Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
“Okay. You ready?” Lynn spoke to the reflection in the small mirror suspended above a cardboard chest of drawers.
“Sure,” she lowered her voice pretending to be another person responding. “Hey, teach, want to smoke a joint?”
In a fake southern accent, moving her eyelids quickly up and down, she cooed “Will that make you strong, Rhett Butler, or just stupid?” Staring at her face she spoke in her normal voice. “That’ll go over big. Rhett Butler. Why didn’t education courses teach me anything I could use!”
The intercom buzz startled her. A voice shouted: phone call. She left the dorm room door open, went into the hall and picked up the plastic receiver. “Oh. Hi Mom. Yes. Sure.” Pieces of lint had gathered on her navy blue linen skirt and she smoothed them with her hand as if to crush them in. “Yes. My low-heeled black patent leather. I do look very teacherish. I’ll try. I think I agree that I’ll be able to use my acting, creative writing, and drawing ability all in one profession. I know you were worried I’d run off and be an actress or starving artist; no I don’t resent your pushing me into teaching. Yes. I will be good at it. Yes, Mom. Call you later after class. I’ll drive carefully. Yes, Mom.”
Lynn returned the receiver to its cradle and went back to her room. Her low heels clicked and echoed on the hall’s vinyl floor. She gathered up the day’s lesson plans and inserted them into a plastic briefcase. She’d hoped that she’d written enough information to get through each period. What might happen if she used up, in fifteen minutes, what was supposed to take forty? “Can’t worry about that today,” she murmured. A blue cotton cardigan rested on the back of her desk chair. She lifted it, tied sleeves around her shoulders and grabbed her purse. Catching the reflection in the mirror, she unfastened the sweater’s sleeves with her right hand and tossed the garment over her shoulders. “Teacher image, today, sweater,” she commented, then left the room.
Wildwood High was only twenty-five minutes drive from campus; she was glad the placement was convenient. She parked where the lot spaces said ‘faculty’, and was both enthusiastic and nervous. Do schools still have separate up and down staircases, clanging period-divider bells, early lunches, she wondered? Why do I feel its been so long since I was a high-school student, when I’m only a senior in college now? She scanned faces and clothing as she headed to the classroom that’d be hers for the next six weeks; did I look like that only a few years ago?
Ms. Crabtree greeted her at Room 101. “I’m the regular teacher, and I’ll supervise and evaluate your performance.” The chubby lady eyed Lynn at the same time she extended her plump fingers to shake.
“I’m looking forward to this,” Lynn tried to sound convincing. “I’ve some wonderfully creative ideas I can’t wait to try out.”
“We’re generally not in favor of radical behavior, Ms. Lyons,” the regular instructor informed. “But,” she pretended to be cavalier, “it is your classroom for six weeks, and I will be watching. Today, however, you’ll just observe me.” Ms. Crabtree smiled but the sides of her eyes didn’t crease so the smile was only on her lips.
Lynn observed carefully. The full-time teacher was intelligent but exacting. She didn’t seem ‘burned-out’ but she also wasn’t allowing herself to really know the feelings behind the rows of faces. She seemed fair and wanted to elevate minds, but connoted arrogance by her tone and body language.
“If this story attempts to convey an illusion of reality, what, then, is the reality? Sheryl, do you know?” Ms. Crabtree continued discussing John Bafth’s Lost in the Funhouse. “David? Stanley? We need to discuss this point in order to fully understand the author’s intent.”
“That’s not how I want to instruct.” Lynn whispered to herself knowing that it was conventional, time-tested, and proper what Ms. Crabtree was doing. The day’s schedule was orderly, effective, yet emotionally detached. Lynn was nervous about taking over tomorrow, yet, at the same time, quite elated about the idea of infusing her personal teaching attitude into a classroom.
The next day, with Ms. Crabtree seated in the rear, Lynn walked to the wooden desk; the edges were rough. She snagged her pantyhose on the side of the wooden chair. Great, she thought: a terrorist teacher who wants conformity, an antiquated desk-set determined to destroy my stockings... what next?
A bell sounded. First batch of thirty; a hundred and twenty more to teach today during five sessions. Whew. Aloud, Lynn nervously said, “I’m Ms. Lyons, your student-teacher. I’ll be here for six weeks.”
“I like your lion’s mane, teach,” a leather-jacketed boy called out.
Lynn glanced at the back of the room. Ms. Crabtree smiled smugly waiting for Lynn to begin her fall-flat-on-her-face. “If you like my mane,” she quipped,” wait ‘till you hear my roar.”
The class laughed. Round one. Lynn was pleased with her quick reply and it seemed to relax the class. “Before you tell me your names are Donald Duck, or Batman, or Peanuts, please let me inform you that you’ll have to put the same on all your papers and tests in order to get a grade.” The class laughed again, and the body language of some of the students indicated comfort. “Okay,” Lynn started, “row one, first seat?”
“Seriously. Not the Peanuts character. It really is.”
Lynn penned in the names on small attendance cards. She wondered why Ms. Crabtree hadn’t just giver her the register. The latter was busy scribbling something as she sat squished into a student chair.
“Well, this class is stuck with Julius Caesar but I’ll try to jazz it up and make it palatable. You might even like Shakespeare after we’re done.” Lynn didn’t sound convincing. Why couldn’t she have chosen something high school students would like rather than follow the required curriculum? King Lear, with all its gore, would have been better. It’s always the same few plays. “I’ve got quizzes arranged like word-association games, even crossword puzzles. Your final test might be a dot-to-dot like your old childhood coloring books had.”
Students perked up but Ms. Crabtree furrowed her brows and scribbled even more vigorously. Under Evaluation of Performance of Lynn Lyons, she wrote ‘she’s too innovative and disruptive, and her appearance is distracting.’ She shook the pen to try to get the ballpoint to stroke smoother, then wrote, ‘wisecracks, tries to get to level of students rather than maintain her teacher’s role’.
“So, for tomorrow,” Lynn addressed the class, “rewrite what I just assigned but in modern language. You’ll find our current way of speaking won’t be either as easy as you now think, or sound quite as pleasing to the ears as Shakespeare’s phrasing. Any questions?”
“Yeah,” called out the same student, who’d started the lion quip, “Anyone ever tell you you look like Cybil Shephard and have legs like Tina Turner?”
Quickly coming up with a line from the play she was about to teach, Lynn responded, “Passion, I see, is catching.” Continuing, she said “For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth. Action nor utterance, nor power of speech. To stir men’s blood; I only speak right on; I tell you that which you yourselves do know.” Only Ms. Crabtree wasn’t smiling, but Lynn informed, “Shakespeare. Julius Caesar.
The day continued with Lynn feeling stronger about her self-worth yet worried that the regular teacher would rate her so poorly that job possibilities and course grade would be failures. She let students know she, sincerely, could be reached for coffee and conversation that had nothing to do with curriculum as she remembered the emotional pains and frustrations of pre-twenty years. One girl took her up on that and asked Lynn to meet with her after school.
Ms. Crabtree spent some time with Lynn after last class. Having a student-teacher was a disruption, but it way also a way of reaching out to a new generation of instructors. She meant well when she advised. “Ms. Lyons. Do keep your position of authority at all times. You are the teacher.” The open ballpoint pen rolled off the desk and landed on the seat. Lynn picked it up and handed it to Ms. Crabtree. “Thank you. But please do not permit your students to become either familiar in terms or in words. This is a leaning institution, not a video-game parlor.”
“I appreciate your concern, Ms. Crabtree,” Lynn was flushed. “I do want to do well. I feel like The Open Road with all that is before me.”
Feeling the conflict of aging years, and this young intern-teacher, Ms. Crabtree tried to maintain her posture yet lectured this child-woman. “Embarrass only if necessary when you call on someone, but it is often the only route you can take with students who don’t think they have to do assigned readings.”
Nodding, Lynn listened but inwardly was already quite upset and fighting her desire to respond. Finally, she was told she may go.
Lynn changed into jeans and a tee shirt when she got back to the dorm. She knew she had to write tomorrow’s lessons plans and yet still keep up with her own college courses. She went into the hall. Her bare feet were soundless on the vinyl floor. Dialing zero first, she made the call collect.
“Ma? Um, hi. Wanted to let you know about today. Well, you were right. I can use my creative things. And, yes, I drew pictures on the board to illustrate some confusing grammatical relationships. Oh, I also needed to be a stand-up comic... sort of a skinny Roseanne Barr routine. It did work well. I can help make people aware and appreciative. I even met one girl after school and we discussed her fears for the future and worries about her boyfriend. Uh huh. I do believe that’s as important as subject matter.” Lynn changed the phone from one ear to the next, waved to another classmate walking by to use the bathroom. “Yes, Mom,” she continued speaking. “I ate in the lunchroom and lunchrooms haven’t changed since I, or you for that matter, went to high school. Okay. They didn’t seem to have much to say to me. Told me I’d have lunch-monitor duty and I can play police-woman around thrown food. She’s feeling threatened, I guess, or just doesn’t like me at all, but I hope she’ll be fairminded with the evaluation. Yes. You’d be proud. Yes, I wish Dad had lived to know this, too. Thanks. Talk to you soon. Me, too.”
As the six weeks ended, Lynn felt great satisfaction. She got a single carnation from the first student to challenge her verbally; his accompanying card quoted “This was the noblest Roman of them all.” Was this cryptic message intended for her or about himself, Lynn wondered. She knew she’d ‘reached’ him. There were some tears and hugs. The unusual exams had gone well, and even pop-quizzes were looked upon without too many moans. She’d gotten to know many as people and not just names and faces, and felt privileged to share some of their private thoughts. She shook Ms. Crabtree’s hand and saw either a smile or a smirk but couldn’t make out which.
The School of Education advisor was also her Student-Teaching grade-holder. She went into his office after receiving word it was time to review her ability to teach. He stood, smiled freely, extended his hand. Lynn felt at ease now, pleased that the rating would be fine. No doubts anymore; she did want to be a schoolteacher.
“We’ve some serious talking, Lynn.”
“I know.” She smiled.
“Your course grade is based only upon the past six weeks, and I’ve an evaluation report here that is quite detailed. Ms. Crabtree gave me an outline, then documented details.”
Sun slid between the Venetian blinds’ slats.
Lynn moved her shoulder bag from her lap to the floor, and reached for the first page that was handed to her: ‘Evaluation of Performance of Lynn Lyons. Six-week spring semester 1992. Ms. Cora Crabtree, Faculty. Wildwood High School.’ A brief summary preceded the long paper. “It is my belief that Ms. Lyons would not be a fit teacher of high school students. She exhibits radical behavior and will not conform to school curriculum/ text/ proven teaching methods. She is overly concerned with students’ futures rather than her subject matter, attempting to teach a whole person in our departmentalized society. Her body language is suggestive, and she responds like George Burns to student antics when she should enforce demerits and discipline. She should not bridge the desk and become familiar with pupils as it deters from the authoritative posture a teacher must exhibit. While she was prepared daily, turned in comprehensive lesson plans, was never tardy with faculty paperwork, she remained aloof during lunch and other faculty gatherings querying for reform of our customary faculty-patrol-lunch-monitoring system and more intense student voice. She will not only be a negative role-model and instructor, but a crusader who’ll upset the harmony of faculty associations. My grade for her re the student teaching is D-, which I believe to be generous.”
Turquoise blue tassels, ready for placement on the black mortar boards for graduation, were boxed in a corner. The sun peeked in highlighting the packing cellophane. Lynn held the typing paper firmly so her shaking hand wouldn’t be obvious. “Lay aside life harming heaviness, And entertain a cheerful disposition.” Shakespeare’s lines from King Richard II suddenly sprung into Lynn’s thoughts.
“I’m a good teacher!” She contained her tears. “Do I have a right to explain?” Lynn handed the page back; impressions from her fingers made a relief on the paper.
Published, May 1998, “Rochester Shorts” magazine.
Reprinted, September 2014 “East Coast Literary Review”