Looking out at the rowdy group of sixth graders barely able to stay in their seats after a sugar-packed lunch period, first-year teacher Tammy Duggins took a deep breath and began her lesson about history’s famous pianists Wednesday.
You can reach them, Duggins thought. You can unlock their interest in learning. You can…you will get through to them.
“Everyone…please…please settle down, let’s…let’s open our books to the pianists of the 18th century,” Duggins stumbled, the flop sweat becoming hot, searing and unstoppable. “Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque pianist…”
Immediately recognizing her error, but unable to take it back, Duggins had entered territory every veteran teacher warned her to avoid. But as notorious troublemaker Tanner Brown’s hand shot up, she knew she couldn’t ignore it without surrendering her class to anarchy.
“Y-yes, Tanner?” Duggins asked.
A seemingly never-ending, Cheshire Cat smile curled up the boy’s face. “Did you just say he had a broke penis?” he asked as the class erupted in laughter, kids running around their desks and hanging from the light fixtures in celebration of the haymaker their classmate just landed on the teacher.
My God, I’m no different than the millions of other teachers who have tried before me. I…I’ve failed.
No…no, I am the leader here. I must take back control. This is not lost.
“Let’s move on to the 19th century” Duggins asked, gliding over the boy’s quip and suppressing the children’s mania for the time being. “Frederic Chopin wrote primarily for the solo piano, and…”
Then, like a bright beam of light, Shawn Jackson raised his hand. Yes! Finally, the best, smartest student in the class is ready to weigh in and bring us back on track. I’ve always appreciated Shawn. Such a nice kid.
“Chopin was a pianist, right?” Jackson asked.
“That’s right,” Duggins said.
“So are you ever choppin’ penis, Mrs. D?”
It didn’t matter that his comment made no sense in any context. As the high fives rained down on Jackson amid deafening cheers, as he delivered the knockout blow and ascended to the next level of sixth-grade superiority, Duggins knew it was all over. All the years she spent studying to become a teacher. All the dreams she had of making a difference. Gone.
All of it gone, and it was never coming back.