Symphony 19

Neil sat down at his desk and half a dozen of the children moved quickly to their places. Some of the others looked at the clock and saw that they had five more minutes. Two of the boys ran out the door, and a handful of others began to look for their assigned seats.

They were a mosaic. They were very pale and very brown and every color in between. Like a mosaic, each piece was complete in itself, but put together would form a greater pattern. Now the mosaic was still a heap of multicolored stones, but the pattern would emerge. Neil’s job was to find it, without damaging any of the individuals in the process.

The bell rang. Those who were still wandering took their seats, and the boys who had left came running back. They were very docile, unsure, and even a little scared. This was their first year across the fence, with the big kids, and for many of them Neil would be their first male teacher.

Neil had known they would be different from high school students, but until now he had had no idea how different. They were meek (that would surely change), they were eager (he prayed that would not change), and they were tiny. Neil was nearly six feet tall, but he was used to looking up at many of his students. Here was a little girl — his seating chart told him it was Tanya Michelson — who could not be much more than four feet tall. He couldn’t even guess her weight; he had no standard for comparison. Tiny! And she wasn’t the only one; half the boys and a third of the girls were nearly as small.

Three of the students were still standing. One of them said, “Where do I sit?”

“What’s your name?”

“Rafael Ortiz.”

Without looking, Neil knew he had not seen that name. He asked, “Are you a sixth grader?”

He was, and as he spoke two more students came in. There were a number of empty seats, so he had them sit anywhere while he took roll. Of the thirty-two students on his list, nine had not shown up. When he called Duarte Zavala, one of the new arrivals spoke up, and Neil shifted him to his assigned seat. Tim Galloway was home with the chicken pox, according to his neighbor, and would be back in about a week. Juan Rogers was in Mexico; they could expect him back in about a month. And nobody knew where Olivia Pinero was, except that she was out riding her bike last week so she hadn’t moved.

It was clear that the empty seats were nothing unusual to them, but Neil was amazed. He could count on one hand all the first-day absentees he had had in four years of teaching at his last school.

Neil put down his class list and said, “Let’s finish that later. Everyone has a seat for now. If  you aren’t in the right place, or you aren’t on my list, we’ll take care of it, but first I want to introduce myself. I am Mr. McCrae. I will be taking Mrs. Wyatt’s place this year while she is having her baby.”

“She already had it!” Tanya Michelson interrupted. “She had it last night.”

Neil smiled at her and said, “That’s good news, Tanya, but you need to raise your hand before you speak. Otherwise things will get unruly.”

Tanya pouted and added, “It weighed seven pounds, and it is a boy named Michael.” more Monday

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