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Mr. Wilks looked at the clock, only another two minutes had passed. Damn. He tried so very hard not to be a clock-watcher, especially since it went against everything he told himself he would never be. But standing there, watching his students browse the net, message each other, doodle, and even blatantly sleep; it was hard for Wilks to be the teacher he always dreamed of being.

Mr. Wilks had an affinity for history and advanced mathematics with a personal interest in military history. He had always wanted to be a teacher, had always wanted to be better than the horrible clock-watching teachers he had had while growing up in an impoverished Coalition colony. The teachers showed up for their paycheck and to make sure no one was killed in class, not always successful on the second part, and that was about it.

Mr. Wilks understood why they were that way, the kids were horrible and had no desire to be there. The colony had taken steps to ensure that there were no truancy issues by placing a GPS bracelet on all of the students. If the bracelet wasn’t on the school grounds when it was supposed to be, the police would locate the truant child and return them to school. So while this made sure that every kid was at school every day, it just increased the number of problems that the teachers had to deal with. If the kids who didn’t want to be there weren’t, then the teachers would have had more time to work with the students who did want to be there.

Mr. Wilks always thought that even though the teachers were dealt a bad hand, they weren’t playing it as best they could. They didn’t even try to reach the kids with issues or create a teaching plan that would give the ones with interest the education they deserved. As a student, Mr. Wilks had approached his teachers many times with ideas to make the classroom more fun and interesting even to the most hardened juvenile criminals some of the classes contained. None of his teachers ever implemented any of his ideas, some wouldn’t even listen to him.

The defining moment of Mr. Wilks’ education was when one of his most hated teachers replied to his suggestions with, “Look kid, if you think you can do better, then get your own classroom. Until then, leave me the fuck alone and go back to your desk.”

So Mr. Wilks did just that. He approached the principal and asked about having a classroom after school for one to two hours a day for a study club that he was putting together. He was extremely surprised when the principal handed him a key and told him that room 203 was empty and the study group could use it as long Mr. Wilks promised not to burn it down or kill anyone in it. And on a side note, the room was empty because a teacher was actually killed in it and they never cleaned it up after the police were done investigating, so yeah, you might want to bring some bleach and water with you when you go there.

Mr. Wilks spent the next two weeks cleaning up the room and making it presentable. He wanted to make it a place that his fellow students would want to voluntarily come to. A place to learn, to teach, to get ahead and get out of the colony. When it was done, Mr. Wilks went to eight other students that he knew were like him, wanting more but not knowing how or where to get it. He took them all to the room and showed them what he had done with it.

Wilks wasn’t sure if the principal knew it or not, but the key he had handed over was a master key for the whole school, not just a key for his study room. Wilks wanted to learn, not steal, so he put the key to good use. He found an interactive learning board that wasn’t being used, along with a lot of other teaching equipment that was long forgotten. The found equipment, together with teaching aids and books were put into the classroom.

When his handpicked study partners showed up, they were amazed and excited at what they saw. This was a real classroom! This is what a classroom should look like. It was clean and stocked with actual supplies. There were only a few individual desks, the rest of the workspaces were setup for group work at large round tables, each with its own supplies.  There were also individual study stations made up of discarded couch cushions, a couple of which had some questionable stains on them.

Mr. Wilks talked with his new friends and told them of his vision. This place was where they would come and study together, but more importantly, teach each other. They each had their own educational strengths, some overlapping, and he wanted them to take turns putting on classes for each other. Everyone loved the idea and was immediately on board. Wilks hoped that in time other students would hear about what they were doing and would want to join. Not everyone would be a teacher of course, but the group would be open to anyone who wanted to learn.

It only took two weeks before their first ad hoc student showed up. At first Mr. Wilks and his colleagues were a bit nervous when the student walked in the door. She was one of the scariest kids at the school. Rumors of her exploits, both those confirmed and those hopefully not even remotely true, preceded her at every public school in the colony. Cynthia Macavoy, with her dirty blonde hair, chubby frame and angry eyes, stood in the doorway waiting for someone to say something.

Mr. Wilks stepped forward first, “Hi.” He tried to be as cheery as possible. “Do you want to come in?”

Cynthia looked at Mr. Wilks, “Don’t laugh at me. If any of you laugh at me, I’ll kill you.” They were all pretty sure she meant it. “And your parents too.” Yeah, she meant it.

Mr. Wilks gave her a quick tour and explained what they were doing and what their goals were. Cynthia was completely honest with the group and told them that she was tired of being dumb. She didn’t mind so much that she was already on a criminal path, she just didn’t want to be dumb.

Mr. Wilks assured her that if she was aware of how much her education lacked, she simply couldn’t be dumb. A dumb person would never realize that they needed help. Cynthia seemed to like this line of thinking since everyone else she had ever known had called her dumb or some variant of the word, sometimes a much worse variant.  Cynthia settled in very quickly and only had a few minor emotional incidents for the next many years that she was a part of the group.

One student quickly became ten then twenty then too many for the group to take care of in a single space. Teaching and study days had to be rationed like bread to the starving masses. Mr. Wilks eventually used his master key to take over a few more unused spaces in the school. He also found that they could use the school after hours thanks to the magical key he had been handed without so much as a second thought. This allowed their endeavor to flourish even more with the run of the entire school at night. With the use of the subject-specific classrooms, they could schedule classes and study sessions even better.

Cynthia even started teaching a class of her own, basic Coalition penal code. She had actually absorbed a wealth of knowledge in all of her goings on with the local law enforcement. Now that she was learning how to better articulate herself and put together a study plan, her elective study group was becoming quite popular. Cynthia went on to graduate from an Ivy League school and come back to the same colony to practice juvenile criminal defense.

By the end of the year, Mr. Wilks and his original study group were basically running their own school at night. There were even a few parents present that were being taught to read and write. When he looked back on his fifth grade year, Mr. Wilks couldn’t help but be impressed with himself and the other eleven year-olds he worked with.

The school’s overall GPA was just about eleven times what it had been when they started. The principal knew it was because of Mr. Wilks’ study group but never said anything about it. He also knew they were using the master key well beyond its original intent and purposes, but he was fine with that too. Why would he say anything when he basically now had an army of non-paid teachers that were making his school look better than any of the other public schools? Not to mention the fact that ‘new’ equipment had shown up all over the school. Most likely thanks to the master key and the ingenuity of the young criminal minds working together to make their new learning obsession as grand as it possibly could be.

By the time Mr. Wilks graduated high school, he and his friends had had more success stories than probably all of his teachers combined, times five, to a modest power of ten. Okay, maybe a power of two, but still pretty damned good.

After college Mr. Wilks began working at a public schools teaching history and helping to coach track after school. Mr. Wilks hadn’t returned to his own colony as Cynthia had, he wanted to help the less fortunate but he also wanted to see new places so he moved around for the first five years, trying new things. He even tried substituting at a fairly wealthy private school and found that some of the students were even harder to reach than the young criminals he was used to working with.

During his fifth year of being a teacher, he was living on a Coalition planet near the Shirka home world. He met a woman, maybe even the woman. Mr. Wilks settled down at last and got a full time job teaching at one of the poorest rated public schools in the city. He was going to make a difference. He was going to recreate his childhood school, but it would be better this time now that he had the full support of the school and he was an actual adult.

Three years later he was watching the clock and getting annoyed at his own voice. Maybe it was because he was an adult and the kids didn’t want to listen to an adult regardless of who they were. Maybe he had possessed a certain something as a child that he no longer possessed. Maybe his earlier successes were actually more because of his adolescent colleagues than because of him. Whatever the reason, Mr. Wilks was utterly beat down after just eight years of teaching.

The clock struck the top of the hour and the lights dimmed twice to indicate the class was over. There was almost an audible sigh of relief from everyone who was still actually conscious in the classroom. As Mr. Wilks walked out of the room he didn’t even take the time to wake the two students who were still sleeping. They’d figure it out soon enough when the janitor droid came in and poked them and ordered them to leave the school grounds.

Mr. Wilks was now on the track field, the best part of his day. At least here most of the kids wanted to be participating in the activities. Some were there due to the pressures of their parents and some were court-mandated to take extra curricular classes to help them learn the socialization skills they so obviously lacked.

Mr. Wilks ran a 5k to warm up and then went through each of the events in a decathlon. He wasn’t out for time today, just a good workout so he did a fairly light pace and easy numbers on all of the events. He had five students working out with him, two that were actual competition when they were pushing each other. After the work out they all put some time into the pole vault and worked on some of the issues the team had been having with their techniques.

Mr. Wilks then went home and found all that was left of his girlfriend Mary, was a note. Not even a very long note. In fact, the note was fairly atrocious in its spelling and grammatical errors. That gave Mr. Wilks some solace, to know that he could always look back on the note and see that she wasn’t really that great of a catch to begin with. It’s contents didn’t matter so much as the sentiment, which was along the lines of ‘It’s not me, it’s you, it’s totally you. Seriously, how could you not know it was you? We both know it wasn’t me, not in a million years could it ever have been me. So we’re clear right? All you buddy.’

Mr. Wilks sat down on his couch and opened a beer. It was about twenty minutes before he realized he hadn’t even turned the television on, he was staring at a still-dark screen. That issue was easily solved as he turned on the Coalition military channel. The screen came to life and Mr. Wilks found himself in the middle of a documentary series about the first twenty years of military space exploration. In the back of his head he heard Mary’s voice, ‘The military channel again? What a surprise. You see, totally not me.’

The first twenty years of military space exploration was filled with first contacts, first battles with other species, so many firsts that were scary and wonderful all.

Ten hours later the series marathon was over and Mr. Wilks looked at the clock, this time not waiting for his day to be over but dreading his day having to start. She was right, it was him, it was always him. With the documentary still fresh in his mind, he was able to go to work with a little spring in his step, thinking about the wonderful history he had just watched. The documentary would help him get through the day, as he imagined himself in the place of the brave warriors that had ventured out into the cosmos so many decades before.

Mr. Wilks kept going over his personal mantra, ‘The day will end. Nothing they do can ever make the day longer. It will end, no matter what.’ And while it wasn’t a merciless end, it did in fact end and Mr. Wilks headed out to the track for the only thing that brought him joy anymore.

As he approached the track he saw there was a small contingent of military personnel near the field. That was odd. He had seen small contingents of cops on campus before, but that was to arrest one of the wayward students. Could any of the students have done something so bad that the military needed to show up?

Mr. Wilks approached the group and walked up to one of the soldiers. “Excuse me. What’s going on here Gunnery Sergeant?”

The Gunny looked at Mr. Wilks, “Career day. Prior service?”

Mr. Wilks looked a little embarrassed, “No Gunny, I’m just a big military history buff. So why are you out here at the field?”

“I’m with the special detailing recruiting office. We look for students that might be more suited for special forces and similar assignments. Out here on the field is where we tend to find those sorts of kids.” The Gunny waved his hand towards the athletes that were warming up. “Do you think any of these kids might be interested?”

Mr. Wilks thought for a second. “Maybe a couple. I’ll put them through a bit of a warm up, let you take a look at them in action.”

Mr. Wilks called in his group of athletes and told them that they were going to be putting in a little bit more of an effort today but he didn’t tell them why. They went through the 5k warm up and then the obstacle course. Mr. Wilks was pushing hard today, a few of the students dropped out, along the way calling him crazy. Then they went on to the decathlon again, but still pushing it pretty hard.

When they got done, the Gunny and two of his fellow Marines walked over. “Very impressive. How would all three of you like to be a Force Recon Marine?”

Mr. Wilks looked around, there were only two students left at the end of the workout. “Three? Which other student are you talking about?”

“For a smart guy, you’re pretty dumb.” The Gunny handed the three athletes his business card. “You two will have to graduate first, but you sir,” Now talking directly to Mr. Wilks, “can sign up today if you’d like. In fact, I’m sure with your education you can probably apply to Officer Candidate School.”

“I don’t want to be an officer, I want to be in the field more.” Mr. Wilks was absently looking at the business card.

“Sounds like you already made up your mind. We can go to my office and fill out the paperwork right now. I can probably get you started as a Corporal after bootcamp, given your college education. Maybe even get you in to a Sergeant fast-track program.”

Mr. Wilks was amazed as the words kept coming from his mouth, almost without permission from his conscious self, “Can you guarantee me a spot in Force Recon?”

“No.” The Gunny said flatly. “But I can absolutely promise you a shot at trying out for it. You won’t have any problem getting in to training, I’m sure of that. Staying in and graduating, that’s your problem.”

“Let’s go.” Mr. Wilks looked back at his athletes, “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here any longer. It not you kids, it’s me.”

One of his favorite students, Matt Snyder stepped up, “We know Mr. Wilks. You should go, you deserve better.” Matt flicked the corner of the business card in his hand, “I’ll look you up when I get there.”

“You better.” Wilks walked away to start his new life.

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