Thursday, April 8, 2010

KOPP Radio Is Off The Air

My first contract year of teaching was at a conservative K-8 Catholic school on the south side of Kansas City. I had moved to Kansas City the previous June after one year of full-time substitute teaching in the town of Cicero, Illinois. Bordering on Chicago’s southwest side, Cicero was a gang infested, crime ridden town that was indistinguishable from the inner city of its larger next door neighbor. I was more comfortable working in that inner city atmosphere than I was in the uniformed confines of a religious institution primarily because I had lived in Cicero and knew it well. I had not yet become a Christian and I didn’t believe that the tightly-knit, pro-family community that made up that Missouri Catholic school was real. “Reality” was single parent families, absentee fathers, drugs and alcohol, sexually active seventh and eighth graders, and parent-teacher conferences where the teachers attended and the parents did not. Two weeks before the school year started they had not filled the eighth grade teacher’s position, so the principal of the school, Sandy Kopp, took a chance and gave me my first teaching job.

I spent most of that first year waiting for the other shoe to drop. I waited for proof that the community was a charade. I waited for evidence that the world I was used to in Cicero, Illinois, existed in that small church community, too. The other shoe never dropped. At the same time, I was very uncomfortable with my own knowledge and expertise. I was always surprised at the end of the day when I made it home without being exposed for the teaching fraud that I thought I was.

Sandy Kopp was not only my principal that year but she was also my mentor. She was a wonderfully patient lady who worked with me to help me integrate into the school community and develop professionally. One of the things that I never adjusted to while working for Sandy was her daily late afternoon announcements that never failed to interrupt my “wrap” of the afternoon’s lesson. I knew they were coming every day and I stubbornly refused to finish class fifteen minutes before dismissal in order to not have my teaching time interrupted. I thought it was valuable instruction time that shouldn’t have been wasted. I was so clueless.

So, one day while I was teaching I remembered that Sandy Kopp was absent. Shortly before the afternoon announcements were to begin, I asked my class to sit quietly while I ran down to the office. I asked the secretary if I could make the afternoon announcements since Principal Kopp was absent. The secretary readily agreed. I have often wondered how much flack she caught for that decision.

I turned on the intercom, waited for the telltale five beeps that signaled an announcement, and in my cheesiest DJ announcer voice I said:

“Hey kids, thanks for tuning in while I spin the tunes on K-O-P-P radio. Wait a minute…did I just say pee-pee on the radio?”

The roar that followed from 425 students sounded like the ker-plumpf of an exploding bomb. Every teacher in the building experienced the sheer terror of sudden pandemonium while their students erupted in cheers of delight and screams of laughter. Since I was one of only two male members of the faculty, and the other guy didn’t possess a sense of humor, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who was the culprit. I completed the announcements in my DJ voice and returned to a standing ovation in my classroom.

To her credit, Sandy never mentioned the incident to me. I’m certain that she heard a ton of complaints from members of the faculty and probably a few from parents, too. I did notice that the next time she was absent she prearranged for one of the kindergarten teachers to complete the afternoon’s announcements. I didn’t think the announcements could have been any more painful until I heard that crusty old battle axe of a kindergarten teacher pick up the mic.

Yesterday, over a decade after I left that Catholic School, I received a letter in the mail from the assistant principal. The letter informed me that Sandy Kopp is retiring after 17 years at the helm. I was asked to provide a “memory,” either an anecdote or pictures that will be put into a book and presented to Sandy at the end of the year. I’m planning on reminding Sandy of that fateful day that she left her microphone unattended. Then I want to thank her.

During the two years that I worked for her the most important thing that Sandy taught me was to ask one question when considering issues about education. “What is in the best interests of the student?” I’ve asked that question many, many times over the years. It has guided my decision making process as I dealt with hundreds of students at two other schools and in my homeschooling. The answer to that question wasn’t always what the students wanted to hear, but the answer helped ensure that I treated my students fairly and worked for their betterment. Sandy’s influence made me a better teacher. I wonder if she truly understands how her efforts reached far beyond the walls of her school as I, and certainly other teachers that she mentored, carried that lesson to other students in other schools. Sandy was a blessing in my life and I am certain in the lives of many other teachers, students, and their families. I wish her well in her retirement.

8 comments:

Oklahoma Granny said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mentor.

Tatiana said...

"Did I just say P.P.?" That's hilarious. My boys will get a kick out of that. Thanks for sharing!

Kathleen said...

Great post! And...I think your work's already done. Just copy this post on to some nice paper and add it to her book. What a great tribute!

GingerB said...

Eternally funny: pee pee and poo poo. I am just glad you didn't do one of those "mother may I" now spell cup type jokes.

Goodness, every time I come over here I end up in the gutter.

But my other take on this post was your true feeling of gratitude for the people who really make an impact on you. You are nice, Arby.

The Pirate Mom said...

What a great story! I'm sure she'll appreciate the reminder. I was scared to death of the principal I worked for. I'll have to blog about her someday...

~Kellie

Marla said...

Wonderful story. Isn't it amazing how people can be touching us when we don't even realize it?!

Marla @ www.asthefarmturns.wordpress.com

Teacher Mommy said...

Hmmm. Maybe I have a letter or two to write...

Papa Bear said...

I want to write like Arby when I grow up.