Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Miles' Smile

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Miles' Smile

Article excerpt

No one ever saw him in or around the school without his backpack snug on his back, his hands clutching its straps as if that pack contained his very life.

What high school teacher Mark Samuels most appreciated at the moment was that he was alone. He sat at his desk during his planning period, a free 55 minutes, and knew exactly what he needed to do. Several days' worth of quizzes and essays sat in a hefty pile, and now it was time to hunker down and do battle with them. He ran his hands through his wispy, graying hair and assessed the task. He'd give the essays a quick look. If they looked like decent sentences and were fairly legible, they'd receive a good grade. A scan and a scribble. Shouldn't take him more than 15 seconds per paper. Likewise for the quizzes. To do otherwise, he reasoned, would be ludicrous. You'd drive yourself insane reading all those papers. And who really wanted to read 50 versions of "My Favorite Holiday"? He knew he'd never have lasted these 20 years in the classroom if he had read every line and corrected every spelling error. Twenty years down, and just 10 to go until retirement.

As he reached for the first pile of quizzes, red pen at the ready, the fire alarm blared. He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth as that Brrrang! Brrrang! ripped through his head. In a matter of seconds the hallways filled with students meandering toward the exits like cattle. Samuels had no desire to join them, but then he thought about being caught by an administrator after everyone else had left the building. "Keep the administration off your back," he mumbled, and so he labored from his desk and headed toward the door, lethargy marking his every step.

The last of the students cleared the corridor, teachers close behind, and Samuels was about to join them when a lone student appeared at the end of the hallway, glanced about nervously, and then ducked into a bathroom. Samuels recognized the student as Miles Somethingorother, a special education kid he'd never had in class and to whom he'd never spoken. Samuels knew about Miles, however, for this was the one student everyone knew, at least by reputation.

Miles was not much taller than five feet, and he weighed about 90 pounds. He always wore a formal, collared shirt, which he buttoned to the throat even on brutally hot days, and no one ever saw him in or around the school without his backpack snug on his back, his hands clutching its straps as if that pack contained his very life.

This was not what made Miles so eccentric, however. His eyes really tipped you off: they never stopped moving. Troy black BBs, they would pinball around in their sockets, rarely resting on anything for more than a second. But from what Samuels' colleagues had said, when they did settle upon you for any length of time they could be downright frightening.

Much to the relief of teachers, Miles would rarely say a word in class. He'd merely sit there with a look of absolute annoyance on his face, those eyes ricocheting about. It appeared that he listened intently, but teachers neither questioned him about his work nor invited him to join the other students in conversation.

When Miles did speak, however, everything else in the room stopped. Teachers fell silent. Classmates sitting anywhere in his vicinity leaned away from him like wooden posts slowly settling sideways in the mud. Chuckles bounced around the room, but most people, teachers included, fought the urge to laugh and hoped that the storm would soon abate.

And that's exactly how Miles' teachers described such a scene: a storm. Miles would rant and rave about some recent event or a political point or the state of America's youth. Ultra-right-wing gibberish would erupt from his mouth as if he had no control over what he said. Teachers were powerless to stop him, so they merely stood back until he finished. Rarely did his words pertain to class, and, when he finally stopped, he simply settled back in his seat, lips taut, hands to the straps of his backpack, eyes still moving. …

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