Birthday Unicorns

When I walked in the door to school today, I was a little nervous. A sophomore student who is friends with some of my students/fans held the door open for me and proceeded to follow me up the stairs with a strange grin on her face. She "casually" wished me a happy birthday, which made me a little more nervous. I knew this group of girls was planning something for my birthday, but now I was a little worried about how far they might take those plans.

Being one of only a few young male teachers at an all-girls school is as close as I will ever come to being a celebrity. This year, a particular group of sophomore girls, who have dubbed themselves my "BFFs/Besties," have more or less become my own three-person fan-club. For Christmas, they made me a big pink unicorn at Build-a-Bear, which they named Mr. Rochester, after the love-interest/total creep in Jane Eyre, their summer reading assignment for my class. There is a story behind the unicorn, but more on that later.

I should have known they were going to try and top themselves after last week. One of them made sure everyday to let me know they were getting me a present. I should have known, but I didn't get too nervous until I saw their friend waiting for me by the door. I immediately started considering worst-case scenarios: a banner stretching across the hall, a surprise party in my room, confetti all over the floors, a hallway of students breaking out into song. My students rarely celebrate quietly; already this year a different class kidnapped one of my classroom mascots and held it for ransom in the school's rotunda until I sang the Barney song after school in the middle of a crowd of 9th and 10th graders. Last year, my journalism students took a picture of me next to a cardboard cutout of Zac Efron from High School Musical 3, saved it as my desktop wallpaper, and projected it onto the screen in my classroom with the message: "Mr. KH, Prom '99!"

As I walked up the stairway and rounded the corner, I braced myself. No one broke out into song, no one threw confetti, so at least my worst case scenario hadn't come true. The BFFs were waiting at my door. They had stuck Post-it notes to my door saying, "Look Inside Bestie." I opened the door as they anxiously waited for me to find their surprise. Tied to my chair were two foil balloons, one a standard sized birthday balloon, the other... a giant-sized unicorn head balloon - not my worst-case scenario, but hilarious and over-the-top nonetheless.
I suppose I should explain the unicorn thing. When I started teaching English, I decided that when I had to teach grammar and writing, I would use funny examples that would keep the students interested. Because I teach at an all-girls school, I thought it might be funny to write a bunch of bizarre sentences about evil unicorns for the first grammar lesson I did. For example, on a lesson about passive voice I wrote, "Unicorns are hunted for their silky fur," nothing that is going to win any comedy awards, but at least it is better than the boring Dick and Jane kind of stuff they are used to. The unicorns were a hit, so it just got worse from there, including ridiculous pictures to go along with the grammar Powerpoints and even more ridiculous examples. I also have a collection of classroom mascots, mostly cheap toys that family members and students have given me over the years. For some reason at my first school, the students started giving me all these Happy Meal toys and the collection has grown. Each year it seems like I throw some out, but it keeps growing to the point that I can't fit them on top of my file cabinet anymore. Now, thanks to the unicorn examples, I have a growing unicorn contingent among the other mascots.

I always wondered how teachers developed these weird quirks, and now I am the unicorn guy. What a legacy! I have found that it is almost always the stupid things like these that students remember most about their teachers. My sophomores won't remember that I taught them how to write research papers, literary analyses, or poetry explications, but they will all remember the unicorns.

So here's to birthdays and unicorns, and birthday unicorns. I never dreamed of being that English teacher with a strange unicorn obsession, but what can I say? My life has gone beyond even my wildest dreams.

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