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  • I spent the first ten years of my career teaching in American public schools. Did I enjoy it? Nope, not a day.

    Was it the kids? No. I talk a lot of smack, but I actually will take a kid over an adult any day. Kids tell the truth.

    Was it the teaching? No. I actually love to teach. It is something I know I was put on Earth to do.

    Was it my peers? No. I have had the honor of working with some amazing people who have the biggest hearts I have ever seen.

    Was it the parents? No. I commend parents. They have the most important job on Earth and most wow me with their grace.

    So, what repelled me s? Hard to explain like a pea in the mattress. Something always felt wrong.

    Example? Okay. Take my last year.

    By my tenth year teaching middle school, I had learned that most human beings respond to only two things: pain and pleasure. Thus, I designed my classroom this way. It was a regular Skinner Box. If a hand was raised, a treat ticket was given, pleasure. If a note was passed, five points were taken away, pain. If I could have had it my way (which we should, we really should), I would have used cattle prongs. Want to bring up test scores? Zap the crap out of them. That’s what I say and watch those scores soar. Anyway, the system of pain and pleasure culminated on Fridays. I would build excitement all week by handing out treat tickets, coupons and such. When Friday would roll around, we would have a treat auction, drawing and if the whole class managed to keep their act together for five days straight (rare), then we would have games. This little system is the only reason I still have hair.

    During this particular year, I had two types of kids. The first type were the bright type. Example? Take Jillianne Jones. Everything she wore matched. Matching pants, matching shirt, matching socks and even matching folder and pens. If I had been thirteen, I would have deplored her perfection, but as an adult, I simply adored her efforts in everything. She also always did what she was told and she demanded to be told.

    “How long does it have to be?”

    “Can I write in pen?”

    “Should I use cursive or print?”

    Question upon question regarding exactly how things ought to be done. The common characteristic of all kids deemed gifted in American Public Schools; they are really good at following rules.

    That brings me to the second type of kids I had that year. The mess ups. Example? Take Jimmy Beach. Nothing on that kid matched; sometimes he’d come to class in his Ninja Turtle pajama pants. When we would have to read, he would pull his filthy Fox Motorports sweatshirt hood over his head and press his face into the desk. If I’d been thirteen, he would have been my best friend, but as an adult, he frustrated the snot out of me. When I would question him, he’d growl through his teeth from the desk.

    “I can’t fucking read.”

    What he said was true. He couldn’t. He read at the level expected of six year olds, yet here he was fourteen and in the eighth grade.

    How did this happen?

    Was it his parents?

    His mom came to meet me one day. Sweetest woman. She shrugged.

    “I don’t know what to do. My husband and I try to read to him every night, but when we give the books to him, he just sits them down. Our other kids devour books, not him. But you should see what Jimmy can do with a car. He has already built one from scratch."

    Was it my peers?

    I hunted the school psychologist down. She pulled many years worth of Special Ed testing on Jimmy from the drawers. There was a stack. We looked through.

    “Nope. Jimmy doesn’t qualify for a Special Ed. Room.”

    “Why?”

    “He doesn’t have a discrepancy.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Look here. See all these bars on this graph? None of them spike up or down. He is low in all academic areas: Reading, Writing, Math. In order to qualify, one of these areas would have to dip about a .5 percentiles.”

    “So, he is .5 percentile from getting help?”

    “Yep.”

    “And there is nothing we can do?”

    “Nope.”

    So, I headed back to my classroom based on pleasure and pain. Jilliane began to keep her treat tickets in a daisy flower pencil pouch. I stopped taking points from Jimmy and when he would pull that sweatshirt hood over his head, I would come up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder.
    He’d begin, “I can’t fucking…”

    “I know. Let’s just do one word.”

    He’d give it a shot.

    “B…” was the sound he’d make.

    “Actually, D…let’s try the next sound.”

    “Ahhh”

    “Good. One more.”

    “K…”

    “Actually Gaa, but good. What’s that say?”

    “Dog.”

    “Good.”

    He’d smash his face back on the desk.

    “Fuck.”

    Yep.

    In June of that year, I watched as Jilliane and Jimmy walk down the same line and accept the same piece of paper. Eighth grade graduates. Her and him. Jillianne was very, very, very good at following the rules and Jimmy could build a car from scratch, but still couldn’t read. Who would succeed? This was the tenth year I had watched a scene like this.

    After the pomp and circumstance, I walked to the office. Ms. Johnson, one of the many amazing administrators I had met over the years, sat at her desk. There was a bag of pot sitting there.

    She laughed.

    “Don’t ask,” she said, “we just had a bust. How can I help you?”

    I quit.

    “What will you do?”

    I didn’t know. I had two mortgages, no money in savings and a car payment. I choose pain.
    “Where will you go?”

    I didn’t know. I was considering poker school. Rumor had it that there was money to be made in people hustling pleasure.

    Skinner Box be damned.
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