Neil’s relationship with his fellow teachers was strained for the first couple of weeks. He was naturally friendly and under normal circumstances he would have quickly fitted in, but there was one question each teacher had to ask him, for which he had no answer.
It was clear that he was not used to teaching sixth graders, and if he had any particular aptitude for the younger children, it did not show during those first weeks. So why was he here?
Neil said that he had wanted to try his hand at teaching younger children. That was not entirely a lie, since he used to think about it in that dreamy state of considering unlikely alternatives. But he would never have done anything about it, so he had a hard time putting conviction into his voice when he replied.
That answer only led to the next logical question. Why didn’t he get a job in his home town? Why move away and leave all his friends behind to make the experiment? There was really no way to answer that question.
By the second week, the other teachers knew that Neil would not talk about his reasons for being at Kiernan and his reluctance to share such basic personal information made them all pull back from him. They were unfailingly polite, but that initial friendliness had faded.
That was the situation when circumstances threw him in with Fiona Kelly.
# # #
In any school, some of the students are the sons and daughters of the teachers. Teaching some other teacher’s child can be a little unsettling; under the best of conditions there is a flavor of conflict of interest.
The children of teachers are angels or hellions or something in between, just like the children of bums and businessmen. Sean Kelly was something in between. He was not quite a top student, but close. He made mostly As and Bs. He loved baseball and he was good at the game. He was open and friendly, and if anyone had accused him of unkindness to any of his fellow students he would have been shocked and angry at the accusation. Yet, he had a weakness; a nemesis; his own personal Dr. Moriarity.
He could not stand Duarte Zavala.
Duarte Zavala was one of the Chicano children who broke the stereotype. Duarte was not quite a top student, but close. He made mostly As and Bs. He loved baseball and he was good at the game. He was open and friendly to anyone, as long as that person observed certain conventions. If someone disliked Hispanics because they were Hispanics, then that person became Duarte’s mortal enemy.
Duarte conceived the idea that Sean didn’t like Hispanics and began a campaign against him.
Sean Kelly liked Sean Kelly a great deal, and generally thought of others as adjuncts to himself. In this, he was almost identical to Duarte but, at eleven years old, neither could see the similarity. Sean’s self-infatuation made him condescending to the other children around him, male or female, Anglo or Hispanic. Duarte saw only that Sean condescended to his Hispanic friends; he could not see that it was an equal-opportunity egotism. Nor did Duarte realize that he also condescended to the same Hispanic children that Sean did.
Eleven year olds are not particularly good at self-analysis.
A prelude to the final confrontation came during the second week of school. Neil was on noon playground duty, wandering about to see to it that none of the larger children took unfair advantage of the new sixth graders. more Monday