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The School of Hard Knocks

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 8:00 p.m. MDT

“I look forward to being your teacher today. And I’m sure I’ll learn something from you as well.” Yes, I know: to you and me it’s a rather trite thing to say, but third graders don’t yet know this.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s get started.”

I walked back to Mrs. Awesome’s desk. “We’ll start by reading “The Politically Correct Spider Befriends a Fly.”’

Twenty four hands instantly shot in the air.

“What is it?” I asked.

“First we fill out our lunch requests,” one of them informed me. Then a little mob of them ambushed my desk and opened the drawers on Mrs. Awesome’s desk until they found the lunch request forms.

“Alright,” I said, “everyone take one and fill it out.”

I then turned to a girl who hadn’t returned to her desk but was filling out her lunch request slip on my desk. She seemed to know what was going on so I asked her, “What happens now? Does someone come by and collect these, or do we take them to the office?”

“We take them to the office,” she said without looking up. “Can I take them?”

“Sure. Gather them up for us and take them to the office please.”

“Okay you guys,” I said. “Get back in your seats and I’ll read the “The Politically Correct Spider Befriends a Fly.”

Again, twenty-four hands shot into the air.

“What now?”

“We do story time on the carpet.” Some of the students pointed helpfully to the little island of carpet at the back.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s move to the carpet.”

“You sit there,” Helpful Helen said, pointing to a black chair at the side of the carpet.

I sat down on the chair and opened up “The Politically Correct Spider Befriends a Fly.”

“Do we have to sit in our assigned places?” a student asked.

“You have assigned places on the carpet too?” I asked. That seemed like a bit much to me.

I was informed that, yes, they have assigned places on the carpet too.

I flipped through “The Politically Correct Spider Befriends a Fly,” (it was only ten pages long) and did some quick calculus. It would only take me three minutes at the most to read the story. If I let the kids sit wherever that wanted I would score some quick points toward being the cool teacher, and if things went bad—such as too much poking, whispering or whatever else third graders might do—it would all be over in three minutes anyway. How much can go wrong in three minutes?

“Nah, go ahead and sit wherever you want,” I said.

When giving instructions to third graders you have to be very specific. When I told them they could sit wherever they wanted to, in my mind that meant sit anywhere on the carpet.

But to them that meant sit anywhere they wanted.

This is where I lost them.

It was 8:23.

They sprang from the carpet like it was lava. Max, correction: Maddening Max, ran to a gray garbage can and sat inside as far down as he could squeeze. His head and shoulders stuck out one side, his legs dangled out the other. This really raised the bar! Suddenly everyone wanted to outdo Maddening Max.

Devious Derek, ran to the other garbage can and squeezed his butt down in it copying Maddening Max. I instantly lost respect for Devious Derek on the basis of his lack of originality.

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