It wasn’t that many years ago I found myself at my youngest daughter’s open house at school.
This was a different sort of open house: Student-made flags of various countries and relief maps and toothpick/popsicle stick creations. Papier-mâché masks. Lots of detail work. Each class had a different theme.
Interestingly, the order of the open house was that groups of students were allowed to walk freely about the classrooms and gaze at all the creations, this being done so in 12 minute blocks. At the end of a block of time, a bell would ring and the classes of students would exit and head to a neighboring room. The kids had two minutes to get to a class when another bell would ring indicating the beginning of another time slot. Teachers and parent volunteers were posted outside classrooms to direct kids along. Also, parent volunteers were posted inside the rooms (no teachers were allowed as a grand experiment) to make certain the kids behaved themselves. It was made abundantly clear in a pre-open house meeting the students were to keep their hands to themselves so they didn’t break, ruin or otherwise mess with any of the wares on display.
A few of the rooms were missing “volunteer police.” A teacher asked me if I would oversee the goings on of one room — there was already one parent but it they wanted two per room. I gladly accepted the challenge. I was instructed to make certain no one touched anything. Each and every project was to remain exactly as it was: Complete and pristine. I was told the students worked diligently at each of their creations and it would be a shame if, at the end of the open house, someone didn’t have the wherewithal to look and not touch and thus exact some sort of damage to one or all the projects laid out around the place. I assured the (somewhat uptight) teacher that wouldn’t happen in the class I was assigned. My partner in crime — someone I’d never met — came up to me and introduced herself. “Ms. Fisk” relayed that since I was the last one to “volunteer” (and that I struck the more authoritative figure as a deep-voiced man) the class was mine when the kids came flocking in … but she would be there to assist. She grinned at me rather evilly. I smiled back at her and told her “No problem.”
When the first bell rang indicating the kids had 2 minutes to get to their first assigned class, I was ready. I had a plan. As they shuffled in I asked everyone to gather in a corner of the room, one that not only housed the teacher’s desk but which was furthest from all the projects. I asked everyone to please pay attention as I wanted to relay a quick bit of information prior to them viewing anything.
“Good evening, students. My name is Mr. Noble. And this is Ms. Fisk beside me. Before we let you wander around to see all the neat things your fellow students have made, I have just one thing I want to say. Is everyone listening?” I scanned the group and made certain I had everyone’s attention. Including Ms. Fisk. “Good. I have one rule I want you to follow. I’d like you to repeat it after me, then we can get started. And that rule is this: ‘You touch … you die.’ Everyone needs to be clear on that point. So … repeat after me: ‘You touch … you die.'”
The kids just looked at me. Some giggled. Some were wide-eyed I would even suggest such a thing. Ms. Fisk fidgeted beside me, obviously uncomfortable with this tactic.
“Come on, everyone. Say it out loud so I know you’ve heard it: ‘You touch, you die.'”
I heard a few timid mumbles. “Really? Let’s go! ‘You touch, you die!’ Everyone!”
I detected a few bold voices but not nearly enough to satisfy me.
“Oh, you guys. You can do better than that! I want to hear you shout it out: ‘You touch, you die!’ Everyone, let’s go!”
“You touch, you die.” They were beginning to come to life.
“Again!” I said enthusiastically.
“You touch, you die!” they repeated.
“I can’t hear you!” I responded.
“You touch, you die!” they yelled back to me.
“One more time! Everyone put there hands in the air and yell it like you mean it: What’s the rule?”
“You touch, you die … !!!”
“Very good. You guys can wander around and see everything now. But … if, all of a sudden, I ask you what the rule is, what are you going to say?”
“YOU TOUCH, YOU DIE … !!!”
I had the kids just where I wanted them. They broke up and began looking at the projects around the room.
I looked at Ms. Fisk. She was aghast and horrified. “You can’t do that!” she whispered at me incredulously.
“Why not? Look at how well behaved they are. They’re being perfect little angels … and they won’t dare touch anything.” I smiled at her.
She shook her head, put her hand to her temple and walked away. I took the opportunity to further advance any headache I thought she might be forming.
I called out. “Hey, guys: What’s the rule? Let me hear it.”
“YOU TOUCH, YOU DIE!”
Not long afterward, the bell rang. The students shuffled out on to their next room assignment. A new crop of recruits meandered in. I corralled this new group in the corner and went through my spiel once again. I did it with each successive class. In the end all of them yelled my rule back at me, loud and proud. I had successfully put the idea in the kids’ heads they were getting away with something and they had a blast with it. There was nary a problem in any class.
At one point about an hour into the session, the principal and a couple teachers from other classrooms wandered into my room. The principal paused just inside the door observed the perfect manners of the kids. I noted she was impressed at what she saw. She came over to me.
“Wow. The kids are so well behaved! How in the world did you get them to do that? Every other class I’ve been in has some parent either reprimanding someone or reminding everyone to behave. This room is incredible!”
“I just gave them one simple rule to follow and they’re good.” I informed the principal.
“And what’s that?” she asked.
“Guys! What’s the rule?” I called out to the room with a grin.
“YOU TOUCH, YOU DIE … !!!” they responded with gusto.
The principal was slack-jawed and gaped at me. She looked over at Ms. Fisk who was making “Don’t look at me!” gestures. I felt a tongue lashing might possibly be in the running but nothing I couldn’t handle. Ever-so-slightly, however, I saw the corners of the principal’s mouth begin to rise. She brought her hand up to help stifle a guffaw forming there. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Mr. Noble. I have a daughter in the 5th grade,” I told her. She reached out and shook my hand.
The handshake she gave me was a very telling one. It was one that said in no uncertain terms “We really appreciate you helping us out Mr. Noble but we don’t think we’ll be asking you to do so anytime in the near future.”
Yeah … that kind of handshake.
Of course, when the school carnival came up at the end of the year, the school staff (who were well aware of who I was by that time) didn’t balk at me assisting in the running of the event. Boom.