Mr. Buttsubmitted anonymously
June 15, 2013
In 9th grade I was confronted with a massive challenge to every fiber of my moral being, in the form of a science teacher named Mr. Butt.When I got my class schedule in the mail for my first semester of high school, I scanned down to see that in the column with the teacher's names, listed next to Physical Science 1, was "Butt." I thought someone was pulling a prank on me. No way could I have a teacher named "Butt", right? No way would a person actually have that last name. And if they did, no WAY would they be so crazy as to teach high school, right? I examined the envelope, turned the paper over, smelled its mimeograph as if to authenticate it in this manner. It had to be a joke. I mean, RIGHT?
But nope.A pack of nervous 9th graders, smirking with not-fully disguiseable curiosity at how we would handle this situation filed in to the science room that first day. How could we possibly hold up for one day, let alone all semester? Who would crack first?
Mr. Butt was a tall man who lurched forward at a slightly odd angle, as if wearing high heels. When he turned to face the chalkboard to write his name, as if we weren't WELL aware, as if we weren't already quietly dying inside, we were faced with the impossible fact that he wore his pants belted up just a little too high. So that too accentuated his, well, you know. We were practically looking around for the hidden camera.
Mr. Butt had a very heavy Pakistani accent. We could hardly understand him, actually. Because of that, we had extra opportunities to raise our hands. Each time this happened, his name would be used, and yet another kid took the opportunity to test us all to the furthest reaches of our ability to maintain decorum. "Sorry, Mr. Butt, could you repeat that?" The class clowns thought they had won the lottery. The "good kids" wondered why god had abandoned them.
I had to dig deep.
Who did I want to be? The kid who called out what everyone was just barely not saying ("Mr. Butt... how... could your name really be... Butt???"), which would let out the collective pressure, but possibly make a grown man cry? Or could I somehow rise above? I gave this a good deal of thought. Anybody who was audacious enough to come into the laboratory of cruelty that is the American suburban high school classroom, with the last name of Butt, and think he was actually going to be able to teach us anything, must either be so many degrees more hopelessly doomed in his career choice--and would face levels of discrimination that I would never, ever know--OR he was that many degrees more brave than I would ever have the chance to even try to be.
There was something else, too. The fact of him standing there in front of us suggested that maybe he knew about some science fiction reality that we were not yet privy to--one in which a person can have a name like that and somehow not be mercilessly socially slaughtered. A person with the name Butt could marry, have kids. Have a job and, like, a real life??
I think this is what intrigued us. In any case, we survived it, though I still don't exactly know how. We all bit the bullet that semester, and Mr. Butt taught us physical science. At the end, he gave out awards for the outstanding students in the class. He surprised me by calling my name. Shaking Mr. Butt's hand, I collected my certificate. I took it, and the fact that I had actually managed to give him a non-ironic smile along with my handshake, as recognition of something totally different, though. Mr. Butt had unwittingly broadened my horizons as to what's possible in the world. He helped me grow an empathy muscle that by rights maybe shouldn't have had to come along so early in life. But it has served me well.