The School of Hard Knocks

By Steven Law

For the Deseret News

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

The other third grade teacher poked her head into my room again, just to see how things were going, and saw that my students were pretty much doing their own things. Most were drawing, cutting, and pasting. Some were talking on their cell phones—probably to their moms. She gave me another Medusa-grade cowering look; the same kind of cowering look I had been trying to give to my students all day. “What are you guys doing?” she demanded.

“Mr. Law said we could spend the rest of the day doing art,” said Helpful Helen.

I think she was about to say more but then she saw my loosened tie, my slumped shoulders, my look of severe annoyance. “Well, try to be a little more quiet.”

At 1:10 one of the students asked me if they should start cleaning up. “School ends at 1:15,” she said.

The list that Mrs. Awesome left for me said that school ended at 2:55. I went back to Mrs. Awesome’s desk just to double-check the schedule. The list said 2:15 – 2:55: science. “This list says that school doesn’t end until two fifty-five,” I said.

In my head I was thinking, “Nice try kids. You almost got me on there.” I can just imagine the scowl the other third grade teacher would give me if she popped in to see how things were going and discovered that I had dismissed the kids two hours early.

“But at least it’s finally quiet,” I’d say.

The surest sign that perhaps school really did end at 1:15 was that Jacob, a nice kid who had all day ignored the shenanigans around him and read, now stood up and started packing his backpack. But after a full day of trickery and deceit I needed more proof than that. I walked out into the hall and peeked into some of the other classrooms. All the classrooms were cleaning up, shuffling their backpacks on, saying goodbye to their teachers and each other.

I walked back to my classroom and all the students were putting on their backpacks, getting ready to leave. But the room was still a huge mess. Paper, colored pencils, markers, glue, scissors were scattered about on every desk. Paper scraps and cuttings were strewn about on the floor.

“Hey we need to clean this up before you leave!” I announced in my most authoritative voice. A few of the more obedient students cleaned up the art supplies from their desks and took it back to the art center, but most just eyed me with a sort of annoyance and left the classroom.

“Will you be back on Monday, Mr. Law?” one of the students asked.

“Yes, I’ll be back on Monday.”

“Oh good!” she said.

Yes, your little Rumspringa will continue.

And just like that, like a swarm of locusts that had eaten clear the field, they left, leaving me alone in resonating silence. I began cleaning up the paper scraps off the floor. I took the discarded markers back to the art center. But I didn’t get very far in my efforts to clean up before the custodian came in, pushing a large gray trash can on wheels. She surveyed the damage and gave me a dirty scowl. Man, everyone but me is super-good at the dirty look. I need to learn that look before Monday. I’ll go home and practice in the mirror. But I wouldn’t be coming back.

By the time I got home twenty minutes later I had already received an email from Canyon School District that read, We realize you were scheduled to teach two days at Dante Elementary. This email is to inform you that we won’t need you Monday after all. Thanks.

That was a nice way of saying, You suck at this. Don’t come back. We’ll find someone else.

Don’t worry. I won’t be back. I’ll never be a substitute teacher again. Instead I went out and found myself a job driving shuttles from the airport to the ski resorts. Let me break this down for you: I would rather drive through whiteouts and blizzards, I’d rather share the road with drunk drivers, texters, and black ice than share another day subbing. I would rather risk the avalanches that come ripping down Little Cottonwood Canyon a dozen times a year than teach another third grade class.

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