Monday, August 23, 2004


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Thank you! Have a great school year . . . and Go Big Ed!



The first day of school! The smell of freshly-sharpened No. 2 pencils! The sound of three-ring binders stiffly snapping shut! The sight of burned-out parents clicking their heels! It’s a wonderful time of the year!

Yes, I was a class clown and yes, my parents thought about sending a case of Jim Beam on Teacher Appreciation Day instead of an apple. I was “challenging.”

One morning, I kept “talking out’’ and was really bugging our teacher. She had been reading Johnny Tremain to us. At one point, she groped around for the name of the King of England during the pre-Revolutionary War days in which the book is set.

“This happened in the time of King . . . uhhh . . . King . . . let’s see, King. . . .”

I interjected: “King KONG?!?!?”

The class erupted in laughter. It was the last straw. She whisked me to the principal’s office.

“Tell him what you said!” she commanded. Then she whirled on her heel and went back to class, stopping, no doubt, in the teacher’s lounge for a belt of that Jim Beam.

I was scared. The principal had spectacular hair. They said he had a Spanking Machine with thousands of turbo-powered paddles. Maybe nuclear. His eyes pierced my skull. I spilled my guts.

His eyes pierced my skull for one more second . . . and then he slapped the desk, fell back in his chair, and howled with laughter.

Then he said kindly, “Now you go back in there and behave. I don’t want to see you in here again.”

No Spanking Machine?

No flaming phone call to the FBI, CIA . . . or worst of all, D.A.D.?

I was so grateful, I was good for the rest of the year.

Thank God for smart and kindly educators. Where would we be without them?

I’m thinking of one of them who retired this past May, the longtime principal at our nearby grade school. He’s a happy, hard-working guy who’s so much fun, even his name rhymes: Larry DeBaere. No child ever feared that he had a Spanking Machine. He was authoritative, but friendly.

When we moved here, he made sure our daughter Eden felt welcome. He called the friendliest girl in her class to invite Eden over to play, a few days before school started, and get her plugged in.

He was always standing in front of school at dropoff and pickup times. He knew everybody’s names. He high-fived the boys and shoulder-hugged the girls. He joined in games at recess, and attended all the after-school events.

After he retired, I heard a sweet story. When he started as principal, he found out about another little girl who was transferring in and feeling anxious. On the first day of school, brrrring! The phone rang at her house. It was her new principal, Mr. DeBaere. Usually, you hate it when the principal calls. But not this time.

“Kelsey,” he said, “happy first day of school. You’re new here, just like me. I hope you have a wonderful year.”

The two of them bonded. From then on, every morning on the first day of school, he called her. She’s a college junior now, on course to become a doctor. Who knows how much of her school success is due to Mr. DeBaere’s faith in her, and friendship?

We can’t ask for anything more than what the Mr. DeBaeres of the world give our kids: solid academics delivered with a gentle smile . . . always another chance . . . a little signal that you’re special.

If I know Kelsey, the phone is going to ring this Thursday morning in the home of a certain retiree, who won’t be in school on the first day for the first time in a very long time.

But a familiar young voice will say, “Mr. DeBaere? This is Kelsey. It’s the first day of school . . . and I hope you have a wonderful year.”

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