Elementary school teacher Mr. Howard watches the bullies in the playground from his classroom window. He's surprised to see a bespectacled student, Michael McDonald, working on a math equation on the board. Howard challenges him but Michael explains the principal sent him there. Michael is impressed by Howard's cuff protectors and Howard admires the boy's equations, and the teacher assures him that they'll be fine together.
When Mr. Howard leaves home to walk to work, he finds Michael outside on the sidewalk. As they walk, Michael explains that he's already finished all of his homework, and the teacher warns that he shouldn't remind other children of how much smarter he is. Michael shows Howard how the students have already come after him by breaking his wooden pencils. Howard says that Michael will have to learn to fight his own battles and advises him to relax. However, he gives the boy a mechanical pencil and assures him the bullies can't break it. Two of the bullies watch from the playground as Michael arrives with Howard.
As the school year goes on, the students continue to taunt Michael. They bully him, accusing him of being a teacher's pet, and dress in a suit like him. Howard refuses to intervene but watches constantly. One day, the bullies take Michael's mechanical pencil and one of them runs across the road with it. When Michael crosses the road after him, he's hit by a car and killed as Mr. Howard looks on helplessly from his classroom window.
Seven Years Later
Frank Corliss, the school principal, comes to see the retired Mr. Howard. The principal says that they need a substitute teacher and Howard is the only person available. Howard reluctantly agrees. On the first day of class, he informs the children that they are aliens from another dimension, and he will use discipline to make them adult human beings. Upon returning home, Howard works on a sketch of his dead student. A work crew starts jackhammering the sidewalk outside of Howard's house. When he objects, they tell him they'll be done in a few days.
In class, Howard makes sure that he's frightened the students. He boldly informs them that he's not frightened of them. He notices two boys, Charles and Donald, talking behind his back. When he challenges them, Donald admits that they don't like him. Howard praises his honesty but condemns his rebellion and gives them both detention.
That day, as Howard leaves, Corliss approaches him and asks how things are going. Howard assures the principal that he'' in control. Corliss asks the nearby Donald and Charles if they like Mr. Howard, and they smirk and say they do. Howard isn't convinced.
As the school year continues, Charles approaches Howard on the street. Howard doesn't know his name and isn't interested in learning it. As they walk along the sidewalk, Charles jumps over a cement layer's mark and claims it's a grave and they're playing "Poison." When Howard walks over it, Charles says that he's poisoned. Howard dismisses it as a childish grave and explains that it's just a mark. As they arrive at school, the students have gathered and taunt Howard as he walks inside. He insists that they can't break his will.
That night, Howard tries to finish his sketch of Michael. Someone knocks on the door and then runs away as Howard answers it. The teacher begins drinking as the pranks continue. The children call him on the phone and say that it's time to play Poison. Howard continues drinking and then sees a glowing plastic skull at his window. He runs outside and chases the boys across the sidewalk… and falls in the hole left by the workers. Howard hits his head on a rock and blearily looks up. The students are standing on the edge of the hole, looking dispassionately down at him as he passes out.
A few days later, Corliss comes to see why Howard hasn't been showing up at school. The house appears abandoned. As the principal leaves, Charles tells him not to step on the wet cement where the sidewalk has been replaced. The boy says that the name represents a grave, but Corliss points out that it's just a cement layer's mark. As he leaves, Charles calls over a young girl. The two of them inscribe "Mr. Howard R.I.P." in the drying cement, and then place a few flowers on the section of sidewalk.