The following is a first draft of a short story written as part of the Story A Day May 2016 Challenge.
This is Story #3 for day 3 (which also happens to be Teacher Appreciation Day).
In the comments below, please share your critique of the story. Also, let me know if this is a character/story you’d be interested in reading more about.
IT ONLY TAKES ONE
First period I was late, of course. John smelled like pot and Mazie was sleeping through my entire class. There was no talking to either, then, but I was worried about both. The lesson was a bit lumpy, but a couple of my bright lights seemed to follow along.
Second period not a single student had even looked at the homework assignment. Was there some sort of conspiracy against me? I couldn’t even entertain what I planned. We did the homework together. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Third period, I found John in the hallway, walked him to his class and chatted about the smoking. I got him to agree to not smoke before my class. Small win. That means he’s not smoking on the way to school. I have to believe it’s harder to smoke during the day. I hope. Then, in the teacher’s lounge everyone was talking about a new teacher rating site online. Our students apparently discovered it and most of the staff was rated. I was told I was there. I didn’t look.
Fourth period the assistant principal decided to pop in and observe my teaching unannounced. Thank the teaching gods on high – it went well. Farris got the class rolling with an over the top response to my leading question. He set the bar high. And, thankfully, my fourth period is my most competitive class, so the group assignments turned out to be a real tour de force even though they were talking all the way through. The AP slipped out two minutes before the bell, stopping by me on the way out and whispering, “Impressive.”
Fifth period, I grabbed my lunch out of my locker, brought it over to the phone and made two calls – one to Mazie’s home and one to Farris’s. Mazie’s mom was sick, so Mazie’s been taking care of dinner, two kids, bathtime, and I was exhausted just thinking about it. I told her mom to let her know we’ll make up the lesson and the homework next Monday. Farris’s grandma was surprised to hear how well he performed in class and I was elated I made the call. The teachers in the lounge were still all abuzz about the rating site. I gave in. I checked it. My overall rating was high. But I noticed one red thumbs down. It was the only one I clicked to read the comment. “She doesn’t care.” Some invisible force reached inside my body, ripped my heart out and threw it out the window.
Sixth period I felt hollow. I looked around the room. Which student was it? Who had I been ignoring? Who had I neglected? The lesson was robotic. The instruction was there, the notes were being taken, but I knew it was all forgettable. I had failed this class this day.
Seventh period Farris swung by the classroom with a bathroom pass, barging in to say thanks. His grandmother texted him. She’s proud. He proclaimed in front of the class that I am the best teacher in the building. I fight to hold back the tears. I am not. I am always late. His words are lies. My students don’t do their homework. He doesn’t know. My classes talk through all of their work. He’s still learning. I don’t care. I am the teacher. I’m ignoring someone. I know the truth. One of them thinks I don’t care. The class was buoyed by his comments, they were more involved, perhaps all shooting for their own congratulatory call, but I was done. I fed the lesson to them, counting the minutes to the final bell.
The bell rang. It was over. I let every last student leave before I headed for the door. I couldn’t be around them. I felt inauthentic. I was not who they thought I was. The hallway was empty when I got there. I headed back to the lounge to gather my things. The lounge was empty too. I was grateful. I needed time to figure out what I was doing wrong. I needed to figure out which students felt this way and why. At my locker the first tear finally fell.
It was all for nothing if they didn’t feel cared about, safe. What was the point? I thought about how my mom has always wanted me to leave teaching to work in finance. I thought about a career that is 9 to 5 and nothing more – work begins when you arrive and ends when you leave. I thought I don’t belong. I thought that the kids deserve much better than someone who doesn’t care.
I let the emotions take me for a minute, then wiped my eyes and readied myself to head home. On the way out of the lounge I saw the computer was still on and that page was open. Everything in me said to walk away, but one voice said maybe I could figure out who was unhappy. I opened my page. Forty-two thumbs up, one thumbs down, and two hearts. I clicked the hearts. The first had no comment. The second saved my soul, because it only takes one to make or break your day. I still have no idea who wrote it. It said the following:
I never thought too much about how teachers impact my life. I mean, they are there every day and, yes, they get to know you pretty well, but I never thought of it as anything beyond my grades and stuff. Then my world fell apart. I’m not going to put all my business up here for the Internet, but it was bad. She noticed. She asked. We talked a long, long time. I don’t know what would have happened to me if we didn’t talk that day. I was having pretty ugly thoughts about life. But she changed it all. She said so much, but one thing I’ll never forget and I’ll be forever thankful for. It has become my life motto. She said, “We’re stronger than we think.”
The story above was created using a prompt on the Story A Day website. It was also inspired by twelve years of teaching. This story is dedicated to all those still in the classroom on today’s Teacher Appreciation Day.
Take the last line from your favorite book or choose one from the list below. Now write a short piece that ends with that line.
I chose the last line from I KILL GIANTS by Joe Kelly. It is pictured above with my story.