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The absolutely true story of when a girl broke her nose in my classroom

January 24, 2018

7Our school art teacher Shannon sat down next to me at lunch yesterday and threw me a question I hadn’t thought about.  “When do you think you’ll retire?” she asked.

I turned it over in my mind while we discussed it, but frankly, I don’t think I ever took retirement seriously.  As I was walking back to class later, I considered the day I would finally walk over the door’s threshold and leave for good.

I have some wonderful memories to take with me.  Two  popped up almost immediately from incidents of years ago in my own little classroom…

My first memory was a rather quiet surprise.  In fact, nobody else in the room saw it except for me.  And I got to see it by personal invitation.

It was a study hall and the eighth-grade students were face-down in their books, preparing for an upcoming week of exams.  The springtime classroom was totally silent except for the flicking of textbook pages and an occasional buzzing of a fly near a window.   I was duly impressed by the seriousness of the students of the room;  I had always known this particular class to be easily distracted and even scatter-brained through the weeks of school.  Yet here it was in front of me:  Freckle-faced Steven was taking copious notes as he read, dainty Marta was moving her lips as she filed through her three-by-five History cards , and even mop-haired Jared was head-in-hands, deep in thought.

Every head was bowed in intense concentration as I worked my way to the back of the room to get to a file cabinet.  In the quiet I heard a soft whisper, calling me.  I turned and looked. Grinning Jared swept his hair from his eyes and motioned quietly for me to come over to his desk.  I assumed he wanted to show me some of his study work.  Wow.  This kid’s turned the corner.  He’s finally serious about his studies.

Jared leaned back and looked up to me with a toothy smile, pointing at something he was clutching between his finger and thumb.  It took me a minute to focus in on it.  I blinked twice because I wasn’t sure I was seeing what I thought I saw.   But it was what I thought it was.

Somehow Jared had caught that fly and held it while he plucked a long strand of hair from his mop-haired scalp.  Believe it or not, he held the fly down by using a small piece of Scotch tape and then actually tied the strand of hair around the back leg of the fly and was letting it fly around in miniature circles like a little tethered drone as he held the other end of the hair.

I shook my head in disapproval and motioned for him to get back to his books, but to be honest I had to move away and get behind the file cabinet to keep him from seeing me laugh.  It was rather ingenious of Jared, I had to admit, even if out of the bounds of studying for a History exam.

The second memory was a bit more, well, extreme.

I believe I have mentioned this incident in my blog a few years ago, but it is worth repeating.

I was wrapping up a study on the mechanics of the brain in my Psychology class on a Friday afternoon, and I was glad the students were as attentive as they were; after all, Homecoming was that evening.  I was surprised that the students weren’t bouncing around with undue excitement about the events of the evening ahead.  I would like to believe it was my dynamic style of teaching, but if I am really honest with you, I think it was because the subject material – brain functions – was pretty fascinating.  We had just finished up a discussion about the amygdala and the way people can “sense” danger at times, and the discussion was robust.  My final part of the subject was a doozy:  I was going to discuss the frontal lobe, and the controversial surgical experiment called a lobotomy in particular.

For the more squeamish of my readers, I am just going to tell you that in the early days of lobotomy surgery, the two main parts of surgery involved the eye socket and an ice pick.

And that is all I am going to say. If you want to read more about it, you are on your own – just don’t be eating lunch while you’re reading.

This particular Psychology class was packed, with every desk being taken.  Some of my students took seats in an extra row along the back wall, with a small walkway separating that row from the next block of school desks in front of them.  You could move across the room in front of that back-of-the-wall row toward my teacher’s desk, and many students loved the small secure block of desks, so they would come in early to claim a spot on the very back wall row. On this day Jess, Allie and Ben had claimed the seats (I had no strict seating policy in that class.)

We were into the queasy part of the lesson, and I was being as delicate as possible in my talk with the juniors and seniors.  I showed no PowerPoint pictures other than the surgical “tool” used in those early days.  The subject was enthralling, to be sure.  It amazed me that so many people would undergo this type of treatment for the smallest of reasons, but it was a faddish type of medical treatment at one season in the past generation.  I was walking across the classroom in full lecture mode.

In the mid-1940s, surgeon Walter Freeman used a picklike tool in the procedure, which at that time was called transorbital lobotomy…”

I saw something flicker out of the corner of my eye, but then disappear.  I continued.

“It was said to calm some extremely emotional people and had been proven successful in monkeys…” Someone was raising their hand, but I had told the students to hold their questions until discussion time, so I ignored it.

“The procedure takes place when the instrument is forced through the back of the eye sockets and pierces the …”


It was Jess.  She had felt faint, and was starting to fear that she would pass out, so she was trying to get my attention.  However, instead of laying her head down and waving to me, she stood up in a panicked state and leaned forward at a near-45 degree angle.

And then she completely blacked out.

She pitched forward across that empty row, with her face slamming into the back of the desk in the front aisle.  She caught the full force with her nose.

Blood was splattered across the floor.

As I rushed over to her and got some football players to assist me, she woke and dazedly told me that she could make it to the office.  “Jess, why didn’t you lay down instead of getting up?”  I asked her quietly as help arrived.

“Well,” she said numbly, “when you started talking about that pick, I got real woozy and I was afraid to faint in class so I wanted to get your attention as soon as possible.”

Oh, she got it, all right.

I called for help to get her to the medical team on campus, but despite our efforts to help keep her stable, the between-class crowd saw a trail of drippy blood all the way down the hall.  It was the talk of the classes for the rest of the day.

I kept calling Jess’ family to see how she was  and they assured me things would be all right.  To my surprise, as I was taking tickets at the Homecoming Game that night, Jess appeared.   She looked fine – makeup did a wonder on that nose – but she admitted that later on her nose was swollen over the weekend.

She was fine, and the legend of Jess and the Broken Nose was born.

And it lives on today, because Jess is my fellow teacher down the hall.  We don’t talk about lobotomies, though.

My greatest memory each year is when I get the opportunity to work with students in their hunger for Jesus.  I can recall more than once when a student came into my room and had such a zeal for Christ – for salvation or for a growing closeness to Him – that they fairly yelled in their enthusiasm for Him.  Those days are ones I will always remember.  From Sarah to Cody to Kris to Tim … well, the list is long, and I just keep those great recollections close to me.  Their enthusiasm was, and is, incredible.  It reminds me of the blind men in Matthew chapter 9 who followed Christ and called, yelled, shrieked out to Him for help.  That is literally the definition in the Koine Greek.  Yes, they wanted Him so bad that they shrieked.

The same type of screech that the demons used in fear when they called “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of God?” in Matthew 8. The same high-pitched shriek that the disciples gave in fear in Matthew 14 when they saw Jesus walking on the sea.  It’s the same word used to describe when they screamed in Jesus’ face as the storm was about to sink their boat.

It’s a cry of the desperate and the hurting, and that’s what makes it so deep.  These come from students – so many of them over the years – who come and cry for peace with God through Christ Jesus.  The sincere call for Jesus without any reservation, pride, or hypocrisy is a call I was always cherish hearing from the students.

Yes, many memories.  Some funny.  Some scary.  Some beautiful.

No, I don’t think I will retire anytime soon.

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