The first day of school.
I remember the excitement. New students to teach. New minds to fill with knowledge. New futures to shape.
The key word is remember. That was thirty years ago. I was so young—not much older than the kids, really. Being a teacher was more than a job. It was a calling, a mission. True, mission: impossible, but I didn’t know that back then. I wanted to be Teacher of the Year. I actually achieved that goal.
That was when the trouble started.
Anyway, I don’t get excited by the first day anymore. The things that still get my fifty-five-year-old motor running are the smaller pleasures: that last tick of the clock before the three-thirty bell sounds; waking up in the morning and realizing it’s Saturday; the glorious voice of the weather forecaster: Due to the snow storm, all schools are closed down . . . .
And the most beautiful word of all: retirement.
When her stepmother is unavailable to enroll her at Greenwich Middle School, visiting eighth grader Kiana Roubini wanders into SCS-8 (Self Contained Special Eighth Grade Class) and decides to stay. The class is populated by “unteachables”: Aldo, who has anger management issues; Matteo, who sees the world in terms of superheroes; Parker, a dyslexic; Barnstorm, an injured “jock” who has never bothered with schoolwork; Elaine, whose reputation as a bully causes everyone to avoid her; and Rahim, who sleeps through class because his stepfather’s rock band keeps him awake at night. At the helm is burned-out educator Zachary Kermit who counts the days until his early retirement. At first, Kermit spends his time doing the New York Times crossword and guzzling coffee while his students fill in worksheets that he never grades. But as the year progresses, Kermit begins to stand up for his students (who the administration tries to exclude from assemblies and other activities); in turn, his students respond to his care and concern. The ideas of another teacher, Ms. Fountain (a former kindergarten teacher who believes firmly in reward stickers and circle time), also begin to rub off on Kermit and his students as well.
Korman, who has been publishing middle school and young adult novels since he was fourteen, remains a master of this genre. A rotating group of students, teachers and administrators narrate the chapters, enabling multiple perspectives and fuller backstories. Of particular interest is the cheating scandal more than two decades before that resulted in Mr. Kermit being wrongly blamed and derailing his career. The return of the cheater (now a successful local auto dealer) sets off a chain of events that inspires student loyalty, a re-awakening of Mr. Kermi’s commitment to the teaching profession, and recognition that people can change. Humorous, heartwarming, and full of recognizable middle school types, The Unteachables is a crowd pleaser.
Kay Weisman is a former youth services librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library.