Several years ago, while I was still teaching advanced English students at a local high school, I learned that I had prostate cancer and needed to have surgery. The diagnosis frightened me, of course, but I was also greatly concerned because I would miss six weeks of school thereby affecting the education of the seniors I was teaching. Before announcing to them that I would be away during the entire first part of their second semester, I talked with my principal and suggested to him that he hire a retired teacher I knew to replace me during that time. I was confident that Ms. Alvord was completely competent to keep these students on schedule, gaining the information they needed in order to receive their high school diplomas. I also figured that since they were advanced students, they could also handle the truth about my medical situation so I told them that I was to have prostate surgery.
While I was out, Mary was tenacious in keeping me informed about the progress of the classes and often told me little anecdotes about my students. One day as I quizzed her about the progress she was making, she looked at me and said, “You know you have a real joker in 4th period.” I replied: “I know exactly who you are talking about–Mike Green.” “Yes, that’s the one,” Mary continued. “The other day out of the blue and in class, he said, ‘Ms. Alvord, we heard that Mr. Cooper has had a sex change.’” Mary said that his comment caught her off guard for only a moment before she responded: “He did. I’m the new Mr. Cooper.”