I’m pretty sure everyone already knows that I was an elementary school teacher for fifteen years. Some people know the story of my first year of teaching. This short story that I’m sharing today takes shades of that story. However, this story is not based on anyone real. The story is fictional. I draw on my life experience here for this idea, but that’s all. I promise. As always, feel free to comment but don’t steal. Enjoy!
The teacher at the front of the room is young. Long legs inside black straight leg pants. Dark hair. She looks nervous. “Juan Gallardo?” she says. She pronounces the double-l like a y. I cock my head to the side, squint a little. Could she be Latina?
I nod my head once. “Here.”
She finishes her attendance, puts the paper on her desk. Moves herself back to the front of the class. “My name is Mrs. White. I’m going to open up the floor for questions. You have exactly five minutes. You may ask me whatever you’d like, within reason. What would you like to know?”
She stands there, smiling at us, waiting.
“Are you for real?” Marcus’ girl, from the front of the room, calls out. I forget her name. I only know she hooked up with my boy last year.
The teacher smiles. “I am. You have just over four minutes left. I should warn you I don’t answer personal questions after this five minutes.”
“You married?” Dante asks. Dante is stretched out in his seat, leaning back in his chair. He always sits in the same spot in every single class. Perfectly in the middle, or as close as he can get. He always puts those long legs out straight in front of him, won’t move them for anybody.
“I am. Been married for about a year now.” She smiles at Dante with this full I’m-not-annoyed-with-you-at-all smile. Most of the time people hate Dante right away, teachers especially. They don’t like how he throws those legs out. How he won’t move them. It’s their classroom, their way. You know?
“You have kids?” Portia asks. Portia is probably the smartest girl we have. She’s part of a family of total losers though. Her brother’s in jail, she doesn’t know her Daddy. She lives with her cousins, just down the street from my house. The oldest cousin is in this class, two seats to her right. He runs with a crew. Not my crew, but enough like them. She’ll play up her bad girl image for him. I hate when she does that.
“I do not,” Mrs. White says. “Maybe someday but not yet.”
“How much time we got left?” Anthony asks. He’s the cousin. Real hard ass. If I get into it with anyone from this class this year, it’ll be Anthony. I’m going to try and avoid it though. My crew and his crew we ain’t got problems. I come at him and it’ll be real, fast.
“You have just about three minutes,” she answers.
“Where are you from?” There is one white kid in this class. He’s got red hair, it’s curly. He stands out without speaking in complete sentences like this is an English essay. Poor kid.
“I was born in Minnesota but I’ve lived here for most of my life. In fact, I went to this school.”
The sound that follows that comment is like a vacuum, sucking all the air out of the room. We don’t ever get teachers from this neighborhood. We’re the neighborhood people try to run from. You make good on your life you get the hell out. You don’t stick around with your college degree and teach us. She got our attention on that one.
“Prove it,” Anthony calls.
Mrs. White doesn’t miss a beat. She walks across the room to her bookshelf and grabs a tall, black, skinny little book. She drops it on Anthony’s desk and returns to the front. “Two minutes,” she calls.
I can’t help myself, I lean toward Anthony. I’m not the only one who does either. It’s a yearbook. From our school. There’s a sticky note or something about half-way through the pages. Anthony flips to the page. “Holy shit. It is you,” he says.
“Watch your mouth.”
“Sorry. Holy crap, it is you.”
“It is. Just over one minute.”
The class starts to get noisy. Suddenly whatever question we were going to ask her is taking a hike. Everyone is trying to get to that proof. To see that picture.
I do something I never do. I speak up. “Why teach here?” I ask.
“This is home,” she answers. “Besides, I have a feeling you need me.” She crosses to the desk again, grabbing a stack of white papers from the corner. “Alright, time’s up. Let’s get down to business.”
I have a feeling this is going to be one crazy year.