September 2021: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, creator, Inkandescent PR + Publishing Co. — There’s no denying the fact that what is required of public school teachers has changed dramatically in the years since Phil Done published his fabulously funny, heartwarming book, 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny.
I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new school year than by featuring Phil and his story about what really matters in life—laughter, kindness, and the joy of being 8 years old.
Here’s the story: After nearly three decades of teaching, Done has amassed an impressive collection of more than 75 apple ornaments, dozens and dozens of neckties, and at last count, 37 “World’s Greatest Teacher” mugs. Along the way, he has become an expert in knowing what truly matters in life. (He also has an unerring ability to quickly identify and discreetly toss any cupcakes with frosting that has been licked.)
Consider the chapter about the Christmas gifts that have warmed his heart (below). Here, he tells the tale of Henry—a usually lively child who forgot to get him a Christmas present. “It was the day before winter break, and with urging from the kids, I decided to open my gifts,” Done explains. “Later at lunch, I noticed that Henry was quietly sitting at the end of the table with no lunch.”
Done asked Henry if he would like to have one of the cafeteria ladies make him a peanut-butter sandwich. Henry shook his head. “Are you sure?” Done prodded. Henry nodded. “Perhaps my opening the gifts had made him sad. Henry hadn’t given me one. Of course, I didn’t expect anything.”
After lunch, the class had silent reading time. That’s when Done noticed Henry hiding behind the piano with a pair of scissors and a tape dispenser on the floor next to him.
When the reading time was over, Henry gave his teacher a thin package wrapped in binder paper. Phil carefully unwrapped it and pulled out a card made from red construction paper. On the cover, it said, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Done” with a smiley face in the O. Taped inside were eight quarters, four dimes, four nickels, and 15 pennies—$2.75—the price of one school lunch.
A Dozen Memorable Gifts: Phil Done recalls some other memorable teacher gifts that he and his colleagues have received from students.
- A pair of earrings from a child who said they reminded him of his teacher. They were hoop earrings with marijuana leaves in them.
- A set of highball glasses
- A Barbie doll with a crocheted dress that fits over a toilet paper roll
- A box of chocolates. One-third was gone. Another third was half-eaten. Apparently, the child put them back until he found the filling he liked.
- A porcelain mask of Elvis
- An emergency survival kit, including Red Bull, the teacher’s favorite candy, and quick microwavable meals
- My aide received one earring. When she asked about the other one, the student said he had given it to the librarian.
- A used roll of duct tape
- An avocado wrapped in aluminum foil
- A mug that said “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” (in December)
- A wall calendar that was about to expire
- Santa boxer shorts—from the child’s mother
I’m not the only one who loves Phil’s book. The highly popular Real Simple magazine wrote a sweet review of it, and after that came accolades from critics, readers, and even some of his old students.
About Phillip Done: The author of the celebrated 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching, Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind: Thoughts on Teacherhood, The Charms of Miss O’Hara: Tales of Gone with the Wind and the Golden Age of Hollywood from Scarlett’s Little Sister, The Ornament Box: A Love Story, with a foreword by screen legend Debbie Reynolds, and his newest book, The Art of Teaching Children: All I Learned from a Lifetime in the Classroom. Learn more phillipdone.org.