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Back to school

09/02/03 12:00AM By Joe Deffner
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(Host) As the students and teachers head back to school this week, commentator and teacher Joe Deffner remembers one of his first teaching assignments.

(Deffner) When you're the new teacher in a rural Vermont school, you have to be willing to teach anything. I was hired to teach English, but there was Accounting, when I couldn't balance a checkbook; Typing, a subject I had almost failed; and finally, Humanities, a subject I was ill-prepared for.

There wasn't much to teaching typing; it only required occasionally shouting, Look at the trees and not at the keys. I watched as the typing students read the book and typed their rows of asdfg. I might as well have gone for long walks during that class. Sometimes I did.

But the Humanities class was a pleasant surprise. They researched composers, painted the classroom walls with reproductions of the masterpieces and educated their leader.

One day, they raised the subject of the plague. Our discussion drew a parallel between the plague and the AIDS epidemic. At the same time, I received a flyer from the performing arts center at a local college. They were hosting performance artists on the subject of AIDS, a great opportunity for our first field trip!

Four girls decided to accompany me to the performance. We met at school and drove up the interstate to the college. The handbill explained that the most renowned of the evening's performers had been condemned by the Vatican. No big deal I thought.

The house lights dimmed and as the curtain was drawn up, an agonized keening shot me straight up in my chair. A lone silhouette stood on stage. Dark green, blue,and red spotlights moved around the performer. Then they converged on her upper body and I watched my entire teaching career pass before my eyes. This woman was naked! O.K., not completely naked, but naked from the waist up and that was plenty. I looked down at my feet - as if looking for the teaching certificate I was about to lose.

When the curtain fell, I stole glances at my students down the row. Three of them were laughing. I tried a couple of tentative chuckles when I realized that they didn't hate me. At that point, the fourth girl, who was nearsighted, piped up and in all seriousness remarked, Mr. Deffner, I'm not sure... she paused, ...but I don't think that woman was wearing a shirt.

We cut the field trip short when the next performance turned out to be more of the same. I was up late that night, speculating on possible careers for a teacher who had lost his license.

The good news is that my principal handled the situation well, advising me to get in touch with all the parents and explain what had inadvertently happened. He stressed inadvertently. I sent a letter home and when I didn't hear from any of the parents, I assumed that I had survived, my teaching position still intact.

I still can't type or balance a checkbook, but I can tell you a little bit about the humanities, guidelines for field trips, and performance art.

This is Joe Deffner of Union Village.

Joe Deffner is a teacher at Thetford Academy.
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