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A teaching moment: Balancing the budget

With so much heated discussion about the ways we can make teaching more effective and more meaningful, it is easy to forget some of the things that make teaching fun. When I was a 23-year-old teacher, fresh out of college, one of the best parts about working with soul-searching, irrational, dramatic teenagers was being part of the sitcom that is high school.

At one point, I arranged a field trip for all of my science classes to a coastal wetland research center -- a small building situated out where all the houses stand on stilts and the people speak with thicker accents. We had been learning about coastal land loss in Louisiana, so I figured the field trip would be a good excuse to skip an entire day of classes and find some relief with a change of scenery. I excitedly announced the field trip to my students about a week before the event.

“Alright y’all,” I said, “All you have to do is fill out this form -- or forge your mom’s signature -- and give me ten dollars for expenses. Then you're all set for a trip to check out the wetlands.”

"What do we get for lunch?" was the first question.

“The cafeteria will pack lunches for you. It’s free,” I answered.

They simultaneously objected:

“WHAT?!”

“COME ON, MAN!”

“HELL NO, MR. HOLT.”

“Huh?” I said. “Don’t you eat the school food anyway? It’s the same stuff, just in a paper bag.”

“You see, Mr. Holt,” a kid in the front row tried to help me understand, “there’s no way we’re going on a stupid field trip unless we’re gonna get McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A.”

I managed to salvage the field trip - although the kids' grumbling about the absence of Chick-Fil-A and McDonalds nearly drowned out the sound of the bus' squeaky wheels, and, in protest, most of the kids brought Cheetos to substitute for the bagged lunches.

I forgot about the power that a fried chicken patty and Big Mac wield over a high schooler until another incident a week or so later.

While I was walking the cafeteria (after enjoying  a bagged lunch myself, I should add), two girls caught my attention .

“Mr. Holt! Mr. Holt! Do you want to be in the auction next week?”

“The what?” I asked.

“The student-teacher auction next Thursday. It’s part of the Students-Versus-Teachers Week.”

“What do I have to do?”

“You just stand on stage and the students get to bid on you for a lunch date. It’s a fundraiser.”

Hm. That sounded mildly inappropriate. “Okay,” I told the girls.

The following Monday one of my girls walked into environmental science and said, “Mr. Holt, I’m gonna buy you.”

“What? Oh, you mean the auction?” I vaguely remembered agreeing to the fundraiser.

“Yea, what did you think I mean? I’m going to buy you, “ she said with determination.

“Alright,” I said indifferently.

Later that day a different student passed by my door, doubled back, and then announced, “I’ve been saving up for you, Mr. Holt. I’m gonna spend a couple stacks on you Thursday.” She wasn’t one of my students, but I recognized her.

The next day, the original bidder walked in again and said, “Mr. Holt what’s this I hear about other girls trying to steal you? I told you I was gonna buy you.”

“It’s a free market,” I told her.

“Oh, don’t worry, I GOT this,” she said, with attitude.

Over the course of the next couple days I heard murmurs of the student-teacher auction outside my door. Meanwhile, for the other events of the week, the students had edged out the teachers in the student-teacher basketball game. In volleyball, however, the teachers had dominated 25 – 7.

On Thursday morning, the day of the auction, I became privy to some insider trading information -- my price tag had apparently become a hot topic around the hallways. By the time the final period rolled around, the boys were thoroughly bored by hearing who was threatening whom about buying Mr. Holt. At the sound of the bell, I walked downstairs to the auditorium to receive my fate.

The first teacher to be auctioned off was the football coach, a middle-aged man wearing a full suit and sunglasses for the event. As the curtains parted, he coolly strolled out to the beat of Afroman. After some negotiating, he was sold for $5.

Next, the young male English teacher walked out with an acoustic guitar slung behind his back. He adjusted the microphone and sang a rendition of Sweet Home Alabama, changing the words to be about Westfield High School. A 14-year-old girl bought him for $3.

The history teacher, overdue for retirement, who frequently needed walking assistance in the hallways, strutted out next. To everyone’s surprise, she began dancing and twirling her scarf to the music of Beyoncé. The kids went nuts. She was rocking back and forth, leaning over, and shining every single last one of her fake teeth in the spotlight. The students were on their feet. $4.

Finally, they called my name and I heard the popular middle school-era Ciara song bumping through the amplifiers:

My goodies, my goodies, my goodies, not my goodies…

I let the curtain open first, and then walked out to face the squeals of a hundred or so teenage girls.

“Is this legal?”

I just stood there, sort of smiling, trying to be cool enough to win some revenue for the fundraiser but not so cool I'd be booked for pedophilia. I thought about the history teacher and her inspiring performance.

“Whatever. The rules are different around here. There are no rules,” I decided. I relaxed my stance and rubbed my fingers together, giving the universal sign for, “pay up.”

“TWENTY DOLLARS!!!” came from the front row. I couldn’t see who it was. Some commotion stirred up near the source of the bid, and so I retreated from the bright lights and took refuge backstage.

I couldn't help but feel a little proud of my celebrity status.

As I jauntily walked through the halls one of my AP students -- a reserved, sharp-minded, respectful junior -- approached me.

“Mr. Holt, I knew I was gonna get you all along," she started. "I had $25 to throw down… but then I spent $5 on Chick-Fil-A…”