As a scared high school freshman, I had walked into my honors English class with the rumors about the teacher flying through my head. I had heard from the upperclassmen that Mr. Petersen’s 9th grade honors English class was one of the hardest classes I’d ever take. I would either love it or hate it; there would be no in between. I’d heard about him yelling at students for not doing their homework, or for not having their books, and as I walked into that classroom on the first day of high school, I was scared out of my mind. The desks were lined up in perfect rows; the walls in the room were bare except for the cracks that somehow formed in the new paint. My best friend and I realized with joy and relief that we were in the same class and immediately sat down next to each other in the back. We were soon separated and given our assigned seats. It was then that I began to really take in the classroom.
Above the chalkboard in faded letters were the words “well read is well said.” As Mr. Petersen began his opening speech, he used those words, saying that we would have to research our arguments before presenting them to the class, a concept we freshmen weren’t entirely used to.
He told us that we could have fun in his class, but we would have to work hard. He would accept nothing but our best work. And on top of this, he also expected us to go above and beyond what we were normally comfortable with.
We had to, as he put it, “drive the zamboni.”
We laughed at his phrase. We couldn’t believe that a teacher with a reputation like his would use such a phrase, and we brushed it off as just one of his eccentric qualities.
As the year wore on and we got used to Mr. Petersen, or Mr. P as he liked us to call him, we began to realize that we truly were “driving the zamboni” like he had asked us to on the first day of class.
After being asked one day what the phrase meant,Mr. Petersen finally explained it to us. No one ever wants to be the guy who drives the zamboni at the hockey games. Everyone would much rather just “stick to the norm” and be a spectator, or be a member of the team, but never be the zamboni driver. This was because to be the zamboni driver, you had to take a risk. You had to risk being the person who got laughed at because they were just the zamboni driver. You had to risk being the person who was made fun of, who did the hard job that no one else wanted to do. You had to go outside your normal boundaries and do something you wouldn’t normally do. No one wants to step outside their comfort zone. It’s human nature to be comfortable doing one thing and to not do something new. Mr. Petersen obviously recognized this, and wanted us to “break away from the norm” or as he put it, to “drive the zamboni.”
It’s a shame that most students in high school and even in college don’t understand this concept. I know for a fact that many of the students who did not have the privilege to be in Mr. Petersen’s class were sometimes those who were afraid to take the initiative. They were the ones who sat in the back of the class and never participated in class discussions and who never shared their knowledge with the rest of the class.
Mr. Petersen truly is an amazing man. Not only did he help students step outside their comfort zones, he made an effort to know all of his students. As I re-entered his classroom my senior year for AP English, I was able to talk to Mr. Petersen about events that had happened over the summer or about things that had happened in another of my classes. He genuinely made students feel comfortable in his classroom. He may have been the toughest teacher in the school, but he was also one of the favorites.
As I took my seat, I realized I had instinctively sat in the front of the classroom, a change from my freshmen year. It was at that moment that I realized that Mr. P had truly changed my life. No longer was I the scared high school freshman sitting in the back of the classroom, but a confident high school senior sitting in the front. I knew I had Mr. P to thank for that. He had helped me learn to “drive the zamboni.”
On the last day of class for the seniors in 2007, Mr. Petersen gave what has come to be known as his “goodbye speech.” Being the eccentric teacher he was, Mr. P began to play sad music in the background. As Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” played in the background, he began his speech. He talked about how he felt privileged to be the one teaching us, and how we were destined for better things that we didn’t know about yet. The phrase “drive the zamboni” was not used, but the meaning was still there.
By the end of the speech, the class was in tears. As the bell rang, some gave Mr. Petersen a hug, others sat in their seats not wanting to leave, not wanting to accept that their time with Mr. Petersen had come to a close. Mr. Petersen had tears in his eyes as we all promised him that we’d come back and visit, and that we’d send him e-mails. Then it was over. All too soon, our four years with Mr. Petersen were over.
It was now up to us to drive the zamboni on our own.
Michelle Daymon is a freshman from Macedonia, Ohio, majoring in Political Science.