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Fiction

Daniel was a student that gave teacher’s a hard time. I would be lying if I said Daniel didn’t give me a hard time every now and then in my biology class. He was the kind of kid who would stand up in the middle of a lesson, stretch, and yawn loudly just to get a laugh from the other students. Daniel made me laugh too, but as the adult in the room, it was my responsibility to remind him to stay on task and do his work.

I’ll never forget the day Daniel had his head down on the desk, eyes closed. “Daniel are you sleeping?” I asked. 

“Nah, mister,” he responded. “I’m trying to astral project and watch class from outside my body.”

I was speechless, utterly, and completely speechless. Then I started laughing uncontrollably. “Daniel, maybe we should save the astral projecting for after class, what do you think?”

“Alright, mister.” Daniel sat up and continued on as if his metaphysical experiment had never occurred.

I didn’t quite understand Daniel, but I knew that his low grades and string of detentions for insubordination had a deeper meaning. I had a somewhat good relationship with Daniel, at least compared to other teachers and the deans. I figured I would try to connect with him; to understand him better. 

As a young teacher I still had this grandiose plan to save every child. That no matter how bad things got, or what they did, I could save them all. It may be hard to swallow, but now I know this is not true, and every teacher’s heart will be broken at some point. 

But I could help Daniel. I knew I could. So, I asked him to join my after school Urban Gardening Club. This decision would change Daniel’s life, and mine, forever.

“Daniel you’re staying after school today for urban gardening right?”

“Aww man, do I have to?”

“You don’t have to do anything, but I’d like it if you’d help me out.”

“Alright, but I’m not really into all of this gardening stuff mister. I have video games I need to focus on if I’m going to be a famous streamer.”

“That’s fine Daniel, but maybe you could play video games after we go to the rooftop and check the plants?”

“Fine.”

The day went on. The last bell rang. Members of the Urban Gardening Club began to file into the classroom. The chatter of teenagers echoed off the brick walls; but no Daniel.

“Alright everyone why don’t you grab your gardening tools and get ready to head up to the rooftop. I’m just going to wait a little while longer for a new student who will be joining us today.”

I waited; no Daniel.

The other kids grabbed their tools and soil from the classroom closet. 

I waited; no Daniel. 

“Pillipe, take my keys and head up to the rooftop. Get everyone started and I’ll be right there,” I said as I tossed my keys to the senior who had been with me since I started the club four years ago. 

I waited; no Daniel. 

I sighed, grabbed my gardening supplies, and headed up to the rooftop. No Daniel.

We planted new plants and repotted old one. The New York City skyline stretched before us like a forest of concrete trees. The kids laughed and joked. They sat in the shade of the only tree on the roof. It was an old apple tree that had been planted long ago in what looked like a sandbox filled with soil. Every now and then fresh worms would have to be added to recycle the nutrients and keep the soil fresh, but the apple tree itself, and its micro-ecosystem, was self-sustaining. This was my favorite time of year, where the weather was still warm, and the apple tree bore fruit.

As the kids worked, soil was spilled and pots were tipped over, but in the end, we planted fresh tomatoes and peppers that would be harvested and used in the school cafeteria. It was a beautiful cycle: kids plant vegetables, vegetables grow and are picked by kids, kids eat vegetables. 

The sun began to descend in the sky; it was time for everyone to go home. Once the kids were out of the building, I went back up to my room to put the last few tools away and make sure my lessons were ready for the following day. I double checked the closet and realized I had forgotten to bring down the last bin of tools from the roof. I went back up to get them. I grabbed the bin, descended the stairs, and opened the door to the fifth floor where my classroom was located.

As I exited the stairwell I crashed into Daniel who was hurrying down the hallway; tools spilled out of the bin and slid across the polished tiled floor.

“Sorry mister!” stammered Daniel. “I totally forgot we were meeting today, I was on the subway and remembered, so I got off at the next stop and ran back here. You seemed like, I don’t know, you really wanted me here?”

I smiled. “Of course I want you here Daniel. Thank you for coming back but… it’s kind of late, and everyone already went home.”

“Yeah, I know, but I thought maybe it would be nice to be somewhere I was wanted.” Daniel bent down and began picking up the tools from the floor. His head hung low, his voice cracked on those last few words.

My heart broke.

“You know what? I think there are still a few plants on the roof that need to be repotted, why don’t we take a look,” I said to Daniel.

“I mean, I guess I could help.”

We walked back up to the rooftop and I opened the door. Daniel took a step into the golden light of the sun. He stopped and stared.

“Wow mister… it’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, the skyline is pretty impressive from the roof.”

“No… the tree.”

“Oh, yeah, it is nice isn’t it?”

“Are those apples?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, they are.”

“Do you… do you think I could have one? I haven't eaten today.”

My heart broke for the second time.

“Yes, of course Daniel,” I said. “You can have as many as you want.”

He walked over and picked an apple from the tree. He leaned against its trunk and took a loud bite. His eyes closed, he chewed slowly. “This is really good,” he said, spitting pieces of apple from his mouth.

“I’m glad you like it, there are plenty of apples, why don’t you take a few with you.” I replied.

Daniel put the apple in his mouth, clutching it between his teeth as he used both hands to pull other apples from the tree and put them in his backpack. He zipped up the bag and looked at me.

“Well mister, why are you just standing there? You said there was work to do; let’s get going.”

I chuckled. “Okay Daniel.”

After that day Daniel came to see me every day after school to ask if he could go to the rooftop and see the tree. Every day I brought him up; he grabbed a few apples and put them in his bag. On the days we had the Urban Gardening Club Daniel was the first one in the classroom after school, ready to get started on the afternoon’s work. He would always head straight to the apple tree, checking the soil and trimming any dead leaves. His grades began to improve in my class. The detentions stopped and his grades went up in all of his other classes as well. 

I look forward to going to school every day, even though I know I can’t save every child. All I can do is try my best, Daniel taught me that even helping one kid discover an apple tree can change everything.

April 22, 2021 16:15

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5 comments

Francis Daisy
02:13 Aug 15, 2021

Alex, Your "no, Daniel" turned quickly into "know Daniel" inside as well as out. This teacher is phenomenal. A child's basic needs have to be met before the learning can occur and Mister seemed to acknowledge and accept this. Fabulous story. Very inspiring! :)Amy

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Alex Auclair
18:03 Aug 15, 2021

Hi Amy, thank you so much for the kind words! I'm glad you found the story inspiring.

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Angel {Readsy}
16:33 Apr 29, 2021

stand up in the middle of a lesson; very funny description

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Angel {Readsy}
03:08 Apr 28, 2021

I am nightingale I read and sing your stories in the flowering garden and all birds, firefly, fairy and flowers are smiling and very thankful to you for writing such an excellent story.

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Alex Auclair
14:36 Apr 29, 2021

Thank you!

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