Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What it's like teaching high school Part I

This will be—What do they call them?—an "occasional series" recording some of the not-so-mundane aspects of my day job. When I established the blog, I did not do so with any intention of ever talking shop, but I realize now that with just a year and ten weeks (but who's counting?) left in my teaching career, I should document some of the good stuff.

The other day at lunch I was chatting with a couple of my seniors about the issues they need to address in order to change the world as soon as they've earned their college degrees. We do this often. Ricky, a young man of strong faith who has a very acute sense of morality, was explaining his idea for an internet search engine that would distinguish between moral and immoral search results. Our conversation was interrupted when Mirella, one of my freshmen, brought me a doughnut. This was a unique and happy occasion. I don't think Mirella has ever ventured into my classroom during lunch before, and I rarely eat doughnuts.

"I brought this for you," she said, "because you didn't get one of Myles' cupcakes. Remember?" Wow. How did she remember? The incident with Myles had occurred way back in early October, just a few weeks into the new school year. In class one day, Myles had mentioned something about being disappointed in not getting cupcakes for his birthday. (High school is quite a transition from elementary school and junior high. My freshmen are always devastated when they find out we take final exams on the last day of school—no party.) Myles sits in the front. At that time, Mirella occupied the last seat in his row. Hearing the note of sadness in his voice, she leaned way out in her seat and called up to the front, "I'll bring you cupcakes tomorrow, bro." She didn't know his name. They'd never had a conversation. She simply offered. He smiled, said "OK!" but none of us were really expecting her to bring cupcakes.

The next morning before school, my door opened and Mirella walked in holding a package of four gorgeous cupcakes.

"These are for—what's his name? Myles? I won't be at school today." Dang, right? A young woman of her word with a great follow-through ethic. I couldn't wait for 5th period.

When Myles came in I showed him the cupcakes—all four just for him—and his face lit up. Of course, I had to tease him and say I might swipe one.

"Oh, go ahead, Ms. Murphy," he said with sincere grace. "I'm sure I'm not going to eat all four of them!"

I thanked him profusely but declined, explaining that the cupcakes no doubt contained ingredients that a sixty-year-old woman with high cholesterol should not be ingesting.  "For example," I said, "these probably have... " and I held the package aloft carefully so I could read the ingredients listed on the bottom.

That's when I saw the warning label: "This product manufactured on equipment that processes products containing peanuts." My heart sank. Just that day I'd received a medical alert about Myles from the office. He has a peanut allergy. The cupcakes would not be safe for him.

"Myles," I said slowly, "I'm going to save your life here. You can't have these cupcakes." I explained why, but he wasn't upset (though a little disappointed; they did look tantalizing). "That's OK," he said, "it's the thought that counts. It just makes me happy that Mirella did such a nice thing." He handed the cupcakes off to some friends who eagerly offered to eat them for him.

Mirella heard about it the next day when she returned to school. And here she was, six months later, bakery bag in hand. "You didn't get a cupcake," she said, "so I brought you a doughnut." I opened the bag, extracted a beautifully crafted chocolate doughnut with sprinkles, turned a deaf ear to the screaming sirens of the diet police in my head, and took a bite. It was heaven. Mirella waved a hand over her shoulder as she went out the door.

I continued my conversation with the seniors, chewing slowly, savoring every bite (and silently recalculating what I would eat for dinner). The bell rang, the kids picked up their mess, and as she was about to leave, Katelynn pulled a cookie from her lunch bag and plunked it down in front of me.

"Peanut butter," she said, "with Nutella in the center. I made them last night. See ya later, Murphy."

If you think for one minute I saved that homemade peanut butter cookie with—bonus points!!!—Nutella inside for later, you don't know me well enough to know my weakness for cookies.

And if you think that all the teenagers of this generation are self-absorbed, amoral zombies who are devoid of human emotion, you should come on down at lunchtime and meet my kid crew. They're pretty special.


  1. that was a heart-lifting story there now, I don't care who ya'are..reckon? I am pretty sure they had a guiding hand , at times... :)

  2. Thank you, Glenn! They're great kids--like most teens these days.