Symphony 116

“Do you still think I am not fit to teach your daughter?”

Maria Alvarez said, “I’m not sure.”

“You were pretty sure that I wasn’t fit, so I guess that’s progress. May I sit down?”

She gestured gracelessly toward the couch. He sat. Rosa stuck her head around the door, then jerked it back when her mother yelled something to her in Spanish.

Mrs. Alvarez moved a kitchen chair up and sat very stiffly facing Neil. Jose Alvarez was watching protectively. She made a side comment to him that Neil could not understand.

“Mrs. Alvarez, I have a problem that you may be able to help me with. It has nothing to do with what happened in Oregon. It has to do with the education of the Mexican children in the sixth grade.”

She nodded.

“I don’t have any Spanish, so if you want, Rosa can translate.”

“I do okay. If I don’t understand something, you can say it some other way. I don’t want her in here.”

Neil said, “All right,” and began to explain how his year had gone. He gave here a brief explanation of the pros and cons of leveling, told her of his early failures, told her how he had leveled his class, and told her of the results he had had since he has discontinued leveling.

She heard him through, and Neil thought he detected a softening in her as he talked. She had respected him once, and she wanted to respect him again, but trust is easier to win the first time than it is to regain once it has been lost. When he finished, she said, “Why you telling me this?”

“Rosa has been having Delores Perez over to study here, hasn’t she?”


“How would you feel about having a larger group of students over to study?”

“How many?” Maria asked.

Neil took a paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to her. “There are twenty names on the list, but I doubt that more than half of them would come.” She glanced at the list as Neil continued, “What I am asking is this: would you be willing to contact the parents of these kids and talk them into sending them to your apartment for half a day each day during spring break? If you will do that, I will come here and teach them at their own level. If it’s a success, I will continue to come after school for the rest of this year.”

She shook her head. “Twenty kids, here?” She looked around at the tiny apartment.

“Probably ten kids or fewer. It doesn’t have to be at your apartment, but it needs to be somewhere in this little barrio so the kids can walk to get to it.”

“You’ll do this?”

“If you find the place, and talk the parents into it, I will teach them.” more tomorrow


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