July 25, 2009 by David Gillaspie
A man wearing new coveralls spent two nights at DG’s B&B. He left his room spotless. It smelled like the sort of clean you get walking onto an airplane. I white-gloved the top of the door out of curiosity, then other frames for comparison. His won.
“Education makes us better people. The more we know, the more we want to know. When news stories make you wonder which direction society is headed, don’t blame teachers; don’t point the finger at schools.
The last thing a teacher needs is feeling responsible for the coarsening of daily life. Do we blame insurance salesmen for poor medical treatment? Is it fair to stick Wall Street for Detroit’s auto making choices? If we need somewhere to hang accountability, don’t measure a teacher’s neck.
Today’s problems don’t fall on them. Roll back the clock thirty or forty years and take note. Some think the bruised fruit we see today is a product of the permissive ‘60’s. They forget that during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and earlier teachers could whip the tar out of their students. Principals could apply the board of education liberally.
You can’t blame teachers for unlocking the ‘60’s freak closet. Not the second grade teacher who ruled her class with a ping pong paddle; not the fifth grade teacher who swung ‘Old Whistler,’ a perforated cricket bat; or the eighth grade science teacher who heated hind ends with a wooden Bunsen Burner base he swung with both hands.
Long hair and beards didn’t come from an academic’s beat down. Getting high didn’t begin with a trip to the school office.
A math teacher in 1969 worked a shift after school selling ties at a men’s store. He hit the parking lot when it was slow for a few puffs on a Camel. He always smelled like an ashtray in his classroom too. My dad worked in a small office next to the men’s store.
Mr. Prusmiller ruled his class with a fear that didn’t come from a paddle. He took a more hands-on approach. Girl problems in math class went to the office. Boy problems got a headlock.
One student hazed a new kid at the desk in front of him with wet-willies and spit-wads in his ear. The new guy made the mistake of yelling before standing up and turning on the annoying kid. He jumped and turned but the teacher sprung over and wrapped his arm around the kid’s neck.
Together they walked down the aisle with the kid bent in half.
“That’s not happening in my classroom. Not here. Not the playground. Not the hallway. If you don’t want to spend the day with me like this, stay in your seat. Understand?” Mr. Prusmiller said.
No one ever answered. They couldn’t say anything if they couldn’t breath. Some tried.
“Mooflude-n-mair,” said the new kid.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Now be a gentleman and take your seat.”
One night the kid and a friend called my house. They were on two phones so one could listen. I could hear breathing that wasn’t supposed to be there, but didn’t say anything. I heard even more breathing and knew my Mom was on our other phone.
The friend said he asked my girlfriend on a date. She knew his sister. I said good luck, but she won’t go out. He asked why?
“Because you and your boyfriend on the other line have two things she doesn’t like. You’re fat and he’s stupid. You ought to date each other.”
The semi-silent breather spoke up. “You mother-effer,” he yelled.
I hung up when I heard a sharp inhale from my parents’ bedroom. I didn’t need to stay on the phone to hear my Mom. Every town has a voice that rises above all others at a football game, usually a man. My Mom had such a voice and let it rip.
She told my Dad about the call. He nodded his head and looked toward me.
“If someone said that to my mom I’d know what to do.”
No other guidelines, just “I’d know what to do.” It was eighth grade and I had the greenest of green lights to kick ass for a slight against my Momma.
I wanted the guy who actually said the magic words. We all had homeroom together with Mr. Prusmiller. I’d find him easily enough but didn’t want to find the headlocking chokehold.
The big kid sat in front of the yeller when I walked down their aisle and said, “Nice phone call.”
He stood up. I pushed him. He socked me in the jaw. I swung twice with force, connecting for a black eye and a bloody nose before Mr. Prusmiller’s chair scraped the floor.
The big kid fell backward, bounced off a desk, and hit the floor bleeding. The other kid didn’t stand. I spun quick and yelled, “He called my mother a mother-effer.”
The teacher already had his shirt sleeve rolled up.
“Mother-effer, Mr. Prusmiller. He called my Mom a mother-effer.” The whole class listened.
“I got that. Don’t say it again.”
He unrolled his sleeve. The big kid thrashed around in his own blood.
“Take him to the bathroom and get him cleaned up,” Mr. Prusmiller said. He turned to the new kid. “Is this true?”
I helped the big kid, then cleaned up the bloody floor. I’ve been cleaning ever since. I don’t remember what we learned in math class that year but I remember how it felt being on Mr. Prusmiller’s good side instead of getting bulldogged.
Kids know they won’t face harsh punishment. Parents want to be their kid’s friend and teachers get the consequences. If breaking out the whip is wrong, so is the reluctance to accept responsibility for a kid’s actions. The middle ground is somewhere between the two.
Any agreements will be made on a clean slate. That’s where I come in.”
Before leaving he gave me tips on brooming technique.