Symphony 50

“For now, Carlos, you will read with the group in the fifth grade book. Later, we’ll see. Give me that detention slip.”

Carlos fished it out, looking puzzled, and handed it over.

Neil took it and said, “Now you have a decision to make. Have you learned that I won’t put up with rebellion in my classroom, or would you rather take this home for your mother to sign and have her see that you were defiant?”

Carlos brightened when he saw that he was going to have a reprieve. He said, as if by rote, “I understand that you won’t put up with no defiance.” There was so much relief in his voice that it left no room for sarcasm.

Neil crumpled the form and tossed it into the trash. Then he motioned with his hand and said, “Go play.”

Carlos disappeared, as if by magic.

# # #

Grouping his readers was no panacea. It cost Neil time he would have like to use for language, because he had to teach reading three times a day instead of once, and it threw the students who were not reading onto their own resources. That worked well enough for the high readers. When he was working with the low readers, the high readers were quite capable of doing independent work in language. For the low readers it was a problem. If they could not read, they certainly were not self-sufficient in their language studies. Within a week, Neil was feeling ragged from shuttling between groups, and the misbehavior was way up. Students who are left alone to work by themselves at materials which are essentially above their grasp, will find other ways to amuse themselves.

But . . . the children could read.

# # #

At the end of that first week of leveled reading, Neil got a day off from teaching. On that Friday, he and Carmen went to Oakland to a conference.

Conferences and in-service training are a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that they allow teachers to stay up on the latest thinking in their field, and to see different way of approaching old problems; a curse in that they are usually bad and frequently very bad. Neil knew this already from the high school conferences he had attended, but he was not prepared for how abysmal elementary conferences could be.

During the second week of school Bill Campbell had called him in to say, “I want you to know what is in the wind. There have been so many changes coming out of Sacramento during the last year that I can’t keep up with them myself. Since you and Carmen are at the heart of it, I am sending you.” So Neil found himself paired off for the day with the one teacher at Kiernan who apparently couldn’t stand him.

He met Carmen at the school parking lot when the sun was just beginning to stain the sky with dawn. They had agreed to take her car because his was so old and decrepit. She pulled out expertly and headed for the freeway. As they passed through the same flat, oleander lined corridor he had traversed six months earlier on his first trip to Modesto, he reflected on the changes that had taken place in him since that time. The problems he had faced in Oregon had faded in his mind, but the bitterness remained.

If he had it to do over . . .  If he had it to do over, he would have stayed to fight it out. It was a mark of his callowness that he had chosen to run. He had never really been hurt before. He had never had a friend, lover, or institution turn upon him and damn him for no reason. more tomorrow


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