Editor’s note: Dennis Fleming is filling in for Chris Teicheira as a guest columnist for Manteca to a T. Fleming has been a full-time teacher with Manteca Unified since 1990. He worked for the Manteca Bulletin and its sister paper, the Colusa County Sun-Herald from 1984-1988 as a photographer, reporter, and editor. He also wrote a column for the Bulletin from 1988 to 1998. He lives in Manteca with his wife, Sue.
I can’t remember the first coffee mug. I suppose it was during student teaching at Golden West School. I started with my first classroom at Brock Elliott in 1990. I assume they started at Christmas.
You know what the tradition of giving an apple to the teacher is all about? It comes from rural America in the 19th century, when most families paid teachers a share of their crops. That meant a student simply brought in a bushel of what they could carry to school that day.
Not sure how that translated to coffee mugs, but, it’s all good. Can’t remember my first one but I remember so many that first Christmas that the kids were laughing about it. I had mugs filled with candy, mugs filled with candles – You name it. They were third-graders that year, and me being a male teacher turned out to be problematic for some parents, who were used to giving soaps and such.
There was this one goofy kid in particular whom I liked. His father had died before he was even born, and his mother and sister were raising him as best they could. He was such a nice kid. They had no money, but that year he brought his first Christmas present for a teacher, an inexpensive Christmas mug, wrapped in plain paper.
I wouldn’t let my wife, Sue (also a teacher), put it away with decorations that year, and just kept using it
Then there are the personalized mugs. Sometimes you hate to use them because you know they won’t survive the dishwasher.
With two of us teaching, we tried to intervene at about my 12-year mark. We looked at our overflowing mug shelves and debated a purge. “What if we have guests?” I asked.
“Yeah, thinking of having 52 people over for coffee?”
So we at least got rid of the ones we really didn’t care for and the ones we couldn’t remember who gave them to us, but even that was a long time ago. It’s replenished since then. Think two shelves, each double-stacked. And some overflow besides.
I’ve heard teachers over the years gripe “Oh, no, not another coffee mug.” But not often. Truth is, we do have a lot of stuff. And yeah, we realize it’s usually a formality for some of the kids.
I will say, however, that even in middle school, which I’ve taught for my last 24 years, the kids seem to be into teachers opening up their presents. (Though admittedly, the kids sometimes don’t know what they are.)
I’ve loved the homemade gifts kids have given me over the years. I have a candy jar a young lady named Lindsey gave me years ago. I always toss Jolly Ranchers to the kids, so she decorated it like that, and more than 20 years later, it’s still in my classroom. I’m afraid to use it and break it, though.
In my second year I taught sixth-grade and had this bright, spirited student named Emily. She was always challenging me with questions, and was quite the classroom leader (Teachers will get my message, heh, heh.). I really liked Emily, though she kept apologizing for years – never needed to.
Anyway, for Christmas that year Emily and her mother made me this little stuffed Mr. and Mrs. Santa set. Emily acted like she was a little too cool to give it to me but I knew for a fact she and her mom made it and she was proud of it.
I used it for a many years, but it was showing some wear, and I didn’t always decorate my classroom. Since Emily had younger siblings I would keep seeing her from time to time and school functions and that was cool. She had grown up to be such a fine adult.
It crushed me to read the Bulletin a few years ago when Emily died in a car accident not far from the school. She wasn’t the first student I’d lost, but that doesn’t make it easier.
So now I take out Mr. and Mrs. Santa again. One of their heads keeps falling off, and I try gluing it back on. It works.
I teach at Veritas School, now. The interesting gifts continue. My first year at Veritas a young lady made me a Christmas tree out of cans of Coke Zero and Snickers bars. Quite cool.
The masterpiece had to be this from the cool kid in my homeroom this year. One of our star 4-H students, he brought me a dozen eggs (minus one due to a mishap) for my birthday. Man, those things were good!
When I posted a picture of them on Facebook, someone answered, “See that Fleming? Even your students know you’re an egg short of a full dozen.”
And of course I still get coffee mugs, even in this day of Starbucks gift cards. One young lady in my homeroom, who is just becoming proficient in English, toward the end of the year started saying, “Butt Cheeks.”
Naturally I started to correct her, and with most kids I would have been more firm, but for some reason, I started laughing. Let me tell you, when you lose it with a group of seventh-graders over “Butt Cheeks,” especially at the end of the year, “Butt Cheeks” becomes fair game.
And how does she make it official? You guessed it. On the last day, she hands me a beautifully-wrapped package with a nice mug from Starbucks.