I taught eleven- to fifteen-year-old students with behavioral disabilities. We had challenging times, but we also had many good times, too. On their best days, they were as big-hearted and helpful as any students in school.
Whenever I walked through town, and any of my students were within sight, even several blocks away, I’d hear, “Hey, Mr. Thorpe, wait up. I’ll walk with you.” That never happened when I taught other students.
Christmas was near, and I knew that something was up. I received hints from some of the younger students. “Boy, are you going to be surprised.” “You’re going to really like it.” But none dared go so far as to say what the “it” was. They knew that would create trouble for them with the older boys.
The last day before Christmas vacation, I heard all kinds of commotion and yelling from the playground. That wasn’t unusual for this class, but today the noise was louder and angrier than usual. I headed toward the outside to make sure everyone was okay, but when I approached the door, one of the students caught me and said all was well. He pleaded for me to stay inside.
A little while later, the bigger boys entered my classroom door, one with his hands behind his back, and another making an impassioned speech thanking me for being their teacher and saying they’d collected money and bought me a gift. Then, the boy took his hands from behind his back and handed me an alligator. Not a live one, mind you, but a glossy mummified alligator, about eighteen inches long and looking very much alive—except for the Scotch Tape.
Its front legs hung by threads that were held together by shreds of Scotch Tape. Its tail hung limply, with Scotch Tape being the only connection to its body. One back leg was mostly whole, but the other stayed within whispering distance of the body, hanging from yet another piece of Scotch Tape.
I swallowed my smile as I thanked them for their gift. They surely meant well, and I appreciated their thoughtfulness.
I found out later that after they’d purchased the alligator, they’d had a serious disagreement over who’d present it to me. The dispute got out of hand, but fortunately they had enough extra money to buy a roll of Scotch Tape.