Taking Note

I read with some interest the story of the fifth grade kid who missed school the other day and had a note from President Obama excusing him. At least three publications I have seen have labeled the kid’s note a ‘presidential pardon’ – wholly inaccurate as a pardon is forgiveness from a crime or misdeed. But I’m nit-picking.

No matter. The note is quite the heirloom; I hope he gets it back from his teacher.

I got to thinking about the notes I received this past year in my New Orleans high school classroom; there were no notes from the president, nor anyone else of any prominence. I did not get any notes signed ‘Epstein’s Mother’ – in large part because I had no kids named ‘Epstein’ – although I did get one from a mom who signed the note ‘Christina’s* mom’ but with her full name and phone number underneath.

In our school, the notes need to be processed through the office; they are the ones who do the actual record keeping, though the students do need to show the excuses to their teachers. We, in turn, are to sign them so the kid can return them to the office, and we make any record keeping such as gradebook/assignment adjustments accordingly.

Of course I saw the usual doctors and dentist notes – including specialties ranging from optometrists to OB/GYNs and dermatologists. The notes from pediatricians that listed not my student’s name, but rather the name of the student’s child always gave me pause, as did the couple that I received from psychiatrist’s offices.

The court notices were the most sobering.

Not unusual to see the notices from district court that the kid in my charge had a court appearance – I’ve seen plenty of those over my four years here. What did surprise me a lot this year were the kids who were handing me these notices. Kids that I wasn’t having disciplinary issues with. Kids that didn’t strike me as ‘troublemakers.’ Kids that I now had at least an inkling about some of where their classroom distractedness and academic issues may be stemming from.

The kids that were definitely uncomfortable with handing me their court papers to initial. The kids that weren’t. The kids that, almost gleefully, made a production out of bringing me their court papers: waving them at me, singing about their court appearances, showing them off with pride to classmates. Bragging about them.

Sometimes, when the student would show their court papers to somebody on their way back to their seat just after I had signed them, I felt, for just the briefest of moments, like some sort of rock star who had just leaned over the front of the stage and autographed an 8-by-10 glossy for a diehard fan.

Yeah, sometimes, they are that excited to show them off.

The incident in Minneapolis the other day wasn’t the first time President Obama has done that; he did something similar for a young girl a year or so ago. He writes his notes on nice paper, with a White House letterhead embossed at the top. The notes I get are usually crumpled and tattered; the ones from the court are usually pink or yellow, oftentimes part of some triplicate form set up. They have stamped signatures stating ‘Clerk of Court’ next to a signature.

They only tell me a small part of the story, but they frequently give me at least some partial answers.

A note from the president excusing a kid from class? Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure. I also can’t say it would be the strangest note a kid ever handed me.


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