On Viewing a Public High School Classroom

by Jacob Pactor

July 22, 2009

 

The Sultan of Swat swung big;
he missed big, too,
whiffing double those
pounded past fences.
 
• • • • •
 
His classroom doesn’t surprise.  Faux-wood desks
welded by scrapheap metal to reinforced plastic chairs
exist in fixed dimensions. While empowering quotations—
imitation is suicide—adorn the walls, the room lives in 2D;
my father’s Civics teacher would feel at home
after adjusting to the white marker board.
 
“Until we invest authentically in human capital,
we only will go where we are going,” he says.
“Growing up, after spelling words for nickels
and polysyllabic compounds for Eisenhowers,
my bow-tie clad dad would say,
‘The only person I love more
is the person you should become.’”
 
His first class begins in 90 minutes, but he starts his story.
 
“It’s exhausting.”
 
It means teach:
to cultivate empowered citizens effecting positive change
in their lives, communities, states and world.
 
“The best teachers toss bubble-wrapped egos into land mines;
the worst lament what-could-have-should-have-beens.
I stand
between resistant students and restraining teachers.
 
The raw yet ultra-defined teenage culture
invigorates me like a shark sniffing a diver’s blood.
Told and told
and told what and how and when to think, they question,
hoping an idea survives their peers’ predatory personas.”
 
During the 7-minute passing period
after his period 3 English 11 College Preparatory class,
he says more in between small talking with students.
 
“If we called them all Honors, wouldn’t they respond in kind?
If we call them idiots, why do expect them to act honorable?”
 
He hopes to provoke. At cup of coffee two earlier, he whispers his dirty little secret:
if you put enough salt in a horse’s oats, he either drinks at the river
or dies. He smiles.
 
Later, yet again,
no one raises a hand. He stares:
 
at the blonde girl whose perky tits hide behind a pink haltertop with purple sequeins;
at the black male who hides creativity underneath $100 shoes and cornrows;
at the intelligence hidden behind my-life-sucks depression dressed in black;
at her ultra ego pop-cliché tomboy behind a wife-beater, blue jeans and faux army jacket.
 
They don’t get it, I think he thinks.
 
If it were me,
I would scream.
I would pop quiz.
I would walk out.
I would keep my sanity.
 
Yet, I’m his guest.
I take notes.
I write a newspaper column.
I feel silly pretending so I observe
three more hours until
 
the final bell’s ring reverts
the school into awkward silence. Time exists
strangely in schools.
He massages his face, furiously
removing dark circles hibernating
below his hazel eyes.
He answers before I can ask:
 
“All those students have names and stories.
In fighting to create
independent individualities,
they blend into
universities, factories, hospitals,
early morning cups of coffee, old age.
 
I do hope they find real happiness;
we need them to make change, to create
to cultivate American dreams.”
I’m tried. Yet, his story
needs writing. Still,
I remember:
 
Between a doubleheader,
The Bambino’s visiting
my granpops in a hospital bed;
that night, he clobbered two homeruns.
(No one remembers his three strikeouts.)

 


Wabash College • P.O. Box 352 • Crawfordsville, IN 47933 • 765.361.6100