Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Britt Lap!

I apologize to anyone who attended my elementary school around the time that I did.  According to my kids, it was sometime between brontosauruses and woolly mammoths.  My apology isn't for my silly haircuts, my social awkwardness, or my reluctance to take daily showers when I was a pre-teen.  No, my apology is for brazenly and without warning using the three words that we all feared the most...The Britt Lap!  

Mr. Britt was a teacher of legend at the school.  He taught upper grade and I had him when he taught a 5th and 6th grade combination class.  He was respected.  He was listened to.  He was feared.  He would do things that I probably couldn't get away with now.  He had a way of looking at you to make you just stop and get back to work.  But if he couldn't make eye contact, he would lob an eraser at your head.  And then, to add insult to injury, he would make you pick it up and bring it back to him.  It would be like Robin Hood shooting a noble and then saying, "Sorry old boy, terribly low on arrows this morning.  Embarrassing really.  Could I trouble you to remove it from your personage and fetch it back to me?  That's a lad."  Many a day I would go home with rectangle shaped chalk marks on some part of my body.  You  see, unlike today, I was much more prone to get distracted easily back then.  Did you ever notice that easily sounds the same at the beginning and the end but it isn't spelled with the same letters?  Letters are funny.  I remember a cartoon where Ralphie, the hero, used letters on the chalkboard to daydream about swimming with sharks.  I like raspberry pie.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  I was explaining how I rarely get distracted any more...This is why I don't work for a newspaper.  Even thought editors aren't allowed to hurl erasers anymore.

Another thing that Mr. Britt would do is the surprise desk check.  It was eloquent really.  Sometime after the kids left he would wander through the room looking through desks to see who had one that was particularly messy.  In the morning we would line up, he would lead us to the door at the front of the school, and he would walk in as if it was a normal day in Mr. Roger's neighborhood...only it wasn't normal.  A small group of us would come in to see that we had our own personal earthquake.  You see, if your idea of neatness didn't match Mr. Britt's, he would turn your desk upside down and then place it lovingly on the pile of textbooks and PeeChee folders.  There was no explanation that I remember but you couldn't sit at a desk that was upside down and you didn't want your classmates to steal your mechanical pencils so about eight of us would have the job of putting our things away, nicely this time, while the rest of the class did a writing assignment.  I'm proud to say that this taught me a lesson and to this day Mr. Britt would be proud of my very organized desk...and I have some beachfront property in the middle of North Dakota that I am willing to sell you cheaply!  You see, I am a Nigerian prince...  (The part about my clean desk is the least believable of all of those sentences!)

There were countless things that stand out about Mr. Britt.  He towered over us.  He was a no nonsense kind of guy.  He wore shorts every single day of the year!  But the thing that is making me break out into hives as I write about elementary school is "The Britt Lap."

You started hearing about the Britt lap in about the second grade.  If your friends wanted to do something stupid, the smartest of the group would chime in, "Don't do that!  If you get caught they'll make you do the Britt lap!  As far as I can recall, I never heard a teacher ever mention the Britt lap.  We all knew who Mr. Britt was...but he had never sent any of us running on his lap.

With all legends, there was probably a grain of truth at the beginning.  Back when you were allowed to do things like that he probably sent an overactive child to run off some of his energy and then come back in to class when he was ready to work without bothering everyone with his fidgeting.  That story most likely became distorted.

"Did you hear?  Mr. Britt told a kid to just go outside and run until he threw up!"
"Yeah, and I heard that he chased the kid out of his room with a knife!"
"When someone doesn't survive the Britt lap they just leave him on the ground and the next kid who has to do the lap has to jump over the body!"

The more reasonable people knew that the Britt lap wasn't just a lap around the playground, or even the field, it was a lap around the entire school AND the school next door!  If you were told to take a Britt lap you probably wouldn't be seen for the rest of the day...and you might miss sixth grade graduation.  I am glad to say that I never was sent on a Britt lap.  Come to think of it, I cannot remember anyone, ever, being sent on a Britt lap!  You don't suppose the school just let us come up with our own horrible impending punishment and then let our imaginations run wild while not correcting our crazy claims in order to be able to maintain order and allow them to teach?  Nah!  I'm sure they just didn't know about it...or did they?

The funny thing is, as happens with all legends, I was confronted with my fears.  I needed to interview someone in a school to do a paper for my credential.  When I walked over to my childhood school to see if I could talk to someone there, they told me that the person I needed to talk to was Mr. Britt.  I interviewed him.  I wrote everything down in my notebook and got ready to leave.  I then said, "You know.  I was in your class."  He asked my name again.  He said, "Garrett, Garrett...I remember Susie (my sister) and I remember Danny (my brother)...hmm...sorry, oh yeah.  You were in the combo class."  (I tried my hardest to blend into the furniture all through my schooling)  He then started talking about my family, and then his family, and then we had a conversation about teaching and I was no longer in the fifth grade, I was a colleague.  It was all very surreal.  I lost my train of thought and said something  like it was silly that he would be wearing shorts every day...he got upset and made me take a Britt lap!   It took me three days.