Sunday, September 11, 2011

FICTION: The Tormented Teacher By John Kujawski

When I was in grade school, we tormented our music teacher. It wasn’t a simple case of kids misbehaving. The actions of my fifth grade class literally caused the man to retire after just one year of work.

This fact is always the topic of discussion when I run into grade school friends but it’s a story that I have struggled with until recently. Part of me felt that I should look back at those times with a sense of regret for all the bad behavior and trouble we caused. However, all my conflicted feelings were put to rest last year when I sent my friend in Seattle a very significant tape.

Some people have told me that the tape in question is truly terrible and when I sent it to my friend Anna, I really wanted to get her response. Anna actually collected bad recordings. I would go to hear bands with her when I lived in Seattle and she would heckle the ones she didn’t like. She always felt that it was okay to force someone off the stage if that wasn’t where they belonged. After all, not everyone can succeed in a band and she had plenty of bad CD’s in her collection to prove it. This cassette I sent her was another type of disaster all together. The recording was made on the last day of school in 1986. It was thirty minutes worth of unruly kids misbehaving in music class.

There were plenty of events that led to the the recording of the tape. I can remember back to the first day of school. It was still pretty hot in September, as it often is in the state of Missouri. All twenty of us survived the morning, sitting through our homeroom studies and by early afternoon, our class was taken to a small square room that I’ll never forget.

It was hot in the room and everyone, male and female, complained. It had a piano in it and some wooden chairs to match the nicked wooden floor. The main problem was that a large window was overlooking the school playground, the very place we all wanted to be.

Within a minute, an odd man walked into the room. He didn’t get much response at first, but he sure lacked confidence. He was so clumsy on his feet that he almost tripped over the piano. His name was Mr. MacDonald, a man so skinny that it looked like his arms could be snapped off without effort. He was bald and had a beard but what did him in was his tie.

I knew when I saw that tie that it was not the kind I’d wear when I grew up. This was a striped thing that was overly thick. The kids pointed at it and laughed uncontrollably. Mr. MacDonald told us to be quiet, but we didn’t stop laughing. He just had no sense of authority. I knew I was skinniest kid in the class but somehow this guy seemed extremely weak.

The first few sessions went by and nothing changed. He’d get us to be quiet for a while to teach us to sing a song and then we’d just change the lyrics or we’d sing it badly and he’d be all upset. When he wasn’t upset about that, we’d write four letter words on the wooden floor with pieces of chalk we’d find in other class rooms. Mr. MacDonald would get so upset he’d be ready to swear out loud, yet he’d always stop himself.

When he wasn’t wanting to swear at us, it seemed like he wanted to just cry. Usually, that was when he had us play musical instruments. He never gave us anything neat to play and his worst idea was having us play ukuleles. We would de-tune those babies as soon as he handed them to us. Where as my electric guitar gave me a sense of power, the ukulele was sad and weak. Of course, nothing was sadder than our schoolmusical.

When the annual holiday performance was scheduled for the year, we were actually prepared. Some of us knew the words to the song we were going to sing and we even agreed to dress up in these stupid pilgrim costumes. Right before the performance though, someone in my class had an idea. We ended up getting in front of the audience and performed horribly. We literally just hummed. Mr. McDonald was playing the piano and when the song was over, he stormed out of the auditorium.

Part of me felt bad the next day. When I saw Brad, our school custodian, I told him about Mr. McDonald and the performance. Brad laughed and said that Mr. McDonald needed to learn that there’ some things in life that not everyone was born to do. Brad said that personally, he fixed windows because he couldn’t fix cars and if he ever built a car, it would just break down. I guess on the last day of school, Mr. McDonald broke down.

That final class was the one we recorded. Three kids snuck tape recorders into the room and we all made noise for the whole thirty minutes. It was just relentless yelling and screaming. Mr. McDonald tried to get us to be quiet but he failed. After the ruckus, the tape ended with him hollering at us and saying he was finished teaching.

That may have been an odd tape to send to Anna but she played it and sent it back. She mailed it to me along with a collection of bad demos that bands had made. Soon, everything made sense. Those bad groups were simply career mistakes, captured on recording just like my teacher had been captured.

I started to laugh. I no longer felt bad. Plus, there was also another fact. Many of my grade school friends went on to become successful musicians. They even made some great CD's, too.

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