“Staying home so you can work on your race car isn’t an acceptable excuse for missing school, Jonathan.”
I still remember standing in my first-period teacher’s classroom in eighth grade and hearing her tell me those words.
I couldn’t have disagreed with her more, but I didn’t dare say that to her.
The truth is, I missed quite a bit of school growing up. Sometimes it was because I was sick, and a few times I was absent because I had gone hunting or fishing. But most of the time, when I missed school, it was because I was busy racing.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I was a good student. Other than failing Pre-Calculus, I made mostly A’s and B’s in high school, and I rarely got in trouble. But you better believe I wouldn’t think twice about playing hooky so I could go racing or work on my race car.
I looked at it like this: some kids were excused to miss class for ball games, others missed for band competitions, and some even missed for beta club trips or student government outings.
I didn’t participate in sports and I didn’t play in the band. Neither did I have time to join school clubs or organizations. My extracurricular activity was racing, and sometimes it required me to miss a day or two of school.
That’s just the way it was.
Now I’m 31 years old and I’ve been teaching high school English for six years. In my educational career, I’ve gone from the student to the teacher, but when it comes to racing, very little has changed.
I still race, and occasionally I still find myself playing hooky because of it. I try to minimize this, and I also try to avoid telling anyone that I’m missing work because of racing.
I wouldn’t say that it’s frowned upon, but it isn’t exactly viewed in the best light.
Take yesterday, for example.
Just after fourth period, a coworker came up to me and asked if there was a big race at the dirt track this weekend.
“As a matter of fact, there is,” I told her. “It’s a three-day event, and they’re paying big money in every class. How’d you know?”
One of her students had told her that he needed to checkout so he could go home and work on his race car. Apparently, he had work to do to get it ready for this weekend’s big race, she explained.
“Sounds about right,” I said. “So do I.”
The student is a junior, and as you’ve probably guessed, he’s a racer. He walks by my classroom every day on his way to English class. Sometimes we talk racing.
I understood his desire to go home and work on his race car, but I didn’t say this to his teacher. Instead I just shrugged.
“Kids these days,” I said with a chuckle.
If I were being honest, though, I probably would have said something like this:
Like sports, music, and clubs, racing requires a lot of time and hard work to be successful. Most of us try to fit that around work and school and other obligations. Racers are a dedicated group of individuals, but most of the ones I know have their priorities in order.
Sometimes, though, we get behind the eight ball and we have to be creative with our time and resources. Occasionally that requires us to play hooky from work or school.
I’ve yet to have a race car driver in class, but I hope someday I do. Like the ball players and band members, I won’t begrudge him or her missing a day or two of class, so long as it’s not excessive and they make up the work that’s missed. Hopefully we can talk about how the racing went when they get back.
Whatever the case, I tried my best to slip out of work a little early yesterday. I’m racing in that same big race my coworker asked me about and I have a lot of work to do.
But she saw me headed toward the parking lot and called me back to ask a question about a meeting we have coming up. Thankfully, she also saw that I was in a hurry.
“Never mind, just go ahead,” she hollered down the hallway. “We can talk about it tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” I yelled back.
But I was smiling ear to ear as the door swung shut behind me. I knew full well that I wouldn’t be at work the next day.
I’d be playing hooky to work on my race car.