Coffee for the Teacher

I love my kids’ psychology and sociology teacher. I would love to sit in on her class once in a while just to see how she tells these little angst factories just what’s what.

Here’s why I love her: At the beginning of the year, like the second or third day of school, after the kids were numbed with days of relentless rules, policies, codes, expectations and responsibilities, she announced that the students were going to have to sign up to bring her coffee every morning. She produced a sign-in sheet with dates for the entire semester and passed it around, telling the kids to sign up for the mornings in which they would stop and pick up her coffee on their way to school. All the blanks need to be filled in, she told them. “And I like cream and two sugars.”

The kids filled in the blanks and made notes on their agenda calendars, reminding them what day they had to go to Dunkin’ Donuts before 7 a.m. and use their own money to buy their teacher coffee.

It was a ruse, of course. Another venue for teachers to tell teenagers that they’re stupid, that they’ll fall for anything, that they listen to authority at all the wrong times, that their decision-making skills are sucky, and that it’s a good thing they weren’t in the Hitler Youth in World War II Germany, because there would have been far more carnage, not to mention whining and excuse making.

At parents night when the sociology teacher was telling us about her experiment, we were delighted - laughing, pumping our fists, and one mom blurted out, “oh yeah!” - beyond what good parents should do, really.

We were so responsive and so obviously not going to turn her into the principal that she confided in us that two years earlier she added breakfast to the chart. Well into the first grading period there were a couple kids who still didn’t get that it was an experiment and were putting Sausage and Egg McMuffins on her desk a couple times a week.

I think I love her for doing this social experiment, because it proves that teenagers aren’t all that different from other human beings, and frankly, the evidence for that was almost nonexistent up until I heard about this. I was almost starting to believe the theory offered by a friend of mine, in which alien spaceships come down at regular intervals and take all the kids who are about 12 and replace them with rough facsimiles that look like your children, but act snottier and dress darker, and then return 10 years later to give you your children back at about age 22. (Another friend of mine has another theory on why teenagers are so pissy: They are wired to aggravate their parents so much that we’ll want nothing more than for them to leave our homes and get an apartment of their own, putting them in situations where they’ll produce offspring and thus propagate the species and save the human race.)

But this high school sociology trial says loud and clear: “You teenagers are just like everyone else. You think you’re better than your parents and grandparents because most of you have been to Europe as a non-soldier and you can speak languages and can type with your thumbs; that you’re street smarter than anyone older than you. But you’ll fall for the “bring me coffee because I said so” trick every time.

I’m not sure the message really got through to the class. Bringing the teacher coffee is no stranger than some of the other things their teachers tell them to do. Building an Aztec hut out of toothpicks, writing in cursive, doing algebra problems in geometry, and doing geometry problems in music - if kids didn’t just do as they’re told without questioning authority, there would be total chaos in high schools everywhere.

And the sociology teacher would never get the coffee she needs.

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