By WENDY HODGE
When last we met, it was early December 1974.
Mrs. Taylor’s second-grade class was the victim of an unknown vandal. Our teacher gathered us all together to sit criss-cross applesauce on the carpet at the front of the room so that she could fill us in on her plan to restore order to our classroom and the second-grade hallway in general.
“On Friday we will be electing hall monitors,” she announced, her smile held in place by sheer determination and the belief in her fool-proof plan. “Today we’ll take nominations and then vote on Friday for the two boys who will be our very first hall monitors!” (Girls, it appears, were not suited for such a responsibility.)
“What’s a nomination?” someone asked.
“What’s a hall monitor?” was followed by giggles from the back of the room.
“A hall monitor’s job is to make sure there’s no funny business in the hallways between classes and before and after school each day. He will keep his eyes open and stay alert for any sign of mischief.”
She made this pronouncement as if hall monitor ranked right up there with the Medal of Freedom or the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was met with blank stares.
“That sounds awful,” my friend, James, said.
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good job at all,” someone else echoed.
“You’ll have to trust me on this, children. Hall Monitor is an honor. Now let’s get our thinking caps on and decide who we’re going to nominate, which means decide to consider, for our two hall monitors.”
We all returned to our desk and were given an index card and instructions to write down the name of the one person we thought would do the best job. Minutes ticked by while we all made our decisions. I nominated my friend James, partly because I knew he would laugh when his name was read out loud and partly because I had a secret crush and just knew he would be the perfect person to keep us all safe.
Cards were turned in, and we all got quiet so that Mrs. Taylor could read our nominations out loud.
She read out the first two cards:
“Steve.” There were some claps, and Steve raised his hands in a mock-Nixon salute.
“James.” Just as I knew he would, James laughed and looked knowingly at me.
Then Mrs. Taylor hesitated before reading the next name. “Bugs Bunny,” she said, disdain in every syllable.
And the next card was even worse – “Superman.”
“Now children, this is serious business. What we’re deciding is very important. It’s not a joke.”
The rest of the cards were read out loud leaving a grand total of seven votes for Steve, six votes for James, three for Super Man, two for Bugs Bunny and a last-place tie between Mickey Mouse, Stretch Armstrong and Barbie.
“It looks like there won’t be any reason to vote on Friday. We have our two hall monitors – Steve and James.”
Steve saluted again and said, “I’m ready!”
But James raised his hand and said, “Mrs. Taylor, I really don’t want to be a hall monitor.”
“Why not, James?” she asked.
“Because a hall monitor sounds like a snitch, and I’m no snitch,” he said firmly.
Mrs. Taylor sighed. Truly I felt sorry for her. None of her plans seemed to ever go the way she envisioned, and I had the urge to give her extra time on the playground just to make her feel better. And there went my own vision of James rushing to my rescue. Sigh.
Before Mrs. Taylor could think of a response, a boy sitting on the edge of the circle stood up.
“I’ll do it, Mrs. Taylor,” he said quietly.
There were a couple of giggles and some nudging of elbows among the group on the carpet. This was a new kid, just moved here from parts unknown, and we’d never heard him speak. Not one syllable. Children can be cruel when faced with someone new, and I’m afraid that none of us had made him feel very welcome. And now here he was volunteering to be the one to guard the halls.
“Well, Andy, I think you would make a wonderful hall monitor. Thank you for volunteering,” she answered.
With a stern look, she quieted all the giggles and whispers, and she wrote on the blackboard in her perfect teacher’s print:
New Hall Monitors – Congratulations, Steve and Andy!
And just like that, we’d joined the democratic process in spite of Barbie and Bugs Bunny.
The next morning, Mrs. Taylor presented Steve and Andy with laminated badges identifying them as Second Grade Hall Monitors. This was pinned to their shirt, and they were positioned in the hallway to start their search for mischief makers.
I would like to say that the first day went well. But it didn’t. No one quite knew what to make of someone “keeping their eyes open” in our general direction as we meandered single file from our classroom to the lunchroom or the restroom or the playground. Everywhere we went, there they were — Steve and Andy, keeping watch.
As each day passed, insults were tossed in their general direction as we passed by. Comments were made about how hall monitors were “just gross.” With surprising speed, the verbal insults gave way to more physical affronts. Some of the bigger boys made fist-pounding motions in Steve’s general direction, as if his very presence made them want to fight someone. One particularly foul little boy managed to fart each time he walked past Andy.
And things were about to get worse….
TO BE CONTINUED