Among School Children

Among School Children by Tracy Kidder Read Free Book Online

Book: Among School Children by Tracy Kidder Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tracy Kidder
looked impossibly far beyond her control. One Monday morning Chris asked Jimmy what time he went to bed last night. Jimmy, whose eyes looked glassy, with little bags beneath them, said he didn't know. Well, said Chris, what time did the last show he watched on TV begin?
    Jimmy said eleven-thirty.
    "Eleven-thirty?" she cried.
    Yeah, said Jimmy, but it was a special, a really good movie called
    Mrs. Zajac had just started in on her usual speech about bedtimes, the I-don't-care-what-show-it-was-eleven-thirty's-too-late-even-Mrs.-Zajac-can't-stay-up-f/ifli-late lecture, when from the class rose several other voices.
    "I saw that!"
    "Yeah, bro, that was fresh!"
    "Remember that part where the guy..."
    "This is what I'm up against," said Chris, slowly turning her head from one child to the other to make sure each got to see her stupefied look, and finally letting her gaze fall on Judith, who smiled back and shook her head.
    Maybe the worst thing about TV is not violence or licentiousness but the fact that some children stay up until around midnight to watch it. About half of Chris's class did, at one time or another, and came to school with fewer than six hours of sleep.

    It was a Wednesday morning, the dead middle of a week in late fall. Bracing air came in the cracked-open casement behind Chris's desk, the sort of air that ought to make children frisky. The clock read a little past eight. She stood in front of her low math group. As planned, she had begun to go over last night's homework, but Felipe had no idea how many pumpkins
in all
were bought if two people had bought fourteen pumpkins each; Horace said he'd forgotten his book; Manny and Henrietta admitted they hadn't done the homework; Robert just shrugged when she asked where his was; and Alan, of all people, a schoolteacher's son, had a note from his mother saying that he'd lost the assignment. "I think that you think your mother fell off the turnip cart yesterday, too," Chris said to Alan. Then she came to a dead stop.
    The day was overcast. Jimmy's skin looked gray under fluorescent light. He lay with his head down on his desk, shifting his stick-like forearms around under his cheek as if rearranging a pillow. The usually high-spirited Manny gazed open-mouthed toward the window. Felipe had slid halfway down the back of his chair and scowled at his lap. "You can't make me do it. I'm not going to do anything unless you give me more attention," Felipe seemed to be saying to her. It would feel good and constructive to spank him, but that would have to wait for the pretext of his birthday. Robert was dismantling another pen. Soon he'd have ink all over his hands and his pants. His mother could worry about that. Horace was trying to do his homework now, by copying from Margaret's. At least he seemed awake. Jorge's eyes were shut, literally shut. Jorge was staying back. He had told his homeroom teacher, who had told the story in the Teachers' Room, that he'd get even by not doing any work this year, and she couldn't make him, because his mother didn't care. He wore the same set of clothes as on the first days of school.
    Chris had seen progress in this group. They would start long division fairly soon. But today even the well-behaved ones, such as Margaret, looked sleepy. Bring back Clarence from the room next door. Clarence, at least, never looked sleepy.
    Chris considered telling them she couldn't teach
but the eyes that were open and looking at her seemed to say that they didn't want to hear it all from her again: they'd need to know this if they wanted to move on to something new; if they didn't want to get cheated at the grocery store; if they wanted to learn how to design cars and rocket ships. They did not want to hear that Mrs. Zajac couldn't drill holes in their heads and pour in information, that they had to help, which meant, first of all, paying attention. Jimmy yawned. He didn't even bother to cover his mouth. A paper fell off a child's desk and

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