Thursday, March 31, 2011

What I Know

This is a continuation of last week's story for The Red Dress Club  writing challenge. You can catch up here, if you like.

Also, the counselor character is a guy. That didn't come across in last week's story, but I'm sticking to it. So the guy in this story? Same counselor person as last week. A guy. 

The prompt this week was to write a first-person account of an annoying character/personality.

Because I wear the Red Dress, I welcome constructive critique.

What I Know
I've done this job long enough to learn a few things. Not that people take the time to ask. But believe me, I know things.

Thirty years, I've taught here. Rio Verde Middle School. Of course, back then we called it a Jr. High and it was okay to admit that some kids are left behind.

Now students are treated like celebrities with their IEP plans and 504 plans and accommodations. There's one boy that has to sit right up front because of his hearing aids. I thought kids like that were supposed to be quiet, but not this one. "Hey, Ms. Sombrowski, I hear you are linked to the Al-Gebra Network," he says, and the kids laugh. I don't know what he's talking about. I'm not sure he does either, being handicapped like that. 

Then there's this Oriental girl whose parents are getting a divorce. She stomped to my desk one day with a card from the counselor. Her hands were shaking a bit as she handed it to me. It read, "Emergency Session," and explained that I was supposed to let her out of class at any time so she could talk about her feelings.

Do you know what I did? I said, "Girlie, sit down. You're not going anywhere."

She glared at me and stuttered out a "But..." I could tell she was about to say something fresh.

I said, "Watch yourself, girlie. You know why."  Her eyes widened as much as an Oriental's eyes can. She nodded once, then slumped back to her seat. She spent the entire hour drawing pictures in her notebook, while I taught linear equations. She'll have to learn it again on her own time.

Of course Sam Jorgensen, that new guidance counselor came in to scold me about that. He waltzed into my classroom, wearing shorts and a baseball cap, and said, "You need to honor her need to talk. She's in a fragile place right now."

I told him, "I'm in a fragile place with my curriculum."

"I hear you say that your curriculum is important to you."  I knew what he was doing---trying to treat me like one of his nut jobs. Spare me. I've been teaching longer than he's been alive.
"No," I said, "What's important to me is teaching kids to stand on their own two feet."

"By shaming them?" He paced as he spoke. "By taking them down a notch?" He sat on a desk, rubbed his brow a bit, and took a deep breath. Some hippie yoga thing, probably.

"Look," I said. "I understand that you need to do your job, since parents aren't doing it anymore. But math is too important. Tell her she can come to you during English, or shop."

He opened his mouth like he was going to say something else, then nodded. "Okay." He turned to walk away, then stopped. "While I'm here, let me ask you---do you notice anything going on with Kassie Miller?"

"Which one is she again?"

"Donut girl."

Right. The vampire who threw a pastry at me. "Did you punish her?"

"Three days of ISS and you'll be getting an apology."

I nodded. "Good."

"So you don't notice anything else unusual?" he asked.

"Besides her note about the abortion?"

He stiffened, and caught his breath. I leaned in, almost whispering, "I've taught for thirty years. Believe me, I know more than you would ever expect."


tsonodablog said...

Well, I finally know what was on that note! WOW. Ms. Sombrowski is some piece of work. Twisted sister.
Good stuff, Nancy. Just make this into a book. I'll be standing in line....

Elaine A. said...

I can't imagine being a teacher these days. Seriously. Love the ending. Love your dialogue. Good one.

Karen said...

Ugh. This was hard to read, but I suppose that means you accomplished the goal of the prompt. And you've definitely taken this story a step further. Can we just transfer all the kids out of that class??

Erin said...

AH-HA! Now I know what was on the note!

When the book comes out can I get a signed copy?

From Tracie said...

I missed last week's let me tell you now. That was some powerful writing, you!! Powerful! I was thinking "survivors recognize each other" and then I read it there where you typed it. You completely captured that so well!

On to this week....

Oooooh! You followed the prompt, because that teacher was so so so annoying to me! SO annoying! Great job.

I love the interaction between the teacher and the counselor.

I also love that you revealed what was in the note. Any chance we will get a part 3 next week?

Kim said...

Loved how you juxtaposed old and new. I'm surrounded by teachers in my life, my mother, a handful of uncles, aunts, cousins and just about everybody on my husband's side. This scene rings very genuine. LOVED the vampire line. And her bias toward math.

Formerly known as Frau said...

Love it...keep going I'm hooked!

Erica M said...

That guy is far more than annoying. You drove the prompt over a cliff LOL. Is there a line you can add to show the reader why this guy is so horrible? He could use a sympathic edge so we don't stab the next 30-year veteran teacher we see.

Galit Breen said...

I love that you continued from last week!

As a former teacher I really get the clash that sometimes happens between veteran and new teachers. You captured that perfectly here.

You had so many wonderfully horrific one-liners here so we really got this jaded teacher and his poor students.

Love the ending- you opened the door for more, and I'm waiting for it!

Leighann said...

You blended the old and the née perfectly. I started out hating the teacher and his beliefs. You painted the picture so well. By the end my opinion on him might be changed. He might care just a bit?
I'm really invested in this story.
Great writing.

Nancy C said...

I clearly have gender identity issues. The teacher is a woman. The counselor is a man. How can I clarify this in the piece? Thanks in advance!

formerlyonlyamovie said...

Well, congrats, because I hate that teacher. I had the sense that the teacher was male too. Hmm...
Very accurate tho - I have gone up against that type as a parent and a teacher. It's a huge part of my job.

Kristy said...

Ugh, sadly there are teachers out there who really should just...retire. Great piece!

Ashley said...

Yikes! I did not see that coming! I love how you continued this from the last story. Man, that made me bummed out at the end. Great job! You really portrayed all of the characters perfectly! Wow!

CDG @ Move Over Mary Poppins! said...

I love love love that you can take an awful old battleaxe like her and remind us that, in her outdated way, she's just trying to do her job.

And you snuck in all that great detail about the counselor.

Sneaky fabulous you!

Sara said...

I like the way you create a nasty character. You do it well:~) I definitely do not like this teacher.

I think it's time for the kids to rebel and do what they do so well when they want to "GET" a teacher. I don't mean to say they should do anything totally illegal, but...Ms. Sombrowski needs a lesson.

Regarding the writing, your dialogue definitely moves naturally and feel very appropriate for each character. I liked how you waited for the counselor to be there and hear about the abortion note -- good timing.

This was a good read. Thanks:~)

Julie said...

Oh, wow. I hate this woman. Well done! I hope there is more coming - I didn't read last week's until today, but now I am totally hooked!

I especially thought you did an excellent job of showing instead of telling - her descriptions of her students really told us much more about her than about them.


Jenna said...

i agree that your showing not telling was well done, and that the lack of character that your character had came through loud and clear too! Ugh, I knew these people in high school for sure.

DaisyGal said...

wow Nancy, WOW. I'm speechless, but I liked this, really really liked it. It would make a good book or a good after school special to show how awful some teachers are these days. To be so judgemental and mean, on purpose.

the dialouge was so good, I am trying to work on that lately, I might have some questions for you. Other than that, your writing as always had me right in the moment, seeing these people. It was great.

Jennifer said...

I too agree that you nailed the storm that sometimes occurs when old school meets new school. The use of the word Oriental really, really nailed the teacher down in so many ways.

And the twist at the end, the abortion note as gossip made me want to do violent things to that nasty math teacher. Who even likes math anyway?

Renee said...

Whoa! Good work!
You created almost a caricature of an older, probably worn out teacher.
She is distasteful, yet you can feel her frustration with the changes in teaching.

Rebel Chick said...

For some reason, I wasn't surprised at all that he paid that much attention to the note...I hope you write more on this! I loved it!

MiMi said...

Oh geez! Talk about a twister! I read the one before and I TOTALLY did not see that coming. The note being about abortion. Wow!
Good story, here! I like it a lot!
Now make it a book. :) And send me a copy. SIGNED. :)

Mandyland said...

Good Lord!

The pacing was awesome, the twist insane and the teacher? Get. Her. Outta. There.

I didn't picture the counselor as a man last week and had a hard time doing so this week. I'm now sure why which is no help.

BUT, I enjoyed every single bit of this. Awesome job.

K said...

I love math, but I kinda hate this math teacher. Love the story.

noisycolorfullively said...

Ok, so somehow I missed this one. I totally got that Sombrowski was a Ms.

And I know I must be alone in this, but I don't hate her. I didn't get that she was sincerely mean or hateful. I think she's tough. And while she may come across as insensitive, I think she's working from a sincere place.

"No," I said, "What's important to me is teaching kids to stand on their own two feet."

I'm pretty bleeding heart, but I think sometimes kids need someone tough in their lives. This Ms. Sombrowski is probably doing a lot more good that anyone gives her credit for...