Symphony 14

He opened all the windows and propped the door open with a chair but it didn’t help much. Then he surveyed the room. He opened the doors under the counter that ran the length of the window wall and found it mostly filled with sealed cardboard boxes belonging to Gina Wyatt. It was just as well; he had nothing to store. All of the paraphernalia he had accumulated during his years of teaching were stored in his mother’s garage in Oregon. They would be of no use to him at this grade level.

The west wall of the room had a generous blackboard. There was a battered metal teacher’s desk jammed against the wall, a row of coat hooks at the back of the room, and some empty bulletin boards on the walls. The walls were of faded blue plaster. The acoustic tile ceiling was discolored where the roof had leaked.

Jammed into one corner, beneath the blackboard and against the counter, was a battered bookcase. Neil sat cross legged to examine it. It contained a dozen dictionaries, an ancient set of encylopedias, and about fifty books. They were a mixture of rescued cast-offs and modern but much worn children’s paperbacks. There was a note taped to the shelf that said, “Don’t let the kids steal too many of these. Good luck, Gina.”

Neil smiled. The note made him feel less alone.

That note was the only piece of paper in the room, so Neil went to the office and filled out a requisition form. An hour later the janitor delivered a cart load of materials: reams of newsprint, binder paper, drawing paper, construction paper in assorted colors, crayons, tape, paper clips, and staples. But there was much missing. There were no colored markers, no stapler, no pencils, no pens, no binders, and no spiral notebooks.

At the bottom of the requisition form was a note saying, “The school doesn’t supply everything you asked for.” Then it went on in parentheses: (Sorry. Low budget. You’ll get used to it. Ask Pearl for help — she’s our best scrounger. Evelyn.)

Neil didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Enough. He was spinning his wheels here. He still didn’t have a clear picture of what he was supposed to teach, so he crossed to Carmen de la Vega’s room.

The air conditioning wrapped him up in a rush of cool air. Carmen looked up with a distant, measuring coolness of her own. He reminded her that she was supposed to show him the ropes.

She began by sketching a grid on paper. “The students have seven periods of classes. We teach six and have one period off for preparation. You’ll need that to grade papers. In order to make it all work, our preps are staggered. Yours is fourth period, mine is seventh, Pearl’s is first, and so on. 

“We have about sixty-five students in the sixth grade.  They will be divided into two groups, and they will stay in those groups all day, moving from teacher to teacher as a unit. They will have one period each of math, history, science, and P.E., except that Tom teaches P.E. four days a week and art one day a week. The rest of the day they will spend with you.”

Carmen had sketched in the schedule as she explained, and it was clear enough. She said, “That means that you will actually teach only two classes a day, but each class will be three periods long.”

“Isn’t this a bit of a strange schedule?” Neil asked. more tomorrow


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