Stories Out of School

selected by Karen Russell

Teachers have the most fascinating, difficult, and important job on the planet, and their work days are filled with stories. Yet teachers seldom appear in fiction. This contest, a joint venture of The Academy for Teachers and Tin House, was created to inspire honest, unsentimental stories about teachers and the rich and complex world of schools. There were two criteria for submissions. The story’s protagonist or its narrator had to be a teacher and the story had to be between 6 and 999 words. Karen Russell had the impossible task of choosing the winners.

—Sam Swope, Founder and President, Academy for Teachers

This piece delighted me. Its author is an artist of the sentence. The teacher at its center, Mr. Fisher, is a wonderfully idiosyncratic creation. You wish a teacher this brilliant and caring and weird for every student. I loved reading Mr. Fisher’s observational intelligence applied to things like the zen of pencil sharpeners and to the surprising emotional realism of wiggle eyes, “poached in terror.” Routed through Mr. Fisher’s vision, seemingly banal objects begin to shimmer and glow. The story has a patina of wonder that is not totally surprising, I guess, given that his students are covered in glitter.

I suppose you could grouse that nothing really happens in this story, which is why its ending feels so inspired to me–a student directs her teacher to the window. Snow is falling. Time’s cycling is magically visible to us, and to the children. Something real has been happening before our eyes, in the transfer of attention and energy and humor between Mr. Fisher and his young students: an education. 

To learn more about the Academy for Teachers or to support their crucial work, visit their website here.

—Karen Russell

by Walker Rutter-Bowman


I tell them to glue first. They drag the orange nose of the glue bottle across the paper. I come around with the glitter, see what they’ve done—words, hearts, animals, suns. I sprinkle the glitter on the glue lines.

“But why can’t we do it?” they ask, their little hands reaching for the shaker of glitter.

“I have to be the one do it,” I say. “I know how to sprinkle the glitter. If you did it, the glitter would all flump out in a pile. It would be chaos.”

“What’s chaos?”

“It’s when glitter spills everywhere. And then sticks to everything. Sticks to you. To your skin. For weeks, months.”

Their eyes go wide. They touch their cheeks, imagine themselves covered in it. Then they look down at their papers, their arcing ridges of sparkle. Their eyes and thoughts move down and in; they pack themselves into the silvery gleam.



For Thanksgiving we make turkeys out of construction paper. For the feathers, there are orange, red, and yellow pieces of paper cut into teardrops. For the bodies, there are brown oblongs. For the eyes, there are wiggle eyes. The construction paper rasps when handled. While the kids work, I sit behind my desk, rub my knuckles on a grainy sheet of yellow.

At the Thanksgiving assembly, the kids sing songs about wheat and harvest and America’s institutionalization of neighborly love. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve. Their little voices rise. But do they know what a dewy eve even is? Do I? When was the last time I enjoyed a dewy eve? When was the last time, as the dew fell and the night-mist rose, I felt the eve take hold? Their little voices rise again: We shall come rejoicing. I dream of wet grass, of sliding beads of water, of jeweled droplets glowing in the long beam of moonlight.



I could assign the job to one of my students, but I find it so satisfying. I put the pencil in, and the spiral blade tears away at the dull nub. According to the vendor catalog, the sharpener has a “flyaway steel helical cutter system.” It rattles as it churns. I plant the pencil’s flat end in my palm—feel its spin, its canted wobble. I watch the shavings curl and gather in the clear receptacle. The minutes pass. The sharpener grows warm to the touch, produces a cooked wood-chip smell. I don’t notice the students come back from P.E. until Claudia puts a hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Fisher,” she says softly. “I think it’s sharp now.”



I always thought they were called “Googly Eyes,” but when I go to order them, they’re listed in the vendor catalog as “Wiggle Eyes.” And though one would think they’d be the least realistic part of the children’s turkey collages, or their cotton-ball snowmen, or their felt dolls, or their clothespin reindeer, they are, in fact, the most realistic, the truest—wide, lidless, poached in terror, the pupils swiveling in deranged and pointless vigilance.



Every day at snack-time, Jeremy tests the markers. He says, with a workmanlike resolve, “Time to test the markers.” He tests a marker, eats a Cheez-It. To test, he makes a mark on a piece of paper. If it is sufficiently wet and inky, he puts the marker back in the marker basket. If it is dried up, scratching out a faint line, Jeremy says “Nope” and throws the marker in the trash.

Some days I think he really cares about the markers. Other days I think he just enjoys the sound of the marker smacking against the inside of the trashcan, thumping the hard plastic and ruffling the loose liner. I like that sound, too. One would think Jeremy’s parents work as quality control technicians at a factory, but no—his father is an actuary, his mother is a local reporter. And one would think Jeremy uses only markers when he colors, but no—only crayons.



“These are not pom poms,” says Daniel. “These are cotton balls.”

“A pom pom is a type of cotton ball,” I say.

“I know the difference,” says Daniel, squeezing the cotton ball as though testing a melon.

The students say they do not like this project. They say they do it every year around the holidays, and they just don’t like making cotton-ball snowmen. They say they’re sick of it. They say they’re sick of the the way the glue bunches the fibrous tufts of gauze into stiff clumps. They say they’re sick of how easily the balls detach from the paper. They say they’re sick of the way the balls bounce soundlessly on the classroom floor. They’d prefer it if they detonated, like snowglobes, in a hail of bright and gleaming shards.

“Class, I respect your wishes,” I say. “But this year the cotton-ball snowmen fit in perfectly with our Weather unit. For instance, does anyone remember another name for snow?”

“Snowball,” says Michael.

“Close,” I say, “but no.”

“Snowman,” says Grace.


“Precipitation,” says Isabel.

“Yes!” I say, writing it on the board. “Precipitation.”

“I thought precipitation was rain.”

“It is,” I say. “It’s both rain and snow.”

Outside, snow begins to fall—the first snow of the season. The kids rush to the window. I tell them to come back to their desks, finish working on their snowmen.

“But Mr. Fisher,” someone says. “This is the real thing!”

“Mr. Fisher, Mr. Fisher! This is precipitation!”

“Children,” I say. “Come away from the window. The snow’s not going anywhere.”

Claudia tugs on my sleeve. “Oh, yes, it is, Mr. Fisher! It’s falling!”

“I Often Tell People…” made me laugh out loud. The deadpan repetition of the sentence structure reminded me of Joe Brainard’s wonderful accumulative biography, “I remember.” Each iteration is a new surprise, moving the reader through the daily trials of teaching that veer from the deranging to the heartbreaking to the hysterical  (“I often tell people that they are using ironic incorrectly. ‘It is not ironic that you got wet on the way to school. It is raining.”).

By some magic trick, this author has managed to distill years of teaching into a few skillful paragraphs. We might wish to separate teachers into two camps, the heroes and the villains, but this narrator reminds us that teachers are fully human (“I often tell people I feel like neither”); the voice here is tonally complex and totally convincing. I loved it.

—Karen Russell

“I Often Tell People . . .”
by Emily Zdyrko

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​sit​ ​down​ ​and​ ​shut​ ​the​ ​hell​ ​up.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​the​ ​more​ ​they​ ​behave​ ​like​ ​adults,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​I​ ​can​ ​treat​ ​them like​ ​adults.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​put​ ​away​ ​their​ ​lip​ ​gloss,​ ​eyeshadow,​ ​lotion,​ ​perfume,​ ​body spray,​ ​gum,​ ​chips,​ ​candy,​ ​bacon​-​and​-​egg​ ​sandwiches,​ ​sunflower​ ​seeds,​ ​mirrors, homework​ ​for​ ​the​ ​next​ ​class,​ ​and​ ​cell​ ​phones.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​an​ ​idiot,​ ​and​ ​they​ ​can​ ​put​ ​their​ ​cell​ ​phones​ ​away for​ ​real​ ​now.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​indent​ ​their​ ​paragraphs.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​double​ ​space.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​for​ ​god’s​ ​sake,​ ​they​ ​should​ ​get​ ​in​ ​the​ ​habit​ ​of​ ​using​ ​MLA format.


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​begin​ ​their​ ​essays​ ​with​ ​a​ ​hook,​ ​possibly​ ​consisting​ ​of​ ​an interesting​ ​question​ ​or​ ​idea​ ​related​ ​to​ ​their​ ​topic​ ​of​ ​choice.

“Have​ ​you​ ​ever​ ​wondered​ ​what​ ​the​ ​word​ ​‘society’​ ​means?”

“Have​ ​you​ ​ever​ ​wondered​ ​what​ ​the​ ​similarities​ ​and​ ​differences​ ​are between​ ​Huck​ ​Finn​ ​and​ ​Stanley​ ​Kowalski?”

“Have​ ​you​ ​ever​ ​wondered​ ​how​ ​regional​ ​geological​ ​differences​ ​affected​ ​the economic​ ​conditions​ ​that​ ​led​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Civil​ ​War?”

No,​ ​I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​never​ ​in​ ​my​ ​life​ ​wondered​ ​any​ ​of​ ​those things.


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​things​ ​are​ ​ironic.

“It​ ​is​ ​ironic​ ​that​ ​Oedipus​ ​vows​ ​to​ ​hunt​ ​down​ ​the​ ​murderer—​because​ ​he does​ ​not​ ​know​ ​that​ ​the​ ​murderer​ ​is​ ​himself​.”

“It​ ​is​ ​ironic​ ​that​ ​Lady​ ​Macbeth​ ​asks​ ​the​ ​spirits​ ​to​ ​make​ ​her​ ​like​ ​a​ ​man, since​ ​she​ ​would​ ​have​ ​been​ ​played​ ​by​ ​a​ ​man​ ​in​ ​Elizabethan​ ​times.”

“It​ ​is​ ​ironic​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​in​ ​this​ ​room​ ​who​ ​seems​ ​concerned​ ​about your​ ​upcoming​ ​test,​ ​considering​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​also​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​who​ ​does​ ​not​ ​have​ ​to take​ ​it.”


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​using​ ​the​ ​word​ ​“ironic”​ ​incorrectly.

“It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​ironic​ ​that​ ​you​ ​got​ ​wet​ ​on​ ​your​ ​way​ ​to​ ​school.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​raining.”


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​things​ ​that​ ​are​ ​not,​ ​strictly​ ​speaking,​ ​true.

“You​ ​are​ ​really​ ​going​ ​to​ ​regret​ ​missing​ ​out​ ​on​ ​the​ ​lesson​ ​about​ ​quotation marks.”

“If​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​learn​ ​how​ ​to​ ​write​ ​a​ ​good​ ​essay,​ ​the​ ​New​ ​York​ ​City Department​ ​of​ ​Education​ ​will​ ​not​ ​let​ ​you​ ​graduate.”

“No​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​sitting​ ​around​ ​the​ ​teachers​ ​room​ ​talking​ ​about​ ​you.​ ​We have​ ​better​ ​things​ ​to​ ​do​ ​than​ ​that.”

“Of​ ​course​ ​I​ ​agree​ ​with​ ​the​ ​principal.​ ​I​ ​always​ ​agree​ ​with​ ​the​ ​principal.”


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​the​ ​truth,​ ​but​ ​tactfully.

“Your​ ​daughter​ ​has​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​potential,​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​for​ ​her​ ​to​ ​work​ ​on her​ ​social​ ​skills.”

“This​ ​essay​ ​has​ ​some​ ​good​ ​ideas,​ ​but​ ​you​ ​should​ ​be​ ​careful​ ​to​ ​spell​ ​the title​ ​of​ ​the​ ​book​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way​ ​every​ ​time​ ​you​ ​mention​ ​it​.”


Sometimes​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​the​ ​truth,​ ​not​ ​tactfully​ ​at​ ​all.


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​if​ ​they​ ​lean​ ​back​ ​in​ ​their​ ​chairs​ ​far​ ​enough​ ​and​ ​often enough,​ ​they​ ​will​ ​almost​ ​certainly​ ​fall,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​want​ ​to have​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​to​ ​the​ ​dean​ ​or​ ​to​ ​their​ ​parents​ ​that​ ​their​ ​daughter​ ​cracked​ ​her head​ ​open​ ​in​ ​English​ ​class​ ​because​ ​she​ ​was​ ​leaning​ ​back​ ​in​ ​her​ ​chair,​ ​because damn,​ ​that​ ​is​ ​stupid.


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​things​ ​more​ ​than​ ​once.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​things​ ​more​ ​than​ ​once.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​pretty​ ​sure​ ​they​ ​have​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​what​ ​I​ ​just​ ​said,​ ​even though​ ​I​ ​know​ ​I​ ​said​ ​it​ ​more​ ​than​ ​once.


Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​annoying.

Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​boring.

Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​mean.

Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​too​ ​nice.


Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​they​ ​definitely​ ​did​ ​turn​ ​in​ ​their​ ​assignment,​ ​it’s​ ​just that​ ​my​ ​email​ ​must​ ​not​ ​be​ ​working​ ​very​ ​well,​ ​but​ ​maybe​ ​if​ ​I​ ​give​ ​it​ ​a​ ​few​ ​days​ ​the email​ ​will​ ​magically​ ​show​ ​up.


Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​a​ ​saint

But​ ​that​ ​I​ ​get​ ​too​ ​much​ ​vacation.

Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​they​ ​could​ ​never,​ ​ever​ ​do​ ​my​ ​job,​ ​let​ ​alone​ ​do​ ​it


But​ ​people​ ​who​ ​do​ ​it​ ​badly​ ​should​ ​be​ ​punished.

Sometimes​ ​people​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​about​ ​their​ ​own​ ​teachers

Who​ ​are​ ​usually​ ​heroes​ ​or​ ​villains​ ​in​ ​their​ ​stories.

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​neither.


I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​to​ ​conclude​ ​their​ ​essays​ ​by​ ​restating​ ​the​ ​main​ ​idea,​ ​and​ ​giving it​ ​a​ ​new​ ​spin,​ ​maybe​ ​by​ ​making​ ​a​ ​critical​ ​statement​ ​or​ ​a​ ​new​ ​connection.

“In​ ​the​ ​end,​ ​Huck​ ​Finn​ ​and​ ​Stanley​ ​are​ ​both​ ​characters​ ​in​ ​American Literature.”

“Ultimately,​ ​everyone​ ​is​ ​a​ ​tragic​ ​hero​ ​in​ ​his​ ​or​ ​her​ ​own​ ​way.”

“Society​ ​is​ ​still​ ​important​ ​today.”

I​ ​often​ ​tell​ ​people​ ​that​ ​a​ ​conclusion​ ​is​ ​the​ ​hardest​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​essay​ ​to​ ​write.

The Usurper
by Santian Vataj

The silvery fish, a Diamond Tetra, was a gift from his student Vlora, who last year presented it to him in a fishbowl the size of a small melon.

“A gift from my family,” she said.

Daren Shaw tapped the bowl. “Well, I think the class will really love this.”

The class?

He blushed a little. “What? Should I take it home?”

“Yes, and refer to it as Ora, if you don’t mind. You see, in Albania, that’s what we call the spirits who protect humans. If you don’t have an Ora, you’re finished.”

“Ah,” he said, feigning interest. “See, the truth is, I’m not even supposed to accept gifts from students.”

“Mister Shaw, don’t be ridiculous. If anyone gives you trouble, any trouble at all, my father will take care of it.” She left the small aquarium on his desk.

He had little choice then, but to walk the ten blocks to his apartment, careful not to drop the sloshing bowl carrying his precious Ora.

Now, nearly a year later, the thing was dead. He found it one morning, suspended in turbid water. Already late for work, Daren poured the entire contents of the bowl into the toilet. With one flush, the filthy water with its plastic coral, sand, and lifeless fish disappeared in one all-consuming vortex.

Still in his underwear, Daren found yesterday’s pants on the ground and shuddered as his legs passed through the cold fabric. He collected his things and left the apartment bathed in late morning light.

It was his third lateness in as many weeks and he was sure to hear it from the payroll secretary, a woman with a Nazi-like disposition for policing even the smallest infractions. His thoughts drifted from Vlora and the dead fish to the payroll secretary as he walked the ten blocks to work, past rows of coffee-colored buildings that dominated this corner of the Bronx.

In the office, payroll was nowhere to be seen but there was a note in his mailbox:

Please see Principal at your convenience. (Payroll)

In the teacher’s lounge he finds Massey and Shapiro, the math teachers. The room is utterly square, and its linoleum tiles suffer beneath the weight of copy machines, bookshelves, and the perfectly round tables whose faux-wood surfaces are littered with piles of paper. A large wooden crate sits in the center of the room like an occupying spaceship. The math teachers use a crowbar to pry it open. After a little struggle, the last plank of wood falls to the ground with a thwacking sound. They examined the strange object.

Four feet tall, slouched, it had arms and legs, an oval head that kind of resembled an egg, and a black plane of glass for eyes. In its current state it seemed almost cute, like a rather large toy for children.

“What’s it for?” asked Daren.

“You didn’t get the memo? It’s supposed to teach a class.” Massey said.


“It’s true. This thing is top of the line, from Germany. Heard the boss say so.”

Daren waved his hand dismissively and said to Massey, “What you don’t understand is that poetry comes from right here.” And he touched the left side of his chest. “Teach kids? Give me a break,” he said, as the robot just stood there, stupidly frozen in place, its head tilted downward.


By lunchtime he rediscovered the crumpled note in his pocket, reminding him to see the principal. The two hadn’t spoken since the holiday party, and when Daren entered his office, the principal pulled up a mahogany chair and asked him to sit.

“What’s up?” asked Daren, still standing.

“You’ve heard about Neo?”


“The robot.”

“That thing in the teacher’s lounge?”

“That thing cost a small fortune and the superintendent is keen on seeing that it works.”


“Starting Monday, it will teach your English elective and you will facilitate, which means passing out materials and grading papers. You are to treat Neo as you would a colleague.” The principal shuffled some papers, searching for his words. “Look, I don’t want to make this hard on you: let’s just move forward.”

Daren bristled as he placed a hand on the left side of his chest and prepared to tell the principal that poetry came from the heart, but the man wasn’t interested and waved him off just as a phone rang.


Monday arrived, and Daren watched as a technician prepared Neo all morning long.

“You basically have to be in the room for legal reasons and to ensure that it doesn’t go haywire, in which case you should call this number,” said the technician, handing him a business card.

Daren took his place at the front of the class beside a projector that was synced to Neo’s internal system. The black plane of glass on Neo’s face turned fluorescent blue, an indicator that it was on. The word “WELCOME” appeared across the board as the first students trickled in. The robot moved up and down the aisles quietly, like a confident little man. Its modulated voice was unlike a robot’s. In a high British accent, it recited from the Aeneid first in English, then in Latin. Meanwhile, everything the students said was recorded and entered into a database for future analysis—all courtesy of invisible algorithms Daren didn’t even know existed. Towards the end of the lesson, Neo even performed a little dance, sending the children into wild fits of laughter.

Daren sat hunched over a desk pretending to examine some papers as a trail of excited faces streamed out of the room. Only Vlora remained. With her large black eyes, she looked at him disquietingly as Neo stood nearby like a sentinel. In a whisper, she said, “You have to do something about this.”

But Daren could only smile ambivalently, like a man who’d lost his Ora. He watched as the teen sauntered out of the room before spitting at Neo’s feet.

The Fourth Sink
by Devan Aptekar

In​ ​the​ ​mornings,​ ​the​ ​room​ ​smells​ ​dusty.​ ​It’s​ ​strongest​ ​near​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​sink.​ ​I​ ​try​ ​to avoid​ ​opening​ ​the​ ​cabinet​ ​beneath​ ​but​ ​sometimes​ ​I​ ​have​ ​no​ ​choice​​—​​all​ ​the​ ​donated paper​ ​towel​ ​rolls​ ​are​ ​down​ ​there,​ ​stacked​ ​like​ ​logs​ ​in​ ​a​ ​crinkly​ ​wedge.​ ​Really​ ​it’s​ ​more musty​ ​than​ ​dusty.​ ​Word​ ​choice.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​to​ ​be​ ​specific​ ​when​ ​they’re​ ​making​ ​their field​ ​observations,​ ​so​ ​let​ ​me​ ​hold​ ​myself​ ​accountable​ ​too.​ ​Sunlight​ ​drenches​ ​the​ ​room​ ​in the​ ​mornings,​ ​east-facing​ ​classroom,​ ​the​ ​series​ ​of​ ​tall​ ​windows​ ​like​ ​tipped​ ​pitchers.​ ​The black​ ​lab​ ​tables​ ​shining.​ ​It’s​ ​mostly​ ​quiet​ ​here​ ​this​ ​early.

There’s​ ​a​ ​hole​ ​in​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​under​ ​Table​ ​8​ ​that​ ​you’d​ ​think​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​likely culprit.​ ​The​ ​sea jelly​–green​ ​tiles​ ​cross​ ​some​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​seam​ ​there,​ ​a​ ​ridge​ ​transecting​ ​the room.​ ​Our​ ​school​ ​building​ ​is​ ​settling​ ​awkwardly​ ​after​ ​sixty-five​ ​years.​ ​Where​ ​the​ ​ridge passes​ ​under​ ​Table​ ​8,​ ​ten​ ​inches​ ​of​ ​it​ ​have​ ​crumbled​ ​inwards,​ ​revealing​ ​the​ ​worn​ ​edges of​ ​weight-bearing​ ​two​-​by​-​fours​ ​and​ ​a​ ​rind​ ​of​ ​shadow​ ​between.​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​stop​ ​predicting​ ​that the​ ​hole’s​ ​the​ ​source​ ​of​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​but​ ​that​ ​hypothesis​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​dismissed.​ ​I’ve crawled​ ​under​ ​the​ ​table​ ​to​ ​check​ ​too​ ​many​ ​times.

It’s​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​that​ ​fourth​ ​sink,​ ​from​ ​the​ ​gap​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​wall.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​know​ ​it. That’s​ ​not​ ​evidence,​ ​of​ ​course.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​never​ ​allow​ ​a​ ​student​ ​to​ ​cite​ ​“just​ ​knowing​ ​it”​ ​as support​ ​for​ ​one​ ​of​ ​their​ ​claims.​ ​Gotta​ ​dig​ ​deeper:​ ​Why​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​that,​ ​how​ ​do​ ​you know?​ ​I​ ​need​ ​to​ ​pry​ ​out​ ​the​ ​paper​ ​towel​ ​rolls​ ​after​ ​school​ ​one​ ​day,​ ​after​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​have gone​ ​home.​ ​Someone​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​look​ ​inside​ ​and​ ​I​ ​guess​ ​it’s​ ​me.​ ​At​ ​times​ ​there​ ​are noises​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​back​ ​there​ ​too,​ ​bristling.​ ​Four​ ​sinks,​ ​sure,​ ​it’s​ ​excessive​ ​for​ ​a​ ​middle school​ ​science​ ​lab​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​nice​ ​to​ ​have​ ​them.​ ​We​ ​use​ ​them.​ ​Though​ ​I’ve​ ​stopped​ ​letting the​ ​class​ ​use​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​this​ ​year,​ ​just​ ​in​ ​case.

When​ ​they​ ​come​ ​in​ ​each​ ​morning,​ ​one​ ​or​ ​two​ ​kids​ ​will​ ​mention​ ​the​ ​smell.​ ​And lately,​ ​occasionally,​ ​the​ ​sounds.​ ​But​ ​they​ ​usually​ ​only​ ​mention​ ​it​ ​right​ ​as​ ​they​ ​walk​ ​in and​ ​then​ ​we​ ​all​ ​forget​ ​again​ ​until​ ​the​ ​next​ ​day,​ ​There’s​ ​so​ ​much​ ​else​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​track​ ​of. Nadia​ ​is​ ​having​ ​a​ ​seriously​ ​tough​ ​time​ ​at​ ​home​ ​and​ ​feels​ ​comforted​ ​if​ ​I​ ​let​ ​her​ ​hold​ ​the rock​ ​hammer​ ​during​ ​class.​ ​Victor​ ​and​ ​Kayla​ ​need​ ​me​ ​to​ ​find​ ​them​ ​a​ ​mic​ ​for​ ​the​ ​plate tectonics​ ​song​ ​they’re​ ​working​ ​on.​ ​And​ ​it’s​ ​the​ ​sugar​ ​cube​ ​lab​ ​today,​ ​where​ ​they​ ​use tealights​ ​to​ ​send​ ​sugar​ ​through​ ​a​ ​simulation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​rock​ ​cycle,​ ​bash​ ​the​ ​cubes​ ​down​ ​to sediments,​ ​melt​ ​them​ ​into​ ​magma.​ ​I​ ​need​ ​to​ ​find​ ​extra​ ​hairbands​ ​before​ ​class​ ​starts​ ​and print​ ​the​ ​procedures.​ ​And​ ​cut​ ​some​ ​aluminum​ ​foil.​ ​Get​ ​out​ ​the​ ​tongs,​ ​the​ ​goggles. Figure​ ​out​ ​when​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​conversation​ ​with​ ​Jenny​ ​because​ ​I​ ​promised​ ​her​ ​a​ ​seat change​ ​and​ ​that​ ​class​ ​has​ ​a​ ​bunch​ ​of​ ​tender​ ​personalities​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​track​ ​of.​ ​Flip​ ​through yesterday’s​ ​mini-quizzes​ ​and​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​who​ ​needs​ ​a​ ​check-in.​ ​The​ ​faint​ ​noises,​ ​the snarling,​ ​the​ ​scratching,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​persistent​ ​smell​ ​get​ ​drowned​ ​out by​ ​124​ eighth ​graders moving​ ​through​ ​all​ ​day​ ​so​ ​of​ ​course​ ​we​ ​forget.​ ​But​ ​it’s​ ​there.​ ​Every​ ​morning​ ​it’s​ ​there. I’ve​ ​been​ ​quantifying​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​on​ ​a​ ​1–5​ ​scale​ ​and​ ​the​ ​data​ ​suggest ​it’s​ ​getting stronger.

Walker Rutter-Bowman lives in Ithaca, New York. He is at work on his first collection of stories.

Emily Zdyrko is an English teacher at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and the Performing Arts. In her spare time she acquires shoes and degrees in English. A New York City native, she lives on the Upper West Side with Calypso, her semi-feral immigrant cat.

Santian Vataj was born in the former Yugoslavia to Albanian parents and raised in the Bronx, New York. He currently works as a full-time history teacher in New York City. He has published one short story which appeared in The Writers Studio at 30 anthology and a poem on Prelude Magazine‘s website. 

Devan Aptekar teaches 8th Grade Science at Tompkins Square Middle School on the lower east side of Manhattan after many years there as dean. A native New Yorker, he grew up by the beach in Brooklyn. While he has published over twenty children’s books and loves teaching science, he is devoted to writing strange bittersweet novels.