My wooden arm only lasted one day.
School was in session this week for those educators and pupils young and old, and I began to remember, as a retired teacher, what the first day would bestow upon the students.
As a former middle school teacher, I once entered the classroom on the first day of school acting as if I had a wooden arm. I don’t really know why. Perhaps, I just wasn’t prepared and I thought I’d just wing it. (I hate puns….that was purely accidental). It wasn’t my first year of teaching. I just wanted to shake things up a bit by providing some mystery on the first day of new clothes, possible friends and enemies as well as their newest teacher. I developed the idea from some friends of mine walking around at parties similar to the police officer’s antics from Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. This enforcer was a one armed ornery cuss who would place sharp objects in his arm, such as darts, just to keep track of them. My friends would have to move the fake wooden arm with their, quite capable left, (very scientific flirting) wishfully attracting the attention of girls. They did attract attention, yet only making the girls stray. The girls were indeed silent with intrigue. Emptying my plastic cup of stale beer, I recognized how this could assist me in my professional career as a teacher.
When the, “what the hell did you do this summer?” essay, annually introduced by other teachers, I felt as though it sunk beneath the students’ ears and sailed aimlessly above their heads like dusty glue only burnout teachers could clinch to themselves taking comfort in their inauguration assignments.
I chose a different route. Evidently, middle schoolers are terrified of prosthetic limbs. My wooded arm made its appearance before attendance call. Stiff angled right arm was also in attendance. Making myself three quarters present, my students were silent for almost a full period upon my entrance. Unless you discount middle school day dreamers wishing to be home by the end of my preposterous scene, they would have given me an award for phoniest teacher.
By the end of the period, with mostly silence, other than a call of attendance, I began looking aimlessly and helplessly for my pencil and pen holder. Asking if anyone had seen it and describing it as a plastic great white shark with its mouth agape, they turned their eyes to the floor and elsewhere, either trying to help me or wonder when the actual lesson may begin. The bright students believed in the phony arm, but they also thought I snuck into this school acting as if I was actually a qualified teacher, or just a bum who found some khakis left behind the thrift store along with a button upped collared shirt.
We continued our search for the pencil holder as if we were searching for the Northwest Passage. Collectively, we became the middle school corp of discovery. One bold student asked me why this was so important to me. I told her it was a gift holding dark memories for me, yet it was almost critical we find it together. She was further mystified. Is our teacher just flat out mad? “Have any of you seen it?” Most of them just stared in silence while others provided an awkwardly slow shake of their head. I then stared at my right arm with disgust, fingers molded firmly for more than a half hour with elbow cocked in one position forming a right angle with my forearm and bicep. Giving up hope on finding the pencil holder, I took my free left hand and lifted a sharpened pencil and said, not with anger or force, yet with subtle desperation, I have a place for this pencil. I was going to jab it into my wooden arm.
After the gasp, I displayed my proper upper torso and was embraced by the students . Then, I was informed, by my wonderful principal, Ms. Hoffman, who would fly by my room from time to time on her broom, I was never to pull that crap again. One of my students had a relative who had lost his arm in a boating accident. Not funny. I obliged. Ms. Hoffman and I still laugh about it whenever we speak. She took great care of me, and was probably the only employer who could stop me in my tracks without being tripped.
The year went well, not without its glitches, and I can assure you, I pissed off plenty of students, parents and administration members along the way. I can also say I taught them how to respect themselves, others, education and, yes, even a man with two arms,two legs, a full heart and half a brain. At times, many could say I didn’t do everything the right way. I didn’t. That’s the beauty of it all. I recognized it. Those who thought they were always doing it the right way, sometimes missed the boat. That boat could be surrounded by sharks.