The Penniless Tenth Grader


By: Misha Speede

November 18, 2020


In the eyes of a penniless tenth grader, chemistry would always seem to be undoubtedly and indubitably hard. The test sitting in front of me seemed to mock me, taunting me to do well on it. Even if I did, where would a test about the Krebs Cycle get me in life? The best job that I’d probably get would be a waitress at The French Laundry or some rich lady’s cleaning maid. Whatever it was, it’d involve me serving rich people. The bell rang, and I hastily bubbled in the last five questions.


“Everyone is dismissed,” the shrill voice of my chemistry teacher, Ms. Spiegel, rang out. I briskly swung my worn out backpack over my shoulders. I had been using this backpack ever since the fifth grade, the straps had thinned, and old water spills created large, musty patches. “Except you, my dear,” my teacher gestured to me, “Elena, dear, please come.”

“Yes?” I say, trying not to sound exasperated by having to stay after class. She pulls a chair out in front of her desk and gestures to me to sit. Readjusting my backpack, I huff softly and sit down.

“I noticed that you have been getting C’s, D’s, and even F’s on the last four tests that we have taken. What is going on Elena?” she softly inquires, taking in a sharp exhale as she fixes her glasses that sit crooked on her nose. I drummed my fingers on the wooden desk, looking up and down as I put on a clear, fake smile.


“Is this about your mother? Your father? Your grand-” she inquires once again.

“Why does everyone assume that it has to be my suicidal mother who is now dead? Why does everyone assume that it has to be my drunkard, alcoholic, father? If it is not them, then it is my cripled, poor grandmother, that I have to support every day by working two jobs? Why does everyone feel that they have to make excuses for my behavior?” crossing my arms, I state agitatedly.


“Oh no no no,” she says, not trying to rile or excite me. “We are just looking out for you, everyone-”

“I have been looking out for myself for the past four years, all by myself. Do you think I need your help? No one cares for me, everyone can see it. You teachers pretend to, but you really don’t,” I screech and huff.

Ms. Spiegel readjusts her glasses, and I can see a tear slip through her eye. She quickly brushes it away, clears her throat, and sits up. “Please, go to the counselor’s office. Please.”

“I don’t-”

“Please, it’s for your own good,” she whispers shakily.


I look at her one last time, push the old, blue desk chair out of my way, and go to the counselor’s office. By now, the halls have cleared up, 4th period has started. I guess I missed the bell that signaled that next period was about to begin. Perhaps this is a good thing for me. Walking down the empty hallways, I wear my signature fake smile and open Mrs. Hansen’s door.


“Elena, come and sit.” Mrs. Hansen says with a tired sigh. You have to give it to her, 6 months pregnant with twins, yet she still takes the time to deal with hundreds of teenager’s problems.

“Hey, Mrs. Hansen,” I say, propping my feet on her messy desk. She throws a quick glance at my dirty converses and ignores them.


“You alright?” She asks, looking at me.

“Got thrown in the trash for being a lesbian, five teachers were watching, you being one of them, got pulled aside after class to talk about my family issues, also, I didn’t eat my breakfast this morning, I was in a rush. So you could say that I am in a pretty good mood,” I say, as I steal a PB&J package off her desk, ripping it open, and taking a large bite.


“And you know what is even sadder? We have had this same conversation four times this month already, and it is the seventh day of November. You gave a powerpoint presentation just two weeks ago, talking about LGBTQ+ rights and how we should accept people who are in that community. After that presentation, my lunch money was stolen, my head shoved into my own locker, and water spilled on my backpack. Are these just empty words that you say, ones that you don’t mean? Do you plaster that fake smile on your face every day, giving yourself a false sense of hope? My advice, don’t,” I suggest.


“Elena, this is my job. Please do not tell me what to do. I understand that you are frustrated but-”

“No, you do not understand. You stand around watching me get bullied. Then you give speeches to the whole school on why bullying is bad. You can stop the facade, I know. I just can’t stand adults who don’t do their job or act like they know what they are doing.” I stand up and look at Mrs. Hansen. She finally exhales the breath that she was holding. It seemed that every single conversation that I ended with a teacher ended like this.


“You really end every conversation with any teacher like this?” she sniffed in, getting a good inhale of the PB&J sandwich that was wafting around the room. I took another bite and looked at her.


“It seems as if I do,” I curtsied an ever so clumsy curtsy, moved around the chair, pushed it in, opened the door, and then slammed it. Another eventful day.