According to the talking heads on television, there's a foul wind blowing out there. The economy is still in a funk. The cost of a college education keeps rising. We should expect the 2012 presidential campaign to be the dirtiest in history. Americans are divided. Americans are uneasy. Americans are bitter.
This American is far from bitter. As a matter of fact, I laugh every day. That's what happens when you teach sixth grade.
One afternoon recently, an eighth-grader came to my classroom looking for Matt, one of my students who should have been in chorus class. I looked around my room and said, "That's strange. The kids left for chorus at the beginning of this study period. Where could Matt be?"
Then another student, a girl — it's always a girl — gave me the bug-eyed glare and pointed underneath a table in the far corner of the room. There, almost hidden under a mound of binders and books, I spotted Matt, all six feet of him, coiled up like that extraterrestrial that surprised Sigourney Weaver at the end of "Alien."
"Matt, get up and go to chorus!" I yelled.
"OK, Mr. Ed," Matt replied with a sheepish grin. "But you've got to admit," he added, as he crawled from underneath the table, "I almost got away with it."
"I'll admit you've got to go to chorus," I said, struggling not to laugh.
"But I hate chorus, Mr. Ed."
"Get going, Matt. Now."
With binder in tow, Matt hesitated, then staggered out of my classroom, as if headed to the orthodontist. Or as if auditioning for the part of an extra in "The Walking Dead."
Every year, as part of our study of the American Revolution, my students re-enact the Battle of Bunker Hill. It's a scripted production, with defined roles for all.
Some play British Redcoats, marching in tight, straight lines. Others play Patriot militiamen — blacksmiths and farmers — who bravely fire their muskets at the most accomplished army on earth. Some die, several lay wounded, while others are finally forced to retreat after the Lobsterbacks charge for the third and final time.
One of my students, playing the British commander General Howe, decided he'd rather portray a dead Redcoat. That tends to happen with sixth-grade boys. Michael, another student, immediately volunteered to become the new General Howe.
The script calls for Howe to calm down his troops and organize them for another attack. But Michael, like all great actors, is prone to improvisation.
Picture a young Tim Conway with sword in hand, pointed straight toward the colonial rabble at the opposite end of the battlefield. Michael's other arm is pressed tightly behind his back as he goose-steps and leads his troops to chant, "Push on! Push on!"
When the Patriots hold their ground and force the British to retreat, Michael leads the way, with all the dignity of someone trying to outrun a grizzly bear.
I know a lot of people continue to struggle in these tough times. But I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I make my living teaching sixth grade.
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John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.