A tiny zombie apocalypse*

Well, folks, it appears the zombie apocalypse has arrived.

Don’t believe me?  Just look out your windows around 7:30 any weekday morning and you will see the horde, lumbering along semi-conscious and brain-starved.

Of course, I am referring to school starting back and the onslaught of tiny, backpacked humans with glazed-over eyes struggling down the sidewalks with not all signs of bed-head eliminated, unless they have a superhero for a mom or dad.

Some parents have been afflicted as well, the alarm clock rudely awakening them significantly earlier than it did only a week ago.  My wife and I are infected with this plague, going from a 7:00 a.m. alarm to four unique alarms starting at 5:45 and ending at 6:15 just to be safe.

Rumor has it the outbreak started weeks ago for teachers, and someone in the central office is patient zero, starting all this mess.

But I have to confess, I actually enjoy the excitement of the first days of a new school year.  There’s just something about making a fresh start, reuniting with friends, and finding out who your teachers are that creates an electricity in the air.

I fondly remember my best teachers.

In first grade, I was totally enamored with Mrs. Wright.  I would have dusted a million chalkboard erasers just to win her favor.

Years later in middle school, her husband taught me science.  The retired Marine Corp drill instructor could bench press 4 of me – at today’s weight.  Trust me, you wanted no part of Bertha, his choice paddle complete with drilled holes to improve her sting effect. Unfortunately, I once provoked her ire and I remain convinced to this day that my feet came off the floor from the upswing.

I spent the rest of the afternoon leaning from cheek to cheek to alternately alleviate the pain while wondering if perhaps Mr. Wright had become aware of my purely innocent fantasies of smooching his wife years earlier and exacted some kind of enraged jealous husband revenge on my derriere.

In 5th grade, I had Miss Wolfe, appropriately named and feared.  She was no drill sergeant but she made Mr. Wright look like a powder-puff when it came to striking fear in the hearts of kids. Every kid in the school had witnessed her sharply effective enforcement of hallway rules.

While 80% of the 5th grade population walked the halls with an air of great relief, the other 20% were subject to constant, repetitive commands such as, “While walking, no talking!”  “Straight elbows, hands down, keep them to yourself!”

If you didn’t cry at least once in her class over the course of the year, you were considered unbreakable by your peers.  I even gained a small amount of respect by only breaking once.

The funny thing is Miss Wolfe could read upside down while showing us the illustrations faster than I can read upright today.  And she did read like this – every day. She read us Charlotte’s Web and Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Phantom Tollbooth, and we were as captivated by the stories as we were by her unique ability to stare us in the eyes for long periods of time while reciting amazingly long passages from memory.

Years later, I realized that she might have been one of my very best teachers simply because when she put that final grade card in my hand and told me and my parents that I had done well, I knew she was right.  She didn’t hand out free compliments.  It was a real confidence boost for me heading off into middle school.  Even with the tears and occasional terror, I learned to love that woman.   I am sure she has long since passed, but I hope at some point she was recognized for the decades of her live she invested in kids like me year after year.

In high school, Steve Moore made writing about history simple and fun, and I followed his instructions on writing an effective paper throughout college with great success.  They called his class history but the predominant lesson was teaching his students how to think.

Today it is fun for me to see friends that I actually attended school with teaching my children.  Debbie Mize had all three of my kids as has Michelle Moseley, who will spend a significant amount of time this year enduring, but hopefully enjoying, my mini-me, a witty and overly dramatic 10-year-old.

Keith Graybeal, whom I still can’t help but refer to by his self-dubbed high school pseudonym, Bubba, will be teaching the second of my kids to pass through middle school.  Pray for him.

I look back on all these years and wonder to myself, “What would we do without our teachers?”  They commit themselves to a lifetime lacking glory or fame (or high salaries for that matter) in order to play a part in shaping the generations that will someday run the world, cure cancer, live on Mars – the possibilities are endless.

I only regret that there might be other Miss Wolfe’s out there who, by the time their students are wise enough to recognize what a gift they were, may not be around to receive the gratitude in person.

So do me a favor.  Grab a teacher and thank them.  Pat them on the back.  Heck, give them a hug.  They’ve earned it.

© Michael L. Collins

This column appeared in the August 26,2015 edition of The Mountain Press.

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