Elementary Lessons

Published August 24, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Sometimes the lessons we learn in school aren’t found in a teacher’s plan book. This lesson was taught to a sixth grade class during the last century, but I will never forget what I learned from it.

“Who drank from my cup?” Mr. Skip hurled his voice at the rows of twelve-year-olds in his charge.  A giant of a man, Mr. Skip disciplined with a rolling voice.  We were bowling pins; he could knock us over just by breathing.


“I want to know who drank from my coffee mug.  Until someone comes forward, there will be no recess.”

Groans.  Was this the end of recess as we knew it?  Who among us would snitch or confess?

A hand jerked up, hoisted by a good angel and a pulley.

“I did it.”

Gasps.  Billy?  He’s here today?

When he came to school, which was not often, we usually knew it because his odor was unmistakable – fermented onions, Romano cheese, and cow shit.  The kids teased him constantly.  He fought back with dirty fists and kicks from his cardboard soles.  His shirt tails hung to his knees while his filthy jeans frayed and dragged at the cuffs.

This unlikely game changer, a frail shadow of a boy, was the only obstacle between us and Dr. Death-of-Recess.  Billy, the goat.  He stood up and instantly became a warrior, a soldier, a hero.

“Oh, so you like my cup, Billy? Here, take it. Fill it with water.”

Billy smirked, winked at the class, and took the cup.  He returned from the water fountain and handed the cup back to Mr. Skip.

Mr. Skip refused to take it, a gesture of contempt aimed – no doubt – at Billy’s grimy fingers. “Drink it.”

Billy chugged down the water.

“Go and fill it up again.”

By now, we understood Mr. Skip’s story book.  No one would enjoy a happy ending with this script.  Billy shrugged as if to say Is this all you’ve got? Bring it on.  He drank the water a second time, a third, and a fourth. On the fifth fill Billy pleaded, “Aww… Mr. Skip…please…”

Mr. Skip’s eyebrows raised like a stage curtain and engaged Billy in a stare-down.  One minute.  Five minutes.  Billy kept his eyes trained on Mr. Skip’s and brought the cup to his lips.

He drank, bowed for the curtain call, and promptly vomited.

Show over.

None of us made fun of Billy after that incident.  Later, we saw him on the bus holding Mr. Skip’s cup like a trophy.

By Will Murray, via Wikimedia Commons

Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by!


13 comments on “Elementary Lessons

  • I loved this so much. The way you portrayed his character was excellent. I almost though I was reading fiction for a moment and had to double check that this was based on a true story. Great stuff, Ms. Nine!

  • Great story! It seems like the teachers I had that didn’t seem to like kids were the ones who got the most grief from the students. (It’s kind of like how cats are drawn to people who don’t like them :))

  • Interesting story here. Got a pretty good laugh out of it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t know that it was possible to overdose on water back then, though. Death will result from drinking too much water too quickly.

    Ahh, the days of green (or black) boards and the whiff of fresh chalk. I’d love to get my hands on a dusty board and skip out on the dry-erase wannabes.

  • That is quite a little story 🙂
    I guess the initial conception of school would have been for what we learn in addition to what is officially taught there. The little,valuable lessons in humility and courage, in incidents like these and I can say with utmost conviction that these are the lessons that stay with us… these are the ones that meant something- even if we were too small to understand them. Years hence, they make sense and turn out to be great stories- like yours.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    PS – My first book in english language was ” Jonathan Livingston Seagull”- 15 years hence, I sitll read it when I am low.

  • what a tale! horrifying though it is. It is true not all lessons are planned out; some are on the spot take advantage of the moment to teach something bigger than life. I don’t think Mr. Skip hit the mark. Wouldn’t have mind if he had learned something valuable from his inappropriate actions–like getting puked on.

    • This indelible memory taught me 1) the resilience of children, 2) Mr. Skip was not above bullying, and 3) his actions affected all of us in ways that we couldn’t grasp until we were older.
      Thanks for commenting!

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