Fly on the Wall: Mr. Cunningham

By: Adam Sutton

“Who’s ready for a visitor!” Ms. Gilmor shouted.  A sea of hands and an echo of “me, me, me” followed.  “Remember, who can tell me one rule when we are at story time?”

“Me, me, me I can!  I can!” Mr. Cunningham shouted over the pre-schoolers quietly raising their hands. 

“Papa,” Juliette scolded, “You can’t shout out.  That’s a rule.  It’s immolite.” 

“Oops.  Sorry.  I didn’t know.”

“Papa!  You’re a teacher!”

“Well, if you’re a teacher,” Ms. Gilmor interjected, “then, you know how this works.  Good luck!”

“Alright kiddies.  I like all the criss-cross applesauces and good listeners I’m seeing!  Let’s look at the books I’ve brought with me today.  The Book With No PicturesThe Day the Crayons QuitKnuffle Bunny!  And, Green Eggs and Ham!” Mr. Cunningham paused for a moment before continuing, “Julliete since I’m your dad, and biased, I’ll let you pick our first book.  Which is it?”

The Book Wit no Picures!” she exclaimed. 

“Who is ready for a book with NO picures!” imitates Mr. Cunningham.  A lot of screaming ensued that seemed to indicate pleasure at this choice.  “We can’t start until we are criss-cross applesauce,” Mr. Cunningham responded. 


“Hey, it’s Mr. Cunningham,” Seth points out. 

“Yes.  I’m back,” Mr. Cunningham responded quietly as the class milled about getting the headphones and worksheets the sub told them they need. 

“I didn’t expect you back so soon, Mr. Cunningham.  I told them what they need to do, and they seem to be doing it.  This seems like a really tough bunch,” Ms. Rose, the substitute, says with a hint of sarcasm. 

“Story time got cut off a little short.  The gym teacher bumped me before I could read Green Eggs and Ham.” 

“I love that book,” mentions Scarlett opening her computer. 

“Well Ms. Rose, I think I can handle it from here.  Thanks for helping me out,” Mr. Cunningham says. 

“Don’t mention it.  Anytime.”

For the next 30 seconds, Mr. Cunningham ponders whether or not to talk to his students.  He surveys the room.  They are all moving with purpose.  They aren’t silent, but they aren’t loud.  Their conversations are at responsible volumes and their actions seem largely aimed at finishing the task at hand.  He can’t come up with a good reason to interrupt their work, and besides, he has a small mountain of work that he did not complete this morning. 


Painting entitled ‘American Progress’, by John Gast, depicting ‘Manifest Destiny’ USA, circa 1872. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images)

“Remember this picture anyone?” Mr. Cunningham asks.  He says it with hope and optimism, but in his head, he knows it iss very unlikely anyone will.  This bunch is going to be a nightmare today.  It’s just a few notes they have to take, but it already feels like extracting wisdom teeth. 

“Oh yea,” pipes up Maurice.  “We looked at that a while ago.  All those settlers are going out west.  The angel in the center is, like, watching over them.”

“Yea-“ Mr. Cunningham is cut off by Belle.

“And, the colors they are weird.  The settler side is all bright, but the other side’s dark and ugly,” Olive says. 

“Nice!” Mr. Cunnigham says, starting to feel guilty about his earlier prediction.  “Well today, we are going to revisit this picture.  If you look at your note sheet, page number 8, you see were it says ‘duty to move west’?  Well, there is a phrase we have for this.  It’s called Manifest Destiny,” he says as he clicks the PowerPoint slide forward.  “Write it down.” 

“Mr. Cunningham, it says duty, but that picture you just showed us had an angel.  Angels are religious like.  So, is this thing, settling the west I mean, about religion?” Marcus asks.

“Marcus, that kinda makes sense man.  Mr. C can you back up to the picture?  The dark side.  Weren’t there Indians over there?  Yea, yea, there,” Maurice points to the screen, “on the dark side getting pushed out.  Guess not all Gods are clean.”

The classroom erupts, “No. No. No.  You can’t say that.”

“He can’t say that.  Can he Mr. C.?”

“C’mon man.  That ain’t right!”

“Why you gotta do that?”

“If you can hear me, give me one clap,” Mr. Cunningham barks.  Several students clap back.  “If you can hear me, clap two times!” Mr. Cunningham yells over a few students still squabbling.  More students clap.  “If you can hear me, clap three times,” Mr. Cunningham says almost as if he’s engaged in casual conversation.  “Well, well, well, it appears everyone likes stories today.  This one you guys are talking about is complicated.”

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