Student and the Egg

4 min

Professional journalist. Weekend fiction writer. Baseball and Taco Bell enthusiast  [+]

Image of Spring 2019
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“Why would you have an egg in your hand at school?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

My sixteenth year as principal of Merriweather Lewis Elementary School was off to a swimming start. Madison Kensington, a 6th grader with an already extensive file in my cabinet, got a fresh notation on her permanent record: mouthy.

It often surprised me that I never ran out of adjectives for Ms. Kensington. Sassy. Insolent. Disrespectful. Exhausting. She was in my office, on average, every other day for a range of violations that pushed her teachers to their brink. Her most infamous stretch included a Monday referral for sprinting around a classroom yelling “TAYLOR SWIFT IS THE QUEEN OF QUEENS” during what was supposed to be reading time, a Wednesday visit for trying to literally make a 1st grader eat a dodge ball lest they be forever saddled with cooties, and a Friday meeting prompted by her refusal to acknowledge the existence of any spelling test words that began with the letter L.

As an educator, I hate Madison Kensington. She is a mean girl who manipulates others in ways that would make the most popular high school juniors jealous, and most of all, she is incredibly disruptive to the attempted education of anyone within her enormous blast radius.

“Obviously it’s not clear to me why you would bring an egg to class today, Madison, so why don’t you walk me through it from the very moment the idea entered your wonderful brain.”

“Well, Mr. Ramirez, I’m glad you asked. I got out of bed. I walked to the kitchen. I opened the fridge. There was an egg sitting there. I grabbed the egg. I came here.”

“That doesn’t really tell me anything.”

“Sometimes there is just no tale to tell, sir.”

I hate when she adds the misters and the sirs. She knows as well as I do that by including supposedly respectful terms she is doing quite the opposite. And yet, the power imbalance between us means that I have exactly no such ammo of my own. That may explain the endurance of the Madison Kensington problem. She understands that at the end of the day, there is very little I can do except send her home, and she is very, very okay with that outcome.

At least, that was the case before I developed Project A/B. Every time Madison comes into my office this year I am presenting her with a binary set of choices. Sometimes I proceed with the one she selects. Sometimes I use the opposite one. She is smart enough to try to game out the system and adjust her choices accordingly. I am smart enough to have set up a spreadsheet ensuring that my choice is completely mathematically random, and thus it is impossible for her to gain the upper hand.

“Madison, let’s start this year off right. Would you like to go back to Ms. Grissom’s class now and behave like a student, or would you like to sit in a room by yourself for the rest of the day?”

“Oh the solo room for sure, sir.”

Cell D2 says... it’s opposite day.

“Great, so go back to Ms. Grissom’s class now, please.”

“But sir, that’s not what I chose.”

“Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Now scoot.”

That was easy. I should have started this project a long time ago.


Some time has passed now. Four months of messing with Madison Kensington has taught me one very clear lesson for this school year: OH FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING DO NOT MESS WITH MADISON KENSINGTON.

The North Wing of the school, which once housed the entire second grade, the gym and the cafeteria, is gone. Madison burned it down. All I asked her to do that day was use a pencil when she chose pen. The police declined to press charges. The school board declined to expel her.

Ms. Grissom left the profession. She was 23 years old and filed for early retirement. What I asked Madison to do that day was stand at her desk for five minutes, which was EXACTLY WHAT SHE HAD CHOSEN. After extensive testimony from the kids in the class, the school board accepted Ms. Grissom’s request and awarded her full benefits.

One of the school buses is sitting somewhere in the Okachobee River. Madison’s class, overseen by a substitute, was on its way to a field trip at the zoo. That morning she was sent to my office and I asked her which animal she was most looking forward to seeing, a lion or a tiger. She chose lion. I asked her to prepare a report about tigers. Halfway to the zoo, she calmly walked up the bus aisle, and without a word grabbed the steering wheel and plunged the bus off the side of the road, through a small field and into the river. Fourteen of her fellow students were hurt in the crash. The police again declined to press charges. “She’s 11,” they reasoned.

Madison appeared in my office again for refusing to turn in her homework until she received a $10 payment for her time. I gave her the option of writing a one-page essay about the value of money or memorizing the preamble to the Constitution. She chose the Constitution option. The next day our soccer field, newly installed during the last summer break at a great cost both financially and in terms of relations with the school’s neighbors who disliked the 7 a.m. start time for the construction work, is now in shambles. The new tractor we bought to keep the field trim is in no fewer than nine pieces and its muddy tracks are strewn about in the pattern of a mosquito buzzing around the head of a person doing their best to swat it away. A collection of band instruments is sticking out of the ground like zombies trying to rise from the dead, as are every chair from the fourth grade classrooms.

Madison denied responsibility, and then when she was walking out of my office she turned and flipped the tractor keys to me with a wink. She proceeded to stare me dead in the eye and perfectly recited the preamble. The phone call to her mother was met with derisive laughter. There were no repercussions.

The only action the school board has taken is to assign me four extra vice principals. Four. For one small child. At our first meeting the group was divided on whether to continue with the spreadsheet plan or try to come up with another approach. Eventually we agreed for the sake of science to finish out the year and type up a report with our results so the next principal with the next Madison Kensington would know to avoid my horrible miscalculation.

And in a few months, she’s Paddington Middle School’s problem.

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