The first morning he walks in, head down, gaze averted, shy, a rebel with a cause, a swagger and a smirk. The teacher says hey there, good morning, welcome to class. He grunts and walks to his assigned seat down the middle row, two over, three back, slumps into a practiced slide, and swings his legs under the well-worn desk. The next one comes through the door, flashes a toothy grin, looks to the back of the class and tries to find her seat. I say, hey there, good mornin’ miss, welcome to class. She glances perfunctorily to the figure in the pleated pants, he must be the teacher, and whispers a shy good morning, barely audible, and the prof thinks to himself, did someone say something or was that a mosquito sneezing in the corner? A few look to the front and say a shy good morning, lightly garnished with a grin, a few don’t. More shuffle in, all pants and untied shoes, shirts hanging out, cool stuff these fellows, the weight of adolescence weighing heavy on their bony young shoulders. The young ladies have their shuffle, their own brand of cool, their own technicolored untied shoe laces. Class gets off to a shuffle start for the year and the teacher squirms and sweats in his pleated Dockers and button-down shirt.
A few mornings later, after the teacher’s heard enough grunts to make him think he’s teaching on a pig farm, he says to himself, I’ve had it, no more, it’s time for some “politeness” training.
Folks, he bellows, this teacher in pleated pants and button down shirt, lend me thine ears, look me in the eyes for once, for I have somewhat to say to thee! They look up, surprised at the sound of the bellow and prick their ears. The pedagogue then begins to speak, his voice rising and falling with inspiration and indignation. You must attend beloved ones, and that means Look. Me. In. The. Eyes. I want you to look me in the eyes when you speak to me. Do you hear? You there, I said, do you hear and understand? No, look up, look me in the eyes. Eyes slowly appear from under shaggy bangs and eyebrows, brown and blue and green eyes I can see now, actually quite beautiful eyes. I say, ah, there, and grin, big, and they smile sheepishly. I love these kids, although they may not know it just right now.
Next, I say, the voice still rising, is this actually me speaking, I sound like Elijah or some old time indignant, spewing forth the pent up lava of volcanic proportions. Next you will say good-morning to me every morning. Did you get that folks, you will not only look me in the eye, you will say Good Morning Mr. and inquire as to my health. I will respond and we will begin to train you for that far off future when you will face potential employers and bankers and husbands and wives.
Oh, one more thing and don’t groan like that or I’ll send you home and you don’t want to go home and miss all the fun. You will also practice shaking hands. That’s right, put ‘er there, firm and strong, while looking me in the eye, of course, and inquiring as to my health and wishing me a good day. A lot to do at once and if you’re the type that can’t ride bike and chew gum at the same time you may be in trouble. So we better practice this so you’ll get it right when you face those potential employers and bankers and husbands and wives.
They stand and slowly turn to face each other, right hands extended, awkwardly, tentatively, unsure, and give each other a handshake, some overdone, some shy, a few hearty and finger crushing. They look each other in the eye and grin, thinking to themselves that this teacher is crazy for sure but this certainly beats prepositional phrases.
And at the front of the class the figure in the pleated pants and button down shirt smiles to himself and thinks that this certainly beats prepositional phrases and what a great life it is to teach these people with the baggy pants and technicolor shoelaces.