On July 30, when our story begins, Tucker Hein didn't just have any old first-day-on-the-job jitters. He had first-day-at-his-first-real-job jitters.
"I think you start any new job, you’re gonna be nervous on your first day," he says. "I’m a night owl, and this whole getting up early in the adult world is kind of hard for me. So my biggest nightmare was not waking up for my alarm the first day."
Mr. Hein graduated from the University of Oklahoma in May and spent the summer preparing to teach 9th grade algebra at Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School East.
And, because Mr. Hein had been training with Teach for America, he was a little behind schedule as the first day of school approached.
"I was in the school on Saturday night about 1:30 a.m., and kids come on Monday, and so I’m like scrambling to get my room ready. And I was trying to figure out how to incorporate some class rules into it — like a poster or something," he says. "The only thing I was trying to do was make a rule that was like, ‘You’re gonna work hard in my class.’ That’s very generic. Every single teacher has, ‘Oh, you’re gonna work hard and do all of your assignments.’ I just wanted to do something a little bit different. That’s how the whole ‘No KD Zone’ became a thing."
"I was just, like, trying to make it to work on time and have like a semi-coherent lesson plan for the day, and all of the sudden my phone’s just blowing up.”
KD — as in Kevin Durant. Did I mention that Mr. Hein is an Oklahoma City Thunder fan? See…he was born and raised in Kansas, but Kansas doesn't have an NBA team. So he was a fan of the league — not any one team. But then the Seattle SuperSonics moved to nearby Oklahoma and became the Thunder.
"I was just like, 'OK, I'm gonna be a die-hard Thunder fan,'" he says.
As a die-hard Thunder fan, Mr. Hein knew his Thunder pennant would have to be hung in his classroom — even though he was teaching in Indianapolis, land of the Pacers.
"So the Thunder pennant’s in the middle," he says, "and then up above it says, ‘Mr. Hein’s classroom is a “No KD” zone.’ On the bottom of the pennant, it has like three different blocks of text. One says ‘You will not quit on me and I will not quit on you.’ Another one says, ‘You will not take the easy way out.’ And I can’t remember what the third one’s saying. I’m drawing a blank."
"You will not walk away from a challenge," I remind him.
A lot of Thunder fans believe Kevin Durant walked away from a challenge when he left the Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, the team that had just beaten Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. And, like a lot of Thunder fans, Mr. Hein remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news.
"I was actually down in Houston, training with Teach for America," he says. "I made the dumb decision to sleep in that morning when he announced it — I think it was a Saturday."
It was a holiday Monday, July 4, at 10:38 a.m. Central time, just in case you didn't believe that part about Mr. Hein being a night owl.
"I slept in and woke up to about, I don’t know, 20 or 30 texts and all these tweet alerts and everything," Hein recalls. "I saw all of the sudden, like, 'Oh, he’s not coming back,' and I just, I threw my phone and just rolled over and went back to bed. Pretty depressing."
So, nearly four weeks later, sitting at his computer as the hours ticked by before the first day of school — and still feeling the sting of Durant's departure — Mr. Hein says the three phrases just popped into his head. "You will not quit on me and I will not quit on you." "You will not walk away from a challenge." "You will not take the easy way out."
"They were so close to beating Golden State and they were going to be right there in the discussion next season," he says. "To bring a title to OKC would have been insane. It would have meant so much. And in my very biased opinion – I’ll admit it, I’m very biased – but yeah, I think he took the easy way out."
Mr. Hein says his class rules come off as a bit more of a dig on Durant than he really planned. He doesn't apologize for that. But he does have one regret about his poster:
"It’s literally just construction paper – blue and orange in Thunder colors – and then in just whatever font I could find on Microsoft Word," he says. "So I would’ve made it look a lot nicer had I known how many people were gonna see it."
Because, in the end, a lot of people did see that poster.
"I took a picture of it and I sent it to my parents and a few friends back home," he says. "They cracked up at it. And by then I was just so tired I just passed out pretty late that day. And then the next day I posted it to Facebook.
"All my social media friends in Oklahoma City, in Norman, Oklahoma, started to share it and like it, and it took off over the course of a day or two in Oklahoma. And then the local media caught wind of it. And then they contacted me, and then from there it kinda took off on a national scale."
ESPN shared Mr. Hein's photo on Instagram. USA Today, Fox Sports, and sports talk radio stations picked up the story. Mr. Hein was becoming Facebook famous, just at the very moment he was waking up for his first day on the job.
"I was just, like, trying to make it to work on time and have like a semi-coherent lesson plan for the day, and all of the sudden my phone’s just blowing up," Hein says. "I can’t, like, I can’t keep up with all of it. It definitely calmed my nerves a little bit because I had a big distraction. So that definitely helped."
The principal at Indianapolis Lighthouse East thought the poster was funny. He just told Mr. Hein to put in a good word for the school during interviews. And his fellow teachers seemed to get a kick out of it too. At least most of them did...
"I think it was like Friday after school, so we’re all excited — we made it through our first week," he says. "And then they all want to come into my room and see the poster. And it was just kind of funny to have the whole staff in there. And a few of them were taking selfies with it and just kind of having fun with it. One was pretty mad. She goes, ‘I’ve been trying to go viral for years. You were here for a week and put up one little poster and all of the sudden you’re famous.’"
And the students?
"Oh, they talked a lot of trash," he says. "So they’re not Thunder fans by any means. They understood what I was kinda getting at, but a lot of them, they were, like, ‘Oh yeah, he should’ve gone to the Warriors. He wants to win a title,’ which, you know, that’s fair. But it started a lot of fun arguments in class that first day."
Teaching math to 9th graders isn't easy. Mr. Hein says it's a love it or hate it subject, and he figures he needs all the help he can get. So bantering with students about sports is a good way to break the ice. But while his "No KD zone" has gotten quite a lot of attention inside and outside of the classroom, Mr. Hein isn't sure his three rules will actually make his job any easier.
"It’s probably too soon to tell," he says. "I’m still getting to know the students. They’re still getting to know me. We’re still just getting into the very beginning of our content this semester. So, we’ll see once we get to the hard stuff how much they want to quit or not quit."
"But no one's walked away from a challenge yet?" I ask.
"No, nobody’s packed up and moved away to San Francisco yet," he says.
There's only one person Mr. Hein can say for sure that his poster has already helped inspire, and that's ... Tucker Hein.
"I put that up there for the students, but, like, as a first-year teacher, I’ve found myself looking at that thing, too," he says. "Like ‘All right, you told these kids they can’t quit. You can’t quit either.’"
This segment aired on August 27, 2016.