05 February 2013
My Greatest Prank Ever
I was surprised how nervous I was to actually pull this off, but then I realized what a Herculian feat it was going to be and my anxiety felt justified. Essentially I was trying to achieve something truly fantastic- Convince 97 seventh graders who stare at me for 45 minutes a day that I was someone entirely different, while simultaneously teaching a math lesson, and without any other teachers or the (gulp) principal finding out (in case they didn't approve).
The very first student who walked in my room on Monday morning almost blew my cover. I was sitting at my back desk reading The Economist (two things I never do at school in the morning) when my student walked in. He looked at me and said, laughingly, "Mr. Bennett, what are you wearing? Are those glasses?" It was at that moment that I almost cracked and said, "You got me! Do you like my haircut?" The pause was noticeable, but I decided not to cave. I replied, "I'm sorry, have we met before?" He said, "Mr. Bennett, come on. You don't wear glasses." I countered with, "I am Mister Bennett's cousin, Mr. Johnson. These are my reading glasses. You must be in his homeroom. What's your name? I'll mark you on the attendance." This kid gave me the most quizzical look ever offered by a 12 year old, paused for minute, said his name was Mike, and then walked out of class. Not more than 8 seconds passed that I had four more students poke their heads in my class. They stared at me as if I were half-man-half-dog. They all seemed bewildered and very interested. I could see the wheels spinning in their heads thinking "Well Mr. Bennett did say he was going to be absent, but that guy looks exactly like him! Is it actually him?" When I took attendance I purposefully mispronounced many names, and then showed a TED talk video so they would be distracted from the issue I was seeking to avoid. I made it through the 20 minute homeroom with them pretty convinced. Then my first period started, and word had already spread in the hallways. Again I mispronounced names, said names in full (as opposed to their preferred nicknames), and asked questions about the normal classroom procedure. I asked them how Mr. Bennett usually starts his lessons, and they told me truthfully. There were a lot of whispered comments like, "He sounds exactly like Mr. Bennett!" and "Did he say they were brothers or cousins?" My original plan was to speak with a Boston accent the whole time, but I got nervous and decided I couldn't pull it off before the day started. After first period word started really spreading, and everyone was curious about my true identity. Everyone wanted to believe that it had to actually be Mr. Bennett, and yet they just couldn't get themselves to abandon the notion that I was Mr. Johnson. Second period got really suspicious, and commented that my handwriting looked exactly like Mr. Bennett's and that they had seen Mr. Bennett wearing the same boots before. I brushed these off and kept a stone face. I knew my expressions would give me away so stayed as stoic as possible. I tried to teach a little differently, used phrases like "Please be quiet, kids" and gave as few body gestures as possible. I stood in different places of the room, folded my hands differently, and referred to students as "You in the red sweater" or "Hey. You. Hollister. Come up and do this problem." I have a student in my second period that I normally let sit at my desk during class. When he came in and sat there I said, "What are you doing sitting at the teacher's desk?" He said, "Mr. Bennett always lets me sit here. Ask anyone." I replied, "I highly doubt he lets you sit at his desk. Please take a seat with everyone else." For the rest of the class anytime I got near this kid he would stand up and peer into my face, trying to figure me out. He was seriously so confused. Hilarious! I had to avoid laughing on many occasions. When second period was over word had really spread. I could hardly believe the attention I was getting. I had students I don't even have poking their heads in my room because they'd heard about the sub-who-looks-exactly-like-Mr.-Bennett and they wanted to see for themselves. My third period has a lot of foreign students in it- students from Iraq, Brazil, Columbia, and Pakistan who have only been in the country for under four months. They really bought into it. I almost felt bad deceiving them in such a way when they have just been introduced to the American educational system, but I couldn't let up now! A few of the American students asked to see my license, at which time I got short with them. "Excuse me. I am Mr. Bennett's cousin. We know we look alike. I'm not blind. We get that all the time. But I am a substitute today and I ask that you please treat me with respect. Please do not ask to see my identification again." Two of my troublemakers switched their names when I was taking roll, so I had to remember to switch their names anytime I had to speak with them in class. I was worried that students would get more suspicious as the day went on, so I planned some distractions. I brought a soda and opened it in class because that's something I (Mr. Bennett) would never do. At one point during third period my heart stopped when the door opened and another teacher came in. It was a resource assistant, and she had to take a student out for testing. She gave me a quick glance, didn't recognize me, and called out the name of a student in the class. Only problem was, the wrong student got up to leave! I have two Susan's in that class (all names except my dual identity have been changed), and the other Susan went out. I was fully aware, but I chose to do nothing about it. At this point I was wondering if my job would be on the line when the whole prank came to light, but I was too deep and thus far too successful to go back now. And, truthfully, I knew it wasn't a big deal that the wrong Susan went out. Sure enough, a few minutes later she came back in and said, "They actually wanted you (to the other Susan)." Dodged that bullet.
When my third period ended I had my team planning period. The amount of students that came to my door was so overwhelming that I had to lock the door and then hide behind the closet door because they could still see me through the window (no lie). I took my name tag off, and hurried off to my team planning meeting. When I walked in there were the usual comments about my shave and haircut from the teachers, but then they started making comments. "Mr. Bennett, the kids are going crazy over your new appearance today! I don't know if you were in there or not but they were banging on your door a minute ago. It's all they're talking about." I kept mum and just said, "Well, what are you going to do?" I wasn't going to tell any of the other teachers about the whole experience, until the team leader said to me, "Did you tell them you were someone else? All my students can talk about is if it's really Mr. Bennett or some other guy." I was caught. In my team meeting, with the team leader, the guidance counselor, and the assistance principal all listening. Luckily these people all know me, so I came clean, and downsized the whole thing. "Oh yea, I told them I was my cousin, Mr. Johnson. Apparently they actually believe it!" They all laughed (including the asst. principal) so I figured I was safe. Even still, three teachers had complained that they couldn't stop the kids from discussing my sub, so I debated ending the prank and just telling my afternoon classes who I was. As I walked back to my room I felt like a celebrity; kids honestly turned and whispered as soon as I passed them. They pointed, and acted as if I had just risen from the dead. I just walked straight and did my best not to turn around when they yelled 'Mr. Bennett.' I thought about this all during lunch while I hid in the corner with the lights off and my room locked (once again, no lie. Kids were coming by for much of lunch). When I finally emerged after lunch the whole thing came to a tipping point.
The first student who came in after lunch told me I looked a lot like Mr. Bennett. I gave her the same spiel I'd given all morning, but she was especially curious. She just couldn't tell. She left, and soon thereafter my room was filled with at least 15 students, most of whom weren't in my afternoon class. They had all been at lunch discussing the situation and wanted to see for themselves what was up. While they were crowding into my room and I was doing my best to rebut them, the phone rang. The phone. It rang.
Answering the phone with a quivering "Hello?" the voice on the other line was the office secretary, who said to me, "Is this Mr. Johsnon?" Yikes. With 15-20 students all looking at me on the phone, I had to reveal to the office staff (for fear of my job!) that I was in fact, Mr. Bennett. Luckily for me the secretary thought it was hilarious. All the students in my room burst out laughing and said things like, "I knew it!" or "How did you do that for so long!?"
My two afternoon classes were seriously bummed that they missed out on the prank. They said things to me like "What would Mr. Johnson do with this problem?" and "You should be Mr. Johnson for your last class! You have to!" They felt so cheated to have missed out on the prank the whole school was talking about.
The next day (Tuesday) was quite entertaining as well. I was shocked at how many kids didn't get the memo that it was a joke. They came to class the next day and were surprised to see that Mr. Bennett was back but that he had shaved and received a haircut. They cocked their heads to the side in disbelief that I was actually Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bennett. There was one particularly absent-minded child in my second period class who still hasn't caught on. On his work, under the justification part, he wrote, "Yesterday Mr. Jhonson taught us to do it this way." In class on Tuesday, with a straight face and no hint of a joke, he told me that I looked a lot like my cousin. I didn't have the heart to tell him in front of everyone that we were one and the same. Also on Tuesday the principal came by to chat with me... She said she'd heard a buzz around school and as she walked by my classroom she didn't recognize the teacher. She took a double take through the door window, and then decided it must have been me. Whew. She wasn't mad. The (other) asst. principal asked me if I ever did any modeling, and my janitor gave me a cat call and said "Looking good" to me as we passed in the hall. It appears this look is here to stay...
I really can't believe how big this joke got, and how well it worked. It was a fascinating experience to be in front of all my kids without a physical mask on and pretend to be someone different. I think I may have to do it again in a few years. What a week it's been...