The Write Purpose
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The Write Purpose

The Single Most Effective Way to Keep Students Awake During Class

Or, The Scorching Side Effects of Snitching on Sleepy Students

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It was 12:44 pm, and Mr. Agawa was, as usual, waging war against post-lunch drowsiness:

“How did the turtle cross the road?” He asked as the fourth-period chemistry students waited for the final stragglers to take their seats and the class bell to ring. “Here’s a clue: Take the ‘r’ out of free and the ‘f’ out of way.”

“There is no ‘f’ in way,” Scott said. He was one of the few students that had their eyes open.

“Exactly.” Mr. Agawa beamed, as heads around the classroom nodded —though not exactly in agreement.

Mr. Agawa remained undeterred. “Oh, oh. I have another one: What does a doctor do to his patients?”

When he got no response, Mr. Agawa answered his own riddle: “Helium! And what does he do if he fails?”

Still nothing.


Someone snored.

Luckily for Mr. A, the bell rang at that moment, jolting some half dozen students awake and putting him out of his misery.

Mr. Agawa turned toward the white board, then paused and swung around.

“By the way, everyone, I just want you to know, I developed magic powers last night,” he said. “I can make all of you do whatever I want. Watch this.”

He closed his eyes concentrating, and then pointed one finger at the class: “Sit!” He retracted the finger and grinned. “See? You’re all sitting!”

The already seated students (who were awake) looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“All right, guys. Time to get serious,” Mr. Agawa said. “Before we begin our new unit, does anyone have any information about that infernal student who got me pied the week before last?”

“I’m sure none of us know who would betray you like that, Mr. Agawa,” Scott, said innocently, eyes wide.

Mr. Agawa squinted at him for a moment, and then sighed.

“Well then, does anyone have any questions? Maybe about the solubility quiz you all took last week? Or anything else?”

Joey waved his hand in the air.

“Yes Joey?”

“Mr. Agawa, as a chemistry teacher, what advice do you have on how to blow up a light bulb?”

“How to blow up a light bulb?” Mr. Agawa said, thinking deeply. “Well, there are a number of ways. Of course, the most straightforward method would be to…”

Mr. Agawa paused. “Wait. Why are you asking?”

“Just curious, Mr. Agawa,” Joey said. “I promise I’m not actually going to blow up a light bulb.”

“That’s good,” Mr. Agawa said. “Because I don’t want to see a story in tomorrow’s Vineland Journal: ‘Kid Explodes Light Bulb and Goes Blind, Cursing Chemistry Teacher While Teacher Laughs.’

“I don’t want to see that on the front page. Or on the second page. Maybe on the third page.”

“But how do you do it, Mr. Agawa?” Joey persisted.

“It’s a very long and complicated process,” Mr. Agawa said. “Come see me on February 30th, and we’ll discuss it.”

“Oh, okay,” Joey said, nodding. Then he frowned. “Wait— “

But Mr. Agawa interrupted, speaking to the class: “We have a very important chemical reaction lab today, involving this lovely bottle of copper sulfate— ”

Mr. Agawa started to hold up a jar filled with grainy blue sand, then stopped.

In the back of the classroom, Joey was waving his hand wildly in the air again.

Mr. Agawa sighed. “Yes, Joey, what is it?”

“I want to volunteer, Mr. Agawa!”

“Volunteer…?” Mr. Agawa looked perplexed. “Volunteer for what?”

Joey shrugged. “Whatever there is to volunteer for!”

“But…there isn’t…” Then Mr. Agawa regained his composure. “You want to volunteer?”

He held out the bottle of blue sand. “Sure, eat this and report to us on Tuesday. Or don’t report. We’ll know what happened.”

Some of the students snickered, but Mr. Agawa ignored them and pulled out a bunsen burner. “We are also going to be using these babies in our lab. Please refer to your safety procedures pamphlet that you all were supposed to have read in great detail at hte beginning of the semester...”

He paused, and frowned. Everyone fell silent, not sure what was happening as the clock ticked in silence.

One by one, the students eyes followed Mr. Agawa’s gaze…only to rest on a boy, snoring peacefully in the front row.

As the silence lengthened, the slumbering student awoke with a jolt. “What’s going on?” he said, looking at everyone still staring at him.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Brian,” Mr. Agawa said sardonically.

“Sorry, Mr. A,” Brian said sheepishly. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Mr. Agawa pursed his lips. “Well, today’s lab is rather dangerous, and if you do that during the experiment, I know what will come over you. Sudden conflagration. Possible death. Definite detention. So you had better stay awake, my friend.”

“Yes, sir,” Brian said, giving Mr. Agawa a mock salute for good measure.

But as Mr. Agawa continued to go over the lab rules and regulations, Brian’s head nodded until it ended up, once again, flat against his wooden desk.

“Mr. Agawa, Mr. Agawa!” a voice piped up from the back of the room.

“Yes, Joey,” Mr. Agawa sighed, interrupted mid-sentence once again.

“Brian is asleep again.”

“Yes, thank you, I am aware of that fact.”

“Well, aren’t you going to do something about it?”

Joey and the rest of the class watched in curious anticipation as Mr. Agawa rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“As a matter of fact, Joey, do you have a №2 pencil?”

“Yes!” Joey dove under his desk and re-emerged, slightly dishevelled, clutching a sharpened yellow pencil in one victorious fist.

Mr. Agawa made his way to the back of the room and took the pencil. “Thank you, Joey.”

The class watched, at the edge of their seats, as Mr. Agawa returned to the front of the classroom, hooked up his bunsen burner and placed it on the edge of his teacher’s desk, directly in front of Brian.

Then, with a swiftness that defied the naked eye, Mr. Agawa simultaneously turned on the bunsen burner and snapped the pencil in half, holding both jagged ends in the flame.

Amidst the shocked gasps echoing around the room, and Joey’s desolate cry: “My pencil!” — Brian’s head shot up.

“Mr. Agawa, something’s burning!”

Mr. Agawa turned off the bunsen burner and blew out the smoldering ends of the pencil.

Everyone was wide awake now.

“Glad you noticed, Brian,” Mr. Agawa said, smiling peacefully at the frazzled teen. “At least we now know that if you accidentally set your hair on fire during the lab experiment, you won’t sleep through it.”

Brian blinked as Mr. Agawa turned to address the rest of the class: “Okay, guys, that’s about all I have to say for now. Go ahead and get to your lab stations.”

The students quickly and quietly filed toward the lab at the back of the room.

“My pencil…” Joey sniffed, drooping at his lab station. “I only brought one.”

“You should’ve thought of that before ratting on Brian,” Scott, who was sitting across from him, said in a low voice.

“But I didn’t know he was going to destroy it!” Joey whined.

Then all talking stilled as Mr. Agawa raised a hand to get everyone’s attention.

“Okay everyone, don’t forget to put on your lab goggles before you begin the experiment. Remember to follow all of the safety procedures, and be very careful with those bunsen burners. Oh, and one last thing…Joey?”

Joey snapped to attention: “Y-yes, Mr. Agawa?”

“Do you have any more №2 pencils?”

“No…” Joey said.

“Then I suggest you check under your table.”

“Excuse me?” Joey’s eyes bugged out.

“I said, check under your table.”

Bewildered, Joey slid off his lab stool and stuck his head under the table. “I don’t see anything, Mr. Agawa!” his muffled voice sounded from below the countertop.

“Try looking up,” Mr. Agawa suggested.

There was a pause, then a gasp, and then Joey re-emerged, grinning from ear to ear and clutching six unused №2 pencils in his hand.

“These were taped under the table!” he exclaimed, to no one in particular. “Thanks, Mr. A!”

Mr. Agawa nodded gravely. “Let that be a lesson to you all, to keep your attention — and your №2 pencils — to yourself…no matter who asks for them.”

Then he cleared his throat. “Okay, show’s over. Get to work, everyone.”

While the students were digesting this pronouncement, Mr. Agawa stuck his hands in his pockets and started to walk back to the head of the classroom. Then he paused, and turned.

“By the way,” he said to Joey. “I hope that also answers your question about the lightbulb.”

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