because life doesn’t fit in a file folder
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Gratitude To The Man Who Taught Me To Embrace Chaos


It was my third week at Metairie Park Country Day School, and I could barely distinguish the administration building from the science building. I didn’t know where the nearest bathroom was, who to call about the broken desk in my classroom, or how to make the copier stop jamming.

For the first two weeks, I called him Jeff. By the time I got it straight, I realized that Mark Kelly was not the technology guy; neither was he the Athletic Director. He was the Middle School Principal, and he’d come to the English office to pay me a visit, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. How nice, I thought, how friendly the folks are around these parts. Little did I know that he was out to get me. Little did I know that I’d come face to face with the meanest practical joker east of the Mississippi. I made the mistake of sounding secure.

Mark Kelly

“Everything is great,” I said, trying to sound confident.

“Have you been to the Lower School?” he asked.

“Been there.” I said, feigning a yawn.

“What about the library?”

“Pu-leeze,” I lied.

“So you know what you’re doing?” he said, raising his eyebrow. “You have it all together?”

I nodded my head, snapped my fingers two times for effect, and headed off to class.  Later, after school ended and I had erased the blackboard, reorganized the desks in a circle, and collected my mail, I returned to the English office. I saw it from all the way across the room; my desk had been cleared. Everything was gone.

When I realized the gravity of the situation, I gasped aloud: “My grade book!” It held all my students’ grades, all my attendance records.

I think I vomited a little in my mouth.

Sitting behind me, looking calm, was Mr. Kelly.  “You’ve really got it all together…” He smiled, arms crossed over his chest.

“Where is it?” I squeaked. “What have you done with it?!”

Suffice it to say that Mr. Kelly sent me on quite a scavenger hunt. During my journey, I located the Lower School atrium, the Upper School attendance office, the library – and I met fabulous folks all along the way. In the end, it turned out that Mr. Kelly had stashed all my goods in an empty file cabinet drawer right there in the English office, about two steps away from my desk. I pulled all my belongings out of the drawer, unharmed, and set about reorganizing. Mr. Kelly gurgled and chortled behind me.

Truth be told, I miss the way Mark Kelly batted me around the way some giant cat might play with a mouse or a bird. I miss hearing his booming laugh behind me at school plays; I miss his multi-colored Tabasco ties; I miss his wit, his charm, his teasing, and his teaching. Mark put a little bounce in my step. He taught me to stay on my toes.  He taught me never to brag about being done with something early. He taught me how order in the world is artificial and how easy it is to lose control. He made me explore, go out and meet people, go into unfamiliar territory and find answers. It’s so easy to get stuck in our own little comfort zones.

Mark worked as Head of School at Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, Texas for many years. I like to think that this little Grasshopper has become like her master and that I instill in my students the same thrill for exploration and the same joy at being slightly off-center.

When is the last time someone made you feel a little off balance – in a good way?

4 thoughts on “Gratitude To The Man Who Taught Me To Embrace Chaos

  1. If I say, no one has ever knocked me off balance, in a good way…
    What on earth does it say about me? My friends? Family?

    Ah. I remember!!! It was one of my second grade students, who with the class, listened to directions about holiday caroling at a senior residence facility. PTA had already sent papers home, but I was preparing my students for how things would go that evening. When I finished my review, he looked at me and asked, “What are we supposed to do tonight?” I took a breath, thought the thoughts that teachers think when kids don’t pay attention, got ready to start over again. Just as the words started to slide out of my mouth, I caught the twinkle in his eye. He broke out giggling, then laughed out loud with me because he had played a joke on Ms. Petrie. It was a delightful way to be knocked off balance.

    1. No THAT is the best way to be caught of balance: a gentle teasing that is not at your expense! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Delightful teacher story. Unfortunately my experience with administrators was that they did not think they were doing their job if everyone was not made miserable.

    1. I was fortunate to land at Country Day School. It was truly a utopia. That being said, it kind of ruined me for every other teaching job I had later. There was no place like it.

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