My favorite April Fools’ Day joke came not as a child or teenager but when I was full grown and teaching school. The previous year the Army had sent us to Kaiserslautern, West Germany too late for me to be hired by the school system so I spent the year serving as a substitute teacher. Fifth grade teacher Mr. Jackson was not out often but I loved being called to sub for him. He was a young African American teacher who knew how to manage a classroom and teach creatively all at the same time. I knew I would have a good day when I had his classes. Evidently, the admiration was mutual since he requested me when he knew he would be out.
Since I was hired full time the next year, those days of substitution were over, but Mr. Jackson and I remained friends and exchanged good ideas in the teacher’s lounge. As April Fools’ Day approached, we cooked up a plot. He would take my second grade class for the morning and insist that he was Mrs. Butler, and I would take his fifth grade class claiming to be Mr. Jackson. The contrast could hardly have been greater between a dark-skinned male and a female who had inherited her auburn-haired grandmother’s fair complexion without her beautiful hair.
Students filing in to fifth grade that morning either remembered that I had subbed the year before and assumed Mr. Jackson was out, or they had seen me with second graders and wondered what was going on. They began to catch on to the April Fools’ joke when I insisted on being called “Mr. Jackson.”
Mr. Jackson reported second graders with the giggles when he had them call him “Mrs. Butler.” That year I had a behaviorally challenged student we’ll call Henry who had gained a reputation known throughout the school when he was a first grader. Henry and I had been working together on changes to that behavior since school began.
I didn't alert Mr. Jackson to problem students, knowing he was quite capable of handling whatever happened. I’d just given him my routines and lesson plans. He planned to pick out Henry on his own and made sure he did not look up to find him as he called the roll.
Once they got the joke, students in both classes expected us to go back to our own classrooms after roll call. The fifth graders adapted with a bit of wonder as their lessons went on as usual and smirked as they said to me, “Mr. Jackson, I don’t understand this problem.” Mr. Jackson and I returned to our own classes after lunch. Our students seemed to enjoy the prank as much as we did. My favorite part came when Mr. Jackson told me that Henry was so well behaved that he could not pick him out!
Here’s hoping you have a happy April Fool’s Day – maybe with a fun prank or two!