My classroom was housed in a trailer behind the main building (I used to joke “Trailer Town—Where they can’t hear your screams.” Oops.) On this day, someone from the front office came and delivered a small stack of envelopes for about 8 students in the class. I briefly debated about holding on to them until the bell rang, but with 5 minutes to go, I thought I could have a little fun with distributing their mail. The envelopes were from the gifted coordinator of the school and no doubt contained information on upcoming opportunities, field trips and such. I thought to myself “As tense as these kids are, if I pretend that I’m handing out bad news—like disciplinary letters—this could be amusing.” Or, so I thought. So I began arriving at each student’s desk with a grimace, looked them sternly in the eye, and thumped the envelope down on the desk. Ha, ha…funny, right?I thumped an envelope down on a student’s desk in the very back row. The next name was Stuart’s, who was sitting immediately behind me to my right (think big hand and 4:30 to where I was standing). I sort of spun around (half-way) and without looking, attempted to thump the envelope on Stuart’s desk.
Pain went through my palm and I examined my hand carefully. There was a pencil mark (somewhat deep) on my hand and I complained to Stuart “You wrote on my hand!” By now I had also registered that Stuart had said (quite calmly) “Ow.” I continued “Why are you saying ‘Ow’ when your pencil jabbed my palm?” To which he answered “Because my finger was on top of the pencil.” I later determined that Stuart was meditating on Calculus (always an honorable pursuit) with his index finger perched sideways on the top of the freshly sharpened pencil, so that the fleshy party of the finger was resting on the lead (later we would ask “Why” but never received a satisfactory answer). And so I learned that my hand had landed (thumped) Stuart’s finger, driving the conical lead point through his finger, into my palm, while breaking the lead off inside his finger. The pencil was laying on the desk, the point was inside Stuart’s finger.As Stuart was examining his finger, it occurred to me that if I perhaps unfolded a paperclip, I could force the lead back out the way it came in. I am quite certain that I had never before heard the voice of God so clearly as when he said (inside my head, in a loud booming voice that reminded me of James Earl Jones or possibly Darth Vader…never mind, same voice) “DON’T DO IT.” I thought, “Fine. I won’t do it. Good point.”
About now Stuart asked, “Can I go to the nurse?” By now it was close to the end of the period and maybe two minutes from lunch. I had a reputation as a hard-nosed math teacher to consider and I thought to myself “Eh… Stuart can wait until the bell.” But before I could verbalize this thought, God spoke again (and maybe clearly for the last time in my life) and said “LET THE BOY GO!!” Never one to contradict the clear presence and voiced opinion of a supreme deity, I said “Sure, if you need to.”
Bell rings. I collect students’ papers, they collect their books and leave, I sit down to have my lunch. After a couple of bites, I think to myself “Maybe you should check on Stuart.” Ugh. Interrupting a perfectly good lunch. Fine. I’ll go check.
Stuart is not be found by the nurse’s office so I continue towards the main office, where I come upon the type of crowd of students usually reserved for fights among hormonally-unbalanced freshmen. Ah, but I am responsible teacher, and I think to myself “You must dive into the scrum and investigate such things immediately.” I do.
But it is not a fight that the students are watching. No, there is a pale-faced Stuart passed out on the floor with one of the physical education teachers (who moonlights as an EMT) leaning over him. Uh-oh. So I ask her “Mrs. Holaday…what happened?” She yells to me, “Someone stuck a pencil through Stuart’s finger!” To which I reply “I might need to talk to you about that.” However, the discussion was interrupted by the ambulance pulling up to a nearby exit. Later I would learn that this was the second time he had passed out on the way up to the office. You would have thought, after all the good advice, God might have said “Oh, and send someone with him from the class.”