“When is it due?” one student asks, once she makes out that this is an assignment.
I leave off from where I am and go back to the top of the board and write in even clearer handwriting that I thought I was capable of producing on a vertical writing surface. Now it reads,
Writing Assignment, Due on Wednesday, September 18th: Write a response to the quote: “It is not always the biggest or the strongest, but sometimes the cleverest who wins the race.”
I haven’t quite gotten used to this yet, this feeling that I am in charge here, and that these kids are looking to me for guidance and direction, even if they would rather chew off their hands than ask for help. Sometimes, their questions paralyze me. Sometimes, I can see the wit coming a mile away and I can prepare and respond, but there are more of the former situations than I care to admit.
Ending up as a teacher wasn’t what I had in mind but it’s a job and at least this way, I can tell people that it was something I’ve always wanted to do. What do I know about teaching? But I got in so this is what I’m going to do. Thank God for small mercies that it’s not a public school. I’ve overheard other teachers relaying horror stories.
Of course, at first they acted like I couldn’t be part of the clique because I hadn’t roughed it in a P.S. That was their way of dismissing my experience – invalid in their eyes because I hadn’t worked in a public school before.
To be fair, they still act like that but I’ve gotten braver. Now, I tell myself that they’ve accepted me to make it easier to walk into the lounge during break sessions. Their room. I’m starting to feel like it’s our room, even if someone took my yoghurt out of the fridge and left it on the counter – counting out change for the vending machine, I tell myself it was a mistake.
At our first staff meeting, I was assigned to a more experienced teacher, a mentor of sorts. I haven’t approached her since the first day and she hasn’t offered assistance or a smile.
When I can, I cross my fingers and legs, hoping that I’m doing the right thing. The students are unfailing in letting me know when I’m not, like now.
“Teach, we don’t have any assignments due on that day.” The nickname could be a a sign that they’re coming around. Or that they don’t remember my name (even though it’s been printed at the top of the board for two weeks now). More likely, it is a sign that they’re mocking me.
“Well, now you have one.” I don’t know if I’m adopting their attitude or if I’m just trying to act tough so they’ll calm down.
I see, rather than hear, one of the girls, Janice, mouths the word “Stupid” to another. She’s at least a year older and she doesn’t fit in with these fifteen-year-olds. I’ve inferred from the idle talk that I discourage, but let go on long enough that I can learn from, that she was out all last year, having a baby but that she came back. She gets almost perfect scores on everything, which is probably the reason they took her back in the first place, but the attitude on that girl. Wow.
“We don’t have assignments because it’s half-day school.”
“Oh. Okay.” I didn’t realize half-day school meant no assignments were due on that day. I’m not even sure that that’s true but it’s better to change the date now. I erase the 8 and write a 9 in its place, before some smarty pants shouts, “And Wednesday – you have to change that to Thursday too.”
My back is turned and I don’t know them well enough to recognize the voices yet but I have a suspicion. “Thank you.” Facing the students, it is obvious. Half their attention is on me, to see how I’ll respond. The other half lingers on Janice.
When the bell rings after class, I ask her to stay behind. The buzz seems to go out the door when her last companion exits. But no, she grates the chair across the floor and tosses long artificial curls over her shoulder, before making her way to the front.
“Janice. How are you doing?” She’s close enough to stand right in front of me, and I back away from her size, hiding myself on the other side of the desk, even though I’m the one who initiated this meeting.
Even separated by the chipped wooden slab, she’s taller and bigger than I expect I’ll ever be, seeing that my growing years have ended and hers seems to have only just begun. I draw myself up to my full size, remembering I’m in charge here.
When she doesn’t respond, I continue, trimming the olive branch and preparing to hand it over. “I heard that you’ve been in this class before so if there is a topic I’m covering that you’ve done already, let me know so I might be able to give you an alternate assignment. Okay?”
A stack of papers fly when she kicks the table. “Who said I was in this class before? People always lying on me. For what? They don’t have anything else to do?”
“Uh, I’m sorry.” I offer, the olive branch wilting fast, still in my hand. “No one is lying on you. It’s just that I understood that you’ve been in this class before.”
“Check my file. Show me where it says that.” She is walking away but even from the side, I can see her face is almost twisted. With anger? Pain? Disgust? I’m oblivious to why the question has elicited this reaction.
“I’m sorry, Janice. I must have been mistaken.”
She’s almost out the door but she stops and looks back at the chalkboard and the words I’ve written there.
“Yeah. You’re mistaken about a lot of things.” She doesn’t mutter this time but I let it go.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.Copyright © 2016, Karen Wright
Shared with Shelly’s Cabaret