The Story Of Terrence Sputnick

Since my first year teaching, I’ve liked to get a bit silly with my students. My bald head is just right for a variety of wigs and 3rd graders still appreciate the beauty of a little pretending. Each year, I create a character, often in the spur-of-the moment. With students now one-to-one and videos living forever, perhaps I’ve settled into a few characters. Time will tell. Mr. Hair, an aging British rockstar, now relegated to teaching math for Mr. Wheeler is the mainstay; but this is the story of his pal, Mr. Terrence Sputnick.

I was ready to film a math lesson, only to realize I had brought the wig for Mr. Hair to my house…and I was at school filming. I grabbed the red wig off my shelf, tried a voice for thirty seconds, turned on the document camera and began. Of course, every good recurring sketch character needs a catch phrase, and Mr. Sputnick’s came naturally; He was modeling math problems with a blue pen because it showed up better on camera. And so he began in a whiny, nasal tone, “If you have red hair, and a blue pen, you are ready to do some math!” Watching the clock as I recorded, I knew my problem instantly. Mr. Sputnick talks too slowly. This lesson is taking FOR. EVER. But whatever. I filmed the lesson, published it and went on.

No doubt, students groaned when they saw the length of the video. Then something happened. I told the students the truth. I didn’t like Mr. Sputnick. His lessons take forever, but also…that voice! I assured them he would not be returning and we would stick with the lively, fast-talking Brit, Mr. Hair. A couple of students agreed. And then, bravely, the conversation began:

“He’s not THAT bad.”

“I kind of liked him.”
In a nasal, imitating tone “If you have a blue pen…”

“Yeah, he’s not bad!”

The students laughed. I was not moved. I held firm for a couple of weeks, shutting that discussion down, only to have it come back. At least once, several students started chanting, unprompted “Sput-nick! Sput-nick! Sput-nick!”

And so, once every chapter or so, Mr. Sputnick, or Terry as his friends call him, returns by video, sometimes talking off camera to his mother and occasionally referencing his mode of transportation (he rides a tricycle) while trying to help kids do math. He’s even grown on me.

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