Teacher-of-the-Year Award

By Greg Larson

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    I was getting mad! Another spit wad had hit the back of my neck. I tried to ignore it and just get the last question done because it was almost time for Jennifer and me to go to student council meeting.

    Then Jennifer got hit by another spit wad. She spun around in her seat and barked, “Knock it off, Todd! I know it’s you, so don’t try to act innocent!”

    “You and Rebecca are the ones who always try to act innocent,” Todd retorted. “Teacher’s pets!”

    “Just because we do all the assignments doesn’t make us teacher’s pets,” I shot back. “Besides, Mrs. Groves is a good teacher. You shouldn’t cause so many problems for her.”

    Actually, it wasn’t just Todd who was causing problems. The whole class was noisy and playing around. Usually everyone was pretty good, but now that there were only four days of school left before summer vacation, some of the kids were getting pretty wild, especially Todd, Ryan, and Mike.

    Suddenly Ryan chased Mike across the front of the room, and they knocked some papers off Mrs. Groves’s desk. They didn’t stop to pick up the papers, so I did.

    “You guys, settle down!” I said. “Mrs. Groves is going to be back any minute, and she’s not going to like what’s going on!”

    Nobody seemed to listen.

    “Hey, Rebecca,” Todd called, “get that garbage can while you’re up there. You and Jennifer have to clean up all those little pieces of paper by your desks. You two are real litterbugs.” He pointed to the spit wads scattered on the floor and laughed and laughed.

    “It’s not funny, Todd,” Jennifer said.

    “Can’t everyone just please be quiet?” I pleaded.

    Then Ryan started chasing Mike again, and Mike tripped over Chuck’s foot and fell against the bookcase that the aquarium was on. I watched helplessly as the bookcase tipped over and the aquarium crashed to the floor. Broken glass, water, fish, seaweed, rocks, and sand went all over the floor, and all the books from the bookcase were getting soaked.

    “Quick!” Todd yelled. “Somebody get some cups of water so that we can save the fish!”

    Just then the door opened, and Mrs. Groves walked in.

    Up until that day, Mrs. Groves had been my favorite teacher. She was smart, and she made learning fun. She would show us several different ways to learn things and patiently wait while we did. But that day she just stood there for a minute, looking appalled. She told Todd to take the flowers out of the vase on her desk and put the fish in the vase. She told me to go find the custodian and ask him to come to our room right away. Then she marched the rest of the class to the library.

    Mrs. Groves told us how disappointed she was that we couldn’t behave without supervision. She lectured us for twenty-two minutes about growing up, about responsibility, and about good fun and harmful fun. She said that she was sorry that any innocent students had to suffer with the guilty, but since she had no way of determining who the guilty were, everyone in the class lost all privileges for the rest of the year, and the class party was canceled. Then Mrs. Groves had us sit in silence and think about what we had done wrong and about how we should have been acting.

    Jennifer leaned over to me and whispered, “It’s not fair! We tried to stop them.”

    Mrs. Groves heard the whispering and was over by us in an instant. “When I said ‘total silence,’ that’s what I meant, young ladies!”

    So we just sat there until the custodian came and told Mrs. Groves that our room was ready.

    We marched through the halls like we were going to a funeral, and as we passed the other classrooms, the kids looked out at us and giggled. They already knew what had happened.

    Jennifer pulled me out of the line and up to where Mrs. Groves was leading the class. “You ask her,” Jennifer whispered into my ear.

    I didn’t want to ask her, but Jennifer pushed me in front. “Mrs. Groves,” I said, “Jennifer and I have to go to student council meeting now. May we please be excused?”

    It was the last student council meeting of the year. We had work to do to get ready for the awards assembly. After that we were going to have a swimming party and a barbecue.

    “I’m sorry, girls,” she said, “but as I explained before, I can’t make any exceptions. You two are part of this class, and this class has lost all privileges, including participation in student council.”

    “But can’t we do extra work?” I pleaded. “Or help you before or after school tomorrow?”

    “The answer has to be no! Now please get back into line.”

    I was really angry then. I had tried to get the others to quit fooling around. Besides, I’d worked hard on student council, and I thought that I deserved to go to the party.

    The classroom was clean and neat when we returned. But the bookcase was empty, and there was a strong odor of pine cleaner. We sat silently working on a writing assignment: “How Students Earn Privileges.”

    Mr. Burton, the student council adviser, came into the room and talked to Mrs. Groves. We couldn’t hear what they said, but when he looked at Jennifer and me, we knew that he was talking about us. Jennifer smiled at me and crossed her fingers for good luck. We were sure that he’d get us out of class. But he didn’t. We stayed and worked and watched the clock.

    Mrs. Groves kept the class after school for twenty minutes. When she finally dismissed us, she called Jennifer and me up to her desk. She said that Mr. Burton had left an envelope for us to pick up at the front office. I knew what was in the envelope: the ballots Jennifer and I would have counted at the student council meeting!

    At the end of every school year there is an awards assembly for students who have done well in sports, music, art, science, and other subjects. There is also a Teacher-of-the-Year Award for the teacher who had done the most for the students and the school that year. The teacher winning the award has his or her name inscribed on a plaque displayed by the front office. Two teachers are nominated by the PTA; then the students, teachers, and parents vote on them.

    This year the PTA nominated Miss Eaton, who is young and pretty and always happy—and Mrs. Groves!

    When Jennifer and I opened the envelope and counted the votes, Miss Eaton and Mrs. Groves had the same number of votes. We counted them again to make sure that we hadn’t made a mistake, but we hadn’t. Jennifer said that our job was to come up with a winner, and since it was a tie, it was up to us to choose one of them. We grinned at each other conspiratorially. She wrote a name on a card and sealed it up in the small envelope provided for it. I didn’t see what she’d written, but I knew which name she had put down.

    The next day at the awards assembly, I got an award for perfect attendance, with a sticker on it for never being tardy. Todd got an award for physical fitness. When Mr. Burton got up to announce the Teacher-of-the-Year Award, Jennifer poked me. We tried not to grin at each other, but it was hard—till we heard Mr. Burton say, “Rather than announcing the winner myself, I’d like to have one of the student council members do that. Rebecca, would you please come up?”

    I sat there stunned until Jennifer pushed me. Then I found myself walking up to Mr. Burton. He handed me a small envelope—the same envelope that we had given to him earlier.

    I took it and walked up to the microphone. Everyone was looking at me. Miss Eaton was smiling. I didn’t look at Mrs. Groves, but I knew that the award was very important to her and that she had worked very hard to deserve it. I wondered if she would feel as bad as Jennifer and I had felt the day before, when we had been punished for something we hadn’t done and when we had had to miss the student council party.

    I looked into the envelope. Jennifer had written the name I thought she had—all I had to do was read that name! It seemed like justice.

    Justice! The word started my thoughts in another direction: If I announce what’s written on the card, I’ll be the one who’s unfair. Mrs. Groves had won also, and after all, she had only done what she thought was right. Most of the kids did deserve to be punished …

    I took the card out of the envelope and pretended to read it to the waiting audience. “There are two winners of the Teacher-of-the-Year Award this year,” I said into the microphone. “The voting ended in a tie.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown