Friday, February 24, 2012

Conversation in a Teacher's Lounge

"I'm thinking of recommending Melanie Hobbs for Honors English," Natalie Kassbaum said.

"You're kidding, right?" Natalie's companion was Gretchen Hollerman, a tenured teacher in her late fifties whose conversation, when she wasn't complaining about a particular parent or student, had mainly to do with plans for her retirement. Natalie, on the other hand, was relatively new to teaching and possessed what Gretchen considered to be a starry-eyed view of the profession.

"I'm not kidding; I think she's gifted," Natalie said.

"Her handwriting's atrocious and her spelling's only marginally better," Gretchen scoffed. "When she was in my class, I had to move her away from the window so she'd quit staring out of it all the time. The way she acted, you'd have thought there was a three-ring  circus out there instead of just an ordinary parking lot."

"Yes, but it turns out she writes beautifully. Listen to this..." Natalie thumbed through the pile of seventh grade student papers she'd placed on the table in front of her. "Here it is," she exclaimed, pulling one out. "I'll read it to you."

                    In summer's dawn
                    My mother's long hair hums,
                    All the vibrating strands of it
                    Responding to sunlight
                    The way harp strings respond
                    To the touch of the harpist.

                    She prunes the wild rosebushes
                    Without a glove,
                    Her hand passing easily
                    Through tunnels of thorns
                    And never getting scratched.

"Amazing, huh?" Natalie said with enthusiasm.

Gretchen's long, drooping face, which was generally in frown mode, darkened with renewed displeasure. "Isn't the idea of someone's hair humming kind of weird?" she said.

"Unusual maybe, but not weird except in the way all poetry is kind of weird."

Gretchen was experiencing a massive surge of annoyance. These flibbety-gibbet teachers fresh out of college got on her nerves with their "look I discovered hidden genius" attitude, along with their fairytale visions of making education a joyful experience. What they'd learn eventually was that most students were indifferent learners, lazy and spoiled rotten, and all the bright hopes and heroic intentions weren't going to make one bit of difference. The point was to get to where you could afford to take the whole summer off and during the rest of the year, simply endure until you reached the blessed age of retirement.

"So you don't think Melanie qualifies for the Honors English program?" Natalie said. Her voice now carried a faint note of uncertainty.

Gretchen paused for a moment, taking in her young colleague's wholesome good looks -- dark, shining eyes, smooth complexion, perfect teeth. She was Natalie's mentor, had been for the past two years. It was just one more wearisome chore the administration had assigned her but it did give her a small amount of power. "Let me put it this way," Gretchen said, "if you recommend Melanie Hobbs for Honors at the next English Department meeting, you'll be laughed straight out of the room."

1 comment:

  1. True...recommending Rowan for GATE caused my wife to be thought of as "one of those parent's" until his test results came back and his teacher had to sing a different tune! Good story B!