There are days at work that you’d rather forget, and then there are days that no one is going to let you live down. Donald Wood, a math teacher at McGavok High School in Nashville, had one of the latter days last week. His class was getting a little rowdy and he was having a Rodney Dangerfield moment, when apparently 17 years of putting up with youngsters caught up with him. Mr. Wood proceeded to show them the square root of batshit crazy.
He started screaming and hurling furniture around the room. By the time police and paramedics got there, he’d scared the living crap out of his entire class, most of whom fled the room. In the process he tossed tables and desks in various directions, and smashed a desk chair through the window. It’s not all on the clip below (and parts of the video make you crave a half dose of Dramamine), but I’m both impressed and discouraged that someone had a camera phone going as early as they did.
Not to pile on too badly, but I really enjoy the Norman-Bates-esque quiet moments Mr. Wood has before he goes completely off the reservation. Law enforcement is “investigating,” which is police-speak for, “It’s pretty clear what happened, but the guy is bonkers and we have no idea what set him off. But he was dealing with a roomful of pubescents so we totally get where he was coming from.” Those rascally cops are economical with their words. In the meantime, the entire school-psychology team for the district is probably delighted that they get to deal with an issue besides mommy-daddy angst or roid rage in the locker room.
The truth is, my heart goes out to Mr. Wood. He’s been in the school system for 17 years and while they might turn up a complaint or three in that amount of time, the odds are that he’s a decent guy and a devoted educator. I don’t think there’s any profession where you don’t see people go postal every once in a while — hopefully, without the bullets. There was Steven Slater, the flight attendant who spectacularly commandeered the in-flight microphone, cussed out a passenger and made off down the emergency slide with a couple of beers in his hand. Presidential candidate Howard Dean screamed after the Iowa Democratic caucus, although that came across a lot more uncontrolled than it should have. I once worked with a guy who ran two full laps around the floor we worked on, yelling at the top of his lungs and tearing the entire contents out of a steno book a page at a time before he finally agreed to be escorted from the building.
Actually, the quiet, psychotic elements in the workplace should get more bad press. Take my junior high school social studies teacher – Norm Oleson. He was something like 30 years old, tall and gangly … and mean. I remember one day, several of us had seen the then-current Burger King promotions inviting patrons to “find Herb” and win prizes, and we decided that Mr. Oleson looked a little like the free-food object. When we said so, he grabbed my friend Mike M. by the back of the neck and slowly, deliberately, repeatedly slammed his head into a chalkboard. If my memory is to be trusted, Mike needed medical attention. What fun it was when Judson was leaning back in his chair, and without warning, Mr. Oleson kicked it out from under him, then sent him to the school clinic to see about the gash Judson had opened up on his head crashing to the floor. And on another day, Mr. Oleson was trying to tell us about lumberjacks and the way they tested one another’s toughness: they held an axe out at arm’s length and cut an apple off the head of one of their buddies. A ridiculous story because for a grown man, that’s a pretty simple task. But when Mr. Oleson stood me at the front of the class and handed an actual axe to Kathy M., the smallest and meekest girl in the class, things started looking pretty serious when he made her knock an apple off of mine. Did I mention that he was literally sharpening the axe while he built up the story to her little feat of manhood? Apparently, our psycho teacher was listening to the William Tell Overture and decided that the only thing that could make it better was student blood on the floor of his classroom.
So, I suppose I have some sympathy for our protagonist, Mr. Wood. That won’t get him back in the classroom, but absent a full metal jacket, I don’t think it’s the ones who go out in a bang that you really have to worry about. If we didn’t have genuinely stupid or crazy people to deal with, I suspect that we wouldn’t see these things.