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A classic cure for discord

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Just last week, I was filling in as a substitute teacher for an eighth-grade English class at a local middle school. Eighth graders are a tough lot: little humans caught between adolescence and adulthood, requiring varying degrees of authority and autonomy. Some act like babies; others are raising children of their own.

Anyway, I had endured three entire classes of the raging monsters (plus a homeroom!) when my lunch break came up. I decided to spend it alone in the classroom _ now empty and tranquil _ and savor the quietude. As an added bonus, I switched on the radio and listened to WUSF. Ahhh! There's nothing like lunching with Karl Haas to soothe the ragged soul. And that smushed-up tuna sandwich tastes especially flavorful when chewed against an aural backdrop of the masters. Beethoven, Bach, Mozart . . .

The dang bell rang before I knew it, and all these monsters starting invading my domain again. Earth to Upledger! Red Alert! Wake up! We have alien activity!

I snapped upright and quickly assumed the demeanor of a prison warden: "Sit down and shut up! No smiling! We have lots of work to do!"

Alas! I had forgotten to turn the radio off. I decided to ignore the oversight and plunge ahead into the day's vocabulary list. Alight . . . Bashful . . . Condition . . .

But the kids knew something was wrong, and before long, one of the students piped up with: "What's that noise?"

"Yeah," said a burnout from the back. "I can't concentrate, man."

(This from the boy who was loudly singing "Let's go smoke some pot" until I threatened him with detention. "No waaaay," he said, when I told him his tune was a revamped version of a 1950s hit his grandparents probably sang.)

Soon, the entire class was complaining, and revolution hung like thick smoke in the air. These kids smelled violins, and they were hopping mad. They weren't going to take it, either.

"Mr. Jones would never make us listen to this!," they cried. "You're just a mean old substitute!"

Ouch! They hit me where it hurt most. I wanted to be their friend.

We began negotiations and wound up with a compromise: If they worked hard and finished the vocabulary assignment early, I'd change the station to whatever they voted for until class was over. (Heh, heh, a little lesson in democracy thrown in there, too.)

The room became silent, save for the soothing murmur of the radio and the scratching of pencils on paper. These kids were working!

'FLZ . . . 'TMP . . . , I quietly intoned over strains of Teleman.

Eyes squinted in determined concentration, teeth were clenched in pained anguish.

Bubba the Pig, I gently hissed, giving up my ace-in-the-sleeve.

My plan worked. The bell rang before they knew it, and they had been writing the whole time. Hah!

Got the lesson done and a little Mozart, too!

"What was that station we were listening to?" asked a front-row, star pupil, as she handed in her paper.

"WUSF," I said, pleased to have influenced such a young, promising mind.

"Eewww!" she said, turning for the door. "You don't look that old."