When I was in the seventh-grade in the early seventies, my writing teacher was a young, “hip” guy who stood out from the older teachers in our grade level. In retrospect, he had some serious flaws in his educational delivery. That could explain why he only lasted one year.

One of this teacher’s rules was that students were not allowed to shoot paper wads at the garbage can. Well, you could shoot…you just weren’t allowed to miss. If you did miss, he would measure the distance from the can. You would receive one swat or one day of detention for every inch away from the receptacle.

I have always been pretty bad at basketball, so you can bet that I never threw a paper wad in that class (at least when anyone was watching).

Indeed, I was so bad, I was usually picked last every day we played basketball in PE. And then, the ball was never passed to me. I was just expected to run my gangly body back and forth on the court…

Fast-forward half a century, and I am now the teacher of seventh graders. Not really young and hip anymore…just old and bold!

My students know that I can’t make a basket even if I am standing next to the can. They laugh when I miss, but in my old age, I’m happy to oblige them. Hey, it’s my classroom and my trash can!

I don’t allow students to chuck things across my room. But if they are close to the garbage, I don’t get upset if they try to show off their athletic abilities. As long as they are not throwing milk cartons and juice cartons, I’m okay. Most kids are good with just walking to the garbage can and tossing their refuse from a few inches away.

Times have changed since my days as a kid in junior high. No longer are there paddles or rules that involve measuring the floor with a ruler. Those things wouldn’t fit my teaching style anyway.

At the end of the day, my kids are required to clean up before we leave. We have a system in place. About fifteen minutes before dismissal, I have a group that collects laptops and plugs them into the cart to be recharged. The rest of the kids are required to straighten the desks into perfect rows and also to pick up everything from the floor, right down to the smallest shred of paper.

The night custodian loves my room.

Today, I picked up a wadded piece of paper from the floor. I was standing about fifteen feet from the trash can that was in the corner at the back of the room. I turned with my back to the can. I hollered, “And he shoots!” before throwing the paper wad over my shoulder. Several of the boys rolled their eyes.

But they and I watched as the paper wad flew high into the air and then into the wall…and then as it ricocheted into the adjoining wall of the corner and dramatically plopped into the center of the trash can!

Those crazy boys with the rolling eyes were now standing with their mouths wide open. I stood there the same way.

The boys shouted.


“Did you see that?”

“He made it! He really made it!”

“No way!”

And finally, at age sixty, I was cheered for making a basket!

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2020.


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