The day the teacher melted lead

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

It was the last day of school, and devilment was afoot.

They found lotion on door handles and the time clock. Classroom chairs and desks were overturned. School vehicles were moved. Peanuts were strowed in a car.

Oh yes, they caught ‘em. It was teacher Matthew Mock of Tuckers Crossroads Elementary School near Nashville, Tennessee.

Now I had some good teachers here in the hometown, teachers who once in a while would let their hair down and join in some juvenile fun.

For instance, when an old high school teacher of mine, Harold Johnson, had a baby — his wife was a teacher as well — some of my classmates cut off his pants legs as they used to do to new fathers in the mills. And they paraded him on two-by-fours into a school pep rally. That was my most spirited pep rally ever.

Before starting the next class, another teacher became incensed, saying childbirth did not deserve levity. And she said she would just go to the principal and complain. Would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall in the principal’s office and seen how Gene Reavis handled that one.

It makes you wonder just what do teachers do after students leave in mid-afternoon. I’m sure teachers all just properly pour over test papers and lesson plans till 5 o’clock comes.

One clue was in the teacher’s lounge. Back in my high school days, before tobacco prohibitions, the running joke was that when a teacher opened the door to the lounge, the cigarette smoke billowed out so thick that it set off fire alarms.

Somehow I just cannot picture the late Zola Phillips and Sally Woodruff going around and putting Vaseline on door knobs. Miss Phillips and Miss Sally were old-school elementary schoolmarms who took no guff from smart-aleck second- or third-graders. One stern look from either could melt lead.

Before dreaming of an enriching career in journalism, I had thoughts of becoming a comedian. I found that I could get my cousin to laugh at my jokes, so one day after Miss Sally stepped out of the classroom for something I tried out a monologue on my cousin.

Thanks for thinking me funny, cousin, but the trick is to cut it out and snap your trap shut when Miss Sally’s footsteps echoed in the wooden-floored hallway and warned of her imminent arrival.

But cousin just wouldn’t stop giggling, and Miss Sally marched across the classroom, stood glaring down at cousin and me and demanded to know what was up. My life flashed before my eyes.

“Don’t you do that again,” Miss Sally scolded. And I didn’t. Had I any lead on me it would have melted.

A promising career in comedy nipped in the bud just as it had started. Thank goodness Jeff Foxworthy didn’t have Miss Sally as teacher.

I got off better than did Mr. Mock, who got fired, then appealed, won the appeal and returned to class, but only after a one-semester suspension, and then he took the school system to court to try and get back pay. The case is still in court.

The lesson here is that teachers are people, too, and no matter how severe they may seem in class, just remember. The last day of school is coming, and you high-school students try and get away early because teacher knows your car and how to let the air out of the tires.


Attention Ralph Grose: At a cousin’s funeral, preacher Ralph Grose quipped that he just cannot get his name in the ‘paper except in an obituary. OK, preacher Ralph Grose, here you go: RALPH GROSE.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris

Back In The Hometown Harris

Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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