In December 2005, I was teaching 4th grade in Coppell, Texas.
It was a challenging job, and the pay was . . . typical, but I’d made it to my third year, and was really starting to feel the rhythm of the classroom. I remember watching their eyes widen as they grasp concepts for the first time or their tongues stick out as they navigated increasingly complex math problems.
As a teacher, I still had a lot to learn (e.g. the proper execution of a class party), but I always did my best. It was meaningful work. I had autonomy. And I enjoyed the teacher carpool and our discussions on life and the proper way to motivate tricksy ten-year-olds.
One day we were doing some basic geometry in class and the kids were looking a bit sluggish. So I added facial hair and angry eyebrows to one of the triangles as a reward to the more attentive, fully planning to leave it at that.
Somebody giggled, and suddenly every student was on high alert. Equilaterals are fine and good, but no kid wants to miss a joke.
To build on that success, I adopted a grumpy, sarcastic voice for the rest of the lesson and let Harry the Triangle teach. He was not gentle with the remaining geometries.
I’m not condoning insulting behavior here—insults hurt, whether hurled at a perfectly drawn sphere, or a tall and tan Norwegian isosceles. Instead, I made it abundantly clear that Harry the Triangle was neither role model nor paragon of kindly virtues, and the kids were falling out of their chairs. Laughter crying. Demanding that every math class be taught by Harry.
Math had never been so fun. For me or them. For the rest of the year, they did Harry the Triangle fan-fiction in their notebooks and perked up when math class drew nigh. They even played back that scratchy, sarcastic voice at random, inopportune moments.
Ahhh. The halcyon days of explaining the chorus of scratchy, 10-year-old voices to the school principal. If only my parties had been comparable.
I must have been a special case, because I always had multiple room parents. Shortly before Christmas break, they managed to cut me from my herd.
RPs: “Mr. Hewett, what’s the plan for the holiday party?”
Me: “Uh. . .”
RPs: “Nevermind. You just teach. We’ll handle the details.”
That was the best party my 4th graders ever had. The details are a bit hazy, but there was an abundance of adult supervision, spilled soda cups, and pizza, which was which was still a huge success back then, but you had to wait about 4 hours for it to be hand-molded and delivered on an old Italian bicycle.
And there were teacher-gifts.
Teacher gifts are the second-best thing about being a teacher. Kids are often generous with their favorite teachers, but this year was even more epic. Every kid wanted to thank me for making math less boring. I got beautiful Christmas cards (defaced with hand-drawn images of Harry the Triangle), books for the classroom library, more drawings of Harry the Triangle, gift cards, and chocolate.
And a shaving bag.
Really? Like, for travel?
Like, for carefully gathering and arranging toiletries so you knew you were perfectly packed before going on an actual airplane trip? The kind that helped you ensure your toothbrush, paste, razor, floss, chapstick, deodorant, nail clippers, soap and shampoo were all packed and ready for that big, important business meeting in Detroit? I mean, I knew what it was intellectually, but I didn’t travel. I was a teacher with small kids at home and a single income.
I smiled graciously at the student though. I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her gesture. When her shy smile came out, I relaxed just a hair, glad to see that my bemusement hadn’t shown through. What if you were the only kid to give your teacher something different. . . like a shaving bag . . . and then he didn’t like it?
As a teacher, it is important to be diplomatic.
When I woke up this morning, and grabbed my gear to get ready for a day of panels and networking, I stopped and laughed at my younger self. There it was. The 15-year-old Adidas shaving bag from my outside-the-box thinker.
The shaving bag I thought I didn’t need.
The one I take on every trip.
-February 15, 2020