The School of Hard Knocks

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

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

Everyone left their places and returned to the carpet. Two kids emerged from beneath Mrs. Awesome’s desk. I didn’t even know they were under there.

“This is completely unacceptable,” she said. She was looking at the students but I’m pretty sure her remarks were meant for me. I was quite positive she was going to send me to the principal’s office to get paddled. That’s how it would have been handled in the old days.

The students returned to the carpet and sat down cross-legged, facing me.

“Thanks,” I said sheepishly to the other teacher.

I never did regain control of the classroom. Just as I had arrived at the realization that I was a force not equal to that of the students’, the students had made the same realization. If I had walked into the classroom and passed out Red Bulls and Pixie Sticks, the rest of the day would not have been any different.

We made it to the end of story time, and we all moved back to our desks. I looked at the outline Mrs. Awesome left for me. Time for social studies. I opened the folder marked “social studies” and found there handouts for the students and a transparency of the same for me. I passed out the handouts, and I placed my transparency on the overhead projector. I looked for the power button to turn it on but couldn’t find it anywhere. “Does anyone know how to turn this thing on?” I asked.

Again, I expected the kids to behave like kids from the eighties and raise their hands, after which I’d choose one to come forward and show me how to operate the projector. Instead every kid got out of their seats and rushed forward to help me. Helpful Helen was the first on the scene. “It’s just right here,” she said, and flipped on the power switch which was in a very non-intuitive spot.

“Okay,” I said. “Got it. Return to your seats please.”

But returning to their seats proved to be a task equivalent to Odysseus returning to Ithaca. They were instantly blown off course by the terrible Winds of What’s Going on Over There? Calypso’s spell was no more powerful than the spell of the art station. And what third grader can resist the Siren song of the pencil sharpener?

“Seriously,” I said, “go back to your seats.”

They managed to go back to their seats. I placed the transparency on the glass of the projector and all the kids instantly started giggling. I had placed it upside down. I flipped it right side up and continued. But the students were still grinning uncontrollably, and others were laughing. Geez, it’s not that funny. But the giggling and smiling went on way too long. And now I noticed knowing glances being shot around the room. And Sweet Sara did not find any of it amusing. She was a serious student who was here to learn and she did not appreciate these petty interruptions. She sat there with a perturbed look on her face.

“Okay, what’s so funny?” I asked.

“Max and Derek switched seats,” said Helpful Helen.

“Okay, Max and Derek go back to your seats,” I ordered. They went back to their seats and I returned to the lesson.

You know how groups of animals and people have nouns of assemblage, like a Murder of crows, or a coven of witches? I can think of some good ones for third graders. A Microburst of third graders. Or an Aftermath. On second thought that one might get confusing leaving people wondering what third graders do after math.

I think the best noun of assemblage for third graders would be a Pot, as in a Pot of third graders. Because a watched pot never boils. Every time I turned my back on the class Maddening Max, Devious Derek and a few others performed a new shenanigan, which I would be alerted to when the other students laughed.

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