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An upbeat collection of stories about the trying—but memorable—years of high school, from the perspective of a dedicated teacher and coach.
An upbeat collection of stories about the trying—but memorable—years of high school, from the perspective of a dedicated teacher and coach.
I had been coaching girls' volleyball at our school for about six years, and we were about to embark on what promised to be a pretty good season considering we had most of our team back from the previous year. I was excited about it and so were the girls.
After practice the day before the first game, I finished my pep talk and sent them home ... but they didn't go.
"Coach, we have something we want to give you," the captain said with all the other girls clustered around us.
"Oh, really, what?" I asked suspiciously.
"We bought you a little good luck charm. It's ... uh ... a key chain."
It was wrapped in a small box. I opened it, and sure enough it was a key chain. But this wasn't an ordinary key chain ... this one had a very touching message on it. It had a bright yellow background with a silver whistle pictured on it. Beneath the whistle were inscribed the words "World's Greatest Coach."
"Wow, thanks, you guys. That's very nice, but we'll see how 'great' I am tomorrow. You know how great a coach is perceived to be is totally determined by how well his team plays," I said trying to take advantage of any little motivational opportunity that came my way.
They totally ignored my motivational ploy. They were much more concerned with the gift itself.
"Are you going to put all of your keys on it?" one of the girls asked.
Still trying to coach and to motivate I said, "Well, let's see. How about this? I won't put any keys on it at first, but for every win we get, I'll move a key over from my current key chain-the bigger the win the more important the key I'll move. How does that sound?"
"Yeah, that'll be great, but are you sure you have enough keys for all the wins we're gonna get?" our cockiest player asked.
I showed my current key chain. "Since I carry more keys than we have games, we can win the state playoffs and I'll still have keys to move," I explained.
So it was agreed.
The next day we won our season opener. After the game I made a big production of it.
"Congratulations, girls. We got off to a good start today, but we can play a lot better. So to represent this win, I'm going to move the key to my shed at home to the new key chain. It's not my most important key, but it's about equal to our performance today I think."
I took the key off one key chain and put it on the other.
We continued to win. We lost a few along the way too, but for the most part we were living up to our potential and maybe a little beyond. And after each game, we talked about our performance and finished with the "move the key" ceremony.
Upcoming on our schedule was Plantation High School-in my mind the biggest game of the season. My teams had never beaten them in volleyball. We had a pretty good rivalry with them in softball and had beaten them in that sport a few times, but our success had not carried over to volleyball. The team knew I wanted very much to get that monkey off our backs.
We did it. They came to our gym. We played great. We demolished them.
I had never seen a team so excited after a game.
I praised them. I lauded them. I gushed over them.
Then came the key ceremony.
"What key are you gonna move to represent this win?" they wanted to know.
"You know what? I don't think I own a key significant enough to symbolize what this win means to me."
One of the girls raised her hand.
"Yes," I said.
"I ... uh ... probably shouldn't tell you this ... but, I ... uh ... have a master key to the school. Would you like that? Would that be significant enough?"
"WHAT the ... where did you get ... never mind ... I don't think I want to know. But, yes, that would be great."
I had been trying to get a master key to the school for years. The administration at the time didn't want to give me one. It wasn't just me. They didn't want to give a master key to anyone who didn't absolutely have to have one. I didn't blame them. It's not good to have all sorts of keys to everything floating around. I only wanted one so I could get into the gym on Saturday mornings for practice. Several times I had asked and several times I was told, "There's a custodian here on Saturdays. He'll let you in and will lock up after you."
I took the key and moved it to the new key chain. Funny how the "world's greatest coach" had to get his first master key from a student.
* * *
By accepting the key from my player, I thought I was actually killing two birds at once. I was getting the master key, which I felt I needed, but I was also taking one from a student. The last thing we needed was for students to have master keys.
It wasn't until much later that I learned that what she gave me was a copy of the master key. She retained the original for herself. To this day I still have no idea where she got it.
Chapter Two AM I TESTING THEM OR ARE THEY TESTING ME?
Cheaters. I don't like them. No teacher does. We've all had to confront them at one time or another. Whenever I have caught cheaters, I have dealt with them. But it's how I've handled them that varies from cheater to cheater. It could be the mood I'm in, who the cheater is, or maybe even the day of the week that determines how cheaters are nailed in my class. I'm not really sure. Several instances of catching cheaters come to mind, but here are my favorites.
Unbelievably, a cheating boy, we'll call him John, was sitting in the seat directly in front of my podium. I always sit at the podium during testing because by sitting on the stool there, it puts me a little higher up and gives me a great view of the entire classroom. Evidently John thought that because he was so close to me, I wouldn't be able to see what he was doing. I knew right away he was up to no good. His eyes kept straying down between his legs. I'm sure he thought I thought he was looking at the desktop and reading the test when in reality he was looking between the bottom edge of the desktop and his stomach to a little slip of paper neatly ensconced between his legs. I could barely see the cheat sheet from my perch, but I could indeed see it.
The test was fairly long so I had time to figure out how I wanted to handle the situation. This time I decided not to call him out in front of the class ... not to make a big deal of the fact I had him pegged as a cheater. Rather, I decided to handle it in a somewhat different manner. To my recollection this is the only time I ever handled a cheating incident in this way. I decided to write a note. It read:
You have just been caught cheating. I can clearly see the cheat sheet between your legs. You may continue to take this test if you wish, but please be advised that your grade is a zero. Your friend, Mr. Crosby
After completing the note, I folded it neatly four times. I got off my stool and nonchalantly strolled around the room looking every bit the proctor that I was by keenly observing the students taking their tests. As I headed back to my stool behind the podium, I passed by John's desk and simply laid the folded note on the corner of the desk.
John stared at the note for a second or two before he opened it. I watched as he read it. I saw his face turn pale. I saw him put his pencil down, fold his arms and rest them on the desk, and then place his head down on his arms. He had been nailed. He knew it. He accepted it. He never even came to me to talk about it. Nor did he ever cheat in my class again.
* * *
Another front row cheater was a boy whom we'll call Brian. (What is it with these front row cheaters? Do they think we are blind or just plain stupid?) Anyway, Brian also had a cheat sheet tucked neatly under his leg. As he got to questions he didn't know, he would glance down to get the answers. Evidently, Brian made a move he never should have made because something caused his cheat sheet to fly out from under him and land on the floor about three feet in front of his desk. I saw it happen. I knew what it was, but Brian didn't know I knew. In his panic to cover his blunder, he did the logical thing. He slid down slightly in his seat, extended his long legs, and firmly planted his foot on top of the crib sheet. I was about to go make a big deal of it when I realized he was in what had to be the most awkward, uncomfortable position anyone could ever hope to endure. I decided to wait ... to see just how long he could maintain that position. Picture him. Six feet four inch Brian slouched down in his seat with his long legs outstretched in front of him but with one foot flat on the floor to cover the sheet. I tried to position myself like that later and could only last a few minutes it was so uncomfortable, but Brian was a real trooper. He stayed in that position for at least 20 minutes. He couldn't read the sheet from where it was with his foot on top of it, but he couldn't just remove his foot either. I would see the cheat sheet if he did that. So he did the only thing he could. He finished taking the test by sitting in that horribly awkward, uncomfortable position.
When I realized he was about to finish his test, I walked over and stood in front of him. Still not suspecting that I knew anything, he handed me his test. He did not, however, move his legs. I continued to stand there. He continued to sit there in that agonizing contortion. Eventually, he tried to drag his foot toward him hoping he would drag the cheat sheet with it. But the unthinkable happened to Brian. His foot came toward him just fine, but the cheat sheet didn't. In fact, it was left right at my feet in plain sight.
I bent down and picked it up.
"Brian," I said, "this is yours I believe. And so, by the way, is this zero." I wrote a big red zero on the top of his test.
To the best of my knowledge, like John, Brian never attempted to cheat in my class again either.
* * *
Before I came to Northeast, I taught for two years at a school in Quincy, Florida. It was there that I caught my very first cheater. It was my first and has always been my favorite encounter of that kind.
This time it wasn't a test, but it was a worksheet of some sort. The margin of the worksheet was a little too close to the top of the paper, but there was ample room at the bottom for students to write their names. But, there was no name line per se.
Anyway, this stalwart lad whom we shall call Steven was far from the brightest light in the harbor. He had very little knowledge of the subject at hand so he did the only thing he thought he could to make a decent grade. He copied the paper of the girl next to him. Again, we are talking about a front row student. I'm not sure how good I have been at catching back row or even middle of the room cheaters, but I was death on those front row cheaters.
I watched intently as Steven read each question, figured out he had no idea as to its answer, and immediately turned and copied the paper of Tynecia Wilson (name changed to protect the innocent) who sat unsuspectingly beside him.
As was the case with John and Brian, I did not jump on Steven immediately. Instead, I let the scene play itself out. Eventually, he finished the worksheet (about 30 seconds after Tynecia finished hers as I recall), but not before he did something to seal his own doom. In essence, he gave me all the proof I would need to convict him of the crime of copying.
So when he came up to turn in his paper, I said, "Steve, old buddy, I can't accept this paper."
"Why not?" he asked in disbelief.
"Because you cheated," I said.
"Cheated? How did I do that?"
"Easy," I said. "You copied off her paper."
"No, I didn't," he denied vehemently. "You can't prove it."
"Oh, but I can," I said.
"No, you can't. If you could, you would have said something to me if and when you saw me do it."
"I didn't say anything, but I really do have proof."
"Show me," he said.
With that I pointed to the two words at the bottom of his paper just above his name. "You see those two words right there?" I asked him.
"Yeah, so what?"
"I hate to break this to you, but that's her name!" Clearly printed there were the words Tynecia Wilson.
"You not only copied her answers; you copied her name too! Is that proof enough for you?"
All he could say was, "Oops."
* * *
No chapter on cheating in school would be complete without mentioning the incident that, in my experience at least, wins the prize for the most ingenious. My son told me what one of his baseball teammates did in a chemistry class.
It seems that for a chemistry test an essay was given ahead of time. Students were allowed to prepare for it but were not allowed to write it up until they arrived in class. No notes were allowed. Thus all research and organization had to be done ahead of time, but no aids whatsoever could be used during the actual writing of the essay.
The teammate, let's call him Paul, went to the teacher at the beginning of the period and asked very politely if while he wrote he might possibly be allowed listen to some music through some headphones. He said it would relax him and help him to organize his thoughts more clearly. The unsuspecting teacher said he didn't mind.
Paul proceeded to play a tape, not of music, but of the answer to his essay that he had dictated very slowly on the tape the night before. A girl who had had the class in the previous year had given Paul her essay which had already been given an A grade. Paul simply read it to the tape, and as it played back the answer to the essay, he copied what he heard.
To add an air of authenticity to it all, Paul did some minor gyrations and head bobbings to make it look as if he really were listening to music.
Very ingenious, but my question is this. Why don't kids just spend their time studying instead of trying to find ways like this to avoid it?
Chapter Three NO WRITING ON THE FURNITURE, PLEASE!
One of the few teachers who has been at Northeast longer than I have is my good friend Bill Tobias. Bill teaches science, and for many years we taught right across the hall from each other. Prior to that, however, Bill team taught a course or two with Linda Overgard (formerly Linda Melvin) another good friend of ours.
It seems that one day, in one of those team teaching courses, it was Bill's turn to lecture, and he was strolling around the room orating on photosynthesis or meiosis or eels or some other such soporific topic. It was a large classroom with many students, and when Bill tired of strolling, he stopped to rest. There happened to be a straight-back chair that had been put on top of a table. Bill continued to lecture as he leaned over to prop himself up on the chair.
For some reason as he placed his elbow on the chair, he glanced down at the seat of the chair. What he saw there brought an instant end to his lecture. He was almost paralyzed. He couldn't utter another syllable. No one knew what had happened. He frantically motioned for his partner Miss Melvin to come over. She hurried over to see what was up. She was concerned that maybe he was having some kind of attack- a stroke maybe. His face was contorted, and when she got to him, she saw he was absolutely shaking. It was then that she saw that the nearly paralytic state he was in was caused by ... laughter. He was laughing uncontrollably-so hard, in fact, that it was inaudible. It was one of those laughs where you laugh so hard you lose your breath.
"What is it?" she asked anxiously.
Bill could hardly move, but he managed to point to the seat of the chair where Linda read what someone had printed in big, bold, black magic marker lettering.
"MISS MELVIN HAS BIG TITS."
Linda's eyes widened and her jaw dropped, but she did what her instinct told her to do. She immediately grabbed the chair and rushed it out of the room.
Where she took it, no one knows. We do know that it was never seen again in our school.
The person who wrote it was never caught.
To this day Bill still howls with glee every time he recalls that day, that chair, and the look on Linda's face when she read what it said.
Excerpted from IT HAPPENED IN SCHOOL by ROBERT CROSBY Copyright © 2009 by Robert Crosby. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1 "World's Greatest Coach" 1
2 Am I Testing Them or Are They Testing Me? 5
3 No Writing on the Furniture, Please! 11
4 Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry...Balderdash? 13
5 Twist and Shout? No-Shout and Run! 17
6 "Do You Know Who I am?" 21
7 A True Meat and Potatoes Guy! 23
8 007 Comes to School 27
9 Don't Mess with the Bacigalupis 31
10 A Bad Combination? 35
11 "What's the Scoop with the Poop, Snoop?" 39
12 Teachers' Pets 45
13 The 12-minute Run 49
14 "So, There's No Such Thing as a Dumb Question, Eh?" 53
15 "KNOCK IT OFF, NOW!!" 57
16 A Good Coach Knows His Team 61
17 Ogden Nash to the Rescue 65
18 Plato, Anyone? 69
19 Man, That Gulf Stream is Fast! 73
20 Under the Knife 79
21 It's Fun to Pun but Sublime to Rhyme 83
22 I Caught Him with His Pants Down 87
23 Show Me Your Pencil 91
24 "You Can't Go Anywhere Without Seeing a Student." 95
25 "Bob, Just What Are You Teaching These Kids?" 101
26 No, We Aren't Dead Yet!! 107
27 Yes, There Is a Generation Gap 111
28 Interning? 115
29 The Best Retirement Speech Ever 119
30 Pranks? No, Thanks...Unless...They're Really, Really Funny! 123
31 Jellyfish, Kelp, Eels, and...Oranges? 129
32 Hindsight Continues to Be 20-20 131
33 Pink Tennis Shoes 135
34 Leave It to Beaver 139
35 It Was Just a Gentle Little Nudge...Honest 143
36 Just Flush Him! 149
37 The Essence of AP English 157
38 School...Where Conversing Can Be a Pleasure 161
39 Remote Possibilities 165
40 It's the Short, White Woman's Turn 171
41 Two Nicks Equal One Poncho 175
42 Some Kids Are Just Fun to Mess With 179
43 That's the Mascot of Columbia University? 185
44 The Nicest Person in the Universe 189
45Straight A's 195
46 Let Someone Else Do It! Please!!! 199
47 It's All About Focus 205
48 Man, Was I on a Roll! 209
49 Odds and Ends 213
50 Sometimes We Just Lose It...Completely 219
About the Author 226