Drill & Kill by Chad Greene
My classroom doesn’t have any furniture in it.
It’s Tuesday, September 4, 2001, the first day of my first year as a third-grade teacher in Shadywood, California, and my students are sitting in a circle on the floor of our trailer — I mean, bungalow.
My students, the bright-eyed children of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran immigrants, sit cross-legged on a carpet that is a mottled mixture of gray, blue, and red threads — the colors of a soiled American flag.
The Shadywood Unified School District selected this carpet, the night custodian informed me, because it hides puke stains better than any other blend of colors.
Good. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
Parents peek through the front window, their brows as furrowed as freshly plowed fields while they watch me pass out the twenty secondhand dictionaries that we will use as lap desks until our third-hand desks arrive.
The principal has a bolt in her neck.
I’d been trying so hard not to stare at her unibrow the first time we’d met that I guess I just didn’t notice. But there it is, neatly labeled in crayon, in Shirley’s drawing: “THE PRINCIPAL,” and below that, an arrow shaped like a bolt of lightning points to an object vaguely resembling a sparkplug protruding from a spot just above her shoulder, “THE BOLT IN THE PRINCIPAL’S NECK.”
My students are standing up one by one, sharing their pictures of the school. I’m only half-paying attention, wondering if 8-year-olds understand sarcasm well enough to appreciate a quip about the flatteringly slimming effects of stick-figure portraits, so, at first, I think that I misheard Shirley’s explanation of her drawing.
“Excuse me, dear, what did you say that is?” I ask.
“That’s the bolt in her neck,” Shirley says matter-of-factly.
“Now, Shirley, that’s not very nice,” I chide. “The principal doesn’t have a bolt in her neck.”
“Yes, she does, teacher,” blurts David, to a chorus of yeahs.
It turns out that it’s common knowledge on the playground that the principal does, indeed, have a bolt in her neck, though because her black hair hangs to her shoulders, it can rarely be seen.
The students are divided into several schools of thought regarding this bolt. The most popular theory by far is that the principal is, basically, a female version of Frankenstein’s monster. This theory is seemingly supported by the fact that she is a … um, sturdy woman with an ashen complexion and a penchant for wearing black.
A variation on this is that the principal is a cyborg, a robot wrapped in human flesh, and the bolt is where she clamps jumper cables attached to her car battery in order to recharge.
In either case, the consensus seems clear: the principal is a monster.
Years from now, people will ask, “Where were you when the World Trade Center towers fell?”
I’m in the teachers’ lounge. Someone has commandeered the principal’s small black-and-white TV and placed it on top of the Xerox machine. We watch in shocked silence. Outside, I can hear our students trickling in, blissfully unaware.
The networks begin to replay the grainy images. I avert my eyes, just as I would from the rhythmic flash of the Xerox machine upon which the TV is perched.
Mr. Perdú, a shell-shocked veteran of the trenches of Shadywood Unified, retrieves a flask hidden in the depths of the copying machine.
“Hey, Perdú, pass me some of that ‘toner.’”
Pitifully, the best reassurance that I can give my students is that no one knows where Shadywood is, that there’s nothing in Shadywood important enough to destroy.
“The terrorists won’t find us,” I tell them. “Even the furniture deliverers can’t find us, and they have our address.”
Something’s rotten in the cafetorium.
I’d like to think that, if I had designed our school, I could have come up with a name for a combination cafeteria and auditorium that wasn’t quite so ugly and authoritarian, like “dinner theatre.” But I doubt even that would have inspired the custodians to expend more energy on its upkeep.
Mostly, I think it’s the half-drunk cartons of milk curdling in the industrial-size trash bins pushed into the folds of the heavy canvas curtains that frame the worn boards of the proscenium stage.
As I carry the box containing my teacher’s guides for our new reading program back to the table, the third-grade teachers have staked out for the weekly staff meeting, my foot slips on a dark-red splotch of what I hope is ketchup.
Sitting between my fellow rookie teacher, Millie, and Mr. Perdú on one of the long benches, I flip open a spiral-bound volume labeled, “Presentation Manual.” I am surprised to see that each lesson is completely scripted, the words I’m supposed to say spelled out in purple ink.
“What do I need a script for?” I ask. “I’m probably the only 22-year-old Midwesterner who ever moved to Southern California who doesn’t want to be an actor.”
Mr. Perdú turns to face me, but before he can reply the principal taps the microphone clamped to the podium with one blunt finger, signaling the start of the meeting.
“I see that everybody has picked up their teacher’s editions for our new reading program, Direct Instruction,” she says. “Typically, D.I. is used as an intervention program for remedial students, but our kids scored so poorly at last spring’s standardized tests that I’ve decided to adopt this as our core reading curriculum.
A Lesson from the Road
Our Immortal Souls
Maps and Miracles
Tailing the Blond Satan
Into Open Hands
Drill & Kill
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