It was a typical Monday in the 6th grade Latin classroom. Sally Brown* raises her hand. "Could you repeat number 17? I didn't hear it." "How could you possibly have missed it? Mary Ann* just finished giving the answer, and you had your hand in the air while she was talking," I respond. Over-usage of hand-raising is a constant with Sally Brown. Bertie Wooster* sneezes. Not just a polite "kerchoo," quickly covered and apologized for; no this is more like "AH CHOOOOO!" followed by a musical Burururururururur!" while shaking the head vigorously, as if to communicate a great disturbance in the Force. Ferdinand* raises his hand and asks to go to the bathroom, and I, supressing the cynical mental comment, "What, you couldn't wait the 10 minutes until the bell?" let him go, trying to make a mental note to mark down his participation grade for the day, while still trying to keep focus on the review of events in Rome from 75 - 27 B.C. Cneius Pompey, the pirates, Mithridates VI, Spartacus, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Gaius Julius Caesar. Ferdinand is back before I know it. This stuff is really fascinating, at least to me. I never get tired of the complexity of Caesar's character, bloodthirsty and ambitious yet loyal, patriotic, and possessing mastery of a fine straightforward prose style.
A giggle, somewhere behind me. With one deaf ear, it's hard to localize sound. I turn quickly and there is movement, very slight, as Ferdinand shifts a piece of paper, very small, from one hand to the other under his desk. Time and space become very still and quiet suddenly. "Ferdinand, is that a note in your hand?" Thinking fast, Ferdinand comes up with the only possible answer. I take the note and place it on my desk. Sally Brown, sitting next to Ferdinand, is the most obviously flustered . "Sally, what do you know about this?" I ask. "Well, there were several of us passing it along..." she begins. "Who, exactly?" With more glibness than I would have thought possible for one who frequently forgets what question she was going to ask, she implicates Fred Weasley*, the Cat in the Hat*, Willie Olson*, Bill Gates*, Taran*, and the Tin Woodman*. With Ferdinand, this makes up half the class. And I notice that she has not named any of her girlfriends; Olivia*, Madeline*, Smurfette*. Hermione* and Bertie Wooster* are loud in their insistence that they knew nothing of this. Mary Ann, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm* and Hans Brinker* at the other end of the class are very quiet.
"Well, I guess you are all dismissed," I say, and they silently pack up and troop out, 3 minutes early. Only then do I read the note. In feminine printing, it says, "Pretend 2 shoot Mrs. Chapman when she turns her back." I'm suddenly very glad I didn't read it before talking to them and sending them out. Anyone who lived in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 would feel the same way, I think. Sent a quick email to the homeroom teacher and the headmaster. The Cat in the Hat returned to grab his notebook and was very cagey about how much involvement he had with note-passing. I got through 7th grade pretty well -- 3 girls gave me cookies! and 8th grade was okay too, although I'm a little fuzzy on the details.
By now I think all the dust should be starting to settle. Not looking forward to tomorrow morning, though. I'll have to make them do their own research on Julius Caesar. I'm not turning my back on them again for at least a week.
*Names have been changed.