Sitting in Mike Troy’s room for advisory almost every day of school, I always find myself looking at the wall behind his desk. The wooden surface is covered floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with photographs. Pictures of people, cars, kids, and dogs, of tardy slips, bumper stickers, newspaper clippings, and more: each of these has a story.
I have a similar experience from most of my teachers’ classrooms. It’s inevitable that my eyes wander in class, regardless of how intrigued I may be by the curriculum, so I often find myself looking at something and thinking to myself: what is that? So, I asked some of my teachers to show me what they consider to be the most interesting thing in their room, and to tell me its story.
The Picture Board
It’s hard to miss the most interesting thing in Troy’s room. In 1999, the wood shop at Oyster River High School (ORHS) burnt down in an act of arson. Over the following years, Troy had his students in his industrial technology classes transform the newly re-built shop into something that felt like theirs. “We call it the picture board,” says Troy. “I let the students put their pictures up there—anything that was interesting. They made it their room, and not just my classroom.”
Pictures often get added without Troy’s knowledge, and some students have even come back after graduating specifically to add to the wall. “Every now and then, I’ll be looking at it and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that picture was on there!’”
Photos on the wall include former students, those students’ kids, their cars and their pets, pictures of Troy and his family, newspaper articles and comics, stickers, drawings, and everything else in between. “One day I was sat where the students sit, and I looked up at the wall and [thought], ‘talk about distracting!’” says Troy. But that distraction is worth it because “It’s not just a boring classroom.”
Quoddy the Tortoise
Sometimes the most interesting or significant thing in a teacher’s room isn’t the most obvious. In 2015, Jake Baver, an English tutor at ORHS, was given a wood-burned picture of his pet tortoise, Quoddy, as a Christmas gift. The giver was the first student that Baver had worked with one-on-one as a paraeducator and that student created the picture because he had seen how much Quoddy meant to Baver.
For Baver, it “represents a connection that took a lot of effort to forge. […] If I can find success with that student, and if he could find success with me, […] it makes it easier for me to look at my career going forward, with all the different connections that I can make now and see how I can be helpful [to students].”
A Plastic Cow
Before she worked at ORHS, Erica Cooke, an ORHS math teacher, received a plastic cow as a gift from a co-worker as a parting gift before that coworker left for a trip to China to work in the Peace Corps. “Before she left, she gave our little group of teacher friends each a thing, and she gave me a cow to remember her by.”
For Cooke, the cow is “a reminder that school is fun, and that I’ve made some great connections with some of my coworkers.” Moreover, it serves as a reminder of Cooke’s coworker, and the person that she was to Cooke during the time that they worked together. “The teacher who gave it to me was also a great, great teacher, so I always just kind of strive to be like her. It’s a little reminder to try your best and just have fun.”
A Village from the Beach
Andrea von Oeyen, strings teacher at ORHS and Oyster River Middle School (ORMS), has a collection of scenes created from stuff found on the beach, including tiny shells, rocks, seeds, pieces of driftwood, and other miscellaneous items. Rick Rogers, a paraeducator at ORMS, “creates these beach scenes out of stuff he gathers on his beach walks, and he does all of the carving and the little fine details,” says von Oeyen. The only items not from the beach are pieces of wire used for extra detail and hot glue used to connect the scene’s parts together. Von Oeyen has a few of Rogers’ pieces spread around her office at home and her classroom at ORMS.
However, the piece that von Oeyen picked from her classroom holds a special significance. In 2020, von Oeyen asked Rogers if she could buy one of his pieces to give to her grandmother shortly before she passed away. Instead of taking von Oeyen’s offer, Rogers gave her his pieces instead. “He basically gave me three of them and said, ‘just take whatever ones you want. I don’t want you to pay me for it.’ He’s such a kind man. He’s the sweetest person.” Von Oeyen gratefully accepted the pieces from Rogers and gave this one to her grandmother. After her grandmother’s passing, von Oeyen has kept the piece in her classroom at ORMS as a reminder of her grandmother and of Rogers’ kindness.
If you’ve ever stepped foot in Celeste Best’s classroom, you’ve surely seen Dead Fred hanging around somewhere. Best, a science teacher at ORHS, teaches Forensics. That’s where Dead Fred comes in. Dead Fred is “our resident murder victim for forensics,” says Best. “Dead Fred used to make a couple of appearances every year in crime scenes, and the fire department would bring him over because he was a training dummy for [them], but then they got a new one.” So, about two years ago, three years after his first appearance in Forensics, “Dead Fred became a permanent resident of L252.”
“It’s really funny when people who don’t know about dead Fred walk into the room and think it’s a student,” says Best. “And he has definitely played a role in some pranks.” One time, following a professional development day where Dead Fred was used in a demonstration, Best hadn’t had time to bring him back to her room. Someone else delivered Dead Fred back home, propping him up in Best’s desk chair. However, Best has an appointment the following morning. “So, at about 7:45am, a [substitute teacher] who was not familiar with Dead Fred walked into the room, turned the lights on, and thought there was a dead body sitting at my desk. [Although] I have my suspicions of who did that, I was not able to prove it forensically. It was pretty funny, and the [substitute teacher] refused to work in my classroom after that.”
So, the next time you’re in class and something catches your eye, whether on the wall, on a desk, on a shelf, or somewhere else, remember everything has a story—one often worth sharing. In Baver’s words, “Connection is important. So, anytime you find connections with people, find ways to appreciate them, whether it be with objects or otherwise, because that’s the whole point of [life].”