“Mr Dyson! I’m done,” calls Kate. I walk over to her terminal. Sure enough, the screen is covered in numbers and letters.
“Ms. Libby, you and I both know this isn’t what I assigned.”
“Aw come on, Mr. Dyson,” she cracks her knuckles. “You know I know what I’m doing.”
“You’re making things up is what you’re doing. I bet you typed all this in about ten seconds. Stop it and get back to work.” I walk away from the grumbling student and survey my class. Twenty-seven heads bent low over keyboards, clacking away. My Teacher Sense tingles and I turn to a row on the far right.
“Stanley! Who is under your desk?” A good-looking boy looks up. He looks distracted, like he just got caught with his hand in the NSA. Again. “What? Nothing. Nothing, Mr Dyson. No one is und-” A brown mop of hair and a smile pops up next to him, “-der my desk except Angela,” he finishes with a sigh.
Angela smiles brightly. “Hey, Mr D! Just dropped my pencil. Sorry. Can you come here for a minute? I want to show you something.” I make my way over to her computer and lean down. “Look,” she says. “Look right there, at those numbers. Don’t those numbers look suspicious to you?”
“Suspicious, Ms. Bennett?”
“Yeah, watch.” She cracks her knuckles and types a few more lines. “Look. Now it’s gone. Isn’t that weird? I swear I saw that line a few days ago when I was doing my homework too.”
“You think something on the computer followed you home?”
“Duh, no.” She smiles again. Pretty girl, a lot of teeth. Wants to be an astronaut she says. “I think it followed me from home to school. Can I check it out?”
I sigh. Students have the most active imaginations. “Sure, knock yourself out. Just finish what you’re working on for class first. If you catch anything in that net let me know.” I spy a hand waving across the room and head towards it. On my way I pass another big boy, thick glasses pushed close to his scowl. “How are you doing, Mr. R-”
“Spider.” He cracks his knuckles and doesn’t look up when he corrects me. “And fine. And goodbye.” It’s no use making small talk, but a teacher has to try. Real life connections and all that. I reach the student shaking his hand in the air like a drowning man. “Monty, you waved?”
“Mr. Dyson, sir. I can’t do what you asked. I need more time.”
I sigh. “Why does every assignment need to be a big production with you, Monty? Must we be so dramatic?”
The student looks up at me. “But Mr. Dyson. I can’t do it! I don’t have the powerstrips.”
“You don’t need any powerstrips. Look, your computer is on. Stop playing with the mouse and get back to work. You can do it. Look, Liz over there is having the same problem as you and she’s not freaking out.”
Liz stops typing long enough to call over her shoulder. “I’m not having any problems. Leave me out of this.” She cracks her knuckles and hunches back over her keyboard. Her sleeve comes up and a flash of black shows on her shoulder. What has she drawn on herself this time? How did she get it back there?
I hear giggling and the quiet boop of a game. I don’t even have to look to know where it’s coming from. “Kevin! Kevin! Come here!” The student who comes towards me has so much charisma, so much potential. He almost glows with it. Still, he needs to get a clue. “Kevin, what did I say about games in class?”
“Oh come on, Mr. Dyson! You need to come see this one. It’s great. So immersive!”
I try not to sigh. He does have talent, and I should be supportive. “I know you are good at this, and that’s great. But right now you need to focus. Please?”
He sighs, nods, and cracks the knuckles on one hand, then the other. “All right, all right.”
“Thank you. Gary, Wyatt! I know I don’t see you designing what I think I see you designing!” The two boys snicker and as soon as they see me heading their way I can see them close the window. Weird kids. I’ll check on what they were doing later.
David rolls into the classroom on his bike. They let him through the halls on it? He waves to me and starts to make an excuse, talking as much with his hands as his mouth but I’ve heard it before and I stop him. “David. Unless aliens abduct you, I need you here on time. Got it?” He nods guiltily. Some kids get too much independence.
“Mr. Muphy, if you don’t back away from the screen you’re going to be wearing that thing has a helmet soon. Peter. Peter. Peter!” I try not to stomp over to Peter’s desk. Where he’s sleeping. Again. I lean down and shake him gently until he snorts and starts, “Wha-huh?”
“Peter, I hate to interrupt your nap, but what do you do here?”
“Uh, I write reports?”
“In theory. Did your mother get the note I sent home?”
“Yeah,” he sighs, “and she got the phone call from the principal and the email from the office.”
I nod, “Good. Please get back to work. I’d hate for this to spill over into what I’m sure is a very busy weekend.”
So many students, so many different assignments. It’s not easy letting them all chase their passions, but they do love computers. It’s strange that my other David is absent though. He kept going on and on about some new website he’d found. Said it was like a game. He wanted me to look at it. Playful kid. I’m sure it’s nothing. And then there’s Boris, my first Russian student. I swear if he clicks that pen one more time I’m taking it away. Or Liz will. Girl looks like she might set him on fire.
Terry pokes her head up from behind her screen. I love it when they do that. Looks like a field of digital prarie dogs. “Mr. Dyson? Can you come here please?” When I get to her she beckons me to lean down closer and whispers, “Someone is sending me messages.”
“No, Terry. That’s not a coded message. It’s literally just code.”
She shakes her braids, “If I can decode it-”
I stop her, “If you can decode it I’ll give you a special job. But I promise it’s not a message.”
My rounds take me near Hiro and Dee working quietly. Dee never talks but seems to get what I want anyway. “Lex is having trouble, she looks like she’s just clicking on random things again. Can one of you two help her? Unless you’re not two of the best in the class….”
Hiro cracks his knuckles and smiles. “We are too. Dee too?”
I glance at Dee who stops what he’s doing long enough to make a noise which might have been a sigh, but like I said he’s hard to read. “Dee too.”
As I straighten my principal walks into the room with an unfamiliar student in tow. You’d think he’d have more important jobs than to deliver new kids. Oh well, there’s always room for more. Our little classroom machine hums along quite nicely and one student won’t throw the balance off too badly. “Mr. Dyson, I’d like you to meet your new student. This is Tom Anderson.”