The middle-aged man with a full head of early acquired, silver hair walked sharply into my classroom. He was neatly dressed in a tweed herringbone sport coat with grey pants, a white shirt and a pink with a grey, spotted bow tie. He wore black rimmed conservative men’s eyeglasses and men’s black, laced permashine shoes. The shoes and the eyeglasses were the only items of clothing that he wore that gave any indication of his two professions.
He proceeded to the back of the classroom at a brisk pace, body erect never stopping to introduce himself or even nod his head in acknowledgement that he was in my classroom. He sat down stiffly, posture perfect in a desk in the rear of the classroom. He placed his notepad on the desk, reached inside his tweed herringbone sport coat, probably to the hidden pocket of his white shirt, and magically pulled a pen from the pocket.
He glanced at my name printed in white chalk on the blackboard. He wrote my name on his paper in some designated space for a teacher’s name. He then glanced at the blackboard again. My classroom number was printed in white chalk beneath my name. He appeared to write my classroom number in a designated space as well.
He then slowly raised his head. I stood motionless at the front of the classroom in army jeep green, wool slacks that had a two inch, black stripe running from my waist down to my black perma shine shoes. The black stripes were running down each outer pant leg. I wore a greenish shirt which had cloth Lieutenant’s bars sewn onto the shoulders . The evaluator sat expressionless, with a fixed gaze and stared into my eyes.
It occurred to me that he was sizing me up and testing my poise, a waste of his time. I returned his gaze and approached him. “I am Lieutenant Accidental Lawyer,” I stated while smiling and extending my hand to shake his. He stiffly shook my hand, but did not return my smile.
Two weeks earlier the Dean of Students, a retired brigadier general, employed in his retirement at Grant Military Academy had approached me and informed me that Middle States Evaluations were to occur at Grant. The Dean of Students was affectionately nicked named The General or the Fucking General by the all male adolescent Corps of Cadets. These nicknames for The Dean were often used interchangeably by the Corps. The faculty used these designations as well.
The General informed me that the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the improvement of schools through evaluation and accreditation. It was Grant’s turn to be evaluated and, hopefully, accredited.
A week after his explanation of the purpose of Middle States Evaluations, The General approached me again. He was calm and thoughtful, but he spoke directly and frankly to me. “Middle States Evaluation starts next week,” he stated matter of factly. He continued, “We appreciate how you motivate the cadets and have all your classes interested in English and Literature, but we would like you to be more conservative in the classroom during Middles States Evaluations.”
The General, I realized, was concerned I might be myself in the classroom and create a problem for the school in the Middle States Evaluation process. The Fucking General, I thought.
The subtext to virtually every lesson I taught all the cadets in all my classes was to always be “yourself.” I explained that, in my opinion, knowing one’s self was the most important understanding a person could ever acquire, and once a person knows and understands who he/she is, he/she should act in accordance with and make choices consistent with the knowledge and understanding of the self that has been acquired. I always emphasized that the acquisition of self-knowledge was a process that took time and mistakes would be made, but that it was knowledge worth pursuing.
The cadets all wore grey wool slacks, white button down short sleeve shirts and black buffed to a shine shoes. They immediately noticed that there was a stranger seated in a desk in the back row of the classroom. The cadets correctly presumed the stranger was an evaluator. SHOWTIME!
The cadets all entered the classroom under the watchful eye of the stranger and quietly walked to their desks and sat as if their seats were assigned. They all instinctively behaved. The cadets understood that the Academy was in the midst of Middle States Evaluations and that success was important to the school. The evaluators could be friends or enemies. Thus, everyone, faculty and cadets, had pulled together as a team to put “best foot forward” for the evaluators.
This particular class was a regular class, meaning not remedial and not accelerated. The highest ranking officer in the class arose from his unassigned seat and stood at attention. He performed a sharp two-count movement.
For count one, he faced the front of the classroom and touched the toe of his right foot on the ground in front of him at about half the length of his foot to the rear. His toe was located slightly left of his left heel. He rested his weight on his left heel and naturally bent his right knee. On the second count, he turned 180 degrees to the right on the left heel and on the ball of the right foot. He resumed the position of attention.
The cadet officer then commanded, “Class rise.” The entire class arose from their unassigned seats and stood at attention. The cadet officer turned his head and eyes towards me and began his salute. He elevated his right hand to the correct position in one smart motion and without any preparatory movement. He announced smartly and in his command voice, “Class is ready for instruction, Sir!” He then dropped his salute by bringing his right hand to its natural position at his side.
I returned the salute with the best salute I could muster, in an effort to not offend the highest ranking cadet in my class. My salute, however, was clearly a civilian’s salute. After I saluted the cadet officer, I replied sharply, “Seat the class!”
The cadet officer turned sharply towards the class performing the same two count turn he had performed earlier and commanded, “Class be seated!” The stranger appeared bored with the entire class opening process.
And there I stood at a critical juncture in my life and in the instruction of my students. If I heeded The General’s instructions, I would be acting the same way I tried to teach the cadets in my classes not to act. I would become someone else this day to satisfy The General and the school and thus, surrender the qualities that were me and made me an excellent classroom instructor.
I now had only an instant to decide an issue that had bothered me since The General had instructed me to be more conservative for the Middle States Evaluations.
I turned sideways took a white sparkly hand glove from my desk drawer, slipped it over the fingers of my left hand and began my best imitation of a moon walk across the front of the classroom. The cadets cheered and started laughing; the stranger howled. In a high pitched voice I stated, “It’s Michael Jackson here and today we’re going to study a little grammar and discuss Macbeth. ‘It’s a thrilla!'”
After Middle States were completed, the entire faculty was ordered into the auditorium to discuss the results. The General informed us that the school had passed. He then remarked, ” I’m also proud to announce that the Lieutenant,” he said while pointing at me, “was singled out for excellence in his profession by the Department Chair of English at West Point.
Damn, I thought; how cool!