And there were a lot of people not speaking about why the teacher was gone—representatives from the school board, administrators. They had gathered to meet me, a fresh-from-college girl who was, when you figure that I started school a year early and some of my students were a few years behind, shockingly close to some of her high school students’ ages. It would be…a challenge, they warned me. There hadn’t been much…discipline. I didn’t like the way they exchanged glances or the care with which they chose their words.
The teachers were less shy. “Nutjob,” they mumbled while gulping chewy cafeteria tacos in the teachers’ lounge. The worst was her study hall, they said, because it was right outside the lounge and no one wanted to have to hear the kids during their only down time. No discipline at all, they told me. I would have to come down hard on them.
By that time I already knew there’d been something terribly wrong with the teacher. The teacher next door filled me in on a little. Youngish woman. Had a small child. Had a husband, but the husband left. This is where everyone clammed up and began using euphemisms. She struggled. Had a hard time. Her work suffered.
There were no grades in the grade book. Nothing written in the plan book. When I asked her students in each class what they’d been working on, they said they’d been having discussions. About what? I’d asked. This was English class, so there were only a few choices. A book? A story? A poem?
Like if you’re in a relationship and the person leaves you, they said.
Each hour I heard the same scenario. Each hour I got a chill when they said it.
My last class of the day was theater. And what had they been working on? I asked. Improvisation, they said. Snort. Still, I was a tiny bit heartened. It sounded like an actual theater class assignment. What kind of improvisation? I asked.
Like you pretend you’re in a relationship, they said. And the other person leaves you.
(Next week, Part II)