Every principal in the district knows about Annie Lebec, but rank and file teachers hear only rumors. A girl who stabbed the boy in front of her eleven times with a pencil. A girl who gave her teacher an apple full of spider eggs. A girl who could read, and write, and do arithmetic remarkably well for her grade level, or in fact any grade level, but who turned in old food instead of homework. A girl who argued, repeatedly, that George Washington was a “ninny who would have been nothing without my help.” The teachers tell these stories until the wounds received are wrapped in the armor of legend, and agree that there is no way these could all be the same girl. The stories span generations, and Annie is careful to always change her hair, and her voice, and her mannerisms.
Annie is over 300 years old, and this will be her third decade of first grade. Her favorite assignments are punitive, but those are few and far between. Not many principals can afford her service for such petty ends. More often, she is brought in in an instructive capacity. She is the foreign exchange student with behavioral issues – clearly brilliant, but with only rudimentary English. She is the dark outsider whose parents must surely be abusing her. She is the jubilant and screaming abuser. Through her expert misbehavior she teaches techniques that can only be learned through experience, and all the students who follow seem mild by comparison.
By far the most common assignment Annie receives, however, is redemptive. Not redemptive of herself, or of her teachers – though these can be components of her method – but redemptive of the art and craft of teaching. You see, when a teacher rescues a child from her own apathy, or illiteracy, or autism, or cruelty, they feel again that altruistic spark that lead them to select a vocation both underpaid and underappreciated – to tolerate long hours and shifting standards and uncharitable oversight. Yes, it turns out the antidote to these ills is not to make them better, but to make other things worse. Annie plays the other things with gusto. She breaks herself and lets them fix her, and so restores their faith in fixing others.