Brian Gunderson sighed as he stared out the window of his classroom while his 12th grade students finished their grammar quiz. Reflexively, he turned to look at the clock which was making its rounds as slowly as an old watchman with bunions, and then glanced at Ed Merkle, who was the last student still working. Ed was always the last student still working. His cousin, Jacob Merkle was always the first student finished. Jacob was reading Hot Rod magazine, Jenny was adjusting her low-cut top to make sure that her cleavage was prominently displayed, Kevin was tearing one big piece of paper into many little pieces of paper, and the rest of the class simply sat and stared; except for Pork Pie who was asleep as usual. Perhaps that name had come to him in a dream for everyone insisted on calling Robert Edward Chamberlain “Pork Pie” including Robert Edward Chamberlain himself, but no one could say how the nickname originated including Robert Edward Chamberlain.
Ed finally put down his pencil, because once again he forgot a pen, and the class stirred knowing that this was the signal to collect the quizzes.
“Jesus, it’s about time you’re finished,” said Jacob to Ed as they passed their papers forward.
Mr. Gunderson calmly instructed Jacob not to say “Jesus” in such an off-handed manner lest he offend any Christians.
“Sorry, Mr. G,” replied Jacob sincerely.
This conversation repeated itself on at least a daily basis.
Jenny turned and grabbed Pork Pie’s paper which was largely blank. Pork Pie never stirred.
“So, we readin’ Macbeth now?” asked Kevin who popped out of his seat as he was want to do every ten minutes or so. Mr. Gunderson had learned to use this to his advantage whenever possible.
“We sure are, Kevin. How about passing out the books for me?”
“Gotcha, Mr. G.” said Kevin who slammed a book down on Pork Pie’s desk for the sheer joy of waking him up.
Mr. Gunderson pretended not to hear the sleepy obscenity that followed.
It was now time to teach Macbeth to the “academically challenged class,” which was this year’s euphemism. The previous year they had been dubbed the “sub college level class.” These kids, who were refreshingly unpretentious, unlike most school administrators, referred to themselves as “the dumb class.” What Mr. Gunderson realized, however, also unlike most school administrators, was that even these kids were smart about something, and he did his best to find out what it was. The Merkle cousins, for example, both worked on the family farm and so Mr. Gunderson would always ask Jacob about tractor oil or some such thing and he would ask Ed about the soybean harvest. There were no tractors or soybeans in Macbeth, however, just “ghosts, murder, and mayhem” explained Mr. Gunderson as he did his best to pump up the story.
“Let’s get Pork Pie to be a ghost! They don’t talk,” suggested Kevin, not helpfully.
“Yes, they do!” said Jenny. “Don’t you ever watch Ghost Adventures?”
“That show ain’t real,” retorted Kevin and a discussion about Ghost Adventures ensued for five minutes before Mr. Gunderson could bring the subject back to Macbeth.
Based on his summary, the class was actually excited to read the Scottish play, but within a few lines, their spirits began to sag as they tripped and stammered over the Bard’s complex syntax.
“Why do we gotta read this stuff, Mr. G?” asked Jenny.
Mr. Gunderson sighed and gave his charges what they deserved, which was an honest answer.
“I have no idea. We have a lot of time to kill and this is one of the few books for which we have copies for everybody. We’re all in this together, so we’re just going to have to make the best of it.”
There was silence in the class. Even the pencil tapping and foot bouncing ceased for a moment and something akin to reflection seemed to be occurring.
“All right, but if Kevin makes fun of the way I read, I’m gonna kill him,” declared Jacob.
They resumed reading and even Pork Pie was convinced to take the part of Lennox, since this noble thane spoke only two lines in the first scene. Ed was doing remarkably well as Duncan until he got to the line, “No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest,” pronouncing the pen-ultimate word as “bahz-um.” He screwed up his face and interrupted himself. “What’s bah-zum?”
“They’re tits, you moron. Jesus, I can’t possibly be related to you,” stated Jacob.
A lively discussion on the meaning of bosom ensued and Mr. Gunderson had to admit that in a vague, general way, Jacob was correct, although, he continued, that wasn’t what Shakespeare was thinking when he used that word.
“Bet he was,” said Jenny, “Cause my mother says that’s what all men think about.” She then added, “Do we gotta read this again tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Us and all the other petty creeps that fret and strut our hour upon the stage.”
“Nothing, Jenny. Yes, we’ll be reading Macbeth tomorrow.”
Mr. Gunderson sighed.
Good story, humorous for the most part, however the referrences made about “Jesus” were offensive to me.
Don’t go into a public classroom, Don. They can be very offensive places!
I really liked it, Austin! Everyone can learn something and everyone can contribute something, as Mr. Gunderson demonstrates. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Jill. Those classes that I taught are good examples of why we need to revive shop classes. Some in education, however, think everyone needs to go to college.
This is SO “RIGHT ON”! Reilly (my Pomeranian Therapy Dog) and I volunteered to help with a below grade reading class of 8th graders last year — trying to help their reading skills to hopefully enable them to graduate to the next grade level. Reilly is part of the PAWS FOR READING program. The students divided into small groups of two or three and read to a Therapy Dog, sitting down beside the dog on the floor and reading aloud. The dog does, in fact, help calm the student; the dog is nonjudgmental. In between turns reading, the student is encouraged to pet and cuddle with the dog.
The above story makes me think that Austin must have been peeking into the classroom where Reilly and I were volunteering. The banter that preceded getting down to work between the students and the teacher had the same identical “flavor” as is described in the above story — eerily so! This story is not fiction; it is a slice of reality!
You’re right, Bonnie! A few details are fictional, but everything else is very real. I wonder if Reilly realized that he was the smartest one in the reading group?
Probably not! 🙂
Thanks for the glimpse into the classroom! I did not like Shakespeare, either!
You’re welcome! You mean the Earl of Oxford?
> For my dad Hillis Layne autographed 1940’s baseball glove for Father’s Day. He was a senators fan. I think he will really enjoy this.
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