School time cleaning blackboard erasers nothing to clap about
Today's teachers write on white boards instead of the blackboards that we had when I was in Miss Frumpwaggle's third-grade class, but one aspect of school life has not changed. Students love to volunteer for work - any work - that will get them out of a few minutes of class time.
This natural urge to get a momentary break from school work caused many kids to risk being labeled a "teacher's pet." That was the term the bitter students who were not chosen tossed at the privileged few who were picked for such jobs.
I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those jealous students who spoke badly about my classmates who were chosen.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the one time I was chosen by Miss Frumpwaggle for the classic teacher's pet job of "clapping erasers." This was great because it required me to go outside the school before engulfing myself in a cloud of chalk dust.
The only downside of this glorious day was that it occurred on the last day of school when all the books and the kids' brains are safely stored away for the summer. But I wasn't about to turn down such a rare opportunity even if there wasn't schoolwork to miss.
It turned out to be a hollow victory. While I was still outside trying to clap off of my clothes the chalk dust I had clapped off of the erasers, my fellow third-graders joyfully came running out of the school.
Miss Frumpwaggle had let them go a few minutes before the final bell. I suppose she had had just about all she could take for the year. Meanwhile, I had to trudge back into school and return the blackboard erasers, losing a few precious minutes of my summer vacation.
That pretty much sums up by luck when it came to getting selected for the school jobs that would get me out of at least a bit of class time.
No teacher ever selected me as the classroom DE (designated eraser). That student had the coveted job of erasing the blackboard after each lesson. This job was made somewhat easier because Miss Frumpwaggle's tears of frustration at our answers had washed away some of the writing.
I was really good at slumping down in my desk when Miss Frumpwaggle was looking for "volunteers" to go to the blackboard. The only time I would pick up the chalk was sneakily when I thought Miss Frumpwaggle's back was turned.
Like my mother, Miss Frumpwaggle apparently had eyes in the back of her head because she always caught me writing on the blackboard.
The irony was that I had to stay after school and write 100 times on the blackboard, "I will not write on the blackboard."
This unwelcome chalk work probably was the reason why I was never chosen as a messenger kid. Our elementary school teachers used to send mysterious manila envelopes to each other and the principal, and had students serve as kiddie carrier pigeons.
(I don't know what they put in those envelopes, but I've always thought that given the behavior of my classmates and me, teachers were probably sending each other aspirins.)
The only time I can remember being chosen for out-of-class volunteer duty was when Miss Mandible, the school dental hygienist, selected me to go to the lavatory to take a red pill that she gave me.
I've long made it a practice to try not to look at myself in a mirror (it's too depressing), so I did not check out my teeth before I went back to Miss Frumpwaggle's room. I suppose I should have.
Miss Mandible asked me to smile when I got back and the class immediately erupted into gales of laughter. The pill colored teeth red where there was food residue. I looked as though I had bitten into a red paintball.
Of course, I was never in the running for the most coveted volunteer post of all - patrol boy. Not only did guys in this elite group get to come into class tardy and leave early, they got to wear a cool "uniform."
This consisted of a white belt, a diagonal swath of cloth which was worn over one shoulder. The neatest parts were the official patrol boy badge worn on the diagonal belt and the stick equipped with a plastic flag.
Members of this elite corps would stand at the street intersections nearest the school and then walk into the middle of the street to hold out the flag to stop traffic for students heading to or from school.
This duty was largely ceremonial since few people drove anywhere in those days and those who did rarely exceeded 10 mph in town.
Of course, I had no chance of qualifying for the even more exclusive high school, indoor version of patrol boys - the hall patrol.
This group was comprised of the top jocks in the school and was responsible for keeping student traffic moving quickly and following school safety rules in the hallways and on the stairways.
My lack of athletic ability was so overwhelming that I would have never even qualified to direct traffic in the boys' lav.
On graduation day, my math teacher Mr. Murmanermer drafted me to clap the erasers from his Algebra for Dummies classroom, where I had spent many an hour.
While I was outside the school doing that, the rest of my class graduated.
(Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)