Symphony 18

Day One

School began on Friday the second of September. All of the other teachers complained about having the students for only one day and then losing them for the Labor Day weekend. They said it was like having to do the first day of school twice. For Neil, it was a Godsend. It allowed him three days grace to rethink his ideas after having a day with his students.

Even the weather relented and gave him a day that did not reach above ninety.

When Neil arrived, there was a short line of students with their parents in front of the secretary’s desk. Half a dozen early arriving students had begun a baseball game out back, and there were half a dozen more hanging around the doors of some of the classrooms.

Neil unlocked his door and propped it open with a chair. He had arranged the student desks in straight rows, and had put a student name tag on each desk. Neil’s mother would not have approved, but she had been teaching elementary for thirty years and could handle less restrictive seating arrangements. Neil intended to have everything orderly, at least at first. He had even seated the students in alphabetical order to make it easier to learn their names.

Neil was in his room by eight o’clock in case any parents came to meet him. Only four showed up and two of them dropped their children off at the door without coming in. Mr. Kruger brought Kenneth in and introduced himself briefly. Then Mrs. Whitlock brought in her son Larry and stood by while he introduced himself, squirming with embarrassment, and stayed to chat for a few minutes. Neil found out that Larry always did well in school, that he always liked his teachers, but that he sometimes forgot to do his homework, and that Neil was to call her immediately if anything went wrong. Neil said that he was happy that she cared enough to come in. He meant what he said, but privately he reserved judgment. She was a little too good to be true. He wondered if Larry loved school as much as she thought he did, or if she was reading her own enthusiasm into him.

By the time Mrs. Whitlock left, the room had begun to fill up with children. Some stood in small knots, talking and trying not to be seen looking at Neil. Others ignored him quite completely and wandered around the room without self-consciousness. One skinny blonde girl went up to look at the books that Gina had left, and began telling a dark haired friend which ones she had read. Three boys looked at a display of National Geographic maps Neil had put up.

Larry Whitlock had joined a trio of other boys in the back of the room and already two of them were beginning to scuffle. Neil raised his voice until his baritone filled the room. “Gentlemen,” he said calmly but sternly, “people don’t wrestle in my classroom, even between classes.”

The room was instantly silent, and all eyes were on him. He turned to look at the papers on his desk — papers he had no need to look at — and seemed to ignore the boys. They eased out the door and began wrestling again under his window. He continued to ignore them, so they went out onto the playground. more tomorrow

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