13 August 2009

Fiction Interlude: Back-to-School

Two childhood views of the classroom, as we head back to school...


He sat in the back of the classroom. Sometimes staring at the fluorescent lights flickering and humming above. Sometimes looking out the window toward the traffic flowing on the street beyond the playground. Sometimes following patterns invisible to others in the woodgrain of his desk or in the tiles of the floor or in the cotton of his jeans.

Beyond him he knew the teacher was usually talking. That other kids were reading or writing, passing notes or hitting each other, talking or rolling pencils off the desk so that they could bend down and pick them up. He knew that numbers and letters and words were being tossed around, but none of it could really touch his attention. He knew that he didn't need them anyway. He told his own stories as he watched his worlds, he added and divided his own sums as he let time wander, he found his own sciences as he watched the earth spin through its day. And he knew that the teacher knew that if she tried to force these things his way, he had very good ways to resist.

So there he sat. Holding an uneasy truce with his captors. Waiting for the best days, the rainy days, when water would streak across the window and the passing cars and trucks would toss spray in the air, and when he was finally paroled at the final bell he could walk slowly home, letting the water from the sky bathe him in its chill embrace.


It's 8:17. See, I can tell time. Nobody thinks I can do anything. But that's not true. It's 8:17 and I know school's only been in for seven minutes but I also know I need to be out of here in less than forty-five minutes. Yes, time and arithmetic. Because I need to be on my way by 9:00 so I can meet Derek by 9:30 so we can catch the bus to the subway and be on the way downtown by only a little after 10:00. That's the plan and I've got less than forty-five minutes.

Sam's coming past me and here's chance number one. I stick my foot between his and trip him, he falls in a wild, uncoordinated sprawl, knocking over Tina's desk, books flying. I'm not ready to be obvious yet, so I just smile.

The smile sets Mrs. Girardi off, not that this takes much. But the key here is I can't just get sent to the Resource Room. If I get sent there I'll need to start all over and besides, you know, the standards are different there. I'll need to work much harder. So when Mrs. Girardi says, "What is the matter with you? Are you so stupid you think that's funny?" I prove my growing vocabulary skills with the response, "I'm so stupid I think it's hilarious." Which of course gets this entire class of fifth graders, except Sam who's still on the floor, and Tina, who's glaring at me, into a fit of hysterical laughter.

This teacher is beyond predictable so I can stay ahead easily. She starts to scream. I start to scream back. She tells me to come up front. I tell her to come back to me. When she actually starts to come toward me (can you believe she'd fall for that), I get up and start running around the room. The fact that the class is still laughing is making her crazy. She sure doesn't like laughter. So she actually chases me for half a lap before figuring something out.

They all say I "make bad decisions." Everybody says that. But they're wrong about that too. I make decisions they don't like, but they're not bad. Sometimes they're really carefully made decisions designed to get me exactly what I need. Right now I need to get out of this school so I can run with Derek who got suspended yesterday for the rest of the week. He did it by punching out Kenny DeMuro. I'd rather not do that. Kenny looks like he's still hurting.

Now I need to make sure. I need to give the principal no choice once he gets the phone call. I need less lecture time from him and more of that "oh my God" look because that'll only take ten minutes. He'll call home. Nobody'll be there. He'll say "go straight home" in that very intense voice, as if he thinks I think he doesn't know. Really, he knows I know he knows, but he's got to sound like he's doing his job. And if he's going to do his job, I've got to do mine. I pick a book off Carrie's desk and toss it, not hard but accurately, at Mrs. Girardi, who immediately screams, in her best psycho mode, "You're out of here you little moron, you'll be gone for at least a week." And I take off right out the door, right under the clock: 8:23.

Alone and Out are copyright 2005-2009 by Ira David Socol for use with permission only

More - but not much recent - fiction is at Ira's Narrator Blog. The Drool Room and A Certain Place of Dreams are available from Amazon.


Bill Genereux said...


Teaching decision making is a foundational principle of Love & Logic. If you follow Jim & Charles Fay of L&L, they will tell you that every kid makes decisions to do what works for them, even if the long term consequences are disastrous.

Our job as teachers is to find ways to keep poor decision making from paying off for kids, which is not an easy thing to do. Adults getting angry is one of the quickest payoffs for bad behavior of kids. It lets the kid feel he/she is in control, which deep down is a frightening thing because kids don't really want to be in control; they need adults to be in control setting limits and establishing boundaries that are safe.

Our biggest challenge as parents and teachers, I believe, is to always behave in ways that benefit the kids first, not our own selfish interests. Being empathetic and self controlled adults is always best, but not usually what first comes to our mind when a kid is misbehaving and challenging our authority.

Nancy said...

I love these stories. Keep telling them. They help to keep me honest (or at least make me want to try.)

jsb16 said...

Out is one of the strongest arguments against out-of-school suspension I've ever read.