Being pelted with erasers

The class of students that made perhaps the biggest impression on me was an eighth-grade language arts group I taught in a rural town in northwestern New Mexico.

Because of a scheduling mixup on the first day, the 24 students I would have had became separated: Ms. Virginia Vigil takes all the girls; I keep the boys.

That error became a brilliant move, not because of the unisex nature of the class but because of the personalities of the 12 boys.

These eighth-graders were tough. Some of them later became starters on the football team as freshmen. Yes, they were rough and rowdy, but they still had the old-fashioned respect a teacher appreciates; they knew how to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”

Happily, I can say that during my tenure as a teacher at Highlands, I had three of the tough boys’ sons in some of my classes, possibly 25 years later.

What impressed me, as a beginning teacher, was the boys’ resilience. Sure they’d blow their stacks on occasion, but there was never an instance in which they were disrespectful, either to authorities or to one another.

And as they wed and became fathers, they must have passed on lots of admirable traits. As an example: One of the sons abruptly rose from his seat during an evening speech class at Highlands, startling the rest of the students.

He returned a few minutes later, breathing hard. He apologized for the disruption and announced, “I had to stop some guy from trying to steal the spare tire in my truck. I had to rough him up.”

That explanation was in character with what his father had done, in Cuba, N.M., years earlier.

It’s no exaggeration to report that I felt paternal toward my eighth-graders, although I was only a dozen years older than they.

One reason I enjoyed both Pats, Fabian, Anthony, Elmer, Bobby, Johnny, Mike, Richard, Lawrence, Wilfred and Danny was because of their absolute honesty and willingness to cooperate. On the one occasion when I required one of them to “grab a locker,” in anticipation of a swat with a paddle — paddling was legal at that time — the boy accepted the punishment and didn’t complain again.

We all forgot the ordeal, and there was none of that schmaltzy kind of weepy movie scenario in which he later tearfully thanked me for having his derriere meet the business end of the paddle.

There was something about the chemistry I felt on first entering the classroom. They were unusually quiet the first day; as they loosened up, they became rowdier, but never to the point of being out of control.

One day, Johnny must have agreed to be the designated victim. He allowed the crew to pelt him with some of those two-sided chalkboard erasers. Of course, Johnny dodged the erasers as best he could, but some of them landed.

I’d been detained for a couple of minutes, performing that ever-important class-sponsor’s chore of dealing with the candy man who kept our concession stand stocked, so the eraser shower was unexpected for me.

The boys took turns being the target, and the student with the most chalk stains got to be first in line to deliver an informative four-minute speech the next week.
Other teachers might have been convinced I’d lost total control of the class, but they were wrong. Because of the closeness and trust, I believe, they became good students, if a bit rowdy.

The boys grew up together, several being related to one another. They were able to demolish freshmen and sometimes even sophomores in intramural basketball and volleyball games.

The boys defied the widespread medieval notion that students learn best (and usually only) when every face is buried in a book, with the teacher in front of the class doing his or her thing.

Our form of wreckreation continued for several days — until the boys themselves determined the order of presentations for the next week’s speeches. I never really had the chance to gauge the feelings of fellow teachers; I suspect they disapproved. But they never mentioned it, nor did any reference to erasers appear on the principal’s classroom observations.

My kids were different. I loved them.

And it was a supreme compliment when a student who enrolled in one of my college classes decades later said, “My dad remembers you and told me to be sure to take a class with you.”

That comment didn’t really make my day. Instead, it made my year — maybe even my career.

Thanks for letting me reminisce.

• • •

Las Vegas has a professional team of sorts, the Las Vegas Train Robbers.

Unfortunately, heavy (but welcomed) rains modified the Robbers’ schedule and considerably reduced the number of home games.

I supported the team and even joined a friend early last season to sing “Take me out to the ball game” over the P.A. I’ve wondered about those lyrics. Why are we asking for someone to “take me out to the ball game” when we’re already there?

And if we ask our host to “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,” don’t we realize that Cracker Jacks already contain peanuts?

Regardless, the games I attended brought me back to my childhood when I’d fantasize about being in Ebbet’s Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In my pre-teen years, as possibly the only Optic carrier with a transistor radio, I used to time my deliveries to coincide with the Mutual Radio Network’s Game of the Day on KFUN. I still get a rush watching or listening to live baseball games.

Now that we have a team, I suggest making a bigger splash about it. There are virtually no signs anywhere in town pointing toward the ballpark. A tiny sign greeting northbound traffic on New Mexico Avenue points to a park, but there isn’t a sign for traffic going south. The electric scoreboard has been on the fritz for a long time.

I believe that properly working scoreboards and clearly visible signs would help.

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