An Incident

By Ken Henry

The December Thursday morning was cold in the hall outside my office at 9:30. Too many students were walking in and out, each open door inviting in a new gust of cold, wet wind. The gaggle of boys sitting there were among the misinformed, boys arriving with expectations of a 10:00 class but now waiting an extra hour to take their exam due to snowy conditions that morning. To make it worse, the door to their classroom was locked, so they sat outside. One of the boys, a junior and former student of mine, caught my eye.

I was on my way to the Upper School coffee machine as I passed them. They reminded me of homeless men lining a downtown street, and like the homeless men, I wanted to avoid eye contact with them… but it’s Christmas and about half of those boys had been my students as freshman, so I was in the mood for pity. I glanced down as I passed; the aforementioned junior was looking up at me.

“Can you unlock the door?” ┬áhe asked. His tone wasn’t hopeful, but the discomfort of being told “no” was less than the discomfort of sitting in the draft.

“Sure,” I answered, fumbling for my keys and feeling like Saint Nick himself. I found the key, unlocked the door, and stepped aside as the boys quickly shuffled in.

“The test was on the table,” he said. “Didn’t need to be in there.”

I get sidetracked easily, especially when I get to my office an hour early, so my trip was an extended stay. I filled my coffee cup, sampled a cookie from the conference room, talked to a few teachers who were congregating there, sampled another cookie, topped off my coffee, and finally wandered back toward my office. I had killed about 25 minutes. As I entered the hallway to my office, I found the boys back in the hall, sitting in the cold.

“What’s up?” I asked, addressing the young man with my expected clever nickname, confused why they’d left the comfort of the classroom heat.

“The test was on the table,” he said. “Didn’t need to be in there.”

One boy mumbled something that could be interpreted as “Who cares?” Others conferred with the mumbler. I got my keys out and relocked the door and left about a half dozen boys sitting in the cold hall.

Mother Teresa’s place in sainthood probably won’t be threatened by this gentleman, but I found this one act this one morning worth mentioning. I think his action exemplified a great deal of what McCallie stands for. A great many people volunteer for great and public moments, but it is the honor, truth, and duty of small and quiet moments that make this school what it is. Rejecting a little personal comfort and perhaps irritating a few friends, this student quietly did the right thing as he sat and waited to take his semester exam. At least for a moment, he was truly a McCallie man.

There is something very right about this school and what happens here every day.

Ken Henry is an English teacher at McCallie School.

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1 Response

  1. Julianne Wolf says:

    Good Morning Coach Henry, what a great opportunity you have to witness the small moments of maturity and growth in the McCallie men. Thank you for sharing your experience and Have a great day- Julianne Wolf