Ask Not for Whom the Recess Bell Tolls: Things I Learned from my Fourth Grade Teacher

Interjection during a chapter of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”:

“C.S. Lewis died the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. One man took us to Narnia, the other started us on our way to the moon. ‘Thus always to dreamers,’ if you’ll let me appropriate from another famous American assassination. None of you know who John Wilkes Booth is?”

Reviewing numbers that include both whole numbers and fractions:

“Here’s a compelling thought. Your life can never be a mixed number. One and one-half? Your life never gets that far. Your life is always simply part of ‘one’. Until it’s over. Then it’s just one over one. Right now, what are you all? Ten years old? That means that most of you are one eighth of the way done with your lives. Just seven eighths left. Some of you, who knows? Quinn? I’ll be amazed if you make it past thirty. So you’re probably one third of the way through. I’ll be astounded if your current fraction is ‘less than’ that.”

During an impromptu lecture about hygiene:

“It’s cold season, and I’m not going to coddle you and make anyone here wash their hands. Let me just say that 36,000 people die every year from complications related to the common cold. Now it’s in your hands. I wash mine every chance I get, since this classroom is thicker with plague than a port city in Italy circa 1348. And that’s a perfect segue into today’s history lesson.”

During a math class later in the year:

“You know, I’m actually wrong about that mixed number thing. Your life can be a mixed number in comparison to other people’s lives. Let’s say you get married and your spouse dies at age sixty. You live to be eighty. Your life is . . . one and two sixths the length of your spouse’s life. Can anyone reduce the two sixths? That’s right, Jess. One and one third the length of your spouse’s life. And what fraction of your own life is that twenty years you spend alone? That’s right. One fourth. You spend one fourth of your life alone.”

Prompted by a single sentence concerning the Thirty Years War in our history text:

“This is the truth, and not something with which this whited sepulcher of a ‘factual’ book would ever trust children. European culture came apart so completely during this time that people ate corpses hanging from gallows, and even babies. And this was only about four hundred years ago. Quinn, you have a small brother, don’t you?”

Under his breath to me, during a game of dodgeball:

“Aim for Quinn. The sooner he develops a taste for defeat, the sooner he’ll achieve the flat line of emotion that passes for human happiness.”

When a student’s mother provided birthday cake and balloons:

“Balloons teach us that we must accept slavery in order to bring happiness to others. And when our buoyant inner resources have leaked away, we’ll be thrown out and utterly forgotten. The intensity with which the balloon bounces at the end of the string in a gale shows us the truth of its despair. Releasing a balloon to the wild results in the balloon’s freedom, which is, however, a pointless freedom. The balloon blows nowhere, has no intentions, bursts and falls like Daedalus’ child when he flies too high. When it comes to a balloon, only one act is merciful: burst it with a pin, so that the extent of its anguish will not burrow into the tissues of your tiny hearts. If you don’t mind, I’ll have another piece of cake, Mrs. Rafferty.”

Ask Not for Whom the Recess Bell Tolls: Things I Learned from my Fourth Grade Teacher

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