Friday, January 2, 2009

Christmas in the Classroom

Pin It It was a typical day at school when I was approached by a parent. The conversation set off something in the vein of:

“Mr. Z?”

“Good morning, what can I do for you?”

“I need you to leave your classroom for about an hour.”

“An hour? What for?”

“Ask no questions, please. It just needs to be done. What time will work best for you?”

Now, if this isn’t enough to make a person suspicious, I don’t know what is.

I checked with my principal and, during our normal literacy time a day or two later, I found myself in the school library meeting with each of my reading groups. The kids were silent and mysterious as they sat at the table with me, but since I asked no questions about the events unfolding in the classroom, I was told no lies.

I wondered what would happen when it came time to meet my reading group with that one student…you know him, I’ll call him ‘Joey.’ He’s that one kid who always seems to feel it his solemn duty to tell everybody what is happening before it does. The kid who yells out what is going to occur at the suspenseful part of a movie, the person who tells you all about the surprise birthday party you’re not supposed to know about, and the person who shares that secret with you—even though they were sworn to secrecy—only because it was far too good not to share.

Yep…that student.

Believe it or not, he didn’t say a word. He offered up a few comments during our reading time, but kept his mouth completely shut about anything and everything else. I wondered if he’d been threatened with bodily harm…or even death.

I thought of a trick my dad used to use on my sister, to get her to tell him what he was getting for his birthday. It went something like this:

Dad: What am I getting for my birthday?
Sister: I’m not telling you!
Dad: Oh well, it doesn’t matter, I’ve already looked at that one (points to a wrapped gift).
Sister: You already looked at your shirt?! Dad!!

Notice that I said ‘sister’ instead of using a name in that little story? Since I have three sisters it will make it harder for you to know that it was Shawna who always fell for this. I wanted to keep her name a secret to protect the innocent…or gullible, that is.

For a fleeting moment, the idea of trying this out on Joey flittered through my mind, but was immediately discarded. However, I will admit that my curiosity was roused, and I found myself wondering just what was going on in my classroom. Anti-homework rallies? Had someone discovered my stash of classroom Bonus Bucks? No, I knew it was nothing of the sort, I mean, really…Christmas was approaching, and I knew that it had something to do with that. I mean, I’m not Sherlock Holmes or anything, but some things are painfully obvious.

After an hour, a student ‘runner’ was sent to inform me that I was now permitted to come back to the classroom.

How kind.

When I entered the room, the students were all a horde of sheepish smiles and averted gazes, as they all pretended to be busily reading, cleaning desks, or picking noses. Okay, just kidding on that last part. They let nothing slip.

A couple of times over the next few days I would overhear little comments like:

I can’t wait until the Christmas party.
It’ll be fun to see Mr. Z’s face.

And the then, from Joey, “Mr. Z, I know something…but I can’t tell you what it is. It’s so cool.”

It was the next day that I was meeting with a literacy group back at my desk. While sitting there waiting for them to get their books and to come, I noticed an envelope with a note attached to it, which had been folded over and stapled. Thinking it was a book order someone had put on my desk, I opened the note. Now, I’m pretty sure that I was NOT supposed to know about this note, and unfortunately, not knowing this, had already started reading it.

Now, while the note did not give specific details, it did mention purchasing a gift, and that the money was to be turned in at the office so that I wouldn’t know what was going on. I felt horrible that I’d seen this note…and I quickly threw it away. Like I said previously, it did not give me any specific details, only that the class wanted to get me a gift for Christmas, and to keep it all a secret.

My curiosity again was percolated and simmering, like a cup of roasted coffee.

Finally Friday, December 18th arrived, and we went with the usual ‘Christmas party routine’ which goes about the same each year…excitement, gift exchanges (somebody not getting the gift they really wanted, and one person reduced to tears). It’s all about fun, right?

A few minutes later the room became somewhat hushed, and a ripple of excitement moved through the sea of students…it was time.

I was instructed to stay at the front of the room and then I was presented with a large, wrapped box, which was placed ceremoniously before me. I was then given the instructions that each layer was to be unwrapped separately. I was a bit worried at this point…after all, I had 28 students, and if each student had wrapped a layer, I’d be looking at least 28 unwrappings. Luckily, it was only wrapped about 4 times in all. When the final bit of paper was torn away, I was speechless…

The books had been signed by every student in the class.

I was a blank slate.
I couldn’t say anything for several seconds.
I was touched.

As I opened each book, various students would point to where they’d written their personal message. And there, emblazed in fiery golden letters on the front cover, were the words:

Emperor Z’s Faithful Servants
5th Grade Class 2008-2009

How could one not be touched by such a gift?

As I read over a few of the messages, I realized that it had been signed by a few students who’d been in my class in years before as well. It was even signed by some of the parents. All of the messages made me smile.

The kids all then gathered around for high-fives and hugs. I felt myself beginning to tear up. I was in awe at the thoughtfulness of a group of ten and eleven year-old kids and their families.

I still am in awe.

All I can say is, ‘thanks.’ Now, I’ve got some reading to do.


Okay, my blog post ended very nicely above, yet there are a few items which probably deserve explanation. First of all, there are undoubtedly several of you uttering—almost solemnly—the words, “Emperor…but why Emperor?”

To tell the truth, I don’t remember exactly when or how, but sometime after I started an educational website at, I made it a habit of answering phone calls, “Classroom of Chaos…this is the Emperor.” (However, only at school…not on my cell phone).

It wasn’t long after that that if a student answered the phone, I would hear them say, “Classroom of Chaos…this is the servant.” And occasionally, “Classroom of Chaos…slave speaking.”

Crazy, I know…but it works for us.

Secondly, I debated on whether or not to put images of the messages written in the covers of the three books. I thought they were great, but I was afraid that it would turn into a ‘let’s talk about how great I am’ posting…and that’s not what I wanted. If a few people ask in the comments, I’ll post the images I took…like I said, I don’t want it to be a ‘self proclaiming session’ or anything like that.

Third, who is ‘Joey?’ You’ve mentioned him numerous times on your blog and I wonder…is he just one student? The answer to this is a clear, resounding “no.” Joey is any and EVERY student who does or says something I want to share, but I don’t want to share their names.

It’s strange, over the past year or two, I’ve become kind of fond of ‘Joey.’ When I write about something he says or does…it always makes me smile.


K.J. said...

What a special story. I am glad you got such a wonderful memory to treasure forever. You deserve a lot of those! You are an Amazing teacher!

Miya said...

Anyone who knows is knows that Shawna's the guilty one. She shall forever be known as Surprise Spoiler. I simply refuse to talk to her if I know she's seen a movie or read a book that I haven't finished yet! :D

Dad used to also pull this trick where he'd forget my birthday, and knew that Mom would take care of it, so he'd just say, "Oh, well, how'd you like the present we got you?" and wait for me to tell him what it was so he could pretend he knew what Mom had gotten me from both of them. Sort of backfired in high school when one year they both forgot my birthday and he ended up asking how I liked my present, ha ha! He did give me a gluestick the next day though... course he stole that from the supply closet :/

Miya said...

knows *US, not is! bleh!

Lydia said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your gift so much. You have a couple of "moms" who are awsome to get it all together.

Bee said...

That is the best gift ever! My husband was drooling over the books:)
It's not conceited of you in the least bit to show the notes the kids have written. They just love you, and rightfully so.
And how did I know "Joey" was any and every child? I guess because I have my own little Joeys...

Happy New Year!

mywest said...

When did you become Emperor! I don't remember relinquishing my empire to you...

When doesn't a Emperor have others handle many of his daily duties. Your lucky the Emperor had a glue stick to pull out of his hat and not having someone beheaded.

Really on a more serious role..Son you are the best in what you do...a teacher who truly goes above and beyond what is expected. Your students from a new school have already felt your influence in there lives. I remember a phase from the past "No one cares what you know until they know you care". Your students have felt and know that you care about each and everyone of them. Now they are willing to care and listen to what you have to share.

Shawna or I mean Joey just couldn't help herself...or himself. They were just too excited to share what they knew. Don't get mad Shawna or I mean Joey...Dad still loves you.

At least dad never missed Shawna's or I mean Joeys birthday.
PS. If I did please advise via my e-mail in private....

Kris said...

Well you are an awesome person, so you have got to be an awesome teacher! Love you!

MindyElias said...

A very wise woman (CJane) said today, "Blogging is the exercise of the self-centered habit. Bloggers must have a degree of self-centeredness or else how could they expect the world to care about their politics or positions on world views much less precious pictures of their posterity?" So it's OKAY to be self centered, to have a "self proclaming session"....if you didn't, why would we read your stuff? We read it because we seem to be interested in you and what you have to shout it from the rooftops (or the blogging world)...cause we're interested...

and as for the stollen quote....if CJane says it to be true, it's true :)

Lastly, cause I obviously have a lot to say today..........this is the coolest gift because it's personal, it's thoughtful....It's something you'll cherish for the rest of your life....

You are very blessed......


jayniemoon said...

And THAT is why you teach instead of becoming a filmmaker. You deserve it Jason, you've always been a fantastic teacher!

Teachinfourth said...

KJ - Thanks. I do love the books; however, it is the messages which make it more meaningful.

Meem - She's gotten a lot better at stuff like that. Of course, Dad hasn't...maybe with the grandkids he can still pull stuff like that, but not with the older sibs.

As for the glue least you got a present, right?

Lydia - Like I said before, I was speechless and touched. Thanks for all of the effort!

Bee - I might just post their messages then...

I am sure that you have your share of 'Joeys' too...there seems to be more than enough of them to go around, doesn't there?

Dad - I usurped the throne...sorry you didn't get the memo.

Kris - To be honest, I wish I could be a student in my class sometimes. It would be great to know how to keep my own attention.

ME - Hmmmm...(cue music)

I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you you you you, usually, but occasionally
I wanna talk about meeeeee!

Of course, I guess most of my blogs are all about me and I...ah well.

Jayne - For books? :) Seriously, thanks...teaching is often its own reward.

shoezimm said...

Anyone who knows this family knows that I am the most freaking gullible person there is... and it really sucks sometimes. I also admit I tend to get overly enthusiastic about movies and such and INADVERTENTLY end up giving too much away (sigh) Its a tough job but they say there is one in every family....but I haven't given away the secret of dad's presents in years guys.....

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