Symphony 4

William Campbell was a short, spare man with graying hair. When he rose from behind his desk to shake hands, there was no welcome in his face. He said, “I’ve read your resume, but go ahead and tell me about yourself.”

“I am twenty-nine and unmarried,” Neil began. “I graduated from Oregon State in English Literature. I spent a year in New York working for a series of magazines as copy editor and writer. Then I came back home and got my Masters and a teaching credential . . .”

“Why did you quit and come back?”

“The work was unrewarding. I was working for magazines no one had ever heard of, basically doing drudge work. There was no chance of advancement, so I chalked it up to experience and went back to college. I got my credential in English Literature. Jim Watkins gave me my first job, and I’ve been teaching now for four years.”

“What levels did you teach?”

“He started me with freshmen, but for the last two years I have been teaching mostly seniors. Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontes — that sort of thing.”

“Are freshmen the youngest students you have taught?”

“Yes.”

Campbell shook his head, and said, “Teaching high school students is no preparation for teaching sixth grade. The children in this school are very young. Can you bring your teaching down to their level? Because if you can’t, you have no business coming here.”

“I won’t know until I try.”

“Are you willing to attempt it?”

“I don’t have much choice.”

That put the preliminaries behind them.

# # #

Campbell leaned back in his chair and frowned. “No,” he said, “I don’t suppose you have a lot of choices. But I do, and I don’t like being put on the spot. I will only do so much, even for an old friend like Jim Watkins. You will have to convince me that you are no danger to my school or I will send you packing. That means not only today, but at any time during the coming year.”

Three years earlier, Neil would have walked out. Now maturity and need held him in his chair. He said, “What do you want to know?”

“Everything, from your perspective.”

“You know that I was accused of sexual misconduct and that there were no formal charges because the girl turned out to be lying. You probably don’t know how I got into the mess in the first place, or what came after.”

# # #

Alice Hamilton was fifteen. Somewhere in elementary school, someone had let her skip a grade, and now she was taking senior English during her junior year. That put her two years ahead. Her father was a prominent local surgeon and a member of the school board, and he was convinced that his daughter was a genius. She wasn’t.

Her parents demanded As. Alice tried hard enough to get them. Her papers were always neat, typed, and on time. The problem was, she was only fifteen, and it takes emotional maturity to react to Shakespeare. Her papers were childish, because she was a child. She would have been a happy and productive sophomore, but she had no business in a class for seniors.

Alice came to Neil after class one day and asked him to tutor her. She said that if she didn’t get As, she couldn’t get into Princeton. Princeton was her father’s fantasy, but she was the one who had to fulfill it.

# # #

“She asked me for help,” Neil said. “I knew that she had a reputation for manipulation, but a teacher is there to help.”

“And she was pretty,” Campbell said.

“Yes.”

“And it was flattering to be needed by her.”

“I suppose.”

“My God, that’s the oldest trap of all. You should have gotten one of the female teachers to tutor her.”

“Yes. That’s obvious enough now. It wasn’t obvious then. I thought I could handle the situation.”

Campbell just grunted and said, “Go on.” more tomorrow

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