“Alice Glade, please report to the main office. Alice Glade,” The announcement boomed over the silence of the classroom.
All eyes turned to look at me.
Slowly, I rose from my seat and left the room, my chin down to hide my burning cheeks. Every step I took felt like a noose tightening around my neck.
I reached the main office. The receptionist glanced up at me and pointed to the principal’s office.
“She’s waiting for you.”
I gulped and knocked on the principal’s door.
“Enter. You must be Alice. Sit down. As I am sure you know, I am Mrs. Stryker. You are here so we can talk about your recent... misbehavior. Your math teacher, Mr. Hall, caught you cheating during your math test. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“No, ma’am.” I sunk down in the seat.
“There will be consequences for your actions.”
“I have spoken with Mr. Hall, and he believes you should redo the test and that is the end of that. However, we cannot condone this type of behavior. If we did, everyone would be cheating on tests and quizzes, and grades would be pointless. So, in addition to retaking the test, you will have a week of detention and will not be permitted to partake in any extracurricular activities for a month.”
“But Mrs. Stryker, I’ve never had detention in my life and auditions for the spring musical are next week!”
“Those are the consequences for your actions, Ms. Glade. You should have thought about the musical before you cheated on your test. This is my decision and that decision is final! Do you understand?” Mrs. Stryker, rose from her desk, her voice rising. Her hands clenched into fists on the table.
I slid even further down in my chair, as if it would make me invisible.
“I said, do you understand, Alice?”
“Yes, Mrs. Stryker.”
“Yes, I understand, Mrs. Stryker.”
“What do you understand?”
A spark of anger flared in my throat. I thought of a thousand witty remarks to spit back in her face.
I understand that Mrs. Stryker cares more about scaring her students than she does about helping them.
I understand that I would have failed that test without at least trying to cheat and would have been forced to drop out of the class.
I understand that if that had happened, I wouldn’t be able to come into school for the week because I would be black and blue.
I understand that without extracurricular activities, I would be left home alone without anywhere to escape to.
I forced all these thoughts away and choked out the words, “I understand that my actions have consequences and that your word is final.”
Mrs. Stryker smiled, and I could have sworn she had fangs. “Good. If this ever happens again, you will be suspended. That will be all. Return to your classes.”
Slowly, I stood and turned to leave.
As I was turning the handle on the door, I heard the principal mutter, “This generation of children is so entitled, so lazy, and so stupid that they have to cheat to stay in their classes. Honestly! She was probably on tweeting something on Instagram instead of putting the time in to study. They’ll never amount to anything.”
The remark hit me like a slap in the face. I whipped around to face her.
“You are in what might be the best possible position to change the world, and yet you only use the power you have as principal to hurt your students. You don’t know what’s going on in our lives.”
“Yes, my generation is entitled. We are entitled to the future. We are entitled to the world, which we will inherit from your generation. We are entitled to a home that wasn’t completely destroyed by those before us. We are entitled to those things the same way you were entitled to those things when you were my age. Yes, we do have phones and tablets and whatever else. Yes, we don’t really remember what it was like without them. No, we are not lazy. No, we are not stupid. You might know more than me. You might have more experience. You might think the future, in our hands, is doomed. I might agree with you. But I would also say that the future was doomed long before we got here, long before we could make any change. And we are trying to make change! We’re not just lying down and taking it!”
“Ms. Glade, stop this at once!”
I couldn’t stop talking. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from boiling over.
“For your information, Mrs. Stryker, I was not on my phone when I could have been studying. I wasn’t on Instagram or Twitter or any other social media. I was standing between my dad and my baby brother and sister. I was using my own body as a shield to keep my father from punching two five-year-olds. I cheated so that I could continue to protect them, because I knew if I failed the class, it would get worse. Maybe, then, I would be so banged up that I wouldn’t be able to protect them. Maybe he would win. Maybe you should learn the full story before you assume that phones are to blame. Maybe you’re just as bad as he is after a drink.”
“How dare you-”
“I’m trying to keep my family out of the streets, foster homes, and their own graves, so forgive me if I don’t have to time to study once in a while. Forgive me if I can’t take the stress of my classes anymore. Forgive me if I know I can’t tell anyone what’s happening or it will get worse.”
I marched out and slammed the door. It wasn’t until I was halfway back to my class that I realized what I had just done.
I had yelled at the principal.
I had stormed out of her office.
Most importantly, I had told her everything that was happening at home. I had told her all about the things Dad promised me would end in a hospital visit if I ever said a word about them.
My little brother and sister, my little angels, were doomed.
And so was I.