son landed in Mr. Michaels’ second grade classroom by default.
Originally, Matthew was assigned to Ms. Gill--whose youth,
effervescence and attractiveness did not go unnoticed by him. But the
second week of school, Matt got shipped elsewhere due to uncooperative
I'd heard nothing about Mr. Michaels, other than his penchant for making kids jog off excess energy every day--earning him the reputation of an eccentric drill sergeant. Somewhat invisible to them, Mr. Michaels is not a “most requested teacher” among PTA moms.
After a couple of years of high-stakes elementary school politics, everyone figures out the system. The principal sends home a letter in the spring claiming not to accept parental demands for specific teachers. Then in September, children of campus activists randomly and coincidentally end up clustered together in a handful of super-decorated classrooms--while the masses are relegated to less coveted instructors.
Favored teachers luxuriate in the perks of seven attentive room moms, Starbucks coffee served by fawning admirers each morning, theme quilts stitched by crafty parents, and a steady stream of volunteers willing to laminate students’ poems and produce hundreds of flash cards from difficult to cut poster board.
By contrast, not a single person signed up to adopt Mr. Michaels. In desperation, the school's room parent organizer drafted me into service upon our transfer.
It's the easiest room parenting job I've ever held. Mr. Michaels is, to say the least, undemanding.
Every morning, Mr. Michaels marches his students into his room and shuts the door, subtly signaling parents that he'd rather not spend the first 10 minutes sipping latte as he chats with its donor. In fact, he'd rather not deal with yackity parents, period.
His classroom is bare bones. Just the facts, ma'am. Spelling tests and book reports, all un-laminated, plaster the bulletin boards--nary a colorful self-portrait in sight. No cute mobiles dangling from the ceiling. No book-reading stuffed monkey propped in a corner chair.
Mr. Michaels doesn't ask for help in the classroom--only outside the classroom. He asks us to read with our kids. He asks us to check their backpacks and look over their school work. He asks us to initiate real conversations about what they learned that day--not just the obligatory how-was-school stuff.
He may not bring in a crock pot and show the kids how to stew applesauce. But he does share unforgettable personal stories--about, for instance, attending Martin Luther King's “I Had a Dream” speech with his parents as a youngster.
At back to school night last fall, Mr. Michaels--who put his own daughter though medical school--told the audience: “We concentrate on reading in this class. Your child will not have a successful academic career if he or she cannot read well.”
Matt started the school year reading below second-grade level. He is about to end the year reading at third-grade level. He used his fingers to add eight plus seven. Now he easily calculates double-digit addition problems in his head. “Mr. Michaels is the coolest teacher in the world,” he says.
Sometimes the best gifts come in plain wrapping.