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Katie Burke

© 2005

Another Brick in the Wall

“You’re listening to Drive 105, and that was Green Day with ‘American Idiot.’ It’s approaching the seven o’clock hour and next up we have Jet...”

One two three take my hand and come with me because you look so fine that I really wanna make you mine...Bum bum bum bum bum badadada...I said you look so fine that I really wanna make you mine!

The music was blaring so loudly the windows were shaking.

It was already 6:58 and that meant Sophie would be late again. So maybe no one was watching her punch the clock, but she would know. Besides, if she didn't hurry, she would miss the light and have to sit at the intersection for at least another three minutes. It seemed as though every day she was late, stressed, and tired. Blasting the music on her way to work in the morning was the only way she could think to let off some steam before that first class of sophomores strolled through her door at 7:25–God, that's early.

Parking in the last row of the staff parking lot, she squeezed her way through the parked cars and into the back door of the school all the while going over the lesson plan she had concocted. Up the stairs and through the social studies foyer she picked her way around students and smiled at the teachers she barely knew, exchanging mumbled "good mornings."

As she stepped through the door of the English office, the pungent aroma of freshly brewed coffee greeted her, a habit she once again was thankful she never picked up.

"Oh, shit," Sophie mumbled under her breath as she saw the bright orange light on her phone signaling a voice mail. "Is this anything important?"

"It's Lena. Something about an award for one of the former school board members who moved to Alaska to work on a crab boat...Or something like that," replied Charlie absent-mindedly.

"Have we heard anything 'official' about the car break-ins?"

"Ah, no, not yet. Maybe the kids are just exaggerating. You know how they get. One kid tells another and pretty soon someone stole a school bus and had a party on it in front of the cop shop.” Charlie had only been teaching at Fireside High for a year and hadn’t yet figured out the comical lack of communication the principal, Lena Dickens, was notorious for.

"Right," Sophie said absentmindedly as she weaved her way through the crowded office to the overflowing refrigerator to find room for her lunch of canned Spaghettios and Pop Tarts. Nothing like a balanced meal to keep up her strength and stamina.

After digging through the pile of copies on her desk for the ones she would need for the day, Sophie readied herself to make the trek to her room, which could have just as easily been on the other side of the moon. For some reason, unknown and unexplained to her, Sophie had been assigned "the cave" as her classroom for the semester. This was particularly insulting considering three first year teachers had been hired that fall and had all been given the choice rooms near the English office. Sophie had the room everyone hated, including her. Negotiating her way through the groups of students milling about in the halls was always such a wonderful way to start her day.

"Excuse me," Sophie said politely to a kid with a protruding backpack blocking her way out of the office door.

"Yeah, it was totally cool. He like put seven cookies in his mouth and then Jason made him laugh..."

"Excuse me," Sophie said again a little less politely.

"...and he spit out like all of the cookies all over Shawn and then like Shawn got so mad he..."

"Hey, can you maybe move the 'awesome' conversation away from the doorway, so we can get in and out? That would be really helpful. Thanks," Sophie said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"Uh, like fine," the kid said finally acknowledging Sophie's existence.

Upon opening the door to her classroom, Sophie immediately regretted her decision to straighten her long auburn hair. The temperature must have been close to eighty-five degrees and was so humid she was waiting for rain to fall. She could feel her hair begin to frizz and curl and felt a thin layer of perspiration begin to form at her hairline. Taking off her sweater she was thankful she had remembered to dress in layers. She was fearful to find out what would happen to her room when the outside temperature actually rose above seventy-five degrees.

"Seriously," Sophie breathed disgustedly. She trudged her way towards the back of the room to turn on the one fan she had to make the room somewhat comfortable before thirty-five teenage bodies found their way inside.

Once she turned on the fan, Sophie surveyed her room. Standing at the back she could see the sorry shape it was in. Thirty-eight desks in various shades of squalor were arranged in a flying V. Six trap tables, situated to form three larger tables, decorated the back of the room. The carpet was brown, pop-stained, and littered with broken pencils, dried up ink pens, candy wrappers, and the remnants of a spiral notebook. The room, while large, was low ceilinged with dim fluorescent lights. The walls were bare because no matter what she tried, Sophie couldn’t find any type of tape that would stick. One large bulletin board was covered in an array of student work, which did little to brighten the gloomy interior of her home for the day.

Sitting down to turn her computer on, Sophie noticed the post-it attached to her monitor. "PRINT AND COPY VOCAB QUIZZES," it read.

"AHHHHH!" Sophie exclaimed in frustration. She looked at the clock...7:18. She had just enough time to print off the quiz and run down to the copy room to make the 160 copies she would need for the day, assuming there was no line at the copy machine. It was a gamble she was willing to take.

After printing the quiz, Sophie dashed to the office, darting in and out of groups of teenagers milling, socializing, and wreaking small amounts of havoc in the halls. She managed to scoot in, grab the copy, and had just about escaped through the back door of the office when Agnes confronted her.

"Oh, Sophie I have a quick question for you," Agnes said shrilly.

Sophie knew that no question was quick with Agnes. Of all the people she had to run into, Agnes was the last one she wanted. Agnes had a knack for pushing Sophie's buttons labeled "annoy" and "irritate". Agnes had come to Fireside just this past fall as a transfer from one of the junior high schools that fed into the senior high. She was a veteran teacher, and let's just say change was not her style. Both what and how she taught and her wardrobe made this fact obvious. Today she was dressed in frosted taper-legged jeans and a matching shirt with silver dollar medallions and fringe. Her bleach blond hair was styled in a neon pink banana clip with bangs reaching for the heavens. And she was wearing white cowboy boots. She looked like an extra from Urban Cowboy.

"Agnes, I am in a really big hurry. Can we talk about it later?" Sophie asked as politely as she could while looking at the clock. It was 7:20 and she still had five minutes to get her copies and into class.

"Oh, no. It will really only take a second,” Agnes replied with a smile on her frosted pink lips. “I was just wondering if you could explain this group quiz activity, give me your notes and copies..."

"Really Agnes, I can't do this right now." Sophie knew she was going to get a nasty note for cutting Agnes off, but she didn't care. It wouldn't be the first time, and it probably won't be the last. Agnes's personal strength was passive aggressiveness. With her confrontation meant complaining to everyone else and waiting for it to get around to the transgressor. Sophie was an old pro at Agnes's game having gone many rounds with her already this year.

Agnes’s voice carried across the office as Sophie zipped out the back door and hurried down the stairs to the copy room. As luck would have it, there was a line: two science teachers and a social studies teacher. Sophie tried to peek at the piles in the other teacher's arms and to her dismay, there seemed to be quite a few copies that needed to be made. Surprisingly, the line moved very quickly, and at 7:22 there was just one more teacher in line in front of her.

Beep-beep. Beep-beep. The sounds of a jammed copier surfaced from the depths of Sophie's nightmares. The teacher ahead of her in line was furiously punching buttons and opening the secret depths of the machine to pull out crumpled and stained papers from the jaws of the beast.

Not today. This cannot be happening today, Sophie thought to herself. She looked at the clock; it was 7:24. She had just enough time to get back to her classroom before the second bell rang to signal the start of the day. What a day it was shaping up to be.

Sophie dashed into her room along with a handful of students just as the second bell was ringing. "Okay. Good morning. There was a problem with the copy machine..."

"Again? It seems like there's always a problem with the copy machine."

"Yes, again. Please don't interrupt me. It's rude. As I was saying, the copy machine broke down and I don't have your vocab quizzes copied..."


" while you study your words for about five minutes..."

"Please say we don't have to take the test!"

"Come on! We promise we'll all get tens on the next one!"

"No test! No test!”

"...I'll copy down the test on an overhead."


As Sophie worked on getting the test written out by hand, she could hear her students complaining instead of studying. She decided not to let their complaining detract her from her revised plan of action.

And then all of her plans changed.

"I don't know why we have to study. It's not like these tests make any difference. I mean I don't ever have to study, and I always get tens. Besides, what good does vocabulary do? It's just busy work teachers have us do because they can't think of anything worthwhile. What good is vocabulary going to do me in the real world?"

Sophie didn't even have to look up. She knew exactly who it was. It was the same kid who complained about everything done in English class, every day, all day.

"Okay. You don't want to take the quiz on the overhead? Fine. We'll just do it orally. Less work for me. Everyone put your notes away and clear off your desks," Sophie said as she abandoned the overhead on her desk.

The class mumbled and grumbled as they pulled out paper and put their notes away.

After the quiz, Sophie started in on the lesson for the day. She had been planning it for some time, but had only finalized the plans as she was getting ready this morning. That was the way most of her lesson plans were made, while doing all of the little tasks of the day: driving to work, shopping for wedding gifts, blow-drying her hair, doing laundry.

"Before I forget, I just want to remind you that the final draft of your papers is due Friday. Remember to double-space it and make sure you have a title and that you have spell-checked and proof read your papers one last time."

"Ms. Stanton? Do our papers have to be double-spaced?"

"Umm, yeah. I just said that."

"What kind of a title do we need to have?"

Sophie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Well, like we discussed yesterday and the day before that, you need a title that reflects your story and provides some sort of a hook to grab your audience. The title 'Personal Narrative' is not acceptable. Any other questions before we move on with today's lesson?"

"When is the paper due?" Sophie knew her vocab-bragger hadn't been listening, but she was really hoping that today he would just be too tired to aggravate her. Guess today just wasn't her day.

"Seriously? Please tell me you're kidding because I just said that. Can someone please help our friend out?"

"Dude. Friday."

"Okay. Today you are peer editing your papers. This is the last formal opportunity to have a peer look at your paper. Remember, if you feel you need more feedback, have a trusted friend or a family member look it over for you. You will be working in your groups. Each group member should have a typed, double-spaced copy for each of the other members. Make sure to read through the drafts and make comments and editing suggestions and to discuss the paper with the writer. Questions? Clarification?"

"What if I only have one copy?"

"What if mine isn't double-spaced?"

"My computer was broken so I couldn't type mine!"

"My printer was broken and I couldn't print mine."

"Can I use your computer to print mine? I have it on a disk?"

Once again, Sophie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "If you don't have a copy with you today, sit at one of the tables in the back. I'll deal with you in a moment. If you have something to share, great. If it doesn't fit the requirements, you won't get full points. If you need to print something out, you should have taken care of it earlier, but line up by the computer. Any other questions? Great. Get to work."

Her students made their way to their designated places and Sophie watched with dread as the line of students with "individual" questions grew in front of her. "Yes?” Sophie asked with stoic skepticism.

"Okay. So I like have a problem. I like don't have my draft here, but it's totally done. You can even call my mom."

"Hey, everyone?" Sophie projected in her teacher-voice. "If you don't have your draft, you don't get the points. It doesn't matter where it is or in what stages of completeness." The line in front of her slowly began to dissipate leaving just one student.

"Ummm, okay. I don't trust anyone in class to give me good feedback. I was wondering if you could read it and correct it and give it back to me before class was over so I can make changes to it."

"Oh, can you do mine too?"

"Me too!"

"Listen everyone. If I read your papers now, I am grading them. I just don't have the time to read all of your papers, give them back to you, and then read them again and have them graded before school is out. In a perfect world, yes, I could read everyone's draft twice, but this is not a perfect world. I'm sorry. If you want an adult to read your paper, ask your parents or a trusted friend."

"Okay," said the same student, "then can I use your computer to look up my grades and check my email?"

"What are you suppose to be doing right now?"

"Peer editing."

"Then go and do," Sophie said with a bit of hostility in her voice. She checked the clock again. It was only 7:42; she had a long way to go until 2:08.

“Ms. Stanton? You look mad. Are we making you mad?”

Why can’t they ever just do what I ask them to and work? Sophie thought to herself as she looked up at her class clown.

“I’m fine. Do your work and I’ll be happy,” she replied. To ignore him would only fuel him.

“You look like you need a hug. Do you need a hug?”

“No. I need you to do your work.”

“You need to smile. Want me to recite a poem for you?”

“No. That’s okay.”

“I will. I know it will make you feel better. Ahem,” he cleared his throat to begin. “Betty bought some butter, but the butter Betty bought was bitter, so Betty bought some better butter, and the better butter Betty bought was better than the bitter butter Betty bought before!” It really was quite impressive how quickly he delivered the tongue twister.

Sophie couldn’t help but smile. She look at the clock again; it was 7:47. Only four hundred thirty-nine minutes left until the day was over, but who was counting.