Overflow leaves class, teacher flushed

February 20, 2009|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"So, where did you work today, dear?"

My husband's answer to my nightly question varies from day to day. Sometimes he fixes motors in farm equipment. Some days he's installing chandeliers. His work is rarely the same.

On this particular night, he was telling us about the store he had worked in that day. When he finished his story, I saw the hint of a smile toying at my son's lips, and somehow I knew what was coming.

"So, Mom, where did you work today? A sewer plant?"

I knew he had heard about what happened in my classroom that day. It's amazing how quickly teenagers can spread information. From one class period to the next, the entire high school can know what went on in one teacher's class.


It all started as I was looking down at the vocabulary book before the start of English 12, selecting the words for that day's vocabulary quiz. My students' preclass chatter didn't register with me at first. Then I noticed that some of them had left their seats to investigate a sound.

One of my students noticed a dripping. It wasn't raining outside, and the sound wasn't coming from the sink in the classroom closet, which used to be a darkroom.

They had pinpointed the problem on the other side of the room. As the droplets slowly cascaded onto the carpet, one of my students moved a ceiling tile to investigate. That's when the heavens seemed to open. I grabbed a cleaning bucket from the closet to catch the stream. Or, to catch at least one of the streams. Water trickled from several places, so I put out more trash cans.

I sent one student to the office to report the incident, then prepared to start class.

The dripping sound was a little distracting, but I figured the students could block it out. One student said it was a good thing she went to the bathroom before class. Otherwise, with all that water running ...

Ha, ha, ha. Time to get serious with vocab.

Don't ask me why, but the first word I tested them on was ebullient.

"This word is an adjective. It means 'overflowing with enthusiasm -' I couldn't finish the definition because of the laughter. Overflowing? Couldn't I have picked another word?

The laughter soon faded. The student who was sent to the office had returned with a report: A toilet had overflowed on the second floor. My classroom, you see, is directly below the high school restrooms. The students crinkled their noses and exchanged disgusted looks.

"Ah, I think I need to wash my hands," said the student who had moved the ceiling tile.

I nodded and replied, "Yeah, so do I."

When we came back from scrubbing, we noticed that one of the ceiling tiles was starting to bow.

One of the taller boys looked up in the ceiling and reported that there was an "awful lot of water up there."

I sent another student to the office to ask what we should do. I didn't want the tile to come crashing down, but I didn't want anyone to get a toilet-water shower from moving the tile.

The student returned and stuck his pencil through the tile, just as the principal had instructed him to do. This allowed the water to escape. (As it turns out, the principal was busy at this time solving the problem in the upstairs bathroom.)

We thought we had a temporary fix to the problem until one of the students noticed a ring of wetness forming around the trash can.

"Um, Mrs. Prejean, I think there's a hole in your trash can."

As I was taking care of that problem, my ebullient mood had faded somewhat, but I was determined to cover what I had prepared for class.

We had just started Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." Hester is on the platform, being grilled by Governor Bellingham and his four sergeants. It is a moving scene in which Hester declares she will never reveal the father of her illegitimate child: "And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine."

Hester's devotion is moving, and I noticed some color in the cheeks of the student reading this passage. I decided to offer her a break.

"Why don't we have another student pick up from here. You seem a little flushed," I said.

All eyes moved as one to the opening in the ceiling across the room.

One of the boys couldn't resist saying it: "She's flushed, all right!"

At this point, I had to laugh.

Sometimes, as a teacher, you just have to go with the flow.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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