Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gnomish Noel - a Twisted Christmas Tale

Bumblebert, an unassuming classroom micro-gnome, lived inside a computer tower in room 124, Mrs. Porrenplop’s classroom.  In fact, he had quite a nice little home there.   Bumblebert didn’t mind a little dust, and he had a natural flair for making things from what was at hand.  He had ingeniously fashioned a makeshift rocking chair out of wadded up notebook paper and rubber bands.  He had laboriously smoothed out discarded tissues to create a soft, comfortable bed over which he spread copious candy and gum wrappers as sheets.  He shelved his extensive collection of gnomish micro-books, alphabetized, in the grooves of the motherboard.  He had even built a little fireplace, which vented its smoke out of the back of the tower, so that he could curl up next to a fire in his rocker and read.  The use of the fireplace prompted Mrs. Porrenplop to make many a frantic call to the tech department, but fortunately, nothing ever came of that.
Surely, Bumblebert had everything a micro-gnome could ever want, and yet he wasn’t quite satisfied.  Something still seemed to be missing.   
During the day, the sounds of the classroom were a constant din within Bumblebert’s little computer home.  He had gleaned that the students in the classroom weren’t making as much progress as he would have hoped.  More to the point, from the conversations he heard from inside his tower, he could tell that they possessed negative and defiant attitudes toward learning.   Nothing was more important to a micro-gnome than knowledge – especially if he or she was a classroom micro-gnome!
Bumblebert was nearly three thousand years old (he was originally a papyrus micro-gnome), and as middle age began to set in, he was starting to have just a little bit of an existential crisis.  He stroked his beard and thought.
There were only a few weeks left until Christmas vacation.  To alleviate his own malaise, Bumblebert made a conscious decision: he was going to give Mrs. Porrenplop and her students a gift for Christmas this year! 
That night, Bumblebert flitted about the classroom, working his gnomish magic.
When Mrs. Porrenplop came into the classroom the next morning, she found a sealed manila envelope with her name written on it.  When she opened it, what she found inside almost made her swoon.
And that wasn’t all.  On each student desk, there was a sealed note, with the name of the girl or boy who sat there written in tiny, spindly script.  Mrs.  Porrenplop tried to open a few, but they were magically sealed so that only the intended recipient could open his or her own note. 
While getting ready for the day, Mrs. Porenplop began to notice other changes in her classroom.  There was a vibrantly colored poster prominently displayed at the front of the classroom – it was for charting student behavior and, after five infractions, a student would receive a “punishment,” which was indicated with a large skull and crossbones symbol.  Another poster hung above the classroom computers.  It was for tracking computer usage; any student transgression on a computer, including visiting non-educational sites, was tallied here.  Her eyes also alighted upon similar “Tardiness” and “Homework” posters.  None of these had been here when she left yesterday… 
“What a strange janitor we must have at this school!” she thought.   (The janitor would be very surprised when Mrs. Porrenplop gave him a lavishly expensive Christmas gift this year.)

As students began to filter in that morning, they saw the posters and started to fidget with new self-awareness of their own behavior.
Other surprises began to occur once class began.
As the students opened their notes, their generally mischievous faces began to darken.   Bumblebert was conducting a bit of holiday blackmail, gently reminding each student of his or her most horrible guarded secret.  Each student’s secret was carefully chosen to be the one that would be most mortifying if it were ever revealed publically to his or her peers.  The secrets varied widely.  Some were minor but embarrassing, such as that a student stuffed her bra or still wet his bed.  Others were terrible, dark, soul-crushing secrets. 
As student’s settled into their normal daily behaviors, the posters magically began to fill themselves in each time a student misbehaved, moving these naughty children closer to reaching the consequence labeled “humiliation” when their secrets would be revealed.
As for Mrs. Porrenplop, she was trying very hard to be a more effective teacher.  Her envelope had indicated that, unless her teaching and behavioral management skills improved, her secrets would be exposed in the teacher’s lounge—and would include pictures.
She was able to conduct a full lesson today without having any major disruptions– how lovely to teach with no outbursts or things being thrown!
  Then it was time to rotate students onto the computers for research.  Previously, Mrs. Porrenplop had only intermittently conducted such rotations; they seemed chaotic and made her nervous.  Today, she decided to give it a try and see what would happen. 
Since Mrs. Porrenplop had not had control of her classroom all year, it had seemed pointless for her to stress procedures and routines that her students would merely flagrantly flout.  So, when it was time to move, students began to wander around, talk loudly, and generally see what they could get away with.  But then a funny thing happened -- a path seemed to naturally form with a one-way flow of traffic.  It was if the students’ legs stung with pain if they went any other way.  Bumblebert had turned all the old bubblegum ground into the floor of the classroom into plastique.  With his help, it was if the students had known how to conduct themselves all along.
When students went to the computers, they started to go to other Internet sites, but then they stopped.  Bumblebert had rigged each computer so that it would send out a tiny, imperceptible electric shock through the mouse whenever a student tried to access Internet sites or games.  The students didn’t notice the shock – they just suddenly realized they only wanted to use instructional software. 
Despite how much better the class was today, by lunch time, the first student had reached five infractions for disruptive behavior.  Bumblebert’s magical watchdog poster system promptly made an example out of this young man.  In large, glowing letters on the chalkboard, the words appeared “Johnny’s left testicle is tiny and misshapen.”  His shameful secret revealed, Johnny sat in the corner crying and sucking his thumb for the rest of the day, which was rather unbecoming for a fourteen year old boy.
After this milestone had been reached, a new category appeared on the posters.  For five infractions, the punishment had been humiliation.  Now, for seven infractions, the posters now listed “annihilation” as the consequence.  This prompted a vocabulary mini-lesson that left her students looking alarmed.  Mrs. Porrenplop truly hoped that it would not come to this; she was not sure how she would ever explain to parents that their child had disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Fortunately, Johnny’s misery provided enough impetus for the rest of her students to behave for the rest of the day.  Word travelled quickly, so it was the same with every class.  By the end of the day, Mrs. Porenplop had to admit that it had been a remarkably good day overall.  And, thanks to the ever-present threat posed by Bumblebert’s posters, there were many, many more good days that followed.
Sitting in his rocking chair, Bumblebert smiled to himself.  “Merry Christmas.” he whispered.
               Mrs. Porrenplop and her students, save perhaps for Johnny, who inexplicably changed schools in January, did indeed have a merry Christmas that year, as well as a good and prosperous New Year.
               And so room 124, held hostage by a gnome with a bit of magic and blackmail, came to be a functional classroom for the rest of the school year.  The students did not dare misbehave, and actually began to learn a few things in the more orderly resulting environment.  It turned out to be a wonderful, if unexpected, present to Mrs. Porenplopp, and brought great peace to Bumblebert, who had always been blessed with very sensitive hearing.