from Tyler Stern
May 17, 2014, 5:03 p.m.
We have official T.W.A.T. business to take care of! The students need us,” I yelled at each one of them, “this school needs us!” I scrambled to find some way to keep them here, but there was no stopping them now. Once the clock hits 5PM, a teacher’s physiological make-up will automatically send him or her home no matter what might try to prevent them from leaving, be it grading papers or a student being attacked by a feral, five-foot mongoose. It was a scientific fact.
I looked on in agony as every teacher said goodbye to me while shuffling out of the door. Just like that, I let my shining moment slip through my fingers. It was going to be next to impossible to get these heretics in here next week. I swiveled my head around and saw Mr. White and Mr. Terrance sitting in the chairs before me.
“What are you still doing here,” I asked nastily. “The work day’s over.” I had officially hit rock bottom. No, I hit whatever was underneath rock bottom — the spot right above the first circle of hell where all the people who stick gum underneath desks go when they die.
“Oh, I was hoping you could give me a ride home,” Mr. Terrance asked with a cheap smile.
“I’m still waiting for the ginger snaps,” said Mr. White.
I looked at George who somehow seemed as anxious as ever. I took a deep breath, repaired the minor cracks in my impregnable wall of professionalism, and walked over towards him. “Well, I guess we should just let you go. It’s not like I can do anything about you now.” Like a band-aid, I gripped the thick piece of tape covering George’s mouth and ripped it off. I was expecting a blood-curdling scream, but what came out of the boy’s mouth was much more surprising.
“I’m not George Pasión!”
An awkward silence filled the room, only to be shattered as the pain from the torn tape struck George. He screamed, then whined and squealed, trying to cope with the stinging.
“What,” I uttered plainly.
“I’m not George Pasión!” the boy said, followed by more whimpers.
“What do you mean you’re not George Pasión?”
“I am not George Pasíon! My name is Ryan Pollard, I’m a sophomore at West High.”
We all looked at each other awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed. Was this not the George Pasión that terrorized our classrooms?
“That’s something George Pasión would say,” exclaimed Mr. White. “Get him!”
“NO. Stop! Just listen to me! I. AM. NOT. GEORGE. PASIÓN. I don’t even go here!”
“I think he’s telling the truth,” I said, realizing that I’ve never seen this student before in my life. “I think we have the wrong kid.”
Mr. White stared at me in disbelief. “How could this have happened? Who was in charge this week for collecting the student?”
I walked over to the podium and took a look at the folder containing all of the scheduling information for T.W.A.T. “Let’s see…today’s the third…Mr. Terrance, you were supposed to get the kid today.”
We turned towards Mr. Terrance whose face was glowing a bright red. “Umm,” he threw his hands up and shrugged his shoulders, “oops?”
With the intensity of a billion supernovae, the wall of professionalism that I had erected after all these years of teaching suddenly and violently exploded. “Are you kidding me?!” I roared vehemently. “You retrieved the wrong student who we were about to punish for actions that he didn’t even do, and all you have to say is ‘oops’?!” I drew closer and closer towards Mr. Terrance, my eyes drilling him deeper and deeper into his chair. “You buffoon! Do you understand how much trouble we can get into with the county office, or worse, the PTA?! You’re a lousy excuse of a teacher, you stupid little—“
Someone grabbed my shoulder from behind. I turned around to discover the owner of the hand: Mr. White. His normally sour expression was gone, replaced with something much more surprising. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, mainly because I had only seen Mr. White look angry, but if I had to make a guess, it resembled something of compassion. I looked down towards the white tiled floor and pinched my sinuses. Whatever Jedi mind trick Mr. White had pulled, it stopped my rampage. I took a deep breath and realized what I had done. It was over. T.W.A.T. was dead. There was no telling what sort of hell the West High PTA would unleash once it got out that we duct-taped one of their students to a chair. I felt so much pain, so much sadness, so much disappointment that I didn’t know what to do. So I cried. I just cried. I started bawling right there in the middle of the teacher’s lounge. I didn’t care how unprofessional it might have been, I just needed to let it all come pouring out. I dropped to the floor and sat in my own tears, marinating in the sorrows leaking from my eyes.
“Um. Chris?” Mr. Terrance asked quietly. “Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not alright! T.W.A.T. is finished. My chances at winning the platinum teacher’s award are ruined!”
“It’ll be okay, Chris. We’ll get everyone here next week, it’ll be fine.”
“No! It’s not going to be fine!” Saliva and mucus were streaming out of my nose and spraying onto the floor around me. “Oh, who am I kidding, it was a lost cause to begin with; I was in over my head. No one else cares as much as I do. They’re all just going to go on teaching like nothing ever happen.” I dropped my head to the floor as it bobbed with each sob. “You know, as much as I wanted that award, I really just wanted to make these kids better. That’s all.”
As Mr. Terrance and Mr. White looked on with damp eyes, Ryan let out a big sigh of annoyance. “You know, this is fascinating and all, but can you cut me loose so I can go home now?”
“I don’t understand,” Mr. Terrance said. “If you wanted to better students, why didn’t you just, I don’t know, be nicer to them? Try to connect with them? That sort of stuff.”
“Students aren’t that simple, Mr. Terrance. They’re creatures from an alien world that use strange hieroglyphics called ‘emojiis’ to communicate. The only form of authority they respect is their mysterious monarch, Queen Bey. No one fully understands what they are, not even me -- that’s why they need to be controlled.” I swallowed hard and closed my eyes. “I should know.”
I took a deep breath and plunged into the dark waters of my past. “I was always in detention as a kid, always bringing home letters from my teachers. My father hated me for it. I could never do anything to please that son of a bitch.” I bit my lip and tried to hold back more tears. “Then, one day, he just couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t handle having a son that was so disrespectful, so…unprofessional. So he did what anyone would have done.” I swallowed hard, trying to prevent my emotions from slipping out from under my control. “He left my family and became a roadie for Madonna. Now I can never hear the upbeat synth-pop vocals of Material Girl without thinking about how I eternally disappointed my father!”
“Yeah, sounds horrible,” Ryan interjected, “now can you le-“
“He’s the reason why I became a teacher,” I explained, brushing away a few more tears. “After he left, I committed myself to a life of bettering students. Of making sure that they would never disappoint their own fathers. That’s what T.W.A.T. was all about.” I lifted my big, round eyes to Mr. White and Mr. Terrance. “Yeah, it might have been partially driven by selfish motives,” my lower lip startled to tremble again, “but I just wanted to make my father proud.” I dropped my head to hide my face and protect myself from any more embarrassment. The destruction of my professional wall had opened the floodgates; it would take years to reconstruct what had been so quickly obliterated. There was nothing left for me in the teachers’ lounge — it was best that I get home. I picked myself up off the floor and turned my gaze to the door, only to be surprised by what I saw standing before me.
A large collection of teachers surrounded the door. “Chris, we had no idea,” Mr. Davies said sympathetically.
“How — why are you all still here?”
“You butt-dialed us,” Mr. Davies said with a light smile as he lifted up his phone for me to see. Sure enough, the call timer read a bright yellow 15:26. I suddenly remembered jostling my phone around when I had my hands in my pockets; I must have accidentally made a call. “We heard everything.”
I turned my head away from them to hide my face. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“No, we don’t think you’re crazy.”
“I think you’re crazy,” Ryan admitted.
Mr. Davies looked over at Ryan and inspected him with a raised eyebrow before gathering the teachers in a huddle. They whispered for a bit before Mr. Davies exited the mass of teachers and walked over towards me.
“So,” he said cheerfully as he put his arm around my shoulder, “what is T.W.A.T. up to these days?”
I stared at him angrily. “What are you talking about? T.W.A.T. is over. There’s nothing left.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be sure? I was the only one left after you all walked out on me. It’s through.” I continued to stare at his goofy smile for some time before it struck me what he was getting at. I spun around and saw the eager faces painted on all of the smiling teachers standing in the doorway. I turned back around to Mr. Davies, who lifted his eyebrow and cocked his head a bit.
T.W.A.T. wasn’t dead yet. There was still a heartbeat.
A smile cracked from my weary exterior as I looked back at Mr. Davies. “I don’t know Mr. Davies. I just don’t know if I can do it.”
“Are you kidding me?” Mr. Davies sounded encouraging. “There’s no one else in the entire world who’s crazy enough to do it.”
A laugh awkwardly burst out of me, sending a giant glob of snot flying onto the tiled floor. “Do you really mean that?”
He grinned, revealing his perfectly white teeth. “Chris. You were born to lead T.W.A.T. — you’re the T.W.A.T..”
“No.” I sniffled and wiped my face with my sleeve as I stood up to face Mr. Davies eye to eye, to face him as my equal. “We’re all T.W.A.T.s.”
Mr. Davies and I embraced, causing the teachers to erupt in cheers. We both turned towards Ryan, whose face immediately went pale, and began to walk over to him.
“Wait, wait, what are you doing? Stop. Think about what you’re about to do before you do it!”
Mr. Davies and I crouched down and lifted Ryan up in the chair.
“Stop it!” Ryan screamed. “Put me down!”
Unfortunately for him, even if we had heard him over our cheers and rallying cries, we weren’t going to.
We carried him out of the teachers’ lounge and paraded down the main hallway, whooping and hollering as loud as we could. Ryan was hoisted above our heads in his ironic throne made of plastic and iron, struggling to escape his captor’s clutches, but it was of no use. He cried for us to let him free, but we weren’t going to — we were helping him. Our elation flooded the hallway. I could have been imagining it, but I swore I saw confetti and ticker tape falling from the ceiling. Teachers were jumping up and down, bouncing off the walls, and doing cartwheels down the hallway. Never before had the teachers of Pennbroke been united so animatedly. That was the power of T.W.A.T..
We walked through the entrance of the school, passing by the administration office where Dr. Devinson would have seen the large group of teachers carrying a student strapped to a chair if he weren’t square dancing with a parent. The doors to the school opened and we walked outside into the fresh sunlight. The trees were greener, the sky was bluer, the air more crisp. The warm sun tickled my skin, reminding my body that I was alive. And oh, how alive I was.
Still chanting and cheering, our mob worked our way through the teacher’s parking lot and towards Mr. White’s car. We heaved Ryan onto the roof, which was slathered in blood.
“I’ll have you all reported,” Ryan cried, “all of you! You’re not going to get away with this!”
I smiled as I watched the other teachers secure the chair to the roof of the minivan with several yards of rope and a few bungee cords. This was for you, dad.
“What do you want me to do with him, Chris?” I was so enraptured by the scene unfolding before me that I hadn’t noticed Mr. White walked up next to me. “I still have that gun in my car if you want to —“
“No,” I said with a chuckle, “that won’t be necessary. Just drive him around for a bit.” I looked over at Mr. White and gave him a smirk. “Show him how this part of the district teaches its students.”
“What about the PTA? They’re going to find out what we’ve done.”
I looked over at Ryan, who was squirming as he feebly tried to kick at the teachers tying him to the roof. “Let them.”
Mr. White smiled and turned his head towards Ryan, narrowing his gaze. “You got it, boss.” He walked over to the driver’s side door and began to enter the car.
“Please!” Ryan pleaded. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Shut up, or I’ll keep you up there without the bungee cords!”
Mr. White climbed into the seat and started the car. I walked over towards the window as he rolled it down.
“You’re not actually going to hurt him, are you?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. White said slyly, “this isn’t the first time I’ve driven with someone strapped to my roof.”
I had always seen Mr. White for as long as I had been at Pennbrooke, but it wasn’t until now that I saw him: the man who had stuck with both T.W.A.T. and me, even in our darkest moments. “Thank you, Mr. White. For everything.”
“Please,” he said with a wink, “call me Jenny.”
With that, Mr. White put the minivan into gear and backed out of the parking space. The rest of the teachers huddled together as we watched Ryan ride into the sunset atop the minivan. Some of us waved goodbye to the young student, others stirred in their sentimental thoughts. I was part of the latter; how could I not be? After all that had happened today, I finally achieved what I thought was the impossible. T.W.A.T. was a reality. If only my dad could see me now, standing amongst my fellow teachers, all inspired to change our school for the better.
The car reached the top of the hill and pulled onto the main road, passing a deer skipping in the twilight sun, but I kept looking beyond. It was funny. As much as my professionalism had failed me today, I felt something inside of me. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time: satisfaction. Today showed me that I wasn’t the most professional teacher in the world, even if I held myself to that title. In fact, today showed that I wasn’t even the best teacher in the world, although, I’m definitely in the top three. As messy as the day had been, I knew that everything was going to be all right. Sure, T.W.A.T. might have taken a pounding, but there was a reason why it was still standing now. As long as we were teachers who cared, as long as we were still T.W.A.T.s, this school was not going down without a fight. And things might not have worked out the way I intended them to, but at least I was trying, and in the end, that was all that really mattered.
I turned and faced my fellow teachers. “Now let’s go eat some fucking ginger snaps!”