After over 5 years, it’s time to lay this blog to rest. I haven’t counted how many hundreds of posts I’ve written, but I’m pretty sure the final number is nicely sized. Anyone wishing to communicate in the future can use this secret code: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve enjoyed the ride, people. Here’s my favorite post of all time, so I can go out happy.
The Teachers You Remember
I had the best fourth-grade teacher. He was amazing. Everyone loved him. I was in his guinea pig class–the class he had his first year teaching at our school. Before he showed up, the teacher population in the town’s only elementary school had been all female. I showed up on the first day of my fourth-grade year and searched the posted class lists outside of both of the classrooms that I knew to be fourth grade. No me on either list. My Dad was grumpy and had to get to work, so he and I started at one end of the school and read every class list outside of every classroom until my Dad spotted my name. He hollered that he’d found me. I hollered back that he was mistaken, because that was not a fourth grade classroom. He read (very) out loud: “Mr. Fridae. Fourth grade. Alexa Harrington.” Certain he was wrong, my response was loud and sarcastic as I stomped my way across the courtyard to read for my damn self just how wrong my Dad was.
When I saw that there was a new teacher in town, he was a boy, and I was in his class, I burst into tears. Total meltdown. My Dad has nary a sympathetic bone in his body, so you can imagine how far my tears and pleading for a girl teacher got me. He stood there watching me. I think he blinked a few times in an unimpressed manner. And then said, “Well. Have a good first day. See you after work.”
I was pissed, then I was miserable. I was not the only one suffering. Everyone else who’d been unlucky enough to have their number pulled and to end up in the new guy’s class was out on the playground being teased mercilessly by the other kids. We were the pathetic freaks who had three strikes against us: our teacher was new, he was a boy, and his name was Fridae. What kind of name was that? It wasn’t even spelled right. The bell rang and saved us from mean chants involving the days of the week.
We lined up, followed our new teacher inside, sat down and waited for him to explain himself. He was going to need to dig deep to save us all (himself included) from what could surely be the worst year of our elementary school lives. We were not going to help him; he had gotten us all into this mess and it was up to him to get us out. We were surly and glaring and gave him nothing, not even the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t think he noticed our negative attitudes. He was so damn happy to be there and to get the school year started that he mowed right over our hostile little ‘tudes and started teaching. We had never seen a teacher move that much. He was all over the place. He smiled. He laughed. He thought so far outside the box that there was nothing square left to see. He taught by doing. We always had some crazy, messy, perfect project going in our room. Kids from other classrooms would go out of their way to walk by our room so they could stare through our windows at the huge, anatomically accurate, exactly to scale papier-mache eyeball on their way to the bathroom. It took us weeks to build that thing. It was three feet in diameter and I can guarantee that none of us will ever forget that the image the retinas send to the brain is inverted.
He would keep us in after the recess bell rang if he was in the middle of an important thought. He had total control over the room and no one would move until he gave the nod. The first time it happened, all the other kids filing past our windows on their way out to play stared in at us, clearly wondering what atrocity we had committed that was resulting in the missing of recess. Out on the playground the kids grilled us for cause. We told them the truth: Mr. Fridae had still been talking so we’d had to wait. They laughed and said surely the jig was up, he’d seemed cool for a while there but it was looking like he really did suck (cutting into recess is death for a teacher, everyone knows that). We worried that maybe they were right. The last few months had been pretty fantastic, but if Mr. Fridae was unaware of the sanctity of recess, then maybe he was not as great as we had started to believe.
A few minutes later the bell rang. We hadn’t had nearly enough time to run around. We all lined up. The other lines were laughing at us and we were irate: we had pledged our allegiance to the wrong teacher. The teachers headed up their lines, waited for that thing teachers wait for as proof of respect, obedience and cooperation: that fraction of a second of stillness and quiet amidst the cacophony. Once we’d shown them that they were still in charge, the teachers all motioned for us to walk back inside. We lifted our feet and all lines moved but ours. Mr. Fridae had his hand up, signaling us to stop.
We lowered our feet. Mr. Fridae waited only long enough for the other lines to notice that we weren’t moving. They were all still within disbelieving earshot when he told us that in return for allowing him to finish his thought earlier, he was giving us payback of the recess loan plus interest. The other teachers were confused, the other kids were envious, and we were stoked. This was unprecedented. It was beautiful. Extra recess on an empty playground. No teacher has ever made me happier than I was at that exact moment.
Something as simple as the subtraction or addition of recess doesn’t seem like it should be huge to grown-up me. And it wouldn’t be if the memory didn’t come attached to the emotions I had at that moment. Turning and running out onto that pristinely empty playground while everyone else walked back inside was the end of ever questioning Mr. Fridae. From that moment on, we were utterly devoted.
I’m happy to report that his wonderfulness and over-the-top enthusiasm didn’t end after our class. He kicked ass two years later when my little brother had him and has continued to do so. What was it about Mr. Fridae that my classmates and I loved so much? That he enjoyed teaching? That he consistently went above and beyond? That being in his class was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with textbooks and spelling tests? I think it must have been all of the above, with the important addition of his wanting to be there teaching us. He was having an adventure and he wanted us to be in on it, too. It was like being taught by a really tall, super-smart fourth-grader who had the authority to request school buses for field trips.
Author’s note: In the next few months I’ll be moving away from the Pacific Northwest and back to my exquisitely sunny birthplace. I’m still in touch with Mr. Fridae and his wife, Mrs. Fridae (who taught me literature in the 6th grade). They’ve sweetly let me know that if I warn them I’m in town, they’ll have me over for dinner and cake-baking will be involved. Excellent.
Posted by Alexa Harrington