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I watched the clock upon the eggshell colored wall of room 109. That clock, whose incessant tick never quite left my mind, finally inched past 8:25. Sitting back I sighed and exhaled in simple acceptance, “They’re late.”
I wasn’t surprised, nor was I angry. The past one hundred and seventy days of attempting to hammer education into rebellious teen skulls had all but drained me of emotions like that. I had no passions in my work, no daily happiness. At the grizzled age of 34, I had but one goal: survive until four.
I began to think that perhaps my students, whose number had shrunk from forty ‘geniuses’ to ten ‘gems’, had all simply stayed home, or their bus exploded, or perhaps even that I didn’t exist at all in this cruel dimension and that If I believed enough and tapped my ruby slippers just three times…
“There’s no place like Tahiti, There’s no place like Tahiti, There’s no plac-“this pleading wish was interrupted as I heard the unmistakable noise of a turning knob, my knob. Cursing this occurrence, I quickly lowered my tapping feet and attempted to look like I somewhat cared that one of my students had decided to show up. I could say that I wasn’t very successful in this endeavor, but my standards weren’t high enough to recognize failure at this point.
Strutting into the room with her usual flair, Megan Toziak, a self-described ‘mean girl’, looked around my room for a moment. She turned to me with utter shock upon her face and proclaimed with a fearful passion, “I’m the first one here?!”
“Are you talking to yourself?” I replied dryly. She looked confused at this response. Unsurprising to me, I'd seen her grades. After a few moments of deliberation on this question, Megan came to the extremely complicated and well thought out answer of, “Nope.”
“Then I guess not…” I said, suddenly feeling woozy from such a concentrated use of wit. This wit was unappreciated however, as I only received a blank stare from the head cheerleader of West High. After a few moments of watching her trying to gain some meaning from my answer, I finally decided to end her struggle and pointed to myself.
“Ohhhh, I didn’t mean people like you Chris!” Megan said, using my first name, as all my students did, I hadn’t been called Mr. Dox in years. This was to my relief as any kid who did usually ended up ‘accidentally’ replacing the ‘o’ with an ‘i’.
I turned to Megan who was already beginning to make her exit, so that her entrance may be made with more appeal, and said simply, “You’re late already you know.” She turned back to me and gave an exaggerated wink, “Yeah, but not fashionably.”
Watching her go, I began to think that if everyone thought like Megan, then no one would ever arrive anywhere, as everyone would always be trying to make an entrance. My thoughts turned away from this when the familiar sound of the knob penetrated my eardrums once again. Turning as it did, I saw that I did indeed have students to teach this day. Trickling in, I saw the great diversity of the minds I was charged to educate.
First in class was Christine, her pentagram necklace slapping lightly against her “Black Sabbath” tee shirt as she drifted by me without a word. I noticed next that the inseparable Kyle and Devin, who many liked to refer to as ‘Kevin’ for short, entered laughing hysterically at one of their many inside jokes. As I watched the two take their seats, next to each other of course, I hardly noticed the newest arrival until he spoke.
“I’d like to explain my tardiness.” came the distinctive gravelly voice of Daniel.
“Can’t wait to hear this one.” I replied, having a full knowledge of Dan’s list of usual excuses.
“I had to work late for the RNC to book a good hotel for God.”
“God?” I said, genuinely surprised, while Daniel was a bit of a right wing nut, he never appeared to be a religious fanatic.
“Rush Limbaugh.” He replied with reverence.
“Ahh I see.” I said handing him several tardy slips; he looked at me with fierce condemnation, “Don’t worry; only one of them is for you.” I explained, he smiled at this as he now had the chance to spread discontent to the people he hated, which was pretty much everybody.
Ignoring the groans and the calls for mercy, I turned to see the rest of my class arrive. Led by Carlos, described by the nicest most forgiving substitute who’s ever taught my class as, “An inconsiderable horrid brute”, the group entered.
“Yo Chris.” Carlos said in his usual greeting.
“Hello Carlos.” I replied, “You have any of the homework you were supposed to do for me…any at all?”
“Naw, but I’m workin on it.” Carlos said taking his seat along with the others. I took a look at the clock, it was 8:50 a full twenty-five minutes into my class and I had only accomplished handing out tardy slips. This was one of my more productive days. I heard the door open once again and turned to see Megan walk in strutting to her desk in the far corner, her entrance well made.
I stood, looked to my students and said with mock enthusiasm, “Oh my you’re all here! Such an occurrence happens only once every month.”
“Like a period.” I heard Marvin, the cultural waste bin of the class say as the classmates surrounding him burst into a fit of laughter. Sighing, I walked to the board and wrote several sentences:
I likes the cat becuse they lick me
It was tee tie and my mom came and we drunk tea I like tea
I rally wish the dolfins come back
Being remedial English, I knew I couldn’t make the sentences too hard. Turning to Marvin I said “You like periods eh?” I pointed to the board and tossed him a chalk piece, “Find them and fix some of the other mistakes too.”
I stood aside as Marvin went to work, noticing that some of the brighter students in this dim, windowless room were already snickering at his mistakes. When he finished I took an eyeful of his handy work.
I licks the cats becus they lick I.
It was tea tim and my mom came and we drunk tea me like.
I relly wish the dolfan wood come back.
I noted his obvious improvement as he had only missed one period and also noticed his valiant effort to correct the dolphin sentence with ‘would’ though it was mangled in spelling. However, improvement or not, it’s hard to notice the difference between an F and an F+. Walking up to the board I corrected his many mistakes, noting the students who laughed at this for later inquisitions.
“Chris.” I turned to see one of my more favorable students, Sherrad waving her hand waiting for my acknowledgement: “Yes Sherrad?”
“Is the project due today?” She asked which created a hailstorm of moans from the rest of the class.
“Yes it is, I’m afraid” I replied noting the looks of dread upon many of my students.
I watched as the young track star produced her project, a drawn picture and an accompanying story of no less than three pages. Taking it gladly, I looked, less than expectant, to the rest of the class. I received one from Tom Landy, the local football champ, another from Christine the picture, as I expected, being truly grotesque. I received another two from ‘Kevin’ who appeared to have not only shared a picture, but also every other word in their stories. I also got another from Allan Grays, a socially awkward lad, who I had heard excelled in math and science, but was simply lacking in the language department. Then I approached Carlos who smugly handed me a thin manila packet “Projeckt”, hastily scrawled upon it. I opened the packet and pulled a single picture from it. Safe to say, it wasn’t school appropriate.
“You know what they say, a pictures worth a thousand words.” Carlos proclaimed nearly incoherent with accompanying laughter. I didn’t hesitate; I pulled out my red grading pen, drew a giant F on the paper and, as I handed it to him, whispered menacingly, “See me after class.”
“Chris, I didn’t do this project cause I thought it was degrading.” Megan whined. I turned to her and at my wits end began to rant, “No! It’s not D-grading; if it were D-grading I wouldn’t have to worry about so many of you morons having to retake this class. Instead it’s F-grading or zero-grading, or my-dog-ate-it-grading!”
“Don’t forget about screw-you-grading.” Marvin said, obviously still sore about me forcing him to reveal his own idiocy earlier.
I turned to him and conceded, “Yeah, that too.” I then went to my desk and pulled out a vocabulary test they were assigned to take that day. Ignoring the bemoaning and hushed whispers of hatred from my pupils, I handed the tests out one by one and without a glance said, “Begin.”
It was a short test, 4 problems. So I wasn’t surprised when Tom stood after five minutes and proclaimed, “That test was easy!” I was equally unsurprised when Carlos replied, “Your moms easy!” I then looked to Tom to see if I would have to hold him back to prevent a fight. Instead of anger in the football star’s eyes, there was abyss. I looked confusedly to Carlos who met my stare of confusion when Tom spoke.
“You’re nothing Carlos, why should I care what you think?”
In a normal situation Carlos would charge from the room unexcused, but there was a strangeness in him today, he spoke out many times, but without the wit or quickness he usually possessed. It was then that the old Carlos emerged as he smiled and replied,
This was when Tom’s fury was unleashed as he charged Carlos only to be stopped by Kyle and Devin’s combined strength. Carlos meanwhile was continuing to berate Tom, “Come on, wanna hit me like you hit her? I’ll fist-punch you! I’ll fist-punch you with my foot!”
It was at that moment that I decided to intervene. I grabbed Carlos, intending to take him outside. At the exact moment, Tom broke free, and with his heavily trained tackle, he smashed both Carlos and I onto the floor. Tom immediately grabbed Carlos who was trying to run. Meanwhile Marvin was beating Tom from behind. Sherrad and Megan were collectively pleading for the three to stop while Daniel joined the fray for no other reason than boredom.
“STOP, STOP NOW!” I cried in vain as the four began knocking desks aside in their brawl. Paper flew listlessly around their tempered struggle. I was about to run to the hall to recruit an officer to assist me, then, as I turned to the door, I was saved.
The bell cried and I nearly joined it in its signaling wail.
At once there was shuffling of unparalleled speed. I was alone on the floor with no sign of life but my beating heart. I sat up, adjusted my tie, tightening it ever further to achieve my darker desires, though stopped just short. Then I came to my desk and awaited my next lot of students. It would be average of me to say something like: “They don’t pay me enough for this” or the like, but to be honest with you, it’s me who’s paying here.