“Well kids, we did it,” said Mr. McConnell leaning back in his teacher’s chair looking exhausted and relieved at the same time. State testing was finally over.
“You all handled that well. It throws a little bit of a wrench into our days, I know. Believe me, if I had my way you’d show your learnin’ on the McConnell Hilltop Compound Academy- wearin’ some work gloves and pickin’ rocks, plantin’ flowers and pullin’ weeds…”
He leaned back a little more and worked up a sort of entranced smile, eyes going kind of dramatic-dreamy. He pantomimed fanning himself in the sun and holding out a glass to act out a brief make-believe story about getting a kid to refill his iced tea, motioning for a little more “C’mon Owen, top that bad boy off, don’t be stingy,” sipping and ahhhh- ing… “Eva, not there, drag those branches over there…yeah, that’s it!“
A few students protesting the thought of being turned into unpaid labor brought him to act woke out of his daydream.
“Oh sorry, where was I?” he asked the class.
This was all for show, of course. Unless there were volunteers for the Hilltop Academy (and oddly enough, they always volunteered).
The ridiculousness of the reverence and preeminence bestowed upon these tests had been growing for over a decade, and the chore of proctoring with tightly scripted directions (under threat of law, loss of teaching license, invalidation of student exams…) had led to even the inclusion of a very long list of electronic devices test-takers could not have on them because it risked the security and integrity of the data.
Data, incidentally, that can, has and will be used against public education. But to be scripted to go back in the proctoring script to repeat the list of devices, as if you are giving the second and final warning to any nefarious third-grade test spies that might just need to feel the heat and severity of the hypothetical consequences for the discovery of them having any of their spy stuff on their person when the government documents and cheap pencils are distributed…
“What have we become?” wondered Mr. McConnell in the moments he went back and challenged himself to read that list with one breath. He’d gotten very good at it.
“So, boys and girls,” he paused dramatically, looking around nodding slightly/eyeballing the kids with just a pinch of drama and that be ready for this look he liked to give when he wanted students to pay attention and be ready, “…I think with all that testing stuff done, today is the day.” His expression shifted to a satisfied, anticipatory, almost pleasure and at peace with the situation look.
“I think the time has come. You know what I mean.”
Mr. McConnell leaned back in his chair and reached with his left hand behind him for the spoon that rested in a coffee cup on the top shelf of the bookshelf that was in his corner of the room. It was a cheap soup spoon with some of that fake-fancy cheap spoon scrolly stuff on the handle. He transferred it to his right hand and reached back and up with his left again, saying:
“It’s time for the Because you never know mayonnaise.”
His hand found and retrieved the small jar of Helmann’s mayonnaise that had been there since day 1 of the school year. Indeed, had been with Mr. McConnell for some number of years, because it was three years expired at least. Students had asked about it, looked it over, and wondered why he even had it. Wondered about it on the very first day of the school year, in fact.
“Why do you have that jar of mayonnaise, Mr. McConnell?” a student had asked.
“Because you never know,” Mr. McConnell responded with a shrug. Truth be told he didn’t know why he had even said it at the time other than his tendency to drop nonsense on students just to make them think, ask more questions, ask better questions maybe.
After that, all year long, when describing preparation, readiness, and response to a problem or a situation that required a “You do this because you never know when it could help” mindset, Mr. McConnel pointed to the mayonnaise as an example. “You do this because you never know…You know, like that mayonnaise (insert casual gesture to the old jar of expired mayonnaise)
They probably didn’t expect him to bring that jar down close, affectionately even. The sigh, the look of anticipation, the almost whispered “I ‘ve really needed this”… They definitely didn’t expect him to twist the cap off that jar, dip that big old soup spoon in, and take in a big old sloppy mouthful with a satisfied and near euphoric expression on his face.
Just wait for Part 2!