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On Viewing a Public High School Classroom

by Jacob Pactor
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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 halter-top with purple sequins;

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.)