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Excerpt from
I'm Sick of This Already


The bell rings. I stand by the door, tread water and breathe, ready to greet 6B by name. Ready to declare the boundaries and the willingness to grant space IF. Their English folders are placed on their assigned desks.

Most classes, that first day back, are subdued, a combination of best behavior and shock. But not 6B. They surge into the room complaining:

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m sick of this already.”

“I hate English.”

“How was your summer? What’s up?” I say, trying to connect with each one. Trying not to go down.

“Your folders are on your desks,” I repeat to each new wave as three or four more crash in.

Neal, with a shaved head. Joe, wearing three earrings, one a silver cross. Vance, in dark glasses and a heavy navy jacket, the same one he wore the few days he attended last year. Cindy, many pounds heavier. Joan, as a blond. Calvin, earnest as ever, his new pencil case fastened carefully to his new five-subject notebook. I am surprised, but glad, to see Kathy here instead of in regular English 12 as planned. A new boy. I say, “You must be Sam? I’m Mrs. Howard.” He nods nervously and hands me a change-of-schedule slip. He’ll move to morning ILS tomorrow. Good. One less mass of atoms whirling about in this 20 by 20 foot space sixth period. I point him toward a seat.

Several more students roll in.

“Why can’t we sit where we want?”

“I’m not sitting by him,” several say.

They mean Vance.

“Everyone sit where I’ve placed your folder today. If you have a real problem with where you are, see me after class and maybe we can make a few adjustments.”

Ugh, my first mistake: Vance’s neighbors.


Photo of author Ginnah Howard in 1982.Photo of the author in her 6B classroom.

From the Preface
to I'm Sick of This Already

“...With the increasing concern these last few years about inequality in America—the “great divide,” “equal opportunity, our national myth,” the growth of an “underclass”—I thought again about my 6B students. I asked friends who are still teaching secondary English in rural schools, “Do you have students in your classes that are far below grade level?” “Yes” was their answer.

Why this is so is a subject for other books, but of the consequences there is little doubt: If a child doesn’t learn to read and write by third grade, if day after day he or she can’t do the work, complications accrue: inattention, acting out, feelings of failure, absence from school… Problems that reverberate through our whole society. In our hyper-media age, it is more vital than ever for students to develop the critical skills to recognize when they are being manipulated and lied to (and when they are not.)

Though the classroom situation in this book is pre-Common Core, Wi-Fi, and Smart phones, teachers who have read the manuscript tell me that the story of 6B is still relevant. Moreover, I’m Sick of This Already is a unique story since it deals with issues in a small rural town rather than the inner city.

So I took I’m Sick of This Already out of the box where I'd stored it long ago and read it again. I cried and laughed and remembered why I sometimes wished to see some of the 6B names on the Monday morning absence list. When I came to the final scene, I believed that this teacher and these 6B students sitting in that classroom watching Great Expectations had gotten somewhere.

I thought, “Now, that was an inspiring story.” It was as though someone else had written it.



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