Monday, February 27, 2006

Sample Story

Brian Thornton

123 Anystreet

Anytown, WA 98900

Home: 253-666-6666

Cell: 253-888-8888


By Brian Thornton

“It’s COOCHIE!” the kilt-clad, spiky-haired freak shouted from the back of my new third period English class. Titters followed close on the heels of his pronouncement.

It was my first day teaching this particular class. As expected, I was already getting an earful from one of the members of the class who was going to need particular attention.

“It says here that your name is ‘Adam,’” I said.

“I don’t go by that.”

“I see. What should I call you, again?”

“COOCHIE” threw his head back and barked out his preferred nom-de-guerre once again. Once again, his outburst brought giggles from many of the other kids in the room.

When I asked why he wished to be called “COOCHIE” (and I imitated his exaggerated manner of pronouncing his chosen moniker when I did so), he explained that it was his last name. I looked at the roster. His name read as “Adam Koetje.” He then told me in no uncertain terms, that he did not like his first name, and never went by it.

“And you pronounce it ‘coochie’?” I said.

“Yes. Coochie’s my name, and that’s what I go by. I won’t go by Adam. I don’t like that name.”

So I was faced by a pretty serious dilemma. On the one hand, knowing as I did the time-worn connotation of “coochie” as a rather unflattering reference to certain parts of female plumbing, I found the prospect of calling this kid “coochie” without bursting out laughing every time I spoke to him pretty daunting. On top of that, it was September, so I could anticipate having to refer to him in this manner for at least the next nine months.

On the other hand, if I didn’t call him “coochie” every time I spoke to him, I could likely expect more grand-standing on his part. I made up my mind on the spot that I was going to have to take this a third way.

“Wow, cool name!” I said. “Do you have a sister?”

“Coochie” and the rest of the class seemed surprised by my question. “Yes,” he said. “Two.”

“What are their names?”

“Alicia and Stephanie.”

“Nice names, but just think if your parents had been more imaginative, and called one or the other ‘Hoochie.’” The other kids in class giggled. I’m pretty sure none of them had actually heard the term “hoochie coochie” before, but them being thirteen-year-olds, and the phrase sounding nonsensical, they laughed. For his part, Adam Koetje’s expression clouded at the mention of his parents. I made a note of that.

“So maybe, Mr. Koetje-“ I began, careful to pronounce his last name the way he had, as “coochie.”

“Not ‘mister,’” he said, “Just ‘Coochie.’”

“Well, you don’t get to call me ‘Brian,’ any more than I get to call you ‘Adam,’ and since I consider calling me ‘Thornton,’ without the ‘mister’ in front of it to be disrespectful, it doesn’t seem fair for me to do that to you. See what I’m saying?” He smiled for the first time, then said that he did. I continued.

“Imagine,” I said to the class, “That Mr. Koetje grows up, graduates high school and college,”more giggles at the mention of ‘college,’ “…and gets a good paying job, finds the right gal, gets married, and has a couple of kids.’

“Now further imagine that he names her ‘Hoochie.’” More laughter from the entire class, Adam Koetje included. “And once she in turn has grown up, gone to college and found herself a good-paying job, she meets the guy of her dreams, and marries him, and let’s say that his last name is ‘Mann.” They were following me pretty closely, waiting for me to put it all together, which I did.

“And since no child of Mr. Koetje would ever be anything other than her own person, she decides to hyphenate her maiden name and her married name. This would make her ‘Hoochie Koetje-Mann.’”

They laughed again. One of the other kids in class, one who I found out later, had a father who was a lover of blues music, spoke up and said, “Hey! Isn’t that a song?”

I said it was. Kids laughed. Koetje laughed. We had a discussion about blues music, and how it helped give birth to rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, and so on.

Thus began my year-long association with Adam Koetje. I soon heard from other teachers that he could be disrespectful, that he was definitely a class clown, and that assessments of his academic ability ran the gamut from “he’s a twisted, attention-loving genius” to “I think he might be autistic.”

My own take on him was that he was quite bright, but that he lacked motivation. When I spoke to our head counselor about him, she filled in some of the blanks for me. Adam’s mother had a history of mental illness, including suffering from a form of bi-polar disorder. She also had problems with alcohol. Adam was the eldest of three children, and he took extraordinary pride in taking care of his two younger sisters. He made them breakfast and dinner, did their laundry, and most importantly got between them and their mother when she flew into one of her rages. Our head counselor had Child Protective Services on speed dial in large part because of Mr. Koetje.

On that first day, I got lucky with Adam Koetje. Because I was willing to meet him half-way on calling him by his last name, and on the pronunciation of said name (I soon learned that other teachers weren’t), and apparently because of my explanation that calling him “mister” was a sign of respect, he never again gave me cause to wonder how I was going to “handle” him. This from a kid who wore t-shirts with the logo of the teen-angst-rock band “KORN” and wore kilts to school (I later discovered that the lead singer of this band wore kilts onstage, sort of like Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses infamy). Mr. Koetje (and for me, he was always “Mr. Koetje”) must have decided that I was alright, and he treated me accordingly.

The story doesn’t end there, though. I kept hearing about this poor kid having trouble in other classes. Halfway through first quarter, our head counselor came to me and asked whether I’d like to have a student aide.

It turned out that Adam Koetje had gotten himself kicked out of one of his elective classes, and when he and the counselor were trying to work out a schedule change, he asked about being my student aide. I told her that in light of the circumstances, I didn’t see how I could possibly refuse.

It was the best move I could have made. I’ve had a number of student aides over the years, but none worked as hard, or did more without being asked, than Adam Koetje did. In fact, on those rare occasions when I had to be out of the classroom, my substitute teachers all raved about what a terrific student aide I had, and how they wished they didn’t have wait until the end of the day to have him working for them. He even offered them assistance in his regular English class (since he now had me as his teacher twice per day).

Oh, and the kid aced English.


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