By Tom Eck
I was warned about them. Disrespectful, unruly… and even dangerous. And those were the compliments.
“The class from hell,” my colleagues described them, as I sat in the Teacher’s Lounge, awaiting my first foray into a substitute teaching assignment I was now beginning to regret.
I entered the classroom early to prepare for the next hour’s battle, wrote my name on the board, and waited for the invasion of twenty-five ninth grade students, about to get a lesson in the English language. Ironically, it was I who got the lesson.
They entered. Some pushing, some shouting and others throwing the wadded test results of their previous mathematics class. With my arms folded, I stared at them for about a minute. Finally, a low murmur. I decided to try to break the ice with some humor.
“Hello, I am your substitute today.” Pointing to the board, I continued, “My name is Mr. Eck. It’s like Beck, but I couldn’t afford the “B”.
Not even a smile; and, as a substitute, I couldn’t threaten them with bad grades if they didn’t laugh at my corny attempt at humor. A tow-headed kid with the onset of acne raised his hand. “Mr. Eck, my name is Tom Reddick. That’s pronounced “Red Dick.”
Now the class laughed. I was tempted to ask how he got his name, but thought better of it.
“Oh, so we have some comedians here. Well, let’s go for it. We’ll start with vocabulary. I will give you a word, and since I’m a substitute, you need to come up with a substitute definition– any definition that you like… the funnier the better.”
The class now came alive.
I’ll show those little farts, I thought. I’ll start with something embarrassing and challenging.
“Flatulence,” I wrote on the board. No one even snickered. A few looked perplexed, but not Reddick, who shot up his hand.
“Mr. Eck, a ‘flatulence’ is an emergency vehicle for picking up someone off the road who has been flattened by a steam roller.”
I laughed, and the class followed. I wasn’t certain that they really understood the humor, but I soon found out that they were much more clever than I imagined. All they needed was a nudge and a forum.
“ Let’s try some more,” I said.
“The person getting coughed on,” said a diminutive redhead in the front row.
“Olive-flavored mouthwash.” I think the kid was Italian and might have been serious.
Now we were rolling. The class was competing for laughs. Some were even suggesting the words and their crazy definitions, such as “testicle”–a humorous question on an exam.
Trying to steer away from what might be inappropriate for that age group, I asked, “How about the meaning of ‘negligent’”?
One rather portly girl, who let me know that her father was lawyer and used the term all the time, confidently spoke up.
“’ Negligent’” means absentmindedly answering the door, when wearing only a nightgown.”
I learned from Mark Weisman, who should have been named “wiseguy” that “circumvent” was not a verb, but a noun. It describes the opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
From two students who might have had firsthand experience, I found out that to “abdicate” is to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach. And that “flabbergasted” is being appalled by discovering just how much weight you have gained over the holidays.
I was not sure why his definition had any relevance to his stage in life, but Carlos Mendiguia insisted that “balderdash” refered to rapidly receding hairline.
Invariably, the off-color remarks re-surfaced. Reddick suggested that a Pokémon was a Rastafarian proctologist. I could have responded that “rectitude” was the formal, dignified manner adopted by a proctologist who was not a Pokémon, but I opted to be oral retentive.
As the bell rang, hoping for one last response, I asked the class not to scatter “willy-nilly” out of the classroom. From the back of the room I heard, “Mr. Eck, we’re never ‘willy-nilly’.” That would mean we were ‘impotent.’”
Of course, it was RedDick.