School playground supervisor’s funny stories told in new book

Photo Caption: The cover of the new book by Rod Rathbun, playground supervisor at St. Michael the Archangel School in Streator.

STREATOR — It’s unclear how many shoes Rod Rathbun has tied since becoming playground supervisor at St. Michael the Archangel School here, but each one of the students has used those shoes to scamper into his heart. He shares some of their stories in his new book, “Hey Mister, Can You Tie My Shoes?”

“It’s kind of a joke now,” Rathbun said recently while sitting in the principal’s office at St. Michael the Archangel. “One kid asked me to tie their shoes and when I looked down they had boots on.”

That isn’t the only thing that has made him laugh since coming to the school in August 2013. He has learned the tricky business of getting the right combination of condiments on sandwiches, enlisted a first-grader to help him when an even littler kid locked himself in the bathroom stall, and found out what to do when you accidentally turn off the lights in the gym while 144 youngsters are running off some energy after lunch.

“It keeps you young,” he said, laughing again. “Otherwise I’d be sitting at home, watching the wind blow.”

Rathbun started out as a seventh grade teacher at the school, then called St. Anthony. When he married his wife, Debbie, shortly after taking the job in 1969, his students sang at their wedding.

Three years later, with a growing family to support, Rathbun moved into the corporate world and worked in credit management for the next 25 years. Before retiring he was a private investigator and still does background checks and insurance inspections from time to time.

“That’s one of my funniest chapters, when the kids found out I was a ‘spy.’ James Bond. That’s the last time I entrust 4- and 5-year-olds with confidential information,” he told The Catholic Post with mock frustration. “As soon as I showed them my badge they were all over the place — ‘Mr. Rathbun’s a spy!'”

He took the job at St. Michael the Archangel about a year after retirement. Bored, he turned to his wife and said, “I have to find something to do.” She suggested he come to school as playground supervisor, which also includes lunchroom duty. (Now known as “Miss Debbie,” she has been the school secretary for 35 years.)

Rathbun agreed to try it for one day — and couldn’t stop talking about it when his wife came home.

“I just fell in love with the kids,” he said. “These are the nicest kids, the most polite kids — intelligent, funny. They’re just fun to be around. . . . I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’ve got 144 of my own kids now.”

It was Miss Debbie who encouraged him to start writing things down. He never intended to write a book, but after the first year he thought, “I’ve got something. This is some funny stuff.”

The editors at Tate Publishing in Mustang, Oklahoma, thought so, too. Three days after sending it in, Rathbun got a call.

While they reject 96 percent of what is submitted, it only took 15 seconds for one of the editors to know she wanted to take the book to the next level. The process took about six months and the book was ready for national distribution on Dec. 30, 2014.

“It’s about kids, but I wrote it from an adult perspective,” Rathbun said. “I want the adults who read it to know there’s more that goes on than ‘What did you get on your test?’ and ‘Did you get in trouble?'”

He said the editor he worked with told him the book was “very enjoyable, knowledgeable, enlightening, fun, a good read, and had an acerbic wit.” Rathbun said he just likes to make people laugh.

The former teacher substitutes in the classroom when needed and enjoys interacting with the students. His favorite feeling is when something “clicks” for a student and “you know you had something to do with that.”

Ashley Davis, the principal, said Rathbun adds “life” to the school and sees his sense of humor in every page of the book. “The kids just adore him.”

“They see him outside. They see him at church. They see him at the local stores and the restaurants,” she said. “They used to say, ‘Miss Debbie! Miss Debbie!’ Now they say, ‘Mr. Rod! Mr. Rod!'”

“Hey Mister, Can You Tie My Shoes?” is available from or by visiting or

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