What’s in a teacher’s drawers?

I imagine my poor mother, a retired teacher, will faint away cold from shock and shame after reading this headline. But if you are thinking about any type of drawers other than desk drawers, then you are indeed a naughty pupil. Consider yourself in detention.

It’s that time of year when teachers clean up their classrooms in preparation for a new year, and what I am referring to, worrisome Mom, is not an undergarment but that secret, well-guarded drawer wherein each teacher stores the contraband of the classroom, the many items that kids often bring to school when Momma wasn’t looking, troublesome trinkets that teachers have to take away and hold for safekeeping until the end of the day, the end of the year - or forever.

Slingshots, dull little pocket knives, toys, you name it, it’s probably in there, a treasure drawer full of the loot of mischievous childhood, collecting dust and desire until that final day of school when most – but not all – possessions are returned to their juvenile owners. Come August, the drawer must be dumped and ready to be refilled by a new crop of students.

I recall once taking a huge bullfrog to Varnville Elementary School. Of course, it’s hard to hide a bullfrog and, of course, the teacher nabbed it. It was on the same day my buddy Timmy got his Yo-Yo taken. At the end of the year, Timmy got his Yo-Yo back, good as new, but I never saw my frog again. It’s a shame, too. His name was Jeremiah. He was a good friend of mine.

I recently posed this question to a handful of current and former teachers: what is the craziest thing you’ve ever confiscated from a student?

Mrs. Chavous said she took a handful of firecrackers from a kid because “he kept fiddling with them and not paying attention to the lesson.” She stuck them in her desk drawer and later threw them out. The next week a firecracker exploded in a student’s desk. Same kid. He had brought fresh supplies.

Mrs. Conder said that she once confiscated a hand-written cardboard sign that a young wiseguy held up in class that read “Help! I’m Homeless!” She adds that she’s holding on to his sign just in case he becomes a famous comedian one day and that sign becomes worth a lot of money.

Mrs. Bartley said that one preschooler brought a bottle of syrup to school. She said she didn’t know why the kid had the syrup, but added that it was butter maple and delicious and no, she didn’t give it back.

Other items mentioned included lizards, an electric razor, a jar of spiders complete with hatching eggs, a baby copperhead in a shoebox, caterpillars, a cat rescued from the school parking lot, a bag of moss passed off as drugs, and an armadillo. One teacher said she has had to recover and confiscate items from inside children’s ears and noses.

One anonymous teacher confiscated a bottle of “ardent spirits” during a field trip. The spirits ended up being stored in a school vault and then mysteriously disappeared. If the teacher knew who took the bottle home, she wouldn’t tell me over the phone.

And then there’s the high school teacher who said that some of the things she takes I couldn’t write about in a family newspaper, such as the steamy love notes she intercepts that she is afraid to read without first taking her heart medication.

Not all items that find their way into the teacher’s drawer are mischievous or illegal, as Mrs. Lainey Burdge pointed out. Some are left behind by accident, to become memories of students passing by, mementos of the interaction between child and adult, a sort of parting gift to repay the kindness of a teacher and mentor.

“An ROTC pin… one lonely hoop earring… an ink pen with a springy Santa Claus winking back at me… For the last five years, students have left all sorts of trinkets behind in my classroom,” writes Burdge. “I used to believe that my teaching was a gift to my students. What I have learned is that my students are gifts to me. So when I open my desk drawer and catch a quick glance of the physical pieces that have been left behind, I smile knowing they represent something that can never grow dull or fade away. They have taught me that each one of them has worth and value, and are capable of accomplishments more far-reaching and long-lasting than anything that can be learned in a book… Every day, every year, hundreds of students sit in my room and share a little piece of themselves with me. And in my heart, I know that what they truly leave behind is a priceless and eternal gift.”

Well said, Mrs. Burdge. I can’t top that, so I think I’ll stop here. Besides, I’m getting kind of sad and emotional. I might even cry.

I sure do miss my bullfrog right about now.

Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.