Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This "Baywatch Babe" Says Goodbye . . .

Ages and ages ago, before my kids, before my stay-at-home momdom,  I taught English . . .  to seventh and eighth graders.

Yes.  I know that I have already earned my spot in heaven.

I taught those pubescent boys and girls about my love for reading and books.  I coerced them to write, write about anything.  We examined the parts of speech and their impact on the students' writing.  We rewrote Shakespearean scripts with modern day twists.  ( Anyone ever read a MTV's Real World show in Shakespearean form? No?  It was hysterical!)  We wrote soap operas and sitcoms.  We read poetry and music lyrics.  We talked about them.  We wrote about them.  And, even though my students were challenging every damn day, I loved every minute of it.

One class I had was particularly challenging.  It was an 8th grade composition class.  This class met immediately after lunch each day, and it was filled to the brim with 8th grade boys. 

Hormones-raging 8th grade boys stuffed in one small room after being hyped up with lunch time sugar. . . and one petite 20 something English teacher?

Not a good combination.

It was enough to make me start drinking.  Heavily.

Instead though, I tackled that class head on, including one particular student, Craig. 

Craig was the ringleader of those boisterous boys.  His red hair and freckled face were reminiscent of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman, and his blue eyes were animated and filled with life and laughter.  Students naturally gravitated toward Craig.  He was good looking, quick witted, and pretty much a natural leader.  And even though at times he was wickedly ornery and made me want to pull my hair out, there was just no way that I could stay mad at him.  (Believe me.  I tried.)  His smile and his eyes disarmed me every time.

He had charm, and he knew it.

One time the students had a fairly straightforward assignment to write about a memorable teacher, good or bad.  I read countless papers about my colleagues that recounted ways that they had spent extra time with certain students or how they had inevitably scarred others.  (Incidentally, do we teachers really realize our influence?)  Then, I got to Craig's paper.

It was about me.

Except, it wasn't about how I had helped him discover all the wondrous joys of the English language,  and it wasn't about how I had scarred him from ever picking up a book again.  Nope.  Craig wrote about how I was a memorable teacher because I reminded him of one of the Baywatch stars on TV.

Yep.  Craig was saying that he thought that I looked like a Baywatch babe in a paper that I had to read and grade.

Brazen little sucker, wasn't he?

I remember reading his essay and thinking,  "This kid has got balls!  What was he thinking?!"  And truthfully, as a young teacher, I wasn't quite sure what my reaction should be.  I took the essay in hand and went for some counsel from the principal.

He read it silently, but before he was done, his shoulders shook with silent laughs and tears escaped the corners of his eyes.

"Well?"  I questioned.

He answered simply, "You have to confront this."  And then he added, "Good luck,"  with a wink.

Great.

So, I did the only thing that I could,  I called Craig up to my desk, pushed his paper across it, and looked him in the eye.

"What were you thinking with this, Craig?"  I asked.  "It is totally inappropriate."

Then I paused, continued to look at him, and waited.

He met my gaze, let a slow smile creep across his face, and answered, "Well,  I thought that it would get me a good grade."  Then his eyes twinkled and he asked, "No?"

It was all I could do not to laugh, and I replied simply, "No."

Yes.  Craig was that student that no matter what he did, he really could do no wrong.  So we continued the year.  He continued to drive me crazy, and I continued to suppress my laughs . . .unsuccessfully.

He was a life force, that Craig, and he was one of my favorites for sure.

That is why the news of his death has knocked the breath right out of me.

Craig, with his sparkle,  Craig, with his vitality,  Craig, with his endearing orneriness is dead.  There are just so many things that are wrong with this.  He was too young.  He was too vital.  He was such a force.

I am overwhelmed with sadness for all the things that Craig and his family will miss.

And one thing that I know is for certain.  He has definitely taken a part of this "Baywatch babe's" heart with him.

Rest peacefully, you imp!

I will miss you.

16 comments:

  1. oh . . so sad. I am sure he loved having you as a teacher, Annie. And I bet all of it wasn't just to get a good grade - he sounded like he would grow up to be a perfect charmer and he probably did love having you as his beautiful teacher. I am sorry to hear that he passed away - perhaps that is why he was such a life force in the time he did have on earth - because he had so much spirit he had to get it out that much sooner in his lifetime . . .
    Kiran

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  2. Aw, so sorry to here about that.

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  3. Wow- what a beautiful piece written about Craig. He will surely be missed.

    Thank you,

    Brooke Folkerth
    OHS Class of 1999

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  4. Annie,
    I don't think I have had the pleasure of meeting you, your hubby Paul taught my daughters and coached my nieces. Thank you for writing such a heartwarming yet very sad piece. Well done,
    Tom Maher

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  5. Yes- you've earned your spot in heaven for teaching 7th and 8th graders...
    But you've also earned it because you have an amazing way of seeing the very best in people who make it hard for the best to be seen. You've earned it for being able to see the world through such amazing eyes and for being able to so eloquently share what you see with all of us.
    And for making such a beautiful and honest tribute to this young man. I sometimes want to get rid of the people who challenge me most... until I realize they're the ones who, in the end, make me a better person. It sounds like Craig did this for you too.
    RIP Craig... and prayers for his family.

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  6. What a great tribute - so sad! But so wonderful that you were able to see and get to know such a vibrant life in this Craig. I can only imagine that you were a bright spot in his day as well..

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  7. Wow...I am completely amazed by this tribute. I never knew Craig, but your tribute gave me quite a glimpse. Bryan has said over and over again how full of life he was and now I get it! So sad to lose someone with so much to offer way to soon.

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  8. Bryan Ellis, coach and teacherNovember 17, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    Annie,
    You truly have a gift which is why I love to read your blog and why I refer my students to Mrs. Stone, the best tutor in the world and once upon a time was a great English teacher who should go back to teaching again. As for this piece, you truly captured the essence of Craig's life and his personality. I coached him during 8th grade and although he gave me plenty of grief, the only thing I can truly remember is his smile and celebration after he hit a game winning shot against Carlisle. While it is truly a meaningless moment in time for most, his passing makes this a memory I will never forget. Thanks for making me smile in a very sad time for those who knew and cared about Craig. His smile and his personality will live on forever!

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  9. Good one Annie. A piece of you will go with each student who meets with an untimely death. It breaks my heart even for this "old teacher" when I read about a past student's passing. This piece is a real winner and a great memorial not only to Craig but his wonderful teacher who was a part of his life for that particular year!

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  10. Thank you for sharing this story. It's a perfect telling of what made Craig Craig. Sparkly eyes, charm, audacity, life force....

    Everyone shall miss this person so full of life -- those who knew Craig well, those who only met him in passing, and those who never had the joy of meeting.

    A light has gone out for all of us.

    I'm glad that someone found the words where most of us are at a loss.

    - Rachel Rudwall

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  11. Such a beautiful memory to share with the world. I never met Craig but have mutual friends. It's so nice to hear a story with such life. You have brought smiles to many tearful faces!

    He's still with you, he's here.. and he's laughing his head off about writing that paper, still after all these years.

    I'm sending you as much good energy as I can during these painful moments. Love, light and happiness!

    Kirsten Gum

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  12. What an amazing story that completely captures what a great kid he was. I'm so sick over this and I read this while laughing and crying. Thank you so very much for sharing!- Ashley Davis

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  13. Even though I never really knew Craig as a friend, I was aware of his charisma, charm, huge smile and twinkling blue eyes. I think everyone was.

    The news of his death also took my breath away. How could someone who always seemed on top of the world and made strangers smile be taken away?

    Thank you for this story. He will always be remembered.

    -Emily Rodgers, OHS Class of 2006

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  14. How did he die? It's always sad when a young person dies, particularly one who has a 'spark.'

    And YOU m'dear sound like you were an awesome teacher!! A big loss you are no longer in the profession...

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  15. Craig and I were never close friends, but with a class of ~130 people, you get to know everyone throughout the 6 years you spend together. Craig and my lockers were next to each other for a number of years, including the seventh grade. I will never forget my first day, completely overwhelmed by a new school and all the unfamiliar faces. I was opening my locker for the first time when Craig walked up to me. He was the very first person from "the other school" to introduce himself and say hello. Such a small gesture went a long way for me, the quiet kid who was too shy to say hello to anyone new.

    My thoughts and prayers are with all of Craig's family and friends during this time. He will be greatly missed.

    -Andrew McNamara

    @I Wonder Wye,
    She was an awesome teacher; one of the best I've ever had.

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  16. What a beautiful tribute to Craig. You painted a very clear picture of Craig (I am picturing a male version of my own three-year-old red-headed imp) and although it is a shame when anyone is taken so young, it sounds like a very vibrant life was snuffed out. I am sorry for your loss.

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