Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dust Off The Mystery Machine

Crime doesn't pay. And in Mrs. Hillbilly Mom's class, breaking the rules means you are fair game for Mrs. HM's rapier tongue. Boo hoo! Don't like it? Don't do the crime. Simple as that. Don't give me the opportunity to call you out.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I put wanted posters on the telephone poles until I catch my culprit. Although come to think of it, I did once put a picture a student gave me on a piece of paper asking for information, and taped it to the blackboard in an effort to get my hall pass back, her having been the last one to use it. Funny thing, that hall pass was back on my desk within three hours of the poster going up, after having been missing for two days. She suddenly 'remembered' where she left it. Seriously. She didn't have a malicious bone in her body. She was just ditsy.

So when I discovered that my classroom thermostat had been tampered with last week, I made it clear that this was a direct violation of the unwritten rules of classroom conduct, and that I would find out who was responsible. A teacher should not have to specify that the thermostat is off limits to prying student hands. Same as a teacher should not have to tell the students that they are not allowed to use the classroom telephone, or teacher laptop, or panic button to the office. Some things are simply assumed to be understood, what with these kids being in their 12th year of schooling, and presumed to have a modicum of common sense concerning scholastic boundaries.

Every morning, I take my thermostat off the overnight, supposedly locked version set to cool at 72 and heat at 70, and put it on the cool mode at 72. At the end of every class, as I walk to the hall, I pass the thermostat, and look to see the temperature. It ranges between 72 and 75, depending on when the sun crosses over the top of the building, and starts baking my room for the afternoon.

On Wednesday, all was normal until 5th hour. The room got really stuffy. I could feel that my face was all flushed and hot. As I walked out after the bell, I saw that my thermostat was SET AT 74, and the temperature was 76 degrees! I figured there was a jokester in the midst, or that someone had bumped it with a backpack if they were jostled on the way in the door. I set it back to 72, and made a mental note to keep an eye out the next day.

Thursday, I saw that it was set at 72 as normal at the end of 4th hour. I have to stand in the hall between classes, you know. And there's that annoying business of the student who monopolizes my time to chat about herself the entire 4 minutes while I am her captive audience. So I can not watch the hall and the thermostat in my classroom at the same time. About 15 minutes into class, it was all stuffy again, and on a trip around the room, I saw that the thermostat was set on 74. I let it be known that this was NOT acceptable, that they should keep their studenty hands off my teachery thermostat, and that I wanted to know WHO was responsible for this atrocious nose-thumbing of the implied rules of classroom climate control. Though not in those exact words. At no time did I say that there would be any punishment. I did say that any future tampering would result in a trip to Principalia to suffer the consequences of this heinous disregard for authority.

Mrs. Hillbilly Mom was HOT. And not just temperature-wise. That two-minute speech was worthy of Sidney Poitier as Sir in To Sir With Love, when he lectured his working-class British students on their inappropriate sexual comments and behavior in his classroom. I am rarely harsh with this group. They sat up and took notice. Then the livewire of the group said, "OK. It was me." Not so fast. That's too simple.

"I don't think you did it, Livewire. In fact, I don't think any of the guys did it. None of you ever complain about it being too cold in here. I'm thinking that one of the complainers did it, instead of just bringing a jacket or wearing regular shoes instead of flip-flops or wearing jeans instead of tiny shorts or a shirt with sleeves instead of a tank top."

They looked at each other like, "Hey, she was supposed to believe that, and then we'd all be off the hook, and our classroom lives of rainbows, unicorns, and cotton candy could continue." Then more of the guys started to confess, which only made it clearer to me that I was on the right track, and it was a girl. They even tried to sacrifice the dude who puts his head down every day to sleep. "Rip van Winkle did it!" I shook my head. "Do you really think he would expend any energy to walk two steps and push a button? Please!" Again, they looked puzzled. Why didn't that work?

"How do you know it was OUR class? It could have been any of your classes!"
"Because I look at it every time I go to the hall between classes."
"Yeah, but somebody could have gone out after you."
"No, I always wait until everyone is out. I look over the room."
"You guys, she IS always the last one out."

At the end of class, I announced, "There are about three minutes left. Still time to let me know who was messing with the thermostat." I looked at the three girls I most suspected. One looked around the room nervously, and didn't meet my eye. When a row turned around to look at her, she said, "Hey! I have my jacket right there. I always bring it. Why would I need to set the thermostat?" Another was told by the guys, "C'mon, Candyland, just confess and get it off your chest." She glared at them and said, "You're crazy." The third one said, "I complain about it being cold, but I didn't touch the thermostat." She looked me right in the eye.

"Well, I WILL find out who did it."
"Oh, do you think so?" Livewire is good at class participation.
"I KNOW so."
"We'll see about that."
"Yes, we will. There are only 20 of you, and three are gone today."
"There's still 17 to pick from!"
"Only eight are girls. Besides, I thought you confessed."
"I did."
"Then how can I not know who did it?"

Livewire didn't have an answer for that. He was not being snotty or anything. That's just the way we communicate. It started during freshman year, when every now and then he would blurt out, "I know you're staring at me because you think I'm so goodlookin'." Which is what he said to every single person in that room at some time during the year, girls and boys alike. Knowing his temperament, I didn't for an instant think he was The Thermostatter. He always takes the credit and the blame for anything that happens.

One of the girls said, "Maybe someone just did it for a joke. To see if you could really tell if it was set different." She was giving The Thermostatter an easy out. Just say you did it, get it over with, and our utopia is restored. But The Thermostatter would not take the bait.

The bell rang, and they filed out. Except for three girls.

"We know who did it. Are they going to get in trouble?"
"Not this time. I just want to know who did it, so I can make my point and it won't happen again."
"It was Naysayer."
"She was in my top three."
"I can't believe she said she didn't do it."
"That's what made me mad. I'm not taking the blame for her."
"You were in my top three, Candyland."
"Well, I would tell you if I did it. You said we wouldn't be in trouble."
"That's true."
"I saw her do it, but I didn't want to say in front of everyone."
"Me too."
"We all saw her. I can't believe she's acting like she didn't do it."
"Well, I appreciate what you've told me. I won't mention it to anyone. And don't you say anything, either. I've got a plan for tomorrow."
"OK. We won't tell."

To be continued...

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