Daily Archives: September 7, 2011

Mr. Swartz and The Yardstick

When I was in school kids went from ‘grade’ school (K-6th grade) to ‘junior high’ (7th and 8th grade), and finally to ‘high’ school (9th – 12th grade).

 The junior high I went to was what could only be described as a ‘teacher dumping ground’.  Teachers who had gained tenure status were extremely difficult to fire, let alone discipline.  So, in light of that I’m convinced that our junior high teachers were all assigned to the school on the basis that they were either a) incompetent, b) crazy, or c) both and this place was their last hope.

 Most of them were crazy, by the way.

 One such whacko was a science teacher named Mr. Swartz.   If you have ever seen the old television series “Lost In Space”, then you have seen Mr. Swartz in the person of Dr. Smith, right down to the wild hairdo and creepy smile.

 Mr. Swartz had two loves in his life.  The second of these was rocks – sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous (though I suspect he was abnormally attached to the igneous ones, I could never be certain).  However, his love of the rocks positively paled in comparison to his love for his yardstick…no, I’m not being euphemistic. 

 I mean a real yardstick – for measuring distances..well, distances up to three feet.

 The yardstick was carried everywhere he went.  He used it to point out items of immense interest, on the chalkboard, during class.  He’d also use it to point at the raised hand of a student eager to answer one of his questions.

 During the breaks between classes, Mr. Swartz could be seen patrolling the hallway outside his classroom swinging the yardstick like a baton.

 One of the more diabolical uses, for his beloved yardstick, involved smacking it down, full force, on a desk beside the head of a sleeping student.   I saw many a kid fall to the floor, and lie there dazed, after such a rude awakening.

 Since the school had no air-conditioning, the windows were left open when the weather warranted…and that was often.

 I was very glad that I had Mr. Swartz in the morning, as the buildup of afternoon heat in his second floor classroom, coupled with his droning voice, led to many a snoozing student and subsequent yardstick whack-on-the-desk, and I wanted no part of that.  I much preferred to do my afternoon snoozing under the ever-watchful eye of my blind-as-a-bat English teacher, Miss Thompson.

 One of my fellow students, in Mr. Swartz’ class, had a penchant for snoozing.  I swear, I don’t think this guy ever slept at night.  We’d find him asleep in gym class, math class, and once in the midst of a horrendous food fight in the cafeteria!

 One morning, he fell asleep (yet again) in Mr. Swartz’ class. After the yardstick-on-the-desk trick woke him up, Mr. Swartz laid the yardstick down between his widespread feet and proceeded to read him the riot act.

 Seizing upon the opportunity, another student carefully slid the yardstick behind the screaming teacher, and passed it along the aisle student by student.

 I was last in line, and since we hadn’t had a “plan” for this, I was momentarily unsure as to what to do.

 Not to worry, Dan (a friend since third grade) was sitting next to me, and he jerked his head over his shoulder and towards the open window.

 I got it, right away, and the last anyone ever saw of that yardstick was it’s maiden (and short-lived) flight from the second story into a very thick hedge.

 After he had finished berating the snoozy kid, Mr. Swartz reached down to retrieve his yardstick, and came up empty-handed.

 He wheeled around, eyes darting this way and that, looking very panicked.

 “WHERE IS MY YARDSTICK????????”, he bellowed.

 No one answered, so he shouted it again, and again.



 By this time I was beginning to get slightly alarmed as Mr. Swartz face was red, his veins bulging, and I thought his head might actually explode.

Totally not Mr. Swartz, but since I love "12 Angry Men" and Lee J Cobb...well, there you have it. An aside - this picture was incorrectly identified as Jack Klugman by some institute for higher learning where I snagged the photo. I weep for our educational standards.

 I snickered into my hand, careful to avoid eye contact, pretending to have a coughing fit.

 Finally he gave up when it became clear he’d have a stroke before anyone answered him.

Mr. Swartz continued class, albeit out of sorts without his trusty yardstick.

 He never procured another one either. 

 Strange episode, strange little man.