“Class starts at 8. It’s 8:39.”, by Jonathan Hull

Illustration of different circumstances faced by students

Congratulations to MCNDHS teacher Jonathan Hull, whose piece below was one of five finalists selected by famed novelist Julia Alvarez in a flash-fiction contest created by the Academy for Teachers to honor “the most fascinating, difficult, and important job on the planet.”

I was late because you wouldn’t understand. Because my phone, the alarm didn’t go off. Because I forgot my password. Because the internet. Because Zoom. Because Google Meets. Because Google Classroom. Because the link you sent us didn’t work. Because it wouldn’t let me download the app. Because I was making deliveries. Because they changed the locks and we had to move again. Because I had to drop my little sister to my aunt’s house and she moves mad slow. Because my phone, YouTube and TikTok and next thing I knew it was four a.m., so if you think about it I did pretty good getting here now. Because my cousin just flew in from D.R. Because my dad just flew to Yemen. Because last night this guy kept texting me to send these pictures of myself so I had to think up like four hundred different ways to say no but still keep him interested. Because everything in my house is crazy right now. Because my little brother spilled juice on the computer. Because we just started fasting and the first days you don’t have energy. Because we just got the internet and my brother was on all night and he used it up so now it’s so slow. Because my aunt is afraid something will happen to me. Because all the ambulances and all the sirens all the time because we live near the hospital. Because my uncle died he got COVID and now my stepmom doesn’t want me going anywhere except to work. Because school is just not my thing. Because my dad died and now we have to buy tickets to Ecuador. Because I had to go to the store. Because I’m seventeen. Because I’m at the hospital with my grandmother and she doesn’t speak English can you hear me? Because we just ran out of rice. Because someone stole my delivery e-bike and now I owe my boss’s friend two thousand dollars. Because they keep changing my shift. Because we think my mom was arrested and she doesn’t have papers. Because they changed the clocks to daylight saving and nobody told us. Because the protests. Because I don’t know. Because I’m at my mother’s house in Bamako and sometimes there’s no internet. Because I wasn’t going to tell you but I’m pregnant. Because it’s already late here in Dhaka and so everyone else in the house is going asleep. Because the firecrackers all night and these guys on the four-wheel motorbikes and the cops don’t do anything. Because the military coup. Because this girl told me she was pregnant. Because whatever. Because I forgot. Because I didn’t do the homework. Because I don’t really get what we’re doing. Because I don’t even know who you are. Because I never even met you for real. Because this isn’t even real school. Because you wouldn’t understand. Just because.

This is an unflinching litany of reasons teachers hear from students who can’t show up on time or be fully present in our classrooms. A pandemic/twenty-first-century version of “the dog ate my homework.” But these are in fact the realities so many of our students (and teachers as well) are facing in “real time.” These “excuses” paint a world of many challenges—indeed after reading the story, I realized that it is a small miracle that our students show up at all. Compelling, compulsive, fragment piled on fragment, the style reflects the fragmented world young people (and us, not so young) are experiencing. Because, because, because—the pileup is almost unbearable, but embedded in the story is the talisman cry: Can you hear me? Obviously, this writer does hear his students and the story reflects that.

—Julia Álvarez

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