Saturday, July 08, 2006

Semesters of Our Lives Chapter 11

A Minor Alteration

Richard hadn’t been summoned to the principal since ninth grade. But little had changed—there was the long wooden bench, and the bespectacled lady behind the wooden counter bade him to sit and wait. There were photos on the walls—the principal with this guy, shaking hand with that guy, smiling with the baseball team, certificates of gratitude, letters…how long would he have to wait.

After many minutes, Richard could bear it no longer, and decided to go to the bathroom. He wondered whether he needed permission. He stood up.

“Mr. Carter. The principal will see you now.”

Richard walked into the office. Wow. It was big. There was a conference room, a living room, a coffee machine, a refrigerator—uh-oh. There was Ms. Goodrich, his boss, who hadn’t said a kind word to him since the meatball incident.

“Please sit down, Mr. Carter,” said the principal. He was smiling slightly. That was good, possibly. “Ms. Goodrich?” She was going to speak. That was bad. Also Mr. Benjamin, the math AP, was there. He looked like Bernie Mac, plus 10 years and 20 pounds. Also, Jennifer’s boss, Dr. Canales, was there. That was strange.

“Richard,” began Ms. Goodrich. “We’ve formed a bond, a very special bond, these past few months, and I hate it when something comes along to interrupt my training, it saddens me. I know how much you’ve come to depend on my counsel, and believe me, you can continue coming to me with whatever is on your mind. I was just telling the principal about how much you’ve grown as a pedagogue…”

That was strange to hear. Just yesterday she entered his classroom and screamed at him about the writing on one of the desks…

“..but we have to allow for the exigencies of the moment, and…”

“We want you to teach ESL, two classes, and math, two classes,” said Mr. Benjamin. “You’ll continue with one of your English classes.”

“I’m not really good at math,” said Richard.

“That’s okay,” said Mr. Benjamin. “Your resume says you used to work as a musician. So improvise. Fake it until you make it. Anyway, this math is so easy anyone can do it.”

“But why did you pick me to do it?” Richard asked.

“There comes a time, in life’s rich pageant, when we need to…” began the principal.

“Because they can’t learn and you can’t teach,” interrupted Mr. Benjamin, definitively. “It’ll be a thing of beauty. Really, you’ll do fine, kid. Any other questions?”

“What’s ESL?” asked Richard.

“It’s when you teach kids from other countries how to speak English.” Said Mr. Benjamin, flashing a movie-star smile. “You’ll love it. You have two sections of ESL 1. Start with hi, how are you, and go from there. Fake it until you make it.”

“I will help you,” said Dr. Canales, unconvincingly.

“I don’t have licenses in ESL or math,” admitted Richard.

“No one cares,” said Mr. Benjamin.

“Why are you asking me to do this?” asked Richard.

The principal cleared his throat. “It’s not really relevant. You see, sometimes, in the best of schools, even under optimal circumstances, the long, cold hand of….”

“Ms. Moscowitz had a nervous breakdown,” interrupted Mr. Benjamin. “We swapped a few classes around and gave you what was left.”

Richard was starting to like Mr. Benjamin. For one thing, he actually understood every word the man said. For another, Mr. Benjamin plainly had no respect whatsoever for Ms. Goodrich or the principal.

Richard wondered how he got away with being so up-front about it.

Next Week: The Observation to End All Observations
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