Many people can boast that they have friends at work. You stop by their office or cubicle for a chat, sit next to them at meetings, maybe even go out for drinks after work or hang out with them on the weekend.
But not many can say that about their boss.
You’ve probably been able to wish a coworker well as they headed off to a new job or made it to retirement.
But we never got the chance to do that.
This week would have been Mr. B’s birthday. Two years ago, for his 60th birthday, our entire department took him to see his favorite band, Fleetwood Mac and I found an old walker on the side of the road and brought it into school with a bow on top. (A joke that didn’t age all that well looking back on it).
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Mr. B was healthy and active. There were no signs of what was on the horizon for him.
The Bad News
We got the call this past July that Mr. B had been rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. He never came home. He never even regained consciousness. A month later, he was gone.
No chance to say goodbye.
No opportunity to thank him for his friendship.
I couldn’t even let him know how much it meant to me that he took a chance and hired a young kid without much experience into his department all those years ago.
All of this in the middle of the pandemic.
I know our department and our school will continue to heal. I know next year will be better. But I really, really miss him right now. There were so many little things that he did that often went unnoticed. I miss the jokes in the hallways, the questions about how C and B were doing, and the way he made our department feel like a family.
Some days, when I arrive early to school and walk into our office, I still expect to see him. Or someone barges into my classroom in the middle of class and, for a brief moment, I expect it to be him as it was for all those years.
Mr. B’s Legacy
Mr. B was like the mayor of the school. He walked the halls daily joking around with everyone he saw. He was one of the grumpiest people you will ever see on the surface, walking around school with what looked like a scowl more often than not. Freshmen tended to be terrified of him. But underneath was the kindest heart you could imagine. He was known for his thoughtfulness, sending flowers or gift baskets to every faculty member for events both good and bad.
Having a baby? Mr. B would drop off embroidered bibs.
Death of a mother or father? Mr. B was making the first donation along with a handwritten note from our social studies department.
A birthday within our department? Mr. B was sure to have ordered an ice cream cake.
In other words, Mr. B was one of those once in a lifetime type of coworkers. He did so much for the school simply by being thoughtful and nice. It seems so simple, but his presence mattered.
My own kids often referred to him as “Uncle.” At least once a week he would stick candy in my lunch bag to bring home to the boys. At the end of each school year, he would mail a package of treats to the boys along with age-appropriate workbooks for them to do over the summer.
Value Those Special Connections
The point is, you don’t often come across people like Mr. B in your life. He was crass, funny, selfless, grumpy, and irreverent all at the same time. He was the most lovable old curmudgeon you could ever imagine. His presence was always memorable, and you were better off for having him in your life.
For me, this was yet another reminder that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. This year has been by far the most draining of my teaching career. Teaching in a hybrid model with half of the kids in person and half on a computer screen on Zoom has been exhausting, frustrating, and disheartening (along with a few other adjectives I will leave out of this). If ever there was a year that we could have used Mr. B’s humor, sarcasm, and wit along with his ability to make every problem seem smaller, it was this year.
5 Ways to Thrive From Mr. B
Over the last 17 years, I learned a thing or two from Mr. B. Work was always more than just a paycheck to him. It was a place where he could make a real impact on the students in his classes. Where he could brighten up any faculty members day. It was a chance for him to produce one of his notorious practical jokes.
Work was never just a job to Mr. B. It was a way of life. But, not in a negative way. He wasn’t anchored and held back by his work. Instead, he crafted the life he wanted to live within his job. Mr. B was able to thrive in the workplace and live his values within this school.
Here are just a few of the important things I learned and remember from Mr. B
There’s Always Time for Joking Around
It’s remarkable how far a good laugh will go toward brightening your workday. As we attempt to teach this year in the midst of a pandemic, we could all use his sarcasm and humor to help us get through.
Mr. B was known for his practical jokes.
One time, I went to the bathroom during class only to come back to an empty classroom. All of my students were gone. Of course, I couldn’t go to the office and let it be known that I lost an entire class of students. So I wandered the halls searching for them. I finally found them up on the third floor in an open classroom. They had been “kidnapped” by Mr. B.
In his introductory powerpoint to his students each year, he would include a picture of himself when he was four years old with the caption, “The last time I smiled!” while telling them, “If you want to see a clown, go to the circus.” He probably terrified the students on that first day with his grumpy demeanor, but it wasn’t long until his sarcasm and humor shone through.
Ignore Status in the Workplace
Quite simply, treat everyone well. In most jobs, it seems like a hierarchy develops based on experience, age, and position. For the most part, this is true in schools as well. But not to Mr. B. He was thoughtful and kind to everyone in our building. It didn’t matter if you were a principal, janitor, secretary, teacher’s aide, or counselor. Everyone was treated with respect and Mr. B never looked at anyone differently because of their position within the school.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
As teachers, our goal is to prepare our students for the rest of their lives. Regardless of what subject we teach, we all have this in common. Once in a while, some educators lose sight of that and start to view themselves and their subject as more important than others. My guess is this is true in all professions. But success comes from humility. Mr. B held a prominent position as the department head. He was in charge of all social studies teachers and evaluated our performance each year. But Mr. B never took himself too seriously, and he never acted like he was above any of us. Everyone is expendable and no one knows it all.
Remain “Dumb” on Your Smartphone
Mr. B had a smartphone, but he hardly knew how to use it. Most of the department would joke around with him about this, and it was funny, but there was also something admirable about his incognizance. His lack of understanding about smartphones meant that he wasn’t glued to his. In fact, he was hardly ever on it.
Related Post: I Quit Social Media
One of Mr. B’s few rules for our department was that whenever possible, we should all eat together and no cell phones during lunch. Mr. B was all about making those social connections with people (we were the SOCIAL studies department, after all), and our digital dependence clearly gets in the way of making stronger connections with people.
Pick Your Battles, But Fight Like Hell
Mr. B was normally very accommodating. But he was no pushover. When Mr. B was angry and had something to say, he wasn’t afraid to say it. If there was a battle worth fighting within the school, Mr. B was there and he was ready. As a department head, he was in a leadership position and we all loved knowing that he had our backs if anything serious took place. But I also think the fact that he was so agreeable most of the time helped his arguments carry that much more weight. When Mr. B spoke, he had the respect so that those in power listened.
So here’s to you, Mr. B.
I hope your birthday is spent enjoying that Dewar’s on the rocks up in heaven.
We miss you.