They prepare no lessons, carry no papers, and instruct no one. They spit unrelated facts, regurgitate irrelevant dates, and monotonously spew textbook drivel. They strangle curiosity, stifle a love of learning, and murder both classroom discussion and critical thinking. Most egregiously, bad high school teachers spend far too much time at the photocopier, endlessly printing off soul-crushing packets that teach nothing, inspire no one, and offer no hope.
Francis Boswell taught World History badly. She knew she did and she didn’t care. The balance of her day consisted of taking attendance, handing out and collecting worksheets, and telling her classes to be quiet. After seventeen years, her paltry paycheck didn’t afford her the goodwill of caring for her students or transmitting culture to a rising generation. She saw herself as society’s babysitter, whose sole duty was to keep 10th graders off the streets. Immediately after school, she left. She sponsored no clubs and coached no teams. She simply scurried to her small apartment, locked the door, and called UberEats.
“Miss?” asked a student in the front row.
“What.” Francis Boswell barked. She hadn’t finished her coffee yet, and now this?
“I’m missing page 14.”
Francis Boswell rolled her eyes and gave an oppressed sigh as she slowly moved from behind her desk. She stood, fluidly grabbed one of the other packets, ripped out page 14, and dismissively handed it to the student.
“Was that so hard?” Francis Boswell asked sarcastically. “This is why your generation is so riddled with depression and social anxiety. You cannot solve problems on your own.”
The student flushed with embarrassment.
This emboldened Francis Boswell, ready to take her self-righteous point further. “I don’t know why I have to get up and get you what you need when clearly you are capable of doing so yourself.”
“You said not to get up—”
“Don’t back talk me. I’ll send you to IS now.”
IS. Internal suspension. A room with no view.
The student looked utterly crestfallen.
Francis Boswell muttered about insolence and disrespect while shuffling through the clutter on her desk. Where were the IS referral forms? She wrote several referrals every day, since students were becoming more incorrigible and more unruly. Each year they behaved worse in class and scored lower on standardized tests. She was certain it was indulgent parenting, the bane of her existence. Oh how many parent-teacher conferences had she survived?
Finally, Francis Boswell found the correct forms. They were under the tardy passes and clinic intake sheets and other multicolored pads that administration shoved into her mailbox on occasion. Truthfully, if a student just held a colored piece of paper and walked authoritatively throughout the hallways, no teacher or administrator would be the wiser. The whole system was a ruse to give the appearance of order. But she knew, like every other high school teacher, that chaos and anarchy were always just inches away. It’s why she ran her class as well as she did. She had no truck with insolent teenagers who thought they knew everything.
After 5th period, the lunch bell rang. Finally, she grunted. Francis Boswell made a beeline for the teachers’ lounge. She couldn’t wait to tell her small coven of disgruntled colleagues how she schooled another ungrateful student, one who couldn’t even handle worksheets properly. Oh, how she’d mimic the student’s whiny voice and sad cow eyes. And all that back talk! Rude. Her teacher-friends would all cluck in agreement that parents did not inculcate good manners and respect into their offspring these days. They’d comfort each other in their woes, spooning into their gobs steaming bites of Lean Cuisine, chunks of which were oddly cold.
The principal dropped by 7th period, bringing with him a very tall young man with dirty blonde hair way past his shoulders. He wore an ironic t-shirt she didn’t understand and looked her full in the face. Francis Boswell immediately took offense.
“Ms. Boswell, this is Joseph Cooper. His family just moved into the school district. Please make him feel welcome,” the principal added, knowing full well that the best Francis Boswell could do was far less than that. With the teacher shortage, what was a principal to do? He quickly departed.
“Call me Joe,” Joseph Cooper smiled, extending his hand. Francis Boswell pursed her lips at it.
“Cooper, you sit here,” Francis Boswell motioned to a seat off to the side, underneath the leaky ceiling. “You will need this packet. Pages 11-15 are due by the end of class.” She didn’t give him a second look, returning to her desk to scroll through Etsy and Pinterest.
“What’s the lesson on?” Joe asked.
“It’s on the front of the packet,” Francis said, not bothering to look up.
“It just says Revolution,” Joe said, holding up the front page and pointing at the word she had scrawled in her spidery handwriting in black Sharpie. “That’s not a lesson. That’s a noun.” The other students turned, carefully contemplating the new student.
At that point, Francis Boswell looked up. She put on her glasses to see who was speaking.
“If we are talking about revolutions, we should at least know what type. Are we looking at simply rebellions, an act of resistance? Like Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion? Or maybe a prison riot, like Attica? Or maybe a rightwing militia group taking over an Oregon Wildlife Refuge.”
“Where is Attica? When did that happen?” another student asked.
“Which rightwing militia—like white supremacists?” asked someone else.
“EXCUSE ME,” Francis Boswell said, tamping down the momentary enthusiasm. “Pages 11-15 are STILL DUE at the end of class. Mr. Cooper, you can keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“Revolts are different from rebellions,” Joe said matter-of-factly. “Revolts cause revolutions. All kinds. Nonviolent. Bourgeois. Political. Social.”
“What’s the difference between a political and social revolution?”
“When was the Digital Revolution?”
Joe stood up now, addressing the entire class. “What’s more important than the type of revolution is the method. There’s a big difference between boycotts and guerilla warfare!”
“Right!” said a female student, caught up in the excitement. “And how can one event be described as both terrorism and civil disobedience?”
“A democratic revolution or a coup d'état?” someone else chimed in.
“Depends on which side you're on. Perspective matters,” a boy in the back added.
Francis Boswell stood up from her desk with a lost look on her face. “What matters a bit more than types and methods,” she said quietly, “are the causes.”
“What causes people to revolt?” a voice asked from the back.
“Well, throughout the eras,” Francis Boswell said, “usually the same old things. Political corruption. Natural disasters. Pandemics. Income inequality.”
“Like when people are afraid and want to take matters into their own hands,” Joe added.
“Exactly, Joe.” Francis Boswell agreed. “Governments clamp down and become more repressive. This only exacerbates the cry for revolution.”
“What calms a society down, so it doesn’t get to that point?”
Francis Boswell thought for a moment. “A seat at the table.” With that, she walked over to a motivational poster on the wall and straightened it a bit.
“What pages are due at the end of class?”
“I think—” Francis Boswell gave a small smile, “I think I’d like you to just read the passages for tonight. We will discuss them in class tomorrow. Joe, would you like to lead the discussion on Kentucky’s Whiskey Rebellion?”
“Sure,” Joe replied.
“Thank you,” Francis Boswell said, patting his shoulder. “I look forward to it.”