Tape Ball to the Face

One of the crowning achievements up to that point in my life was knocking a squirrel out of a tree with a rock. It fell off the branch, hit the ground, popped up without the slightest trace of embarassement, and ran right back up the tree. 

Throwing one object at another seems to be hardwired into boys. 

Most sports are built around this concept. I’ve thrown rocks at squirrels, poppers at passing cars, donuts at windshields, water balloons, snowballs, grapes at my tennis coach, queso dip at a girl named Sarah, darts, Frisbees, pencils at acoustic ceiling tiles, eggs at everything, pieces of firewood at streetlamps, bottles at road signs, coins, mud, and large insects.

Now that I think about it, I realize that a large portion of my life has been spent chucking the any projectile at hand at a target.

Don’t think that this stops when boys grow into men. 

I was teaching English to four classes of juniors and two classes of freshmen at David Lipscomb High School. Quite a few of my students sang in Concert Choir, Chorale, or the Freshmen Choir, and on one particular day most of my second class of freshmen were gone all day because they were singing at a choir festival on Lipscomb University’s campus.

I was twenty-three years old at the time and had zero education classes under my belt, but I was no dummy. I wasn’t about to teach that day’s lesson to half the class only to repeat the exercise the next day. What I didn’t know then but soon discovered was that I’m a better mentor than high school teacher anyway. I loved spending time with my students outside of class because that’s when real learning was most likely to happen. I jumped at any opportunity to escape those four white cinderblock walls with them.

Inevitably, when my students discovered a wrench in the gears of our normal routine, they would ask to go to Lipscomb University’s Student Center, which was a short walk across campus and sold all kinds of food and candy.

I had no reason to say no that spring day, so we strolled across campus. They scattered into the bookstore, Uncle Dave’s, and couches and chairs all over the lobby.

We hung out for a while talking and cutting up until it was time to shepherd them back for their next classes. We walked from the main lobby through the bookstore to a door on the side of the building, which lets out onto the lawn between the Student Center and Elam, one of the girl’s dorms.

For some reason, Anna was carrying around a tape ball, and when I saw Jennifer, a girl who had been in the youth group when I was the interim youth minister at Hillsboro Church of Christ, a sequence of synapses fired down an old path and all my boyishness was brought to bear on the situation at hand. 

[Enter slow motion.]

Jennifer and her friend Kayce were walking up the stairs to the side entrance of Elam.

I held out my palm to Anna, and said one word: “Ball.”

For whatever reason, she didn’t hesitate and dropped it into my hand without question.

I’m left-handed, so I switched hands, reared back, and hummed that tape ball straight at Jennifer.

Or so I thought.

Somehow, in the immediacy of the moment, my vision became skewed, and I missed a key element in the equation: another girl, a stranger to me, was walking up the stairs ahead of my friends.

Oh no.

As I mentioned before, I had at this point entered samurai consciousness, and the action was unfolding frame by frame.

The stranger stepped up onto the short covered walkway that led to the door. She must have seen movement with her peripheral vision because she turned to her right.

At that very moment, the tape ball made impact with her forehead, right between her eyes. This was perhaps the finest result that my otherwise average throwing arm has every produced.

She roared something like, “BRRroagggghh!” and bent over double. With her left hand still covering her face, she used her right hand to pick up the tape ball, which she then tossed over the railing with the sissy throw of a very angry and unathletic person.

“I’m so sorry!” I yelled. “It was an accident. I wasn’t aiming for you at all!”

She said nothing, just yanked open the door and disappeared inside. 

The door shut with a click.

Perfect silence.

Jennifer and I stared at each other. We both turned to look at the blank face of the door. I turned to my left and right and looked at my kids. They looked back at me. Their eyes were wide, but no one moved.

Then, we all started laughing, and continued to laugh for the next thirty seconds.

My boys unfroze and gave me high fives. With their jaws dropped, my girls said, “Mr. Church, that was terrible.”

Twenty yards away, Jennifer was wiping tears from her eyes. She threw the ball back to me, and I returned it to Anna.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No!” Jennifer said.

This precipitated another round of laughter.

“Well, if you ever see her again, tell her I’m sorry, will you?”

We said our good-byes then walked back over to the high school.

News of my latest goof as a young, inexperienced teacher circulated amongst my other classes. If anything, my students treated me with more respect. After all, my aim that day was awe-inspiring. Yes, I was a human being who sometimes exercised poor judgment but at least was willing to apologize for my lapses and missteps. 

The tape ball incident also helped cement my reputation as a teacher unafraid of throwing curveballs at my students. They couldn’t pigeonhole me as some curmudgeonly young fart without a funny bone in his body. Being consistently unpredictable can be the most effective form of classroom management. 

Teach with no regrets.

Moral: Everything you need to know about teaching you learned at recess in middle school.

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  1. Posted April 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen Fever Pitch? Jimmy Fallon plays a high school math teacher. In one scene, he’s playing catch with a football in the hall, mis-throws, and…well. Very funny.