29 Chapters
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21 I LIKE TO SOLVE PROBLEMS.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

Among the hundreds of students who passed through Manual every day, some were impossible to miss. Students such as Jammyra, who seemed like the student body’s elder stateswoman. Or Jeff, the calculus student who walked the halls in his crisp ROTC uniform every Wednesday. Or Melissa, the freshman with the painful home life who seemed to cover it up with a smile and a handshake aimed at every adult she passed. Or Jessica, the special education student who had trouble communicating but had an innocent gaze that was hard to forget. Or, of course, the occasional gangbanger who menaced the neighborhoods around Manual and whom everyone in the school knew to avoid.

And then there was Raymond Rutland. The eighteen-year-old senior was perhaps the most conspicuous student of all. He stood out even when crushed among dozens of other students as he walked through the crowded hallways between classes. He looked like no other student. He wore his khaki pants high above his waist, like an old man would, with his belt pulled tight and his shirt tucked in deep and buttoned to the top. He wore his student ID clipped to his shirt collar at all times and his house key hung from a lanyard around his neck. He walked fast and with determination through the halls, always carrying a stack of books and a calculator. His head jerked to the side occasionally, and he twisted his hand in front of his face frequently. And when someone said hello, as teachers and fellow students constantly did, he was more likely to give them a thumbs-up than a few words.

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20 IT NEVER STOPS AROUND HERE.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

Michael Robinson let out a sigh and stared at the smart-aleck freshman standing before him. It was only 8:15 AM, but Robinson already knew this was going to be one of those days that seem to last forever. A special education teacher for more than a decade, he had recently been assigned to work in the discipline dean’s office as a backup to Terry Hoover. The office workload—the suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and preemptive strikes—had gotten to be too big for just one person. Robinson had long sought an opportunity to move into administration. On this day, he wondered why that had ever been a goal. In the first forty-five minutes of the school day, he’d already dealt with a handful of class-skipping students and a potential fight between two girls. And now he had to deal with the smart-aleck freshman, a boy named Rrien who had enrolled in Manual at the start of February and in the two weeks since had missed his fourth-period class nearly every day. He stood in Robinson’s office wearing a pair of tattered khakis, a red shirt, and a smirk.

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9 I DON’T LIKE BEING CALLED STUPID.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

As fall approached, I realized that my initial idea of spending perhaps the first quarter of the school year at Manual was not nearly ambitious enough. There were far too many columns to be written, far too many students with amazing stories to tell, and far too many complex issues to dig into. Plus, the readers were responding. Nine weeks would give me enough time to scratch the surface and to write a few thousand words of copy before returning to the grind of covering the state’s political scene. But I wasn’t interested in that. Manual was too fascinating, the scope of the subject matter was too complex, and my access was too good. I had been lucky to be a columnist for the previous four years—it’s the best job in newspapers—but there was something special going on, and I didn’t like the idea of stopping short. I was beginning to notice the story arc of the school year, and after investing so many hours into it at the start, I wanted to see how the story progressed.

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14 WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN, MR. GRISMORE?

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

I walked out of Spencer Lloyd’s class on the Friday before Thanks-giving after watching his choir prepare for its upcoming holiday concert—the Christmas Extravaganza, he called it—which was less than four weeks away. I was amazed at how far Lloyd had brought the choir in such a short time. The students were more focused and sounded stronger than they had just a few weeks earlier. That seemed to be a pattern. Each time I returned to the class, the improvement was noticeable, even to me, a guy who loved music but couldn’t carry a note and didn’t know the first thing about singing. Many of the students were just starting to learn the basics of voice control and pitch, but they were improving.

The class had spent the period working on the classic “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The students’ voices filled the room as Lloyd conducted furiously and moved around to hear the different singers, to make sure all of the students were doing their part. “Come on, sing it, sopranos,” he said. “Altos, come on, guys!”

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5 I HATE THIS SCHOOL.

Matthew Tully Indiana University Press ePub

 

 

I parked my car in front of Manual at about noon and walked toward the front door one day early in the school year. In recent days I had filled several notebooks as I wandered the school in search of column material, meeting dozens of teachers and students along the way. My initial column on the school, which I’d written the night before and had spent the morning polishing, would be running in three days. But there’s always another deadline, and my next one wasn’t far off.

As I approached the school, one of its doors crashed open. A man in a T-shirt and jeans barged out, his teenage son trailing him. The man was furious and mumbling to himself. As they walked, the boy, who I would later learn had been sent home for violating the dress code policy, meekly asked his father if he could drop him off somewhere.

I had already seen many parents leave Manual in anger. Actually, most who came into the school did so because their son or daughter was in trouble, meaning they invariably left irritated. So this wasn’t a particularly noteworthy scene. Not yet, anyway. That changed within a second. The man stopped and turned to his son with a face filled with fury. “I ain’t dropping you off nowhere, motherfucker,” he said sharply.

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