A school runs like a clock. And the people there become predictable, like hour hands, minute hands, and second hands, counting down for retirement. Teachers follow routines and anyone who breaks them is deviant. Most who can’t stand the grind will not allow themselves to be ground, but some need to break the grinder. It may come from sublimated rebellion or the teacher who said, “When you finish a Master’s Degree, you can come back here and tell me how to teach!”

My first day of work started with breakfast. The kids lined up and I walked them to the cafeteria. Jason tried to break for it.

“Watch him Mr. Johnson!” Miss Helfrich yelled. I grabbed him.

“We’ll have to document that restraint!” She watched her students to make sure they were doing everything right. Then she started watching me.

I was watching the janitor. He had slick silver hair and a grey beard. He didn’t look defeated. He didn’t look tired. There was something about him.

“Mr. Johnson, pay attention! Nicholas just spilled his Captain Crunch. Get a towel, will you?!”

I got a towel and cleaned up the spill. Then the janitor noticed me.

“Why are you spending time here?”

“Why do anything?” I asked.

“Ahhh, a philosopher. Now I understand.”

“Kids have what adults lost.”

“What’s that?”

“Spontaneity. I’m trying to get it back.”

“You won’t find it here.”

“Precisely; I need fuel to take me where I need to go; desperation equals escape velocity.”

“You don’t need this job.”

“Mr. Johnson, stop talking. It’s time to line up!” Miss Helfrich yelled.

“I’ll talk to you later,” I said.

I went to the staff meeting in the library and the principal introduced us.

“Welcome Mr. Johnson; he has just finished his undergraduate degree in psychology!” I stood up.

“And welcome our custodians; they have been getting our building ready for this school year.” I looked at the head custodian. He took the credit and sat down. I thought about positions, power, and importance. The silver-haired janitor stood in the background. What happens when a philosopher decides to lead? Convention ends. In that moment, I knew my calling.

13 thoughts on “Cafeteria Philosophy

  1. Much of what you write about our educational system could foster nightmares in teachers. In some ways that’s helpful to them as a cathartic release from the mental anguish of their difficult teaching past.

    Liked by 2 people

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