I don’t ask for much from my substitute teacher.
You can ask any of my students: Stroosma’s job is cake.
Silent Reading for 30 to 40 minutes… followed by a nice “book to movie” dvd and his day is done.
So when I left for four weeks in the early spring of 2008 for a Writer’s fellowship in Vermont, I assumed, stupidly, that I could somehow trust that my classroom would run smoothly for the entire time I was gone… as long as I had Stroosma at the helm of the ship.
Stroosma is definitely one of the “beloved.”
A small group of teachers, substitutes, and staff members at Millikan High School that students actually really do enjoy being with…
The kids would be super stoked to have him as their substitute teacher for four weeks.
He’s good looking…
A very talented musician (former fantabulous bass player for the Sea Monsters) and…
My Facebook husband; which earns him TOTAL cool points in my book.
Girls have crushes on him… (and boys too)
Boys want to be like him… (and girls too)
He is “Thee” substitute and the kids know, when walking into the classroom, that “YES! STROOSMA’S HERE TODAY!” and that they are going to have a lovely day of respite from their regularly scheduled teacher.
Now, I’m sure you have already duly noted that I did not mention academics in the above description and this is why…
Don’t get me wrong… academics are important and Stroosma can teach…
But when you’re going to be 1,500 miles away from your students for four weeks… academics runs a FAR distant second to CLASS CONTROL.
You don’t want the Principal rolling around to your classroom every day, amped up because your substitute teacher can’t keep 180 high school students entertained for a 90 minute period… SERIOUSLY… you just don’t.
You need a “show” man…
You need A HEADLINER…
You need a man with a plan that can handle your clan.
And that’s Stroosma.
Sinatra would have wanted him in the “Rat Pack” every day of the week.
So… I spoke to him WAY in advance… because a substitute like Stroosma is always in high demand… and said:
“I’m going to be gone four weeks, and I need you to take my class. All I ask… (and I paused here for emphasis) is that you and the kids don’t burn the room down while I’m gone. Okay?”
Stroosma smiled his little Stroosma smile…
Winked his little Stroosma wink…
And gave me the thumbs up.
“No problem,” he said.
And like a FOOL… I believed him.
Two weeks later I was in Vermont… sitting in a beautiful Victorian house, content in my warm room, looking out the large bay window at the snow falling gently all around me, as I typed out the first full draft of my novel.
The view… serene…
The icy river… crystal crisp.
The rolling snowy hills… the water wheel of the old red mill.
I couldn’t ask for more of a picture postcard moment if I had planned it with God himself when suddenly… it was like a text bomb went off on my phone.
There must have been 30 alerts within 10 seconds and I am not exaggerating.
My students were bombarding me with messages all of which read: STROOSMA JUST ALMOST BURNED OUR ROOM DOWN. COME BACK.
Oh funny… I thought… look how much they miss me… I smiled to myself… they just love to tease me… such a funny game… Aren’t they silly children…. like I can just magically get back to Long Beach in a blink of an eye…. aren’t they just so cute…
I was sure Stroosma must have put them up to this and I’m telling you, I thought that right up until message number 31 which was from Stroosma himself and that’s when my little warm and fuzzy moment fled my little writer’s room and my brain almost exploded from my head:
HEY D, THE ROOM WAS ON FIRE BUT EVERYTHING IS OKAY.
Now… “WTF” was not even being used in text vocabulary at this time… but if I had been in my right mind at that moment… I would have made it up on the spot and typed it to him.
I called immediately.
I started to panic and dialed again.
I dialed again.
My mind was racing…
I could imagine my students, scared to death after their classroom burned down, all lined up next to the chain link fence… out on the field in a School Wide Fire Drill all because I had left to go to the Writer’s Colony in Vermont.
I was a bad teacher.
I had abandoned my flock.
I dialed again.
Stroosma picked up the phone and I heard all of my students shouting and frolicking in the background… their voices not full of terror and pain but ringing with complete and total joy and ecstasy that they had just had a memorable “event” in their English classroom…
“What the hell?” I shouted at Stroosma. “It was the one thing… the ONE thing I told you not to let happen! Shit… Stroosma!”
My students were suddenly silent… my voice can cut through a classroom even when I’m on a cell phone across the Great Divide and though they couldn’t hear the words… they most definitely heard the tone… and like the well-trained students they are… they knew that when Ms. Wood was going “insane” you better shut the fuck up.
Stroosma was silent as well.
“Well?” I snapped. “What the hell happened?”
“We put a pad thai box in the microwave and then forgot about it.”
I waited… unwilling to give him one inch without more description.
“It caught on fire and the smoke started to billow throughout the classroom,” he tried not to stumble on his words.
“IT WAS TURNING AND BURNING” I heard a wise-heimer shout with glee somewhere in the background, followed by a long barrage of slap sounds and shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs… vigilantly justice being handed down by the “citizens” while the Sheriff was out of town.
“Nothing happened,” Stroosma said. “Not even the fire alarm.”
I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing that my students were safe, my room was still standing, and my Principal would not be signing my pink slip out of Millikan when I returned to Long Beach.
“Miriam was the one who told me,” Stroosma said.
Miriam… my German foreign exchange student… who could barely hold a basic conversation in English had raised her sweet little hand, pointed her militant little German finger at the microwave, and in heavily accented broken English said… Summ theeeeng ES burn ING!”
I could have had a God damn international incident on my hands because of him.
“You having fun?” He asked.
“Oh yeah…” I said sarcastically. “Great time… getting a lot of good writing done.”
“Okay then,” he said. “Talk to you later.”
I hung up the phone and spent about another 45 minutes retrieving text messages from students who wanted me to know that they loved me, missed me, and thought everything that had just happened was super funny…
I sat back in my chair and watched the clock… as I pictured my classroom back home… sad that I was minutes away from the actual Vermont Ben and Jerry’s factory… and I had none of the children I loved with me….or Stroosma… to go eat some ice cream with and enjoy a good laugh over the day’s event.