FridayFlash: Back of the Class

Back of the Class

by Tony Noland

"Danny, I'm a little concerned about your behavior."

She said it in her warmest, most caring voice. At least, she hoped that was how it was coming across. She didn't like Danny Young. It was a terrible thing to admit to, even to herself. But there it was. He was a strange little boy. None of the other kids in her class liked him, either. That was a shame, but not unheard of. Third graders can be picky and clannish, much more so than their parents realized.

However, Allison Clarksen always made it a point to find something likable about every child. Even the ones who had been truly terrible over the years, she'd found some way to at least pity them for their situations. She never blamed the child. It was brutish parents, poverty, or other circumstances beyond their control that made children difficult. She believed in every child in her class, every year. It was not just a saying or a pose. She cared about every child, and wanted them all to succeed.

Until Danny Young. She tried and tried to find some way to connect with him. After seven months, she finally admitted to herself that she did not want him to succeed. She just wanted him gone.

"What is it about my behavior that concerns you, Ms. Clarksen?"

It was like fingernails on a blackboard. The little bas... the little boy was always so calm! He never got upset or angry or out of line. He never misbehaved or spoke out of turn or turned his homework in only half-done.

But he never smiled. He never laughed. He didn't play with anyone. He was so... so... controlled! That was it, he was far too controlled for a nine year old boy. They should be wild, free spirits, eager to laugh or cry. Emotions should be running high in them, like waves crashing on a shore. But Dannny was like a still pond. No, even worse, she thought, he was like a frozen pond. Smooth, clear, motionless.


She shivered. She tried to call his parents to be a part of this, but got only voice mail at the regular telephone number. It wasn't worth the paperwork of using the emergency contact number. She had never met Danny's parents; they never came to conferences. They signed all the permission slips, and corresponded with her by e.mail, but she had never met them. There had been other families in the past that didn't care about their children. It was a tragedy, but she reached out to the kids, did her best to help them grow and ushered them on into fourth grade. She hoped that she made them better, but there was precious little a teacher could do for kids without a family.

She wondered what kind of parents Danny had.

"Ms. Clarksen?"

She started slightly, as he interrupted her thoughts. So damned polite. What was wrong with him, what was it about him that bothered her so?

She cleared her throat. "Danny, you made our visitor uncomfortable with your behavior today. This was the first time I've had to speak to you about paying attention in class."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Clarksen," he said, "it won't happen again."

Too quickly. He agreed too quickly. All of the other kids were bored to tears by Hua Feng's father. He was an engineer at Cryodyne, the aerospace firm. A very smart man, no doubt, but his Chinese accent was so thick the class could barely understand him, and they were all chattering and twitching. Except for Danny. He'd appeared to be absolutely rapt by the tedious drone about circuits and electrons and surfaces and things. It made Danny's outburst even worse. Everyone had thought Mr. Feng was boring, but barking it out in the middle of his presentation! The entire class had laughed, and poor Hua, already embarrassed about her father's poor English, was crying over how shamefully her father had been treated.

"Danny, it looked to me like you were actually listening to Mr. Feng. You were writing notes down, copying some of what he'd said. Why would you be so rude to him? Why did you say what you did? That he was... was boring?"

"I didn't say..." Danny stopped.

For the first time, Danny's face flushed. He looked embarrassed!

Feeling terrible as she did so, the teacher pressed home her advantage, the first chink in the little boy's armor that she had come across. It was mean and it was petty, but she couldn't help herself.

"Tell me, Danny. Tell me why you did that. You must have known that calling Mr. Feng boring would hurt Hua's feelings. Why did you do it?"

"I didn't call him boring."

"Danny," she said, warming to her subject, "don't lie. If there is one thing I won't tolerate, it's dishonesty."

"I didn't call him boring. I didn't say he was boring."

"I heard you say it, young man. We all did. Don't try to deny it."

Danny looked her in the eye. Cold and still, unblinking. It took only seven seconds before she cracked and looked away.

"I didn't say he was boring. You misheard what I said." The little boy got up from his seat in front of her big wooden desk.

"And where do you think you're going? Sit down this instant!" She used her command voice.

It didn't work. Danny picked up his notebook, the twenty-nine cent spiral kind, opened it to the one of the last pages and dropped it on her desk.

"Goodbye, Ms. Clarksen. I don't think I'll be coming back."

Shocked, she watched him walk towards the door and she watched him leave.

In the silence, she looked down at the notebook.

"Clever idea, but he's going about it like an idiot using that chromatogenic infiltration system. He should be using a plasma coupled vapor deposition chamber to lay down his dipole layer - that would give him the charge drainage and electron flow balance he needs, while also containing the B-field!

And he shouldn't be using silicon, that's too big of an electron shell to adjust the containment. What element would be good for that? Erbium? Yttrium? No, boron! BORON!!!"

Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. My sympathy flipped in favour of the boy almost as soon as he started speaking for himself - was that the intention? Or am I just too big a fan of nerds? :)

    Cool story, I like this uber intelligent kid as a character

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  3. *rofl* I totally sympathized with him from the beginning. Getting in trouble for not really doing anything wrong. As what he had done unfolded, I was even more sympathetic.

    I do also love how the word choice could have been taken to be boring instead too. Playing with text about spoken words is really fun.

    Is it scary that I think my children would be like that? Of course, I would not have my children in public school either. :P

    My FridayFlash:

  4. Poor kid. Doesn't pay to be a genius in 3rd grade.

    Something I've been meaning to comment on. How come you've separated from the rest of the known world with your spelling of email? It jumps out at me each time you use your unique spelling :)

  5. I like little Danny!

    Am intrigued that a teacher would dislike intensely a child who was smart, always had homework, and never was a behavior problem.

    My friend works with this age group and she would do a happy dance to have a Danny in her class.

    Danny should go to a better school.

  6. People like Allison are scary because of their narrow world view adn popularity. Unfortunately there are plenty of Allison's out there in positions of authority.

  7. Haha - thoroughly enjoyed this, thank you. What a punchline!

  8. Lily: I wish I could say that this was a clever "branding" ploy, to make my e.mail (and hence my name) stick in you mind.

    The truth is, when I signed up for my gmail account, a lot of the obvious permutations were already taken: noland@gmail, tonynoland@gmail, anthonynoland@gmail, etc. I could have done something cute like kickasswriter@gamil, but I'm a fairly self-effacing guy.

    Interestingly, mail sent to nolandtony@gmail also reaches me. Gmail apparently ignores the "." in the name the same way it ignores capital letters.

    URLs ignore capitals, too. So when I give my web address as instead of, that is a wee attempt at branding. FWIW.

  9. Mazz: Fear not. I'm a big fan of nerds myself.

  10. Tony, I feel like you've been watching our household this last week. Danny is my Noah - he's an honor student in 5th grade, and his teacher can't stand him. We've been round and round this week.
    You've got the whole situation down-pat, (except that we've met and talked to our son's teacher).
    Super job and I love the play on words!

  11. This made me laugh out loud. No, you boron, I didn't call him boring! No wonder the teacher can't stand him. He's got a brain like an advanced alien. She can't understand him. His emotions work differently than hers.

    I appreciate your extreme juxtaposition here of the teacher to the student. Many levels.

    And, of course, I love the chemisty. My father was a research chemist and I grew up in a world of mass balance equations and molar equivalents scrawled onto dinner napkins while my father forgot about eating and tried to explain to his family why the silicon atom had too big of an electron shell to adjust the containment. In fact, ages ago, he figured out how to purify crystalline silicon enough to develop the first computer chips. I inherited just a fraction of his brain, I'm afraid.

    Jeff Posey

  12. I too have a fondness for the geeky child, but I was wondering if he was an android, or something else all of the way through. I love how that's left ambigous :)

    I also love how the POV is with the teacher; it reinforces the alienation when all we get are his reactions and then the notes at the end. Ace!

  13. I like how it ends with the reader (or maybe just me) wondering: is he a smart kid or a robot?


  14. Deanna and Jeff: Spot on! Some teachers would much rather have a kid who is normal and fits their teaching models than someone who is way outside the norm, even if he doesn't cause trouble. Little Danny is just different - profoundly and significantly different, but different is not automatically BAD.

    Don't worry, Deanna, I haven't been watching your house. Those cameras were turned off months ago.

  15. Emma and Jim: He might be an alien or a 47-year-old inorganic chemist/electrical engineer sent back in time to relive his own life (again), but probably not an android or robot. He's described as flushing with embarrassment; I know *I* wouldn't build an android with the ability to blush.

  16. I guess he didn't say "boring." Great story. This kid is going to be something great. Good thing this teacher won't be an influence on him anymore.

  17. Love how it ends. At first I thought the child might be too much a product of a Foucaultian punishment/discipline society (maybe at home? or internalized too much from things around him?)-his body (and mind) completely controlled, contained. And his "success" at being "good," even more infuriating because it's *too* good. But, no--he just happens to be a very polite genius, obviously able to tolerate those around him (who must be, at times--unlike Mr. Feng--boring). Love him.

  18. I would think that a 9 yr old with that kind of brain would be bored in that environment, so I decided that he's an alien investigating our world. :)

  19. But his behavior at the end of the tale could also be taken as arrogance,although his being embarrassed earlier might deny that.

    It's a provocative story. One hopes teacher learned a lesson.

  20. I love this kid's character! I would've taken great pleasure in behaving this way as a child...there's nothing sweeter than making the grown-ups feel stupid when you're 9! Great story!

  21. I like how the teacher loses control, nearly appearing childish while the student is patient and polite like adults should be.

  22. Laura and Mark: One of the things about kids who are off-the-charts smart is that they often completely fail to understand how "normal" people function.

    Some of these kids, though, make a point of applying their intelligence to the problem of figuring out how to fit in. You can spot these kids a mile away - they seem *almost* human. Could easily pass for an alien. ;-)

    Amy and David: As saintly as teachers are typically painted (and as this teacher believes herself to be), they are only human. The question is, how different does the kid have to be before you say that he's... not?

  23. I love smart kids, but think it is a shame he can't really interact with people. While the teacher really was a boron for her attitude, I still feel sorry for a kid that can't play and have fun. Well done.

  24. I think geniuses always have a hard time in school. They get bored and this equals in smart-allic behavior and bad grades. I was cheering for the boy standing up and walking away.

  25. Okay, maybe it's just because I write speculative fic, but I got the impression that Danny isn't human, especially with the ostensible lack of parents. Loved the story, especially the ending!

  26. Yeah, loved the ending on this and good build up.

    Kudos for the punchline

  27. Long live the geeks! Seriously, I love this story (and yes, the edited version is superior to the first, but I do so see the brilliant armature in the first); we squelch the smartness and creativity out of kids. I didn;t realize you knew my son Will - isn't this who you modeled your Danny on? Super, sensitive story. Peace, Linda

  28. Linda: Heh, see the comment by Deanna - I'm not watching your house and kids. I've just known a number of smart kids crushed under the heel of educators with insufficient imagination.

  29. Poor Danny. It's so hard to be a misunderstood genius. I very much enjoyed this. Boron had me giggling.

  30. I love the build up to the reveal. It's a shame the teacher didn't recognise the child's potential.


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