I want to take a moment to illustrate why we chose this profession. My first week teaching at the new middle school had not yet ended when I had decided that Conrad had to go; it was either he or I, and I wasn’t budging. I considered recommending him for our continuation school. He was one of the first to show up each morning. I think his mother wanted to drop him off so she could have a break. A typical morning sounded like this: “How you doing, Mr. Fulton?” “I’m fine,” I’d pleasantly respond. “What are we doing today?” he would ask. “We have our weekly math quiz,” I would say. “That’s stupid!” he would yell. “Math is stupid! This school is stupid!” Then he would stomp out of the room. The day had not yet started and already I was writing a referral for him. Before I could finish, Conrad would be back in the room innocently asking, “Hey, Mr. Fulton. Would you like some chocolate?”
Conrad decided to enter the Air Force, and after boot camp he was sent for his schooling. However, that meant sitting in a desk eight hours a day and taking notes, and Conrad flunked out again. As his fellow airmen went to their assignments, Conrad was left behind with no job. As usual, he had endeared himself to an advocate–the base chaplain took him on as a project. As Conrad waited for a new assignment, the chaplain asked him to guard the officers’ snack bar. The snack bar worked on the honor system. An officer would take what he needed and put the money in a can. Conrad was just there to keep them honest. One morning a captain walked in. Conrad saluted as the captain poured a cup of coffee and turned to leave. Not one to shrink from a confrontation, Conrad hailed the officer, saluted again, and informed him that he had forgotten to pay for his coffee. Angered, the captain scolded, “You don’t have any stripes on your sleeves, soldier! I don’t know what you think you’re doing!” Conrad replied assertively, “I’m doing the job I was commanded to do. Now you’ll need to come back in and pay for the coffee.” Conrad won.
The following day, Conrad was summoned to the office of the base commander. He was certain that his run-in with the captain had sealed his military doom just as his teenage arguments sealed his fate as a freshman. When he arrived, the officer said, “Conrad, I heard about your incident with the captain yesterday. You handled that very well. We have an assignment for you. For the next four years you will be serving on the presidential honor guard in Arlington, Virginia.” Conrad was put in charge of a team of airmen who welcomed foreign dignitaries and ushered them to the president.
On the wall of my classroom is a picture of President George Bush, the first lady, Prince Phillip, and the queen. Conrad stands arrow straight at their side.
Brad Fulton is an award winning teacher and nationally recognized provider of professional development with over three decades of experience in education.