Back in the dim and distant past, during my years as an English teacher, I loved my students…mostly…and my classroom. (Except when I needed to run an errand and found I was as confined to school as were my students.) What I didn’t like was the constant record keeping: grades; test scores; tardies; absences…and I forget the rest. It sometimes felt like it was more important to keep records than it was to educate.
One student in particular was frequently late getting to class before the bell rang. (It wasn’t really a bell, just an annoying buzzer, but we called it a bell anyway.) I never knew why he was late, and it wasn’t more than a sixty second lapse, so I really didn’t care much.
But one day just as I flipped the grade book open to mark another “T” for tardy on his line in the grade book, I’d had an idea.
I said, “George, I want you to tell us a good story about why you are always late getting to this class.” (I think it was George, but it might have been Everett. After forty-seven years, the past can indeed become “dim and distant.”)
Then I added, “It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be a good story. If the class likes it, they’ll give you a thumbs up. If they don’t like it, then it’s a thumbs down and I have to mark another tardy in the book.”
Darned if George wasn’t up to the challenge. I’ve forgotten the story he told, but the class laughed and voted thumbs up.
The fun began the next day when I saw two of my seniors leaning against the wall in the hallway outside my door. When the “bell” buzzed, they stepped into the classroom and said, “Mister Collins, we’re late.”
“Okay,” I said. “What’s your story?” (I think, I said that. Maybe…probably.) The class was entertained by two fine tales. And, yes, they voted thumbs up.
Thus ended my career as a keeper of the “T” for tardy records. Thereafter, we started a lot classes with good stories about “Why I was late for class.” No one was ever really late for any of my English classes again…unless, of course, they had a good story to tell. (And I never entered a “T” in the grade book again.)