A number of years ago, while browsing through the library on Ramstein Air Base in Germany, I chanced upon a book of quotations. It was small thing about as thick as my finger, something I sat down and read on the spot without even bothering to check it out. One of the quotations I read in that little book has stayed with me over the years. It comes from another book, one titled "Country Town Sayings," written by a fellow named Edgar Watson Howe way back in 1911. There were several of Howe's sayings in the thin little book that I read, but one I remember so well goes this way: "A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice."
And to kids as well, apparently, as I learned one day while I was teaching chemistry in Port Arthur, Texas. Thick gray clouds had run from horizon to horizon as I drove to work that morning, and as the day wore on the skies outside the floor-to-ceiling windows that lined my chemistry lab grew increasingly dark and threatening. Then, just as fifth period was beginning, the voice of one of the assistant principals came over the loudspeaker.
"Teachers," he said. "There's a powerful storm approaching us very rapidly. We've just been notified that we are under a tornado watch. Take whatever precautions you can to protect your students, and prepare them to take shelter, either in your classroom or in the hallway, whichever seems safest, if the need arises."
The five lab benches in my classroom had two-inch thick soapstone tops bolted to solid wooden pedestals, which were bolted to the concrete floor. The obvious place for the students if a bad storm struck was under the benches at which they were already sitting. I told them that was where they were to go if the need arose.
Their response? A whole lot of giggling and laughing. I've always been open and accepting with my students, and you should have heard that bunch of teenage troublemakers. It was as though I had just told them the best joke they'd ever heard.
"Sure, Mister Garrett," one teenage boy said, grinning from ear to ear. "We're going to hide under the benches like some bunch of first graders." The others joined in, laughing and giggling.
Outside the windows, the skies, now dark green, chose that precise moment to open up. Lightning flashed. A peal of thunder as loud as anything I have ever heard in my life shook the whole building. The lights went out. A blast of wind-driven rain and half-inch round hail exploded against the windows. I turned my head toward the glass, startled by the suddenness and violence of the storm.
When I looked back there wasn't a single head showing above the benches.