No Longer the Class Clown…

02 Mar

In high school, I was rarely taken seriously by my teachers…

Come to think of it, many people don’t take me seriously NOW…

At least when I first say something.

I’m known to be a bit of a comedian. In high school, I was a class clown.

And I didn’t really mind…because I liked to laugh and have fun…

I still do.

There was one teacher on whom I had to work really hard for her to take me seriously.

Her name was Alice Lauterbur. We not-so-kindly referred to her as “Mad Alice” and she was my Composition and Grammar teacher.

Unfortunately, Miss Lauterbur was the butt of jokes and pranks by many students throughout her teaching career. By the time she was my teacher, she was probably in her late 60’s, and she had been teaching English since before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (I had classmates whose PARENTS had taken Mad Alice for English when they were in high school).

Miss Lauterbur required all of her “Comp and Grammar” students to write a term paper about a famous person. She called it “Aspirations Under Glass” (which makes NO sense…I mean, I get the “Aspirations” part…but “Under Glass?” What the heck is THAT?!?!?)

Anyway, there were a few specific guidelines for this term paper. First of all, we had to have 3-5 different reference sources. Then we had to document each reference quote on a 3×5 card and keep all of them in some specific order in a little brown accordion portfolio holder thingy (I think that was the technical name for it). And finally, we could not write about anyone that any of her previous students had ever written on…

I’m not kidding. Miss Lauterbur gave us a 3-page list of names of people that we could not write on…living, dead, or anywhere in between…if a student had written about someone 40 years prior, we were not allowed to write about the same person.

This led to a lot of grumbling among my friends…

But not me.

I knew exactly who I wanted to write about.

This was 1981. I was a huge baseball fan…and one of the hottest rookies in recent memory had just broken into the major leagues in a big way.

His name was Fernando Valenzuela. He was a left-handed pitcher for the Dodgers. He was from a poor upbringing in Mexico, he couldn’t speak English, and he was the hottest thing going in baseball.

Miss Lauterbur told me I could not write about him. She said that my writing skills were too good to be wasted on (insert disdainful tone here) “a baseball player”.

I begged…I pleaded…I nagged…I promised Miss Lauterbur that I would write a great paper that she would be proud of. Eventually, she relented…I think it was because she didn’t think I would take the project seriously if she forced me to write about someone else.

She was right.

I didn’t take much seriously in high school…

But I took that paper seriously.

I wish I still had that paper to look back on…

But I don’t.

I didn’t lose it…Miss Lauterbur didn’t give it back to me.

Or, to be more accurate, she didn’t let me keep it after she handed it back. I got to look at it. I got to read her comments, written in spidery red ink. But she didn’t let me keep it.

She asked me if SHE could keep it so that she could make copies of it to show generations of future students how to write a really excellent term paper.

I was shocked…

I don’t know how many “generations of future students” were left in her teaching career…

But I was pleased to let her keep it.

I received more than an A+ on that paper.

I received confidence…confidence that I could be taken seriously if I gave my best effort to something.

You see, being the class clown can be a great way to hide from expectations-not only from others but also from yourself. And that’s what I had been doing for years…expecting very little of myself and achieving exactly that…very little.

I saw Miss Lauterbur recently. She is in her 90’s now. She volunteers at a local hospital as a front desk attendant. And she remembered me…30 years after she was my teacher.

It was fun to chat with her for a few moments.

But it was also great to be reminded of a time when I learned that I could make an impact with words.

I don’t know how many people read that term paper…

But I hope that someone else found the writing to be inspiring.

Because I know that I did…


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9 responses to “No Longer the Class Clown…

  1. Dave Wood

    March 2, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Not sure how to respond to this. 🙂 Nice read though.

    • jbecker007

      March 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Thanks, Dave! I’m not sure many of us ever knew how to respond to Miss Lauterbur…:-)

      • dave luken

        March 2, 2012 at 7:26 pm

        nolan ryan 1982, did the whole thing the night before…..D-

        dave luken

  2. Stephanie Coates

    March 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    What a nice article Jon! My dad and uncle are in close contact with her; she still lives on her own and is known to be able to tell you the name of all the students she had throughout her career. I’m so glad you chose to acknowledge her!

  3. Sue Gluek

    March 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks Dave! Your article was interesting to read. She was truly inspirational though many did not realize that until later in life. I sat next to her at an event in recent years, and yes, it was great to catch up with her and hear what her interests are now. It was also nice to hear of her past

  4. Nancy Ward

    March 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I did my paper on Carly Simon who happened to be featured on 20/20 right after I chose her (must of read the TV Guide). Have no idea what kind of grade I got on it.

  5. Leigh Poortenga

    March 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    When a teacher holds your education in high esteem, wonderful things happen. So many of us (her students) resented her high (and sometimes odd) standards. I wish I understood what I do now—I want to thank her for pushing us into a zone we that were not comfortable in. Great things happen! I love English and she is always in the back of my mind whenever I teach it to my students. I pray that I become half the teacher that she was–Bravo Miss Lauderber—Bravo!

  6. chris badowski

    April 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Jon: A couple years ago, I had the privledge of being able to thank Alice Lauterbur at a luncheon in her honor. Yes, she was the brunt of our foolishness back in high school, but as an adult, I really, honestly and deeply appreciate her stern ways. I, too, got an A+ for my paper. Those were not ever handed out carelessly. That class taught me how to research and meet a deadline, skills I use every day in my career as a journalist. She didn’t remember telling me, but I did…quote Alice: “Turn the paper in on time. There’s no excuse. If you’re in an iron lung, have a friend bring it in for you.” I have NEVER missed a deadline…not for CNN, not for the Chicago Tribune, not for Time magazine. I hit them all. And I’m so glad I was able to tell her so.

  7. Sue

    October 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    You might be interested to know that Miss Lauterbur’s birthday is next Wed., Oct. 24. Alot of her former students are sending her birthday cards as a surprise. Check out Crown Point Fan Page for her address. Same house she has lived in since the 1950’s.


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