Saturday, July 22, 2017

Student of the Month Nightmare

This is something I wrote for a monthly gathering to honor some of the best students at our school. I figure most teachers will relate:

I was grading papers late last night—and had already polished off my second Twix bar—because I hate grading papers and have to reward myself with sugar to make the process palatable. (I also eat four cookies each day at school for lunch. But this story is not about sugar addiction.) So let’s continue.

Anyway, it was well past midnight and not a creature was stirring in the Viall house.  You could have heard the Twix wrappers rustling if you listened. I was exhausted and needed rest.

Bleary-eyed from reading seventh-grade essays, I threw myself into bed and was soon fast asleep. 

At some point in the night I had a terrifying dream. I found myself in front of a classroom filled with seventh graders. Mist floated across the floor. There was a chill in the air.

Instinctively, I shivered under the covers. 

Then, in my mind’s eye, I looked closely at the pupils in front of me. They looked pale and deathly, zombie-like. I heard myself say, “Time to turn in your homework.”

The zombies chanted, “We don’t have it. We never do homework.”

“We’re all DEAD,” explained one of the corpse-like figures. He waved his ghoulish hand about, as if to indicate his peers, but a finger broke loose and flew across the room, landing on another zombie’s desk. 

A third ghostly figure explained, “I didn’t do the work. I forgot what page the questions were on. My mother says I have A.D.H.D. and can’t be expected to do any homework.”

“You never gave me the assignment, Mr. Viall,” another zombie-student claimed.

“I did. I did too,” I mumbled in my sleep.

“Can I go to my locker? I think I left my homework in my math folder,” said yet another pale dream student.

“Can I go to the bathroom now,” interrupted one of the near-dead. “When a zombie has to go a zombie has to go,” she added rudely.

“I didn’t do my work either,” said a male zombie in the back. “What do you expect? I’m a stupid zombie.”

“Shut up, you retard,” shouted the rude and also politically incorrect zombie girl.

Two other zombies were doodling on their notebooks and not paying attention to a word my dream-self said. 

At that moment Brent, one of the least motivated of the walking dead arrived late for class. “What’s your excuse for being tardy?” I asked with a pained look.

“I’m a zombie,” he replied. “We don’t move fast. We sort of shamble and stagger along, moaning as we go.”

“History is boring,” grumbled another gore-covered student.  “And you’re old and wrinkled,” he added with a leer.

Like I said: it was a bad dream…too many Twix bars…but even in a dream that hurt….

Then I looked again and rubbed my eyes. In the left rear corner of the classroom was a smiling young lady. She had long blonde hair and she looked like she was there to learn. And she had her paper ready to turn in; in fact, she was passing it up to the front of the room now. She handed it to the nearest zombie, who was wearing a cheerleader’s costume, who passed it to the zombie seated in front of her, who passed it forward to the zombie in the Devon Still jersey. (That’s a zombie with a heart right there, my subconscious told me.) Then I did a double take and noticed that the Still zombie was missing a leg. 

I took the lonely homework paper—and looked at the name: Hannah L-----.

I seemed to remember her. Wasn’t she the girl who did a great job in the play, Jessica of Troy? Wasn’t she the girl who exploded with delight when we had a fire drill? I never saw that kind of enthusiasm before! What was she doing in this dream?

The zombies seemed to have the same question. “Homework, hoooooooomework,” they moaned. 

The Still-shirted zombie groaned even more loudly, “Steeeeeers….Steeeeeeeeelers.” He seemed agitated, as if his soul could find no rest.

Then from another corner I heard a pleasant voice, “Mr. Viall, I have my homework, too, but I was wondering if the answer to #48 is right.” This girl had brown hair and glasses, and wore a look of concern upon her face. The zombies groaned in unison and shot her evil looks. But she paid them no heed. She was focused and not to be deterred by a few walking dead. 

I rubbed my eyes—at least I thought I did—and recognized…Andrea D-----!

With a start, I sat bolt upright in bed. “%$#@@& *&(^%$,” I shouted. “Today is student of the month.” I forgot to prepare anything. Now what do I do? 

I’ll have to fake it entirely. 

“Hannah and Andrea! I have to talk about both this morning. *&&^^%, I need a donut.” I stumbled toward the bathroom, wondering to myself: How many days till retirement?

Gradually, while I showered, I calmed down. This would be easy. L----- and D-----?

Piece of cake! Darn. That sugar issue, again. 

Two of the coolest students you could have in class. What’s so hard about talking about them? Darn. I hope I don’t have to follow Mr. Sharpless. His songs for Student of the Month gatherings are hilarious. A cream Danish sure would help....Wait, snap out of it, John, this is going to be easy.

Here’s all you have to say: You love having these two young ladies in class. Andrea had a 102 average one quarter but called you at home before a test when she couldn’t find the answer to…#48…on her review sheet. Tell everyone that she is always a hard worker—conscientious, studious, dependable beyond all normal standards, and it’s like having a college student in class. Show the people the puppet of Confucius she did for a project. And L-----?  Explain that she is a young lady who thinks for herself…mature beyond her years…a good athlete…yet hilarious in class, a young lady with a fine sense of humor who keeps you on your toes with her thoughtful insights. L-----…she carries a 100+ average too.

L----- and D-----?  What’s not to like. Just explain that you think both have the talent to become doctors, or college professors, or CEO’s. If either one is valedictorian for this class you won’t be surprised. 

If ever we have a woman president…I’d vote for either one. 

Okay, now I knew I was ready. I looked in the mirror and spoke calmly to my reflection: “Just tell the parents, ‘I love having these two fine young ladies in class.’”


I was fortunate to teach for 34 years and liked almost every one of the 5,000 students who passed my way. 

But it is true: not all of them could be relied on to do their homework.  If you would like to read more you might like my book about education, Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching, available on Amazon today.

P. S.: Devon Still was a player for the Cincinnati Bengals. When his daughter Leah, age 3, developed cancer, the team started selling his jersey and donated all proceeds to the fight against childhood cancer.

Countless fans bought #75 Still jerseys and helped raise more than $1 million dollars for a great cause.

P.P.S.: My friend Jeff Sharpless is still doing the same kind of dedicated work millions of teachers do in classrooms across the nation every day. As a teen, he played guitar in a rock band, and as a teacher managed to create hysterical songs for all kinds of occasions, including a play we worked on together, called Jessica of Troy. (It was the story of how Jessica Simpson beat out Helen to win the title of the most beautiful woman in the world, and how the Greeks and Trojans later rumbled.

Hector takes a spear to the neck (student artwork).

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