I am not above admitting fear. Not even close. In fact, I believe fear is one of my best motivators. Fear of inadequacies. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Just plain ole fear. It drives me. But there is one way to make me, a seasoned educator of eighteen years, elevate fear to an uncomfortable level and switch from boxer briefs to Depends for Men.
Maybe it’s a quick trip into the school to retrieve my laptop for a late-night work session at home. Maybe it’s a snatch-and-go situation to grab a left-behind coat just after hopping off the cheese wagon and returning from a long road trip. Or maybe it’s a middle-of-the-night drop-in to prepare for tomorrow’s substitute. Whatever the reason, my “unfinished business” usually places my feet in an empty, cold, dark, and eerily quiet school way after closing time.
And that’s when I come face-to-face with the ghosts of education.
I key the lock and gently pull the door. The creaking of the hinges ratches my heartbeat up a few notches. Like Freddy Krueger’s nails dragged slowly across a chalkboard. And there they await. The ghosts of the entrance. Dressed sharply in suits and ties and dresses, standard business attire, a team of blandly grayish, other-worldly vagabonds hover just above and beyond the threshold to the school. Their eyes are solid black. No whites. Their mouths…stapled shut. No eye contact. No uplifting greeting. It’s as if I were not even there. So I walk on. Directly through their coldness. Ignoring them as they ignored me.
Next up? I have just under ninety-seconds to turn off the alarm system. The fast-paced beeping of the alarm system nearly matches my pulse, as I scramble under a lone security light to enter the small closet that harbors the school’s nervous system. I know who awaits. Alarm Annie, the ghost of the alarm system. She is one of the more tolerable spirits but more sarcastic than Mark Twain with a hangover. She starts in on me immediately with that twangy, drawn-out voice of hers and that piercing laughter. “Laaaawwwwd, Baldie! What ya gonna dooooo? Cut the ‘larm off?”
She lets out a cacophonic chuckle that would have made the Wicked Witch of the East drop her script and walk off the Wizard of Oz set.
Of course…I don’t respond. She says the same darn thing every time.
“Whaaaat?” she says. “Ya think somebody’s tryin’ to break in heeeere? Haaahh! Ya must be outta yo’ mind. Whaaaat? Ya think they’s a gang of uncreative, pencil-pushers who will break in here, steal a file cabinet full o’ worksheets and silently complete ’em all? Wooo! What’s their gang’s name? The Eastside Tree Killers? Wooooo!”
I punch in the code, as Annie, draped from head-to-toe in thick chains and connected Masterlocks, croons a sarcastic drizzle of words. I look back at her, like always, and notice again the same key dangling from her shoestring necklace. I think to myself. “All those locks, Annie, and you only need one key.” I offer my usual wink before closing the door and eventually cutting off her rather humorous bantering.
I turn a corner and head down the most traveled hallway, illuminated only by the red “EXIT” sign at the end. A conglomeration of young ghosts, heavily laden with backpacks big enough to conquer the Appalachian Trail, meander aimlessly into each other like bumper cars on ice. Their eyes glazed and fixated on a destination whose location appears to change every few seconds. Totally numbed by their fruitless movement, I walk directly through them, the ghosts of the hallway.
A periodical, popping sound, as if an object had just quickly sunk into a softer surface, alerts me to the next haunted area. The ghosts of the teachers’ lounge. Tightly clutching ham-and-cheese sandwiches in their free hands and ready-to-launch with solid black darts in their dominant hands, a team of saggy-eyed and sour-faced phantoms line up to sink their pointed mini-javelins into the hanging dartboard that consists not of numbers for each slot but instead contains negative comments about the state of education. Of course, the board is tattered and littered with a plethora of overused darts. But just one section remains untouched. And it is a different flavor than all the other words. It simply reads, “Positivity,” and it is the bulls-eye. They never hit that mark.
As I timidly walk in the direction of my classroom, a hypnotic and repetitive sound issues from the copier room. I muster up enough courage, like always, to peek in the room through the door’s glass insert and witness the horror of the ghosts of the copier room. Beginning and ending at a non-stop copier, a circular assembly line of the youngest ghosts, each one resembling elementary-aged students, passes reams of copier paper to the rhythm of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” I am not sure what is the most chilling. The ominous tone of the song, the robotic movement of the students, or the mindless gazes on their faces as they chant, “We don’t need no education.”
Thoughts of my chill bumps quickly fade as I hear the commotion from the nearby gymnasium, located directly in the middle of our school. The curiosity is too much, so I quickly walk to take a peek. And it is the weirdest thing. Taking place in the middle of the basketball court is an academic debate. Well, at least two teams of highly intellectual ghosts are attempting to win a cerebral battle, but there is no use. With bleachers full of ghostly fans screaming and hollering for the next “real” sport to begin, the academic specters stand no chance. The ghosts of the gymnasium are winning again. It appears there is no room for academic banners. Only sports.
Finally, I make it to my classroom, very visible thanks to a full moon. Oh, what activity! It seems the instructing ghosts of the classroom are busy smacking students’ hands with wooden rulers each time the dispirited kids attempt to use their smartphones or move about the class.
“Sedentary,” the stern-faced teacher yells. “We must remain sedentary. And no gadgets! The pencil and paper are all you need.”
I roll my eyes behind closed lids before reaching to grab my laptop off my rolling teacher’s cart, and the soul-less educator continues, “Now! Heads down. Finish your multiple-choice test and no talking…or you will be written up.”
Thankful to have survived the classroom dive to retrieve my laptop, I head down a long, dark hallway. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I move towards it, hoping no spirits spring in front of me from any open side rooms.
Before reaching the end of the hallway, I hear the ghosts of the restroom strategize how they can coordinate another clandestine meeting tomorrow in order to escape their boring classes. I shake my head and march forward… finally to the end and ready to exit.
I quickly turn around and take one last look down the hallway, though, and peer into the darkness, into the unknown. I shiver one last time as I ponder educational reform, a topic so haunting to many that their blood turns cold and their skin turns pale.
(Cue the piano theme music from Halloween.)
It’s just enough to spook tomorrow’s necessary educator into remaining yesterday’s teacher and ultimately an apparition of infinite possibilities.
Yep. Another ghost…a product of unfinished business.
For more blogs by John, check out:
- Creating Positive School Environments for a New School Year
- The Students Have Spoken: Will You Listen?
- Is 100% Student Engagement Possible? You Bet It Is
This post was originally published in March 2015.
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