Taylor Jefferson, a second grade teacher at Bear Bryant Elementary, sat at his desk grading end-of-year papers for his students’ final report cards of the term. As he finished the stack, his desk phone’s intercom crackled.
“Jefferson to the principal’s office. Mr. Jefferson, please come to the principal’s office.”
As Taylor made his way to the front of the school he tried to suss out what this could be. It was three days until school broke for the summer, so there was no way it could be something concerning an issue with a student. Most of the kids running around the school were focused on their impending vacation time so they were pretty well behaved.
Or so Taylor thought.
He greeted the school’s matronly front office secretary, Rhonda Crowder, and asked, “Any idea what this is all about?”
Rhonda smiled with a mixture of sage wisdom and sadness on her face. “Parent/Teacher conference, I believe.”
Geez, someone’s got to have a bug up their ass, Taylor thought. Almost as soon as he took a seat to wait, Theresa Meadows, the school principal, opened the door to the front office conference room. “Right in here, Mr. Jefferson.” She waved Taylor on in.
Mr. Jefferson exhaled slightly in surprise on entry. At the table sat Sheriff Roy Templeton, the town of Mud Lick’s top law enforcement officer. Jefferson instantly got nervous. While Sheriff Roy was highly respected in Mud Lick and Driftwood County as a pinnacle of policing, he had a bit of a reputation among educators as someone on the level of a domestic terrorist ideologically.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Jefferson,” Sheriff Roy gestured to the spot directly across from him at the table. Taylor decided to sit down two chairs over to avoid the feeling of being interrogated.
“What’s this about, Sheriff?”
Sheriff Roy opened a manila file folder labeled “Famous Americans Assignment” and removed several papers. “Do you recall assigning your students an essay on Famous Americans recently?”
“Yessir, I do. It’s an annual tradition here at Bear Bryant Elementary.”
“I see. Now how did you go about getting the students to pick which famous American about whom they planned to write?”
“The library computers have a set of databases the kids can access that have pre-written bits of information on them. The kids take that information, answer some questions in the assignment, and then write their essay. We do it that way so we can keep the biographies age appropriate.”
“Hmm.” Sheriff Roy pursed his lips and turned a few pages over. “When you announced this assignment did you in fact tell the students to “pick someone famous, like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or LeBron James?”
Mr. Jefferson thought for a moment. “That sounds like something I would have said, yes.”
“And did you encourage students to dress up like the famous American on which their essay was based in order to make for a more interesting presentation?”
“The students have the option to dress up for extra credit, yes.”
“One last question.“ Sheriff Roy slid a paper over to Mr. Jefferson. It was Roy Templeton Junior’s essay. “Can you explain to me how in the hell my son picked LeBron James, of all people?”
Mr. Jefferson picked up Roy Junior’s essay. It was pretty good, all things considered, and Roy Junior had done an excellent job with his class presentation. “It was an excellent essay, Sheriff, and Roy Junior did great with his presentation. He got an A plus!”
“That’s not my point, Mr. Jefferson.” Sheriff Roy shook his head with these words as he took the essay back from Mr. Jefferson and returned it to the manila folder.
You see, one of the issues my wife and I have had about your time this year at Bear Bryant Elementary is the complete lack of communication you have with parents. It’s one reason I asked to speak with you today.
Other second grade teachers told parents about the Famous Americans essay assignment at least a week before it was due. Those parents had the ability to assist their children in selecting appropriate people on which to write said essay and had the chance to help their children practice their presentations. You did not afford us this luxury because you never told any parent in your class about this assignment.
Mrs. Templeton and I have always gotten a weekly newsletter from our teachers from Kindergarten on. We appreciate that newsletter because it gives us insight into what our son is being taught each week. You sent out one newsletter the first week of the year and then spent your time sending messages to parents on that damnable app the school district spent a fortune on.
Now we’re dealing with the fallout here from your lack of communication. My son picked LeBron James. He chose a perpetual victim! A career whiner! An entitled, delusional man who says stupid shit on a regular basis that makes my job harder! How is that worthy of consideration to be a “Famous American?”
Taylor chose his next words carefully. “He’s one of the greatest basketball players that ever lived. Doesn’t that make him famous?”
Sheriff Roy stood and began lightly pacing in the conference room. He spoke to Taylor without eye contact as he paced, as if the physical motion helped him find the right words.
I try to instill in my son the most admirable traits are a grounded sense of morality, love of the law, and the character to always do what’s right when no one else is looking. There’s plenty of men and women who exemplify those ideas that could’ve been great essay subjects. Elliot Ness, Joe Arpaio, Alvin Bragg and Rudolph Giuliani are all great men who would make excellent subjects for a “Famous Americans” presentation.
But you knew my boy picked someone who was hateful towards police officers, knowing full well that it would be a detriment to my relationship with my son most likely. And you allowed him to use such a horrid man for the subject of his assignment without even attempting to guide him down a different path.
I think what bothers me the most about this whole debacle is that it could’ve been prevented with better communication and more planning in advance.
Taylor felt a little guilty at the mention of better communication. He might not have intended to do it, but the Sheriff’s words made the second grade teacher feel like an absolute heel.
“I wish I could do something to make up for it, Sheriff, but the assignment’s finished and Roy Junior got the best grade in the class for his essay and presentation. I don’t know what to do here.”
“Make-up is an excellent idea,” Sheriff Roy replied. He reopened the file folder and retrieved a small composition book, which he slid across the table to Mr. Jefferson.
The blue cover of the book read in yellow lettering, “Famous American: David Clarke.”
“Who’s David Clarke?” Mr. Jefferson asked as he picked up the composition book.
“SHERIFF David Clarke is one of the finest lawmen to ever grace the great state of Wisconsin. He’s not from Alabama, so he’s not perfect, but he’s of suitable character and made himself of service to many. He’s an excellent famous American and he’s the subject of Roy Junior’s make-up essay. Which you now have in your hands.”
I can’t believe this, thought Mr. Jefferson. He made his son redo the assignment, twice the length of the original, and now I have to read this thing before school breaks for the summer?
“And don’t forget to grade it appropriately,” Sheriff Roy added. “I trust you’ll see that’s A plus work on a project befitting the moniker of ‘Famous American.’”
“Yes sir, Sheriff.” Mr. Jefferson wasn’t going to argue with Sheriff Roy if it would get him out of that office sooner. “But did he do a spoken presentation of his essay as well?”
As if expecting this, Sheriff Roy slid a DVD across the table that was clearly marked “Roy Junior Presentation.”
“He worked on this for a couple of days but I think it’ll be more than sufficient. Will 48 hours be enough for you to grade this new assignment?”
“Absolutely, Sheriff.” Mr. Jefferson wasn’t going to do anything less than humor Sheriff Roy and give his son another A Plus. It was too close to the end of the school year to even make a big stink about this.
“I trust that’s all we need to discuss, then,” Sheriff Roy said as he stood from the table. Extending his hand to Mr. Jefferson, he said “I’m pleased you were so willing to listen to reason on this matter.” With that, the men parted ways.
Taylor Jefferson put in a request for transfer three days later. But not before giving Roy Junior an A plus on his newest assignment and sending a copy of the graded essay to Sheriff Roy.
Sometimes it was just best to recognize when it was time to get the hell out of dodge.