity. Bobby could free-lance verbalize  with unfettered freedom.
        What could possibly go wrong?
        I did not calculate the possibility of the principal showing up.  Sure enough, after Bobby had been out in the hall only a minute, there was Dr. Haider, strolling down the third floor hallway.
       And there was Bobby, speaking in his fast-paced well-articulated voice, yapping into the locker..."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"  .....pause.... "Mack Truck!Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"...pause...."Mack Truck! MackTruck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!".....and on and on and on .
      "Oh! Hi, Dr. Haider!  Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
      "Hello, Bobby. What are you doing out here?"
      "My teacher sent me out here. She said I can be the class policeman. She said I could talk to the locker. Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
      "Bobby, how long have you been out here?"
      "Only a little time, sir. I only have five minutes! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!" ...pause...."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!" ...pause...."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
        I peeked out the window to see how Bobby was doing. He was doing great. Talking to the locker. Having a wonderful time. I went back to the rest of the class for another couple of minutes, and then beckoned Bobby back into the room.
        The rest of our morning was a little more quiet. All that "locker talk" had worn Bobby out a bit.  The afternoon went uneventfully, the short yellow buses came to take the kids home, and it was quiet on the third floor.
       I went to the second floor, to the main office, to check my teacher mailbox. Seeing me from his office, Dr. Haider called to me, "Terri, please come talk with me."
      He had a thick Pakistani accent, but it was not too hard to get used to. I loved the way he said the word "discipline".  It sounded like "dah sip' a lin". He had several children of his own who were doctors and lawyers, as well as his youngest son, who was mentally challenged. Dr. Haider had been a well-known entomologist in his native country, but when this son was born, he re-entered the university, earned another doctorate in special education, and brought his family to America. He was a very gentle, caring administrator.
      Fortunately, he liked me. He used to tell me that he hired me because I looked like the actress Raquel Welch. I have no idea how that was possible, since she is a brown-eyed brunette, and totally exotic-looking. I was a blond, blue-eyed Iowa farm girl, but I was flattered nonetheless. However, he always made me feel he respected my teaching ability and he gave me many leadership opportunities within our school.
      So, that day...the day of Mack Truck... I entered his office and sat down across the desk from him. He was smiling broadly and shaking his head from side to side.
      The conversation went something like this, "Terri, you are a good teacher and a strong teacher. You are a smart woman. You do miracles with your students every day. This morning I found Bobby in the hall, talking to the locker."
       I didn't know Dr. Haider had been out there. I quickly tried to tell him why I had left Bobby in the hall by himself, "I can explain, Dr. Haider. The whole classroom needed a little break. It was only for five minutes. Bobby had a good time out there."
       "I'm glad it worked out today, but I think I have a better idea. Please call me when your class needs a break. I will listen to Bobby for a few minutes. I have plenty of time and would be happy to help you. Call me, please. I enjoy Bobby; he's a good boy." Then he added, "Why don't you go home early? You've had a long day."
         That great man has been the standard I have used to judge every administrator I have worked for since then. He cared for the kids. He cared for the teachers. He put his personal touch on every part of Emerson School. I will never forget Dr.Sajjad Haider, who taught me to ask for help if I needed it.  He taught me to take a break when I need it.
         Then there is Bobby, who taught me to give my students a break when they need it, or when I need it. He also taught me there are ideas that seem to be good at first, but are not always that good.  In the future, however, Bobby did get more breaks in the hall, with Dr. Haider. They enjoyed each other, and my classroom enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet.  Thanks, Dr. Haider, and thanks, Bobby.