Opening School Lockers

Sometimes we take things for granted, like that there will be a driver for the school bus, a teacher for the class, or football helmets for the team. In our middle school, all of those “common occurrences” were discovered this past week to be unrealistic expectations. Sports teams from any school in our district, middle and high, won’t have buses to travel to their contests; not all classes have a hired teacher, and some of the football players will be sharing the same helmet. Gross!

I’m one of those unqualified people who is filling a teaching position. I love doing it, but I’m probably a little too old school, like expecting students to be able to write a complete sentence and spell correctly. I did the same teaching position last year and was called in a few days before school started to teach the same subject in the same classroom at the same school…at least for the first few weeks!

One week has come and gone. My back wall is outlined, once again, with old Far Side cartoons that spell out the word SMILE. A poster in front of the class is titled “Wolf Teacher” with a picture of the animal looking much more fierce than me. What an experience it has been so far to banter back and forth with about 110 students during the course of each day, learning names and some of their interests, discovering their personalities…or lack of!

This school year is so much different than last year, and now, what they were accustomed to two years ago is a distant faded memory. One of the differences, dare I say new experiences for just about all of our students, is learning how to open a combination locker. I’ve dubbed one of my team teachers, Aiden Tiernan, as being the “Locker Guru”. He patrols the hallways between classes like a tow truck driver looking for stranded motorists. His customer base is so massive that I’ve picked up some of “the business” he can’t take care of.

Opening a locker seems like such a simple task on the same level as boiling water and tying one’s shoes, but we discovered it’s an acquired skill.

Turn to the left. Turn to the right one complete rotation until to reach the second combo number. Turn back to the left. The Locker Guru even made a demonstration wheel made out of cardboard (that resembled the spinning wheel on “Wheel of Fortune”) to help students understand. Each passing period, however, there were stranded and stumped students standing in the hallway with pleading faces.

I was somewhat mystified by it. That is, aren’t these the same students who master Level 78 on some video game that requires extreme concentration and coordination? Aren’t these the same testers that can text 100 words a minute in “partial language”?

But turning a combo lock on a locker is a bit too old school. I’m sure some were looking for a “passkey locker”, like they were getting into their room at the Holiday Inn.

“Mr. Wolfe, I can’t get into my locker!” cries one teary-eyed seventh-grader.

“Okay! What’s your combo?”

“17-33-5.”

I spin the wheel to the left, right, and left, and…click! He’s amazed, like I’ve just performed a magic trick worthy of a spot amongst the America’s Got Talent finalists. I blow on my fingers, as if they’re on fire with my proficiency.

Once again, things we take for granted are new dives into the unknown for others. Of course, on the other hand, several things that are common knowledge for them that they talk to me about this past week I am completely clueless about. When my cluelessness is discovered they shake their heads in disbelief. They can’t believe I’m still alive and don’t know what “Boba” tea is!

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