Some people’s children

Here’s what happened. I was the substitute teacher in room 210 when Charlie Brown refused to get out of a wheeled desk chair, even after several requests from me that he do so. I grabbed the chair as he whizzed by, and he fell to the floor. As I walked past him, he grabbed my ankle, causing me to stumble. I turned around, grabbed the front of his shirt, and said, trying to snarl, “Don’t ever do that; I could break you in half.”

Mr. Brown had turned the teacher’s chair into a self-propelled amusement park, one of the few things I thought I should stop. If the children only wandered around the room yelling, I didn’t mind so much, but a chair is a lot harder than any fourth-grader, and in the time-honored tradition of covering my and the school’s behinds, I decided on zero tolerance of chair abuse. Mr. Brown understood the fairness of my position, if not the wisdom.

I asked and told and asked and told Mr. Brown to get out of the chair. No student could sit in the chair—it wasn’t just him. Exasperated, I intercepted him and the chair, and Mr. Brown fell to the floor, bringing us back to paragraph one.

The important thing about my grabbing Mr. Brown’s shirtfront and lashing him with hyperbole is that the best reason not to try to trip an old man is that one could get hurt. One could also hurt the old man, but that’s his lookout.

The other part of this incident involved money.

I used to give students money for good behavior. Many teachers use various kinds of food pellets as rewards; I used cash. Word travels fast, so a couple of well-placed bucks a day could make my time much more tolerable. Early in the period I showed the class a gold dollar. Mr. Brown tried to snatch it out of my hand, and I told him that he was no longer eligible for a coin because he’d tried to steal from me.

Act Two: Mr. Brown then turned himself into a model student. I think he even did some actual school work. Because he was such a pest—my only rule was, “You can get it unless you ask for it"—I still refused to give him a gold coin, although he became a model of civility and sturdy good sense. The money obsessed him. His behavior had become flawless, and he wanted what he thought was due him.

Get this. At the end of the class, I gave Mr. Brown two quarters. He had tried to take my money and ignored, disobeyed, and tried to trip me, and I gave him 50 cents anyway. Mr. Brown was a very capable young man.

When he showed up for class a couple of days later, he asked me for money whilst sitting in the very chair I’d dumped him out of earlier that week. Mr. Brown will go far.