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.
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.