EVANSVILLE — Caleb Heiman never imagined holding a dry-erase sign outside his office before and after school at North High School would create such a stir.
A college connection coach for seniors, Heiman’s signs allowed him to communicate with students in all four classes. At 7:10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., the students are eager to see its signs of the day. They even created Instagram accounts honoring “Big Red”, their nickname for Heiman.
For example, @dailybigred already has 500 followers.
Here is a sampling of some of his favorite signs:
- “My wife could have done better”
- “Am I allowed to run for Homecoming?”
- “Who is the best dancer in school and why is it me?”
- “Don’t be afraid to be yourself! Unless you like Harry Styles music”
- “I don’t trust people who clap at the end of movies”
- “I didn’t peak in high school, I’m still here getting balder”
- “Who keeps Almond Joy in business???”
Nicknamed “College Guy” by his students, Heiman is constantly asked how he comes up with these slogans. His response: “I just have a weird brain.”
Start conversations and build relationships
A fan of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” Heiman loves parodies and twisting normal things to make them funny.
“I also try to think of things that are relevant to my students’ lives,” he says. “Like pop culture and music. I think one of the things that makes this so special for me is that I create every sign myself. I don’t steal someone else’s stuff.
“It’s both a good thing and a bad thing because there’s a lot of pressure to come up with funny signs every day.”
It is such a success that it engenders great expectations.
“A lot of times my best sign ideas are done while I’m doing the dishes or mowing the yard,” Heiman said. “I’ll always drop what I’m doing to jot down my sign idea so I don’t forget it.”
Delaney Garland, a senior from the North, said students were eager to see the signs of Heiman so much that he had become famous at school.
“He was able to create positive relationships with students and brought joy to an objectively dull place,” she said. “The content of the panels varies. Often these are positive and uplifting messages and advice, but most of the time they are original notes written to make students laugh and start conversations.
“Ultimately, that’s his goal: to start conversations with students and build relationships, to help them understand their plans for the future and be who they want to be.”
Heiman never imagined these signs would mean so much to the students at North. The generic signs of where to go in the first half turned into something more interesting and creative.
“I can’t go a morning without making a sign otherwise everyone says, ‘Where is your sign?’ So just knowing how eager students are to see what my day sign is plays a big part in my wanting to do those signs,” he said. “Plus, there’s nothing more rewarding than making a high school kid laugh!”
These are criticisms so severe that if he manages to make them laugh or smile at his signs, it is extremely gratifying.
“Overall, I love the platform my signs have given me,” Heiman said. “I had a family who told me that every evening at the table, they asked their daughter: ‘What was her sign of the day?’ It’s just the coolest thing to me.
He has another student who takes a picture of his morning sign every day and sends it to his mother.
“The fact that my signs have gone beyond just the student base is so awesome,” he said. “In my role as a college connection coach, I mainly work with older people. But through my daily signs, I got to know tons of students at all levels.
“Something so small could have such a big impact”
This has been the most positive result of his signs, interacting and getting to know so many students.
“Finally, I have had students tell me that their favorite part of their day was seeing what my sign will be,” he said. “It’s so cool that something so small can have such a big impact on someone. It’s very motivating for me.
About 80% of his signs are humorous, 15% say something positive like “I’m so glad to see you” and the remaining 5% give advice, like “Stop buying energy drinks!” he said.
“I’ve also noticed that my students love signs that display my opinions on things like ‘Pineapple does NOT belong on pizza’ or ‘Who keeps Almond Joy in business?? “”
A 2012 Northeast graduate and 2016 Southern Indiana University grad, Heiman has coached the Huskies men’s tennis team for the past seven years. Caleb and his wife, Liz, welcomed their third son, Noah, on October 11. Levi is six years old and Jack three.
Employed by Ivy Tech, he coaches varsity pickup at Harwood and AIS Diamond on Mondays before heading to North the rest of the week.
Due to changing times and exorbitant fees to attend college, many companies don’t require four-year college degrees, Heiman said. He tries to get the students to focus on what they want to accomplish in the future. But right now it’s a “sign sensation”.
“Mr. Heiman makes student days brighter and brighter,” Garland said. “He, in turn, makes the world brighter and better, one sign at a time.”
Contact Gordon Engelhardt by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @EngGordon