“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.
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.
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
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 www.classroomofchaos.com, 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.