Thursday, November 24, 2011

Story Twentytwo: Welcome to School

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is another character sketch as some of the stories seem to want together. Perhaps I see a frame tale forming in some of the stories. So Janet's story is really her attitude for now and I have a kitchen calling me.


Janet hated the first day of school getting to know you exercises. This particularly teacher was all about sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence. She stared at the paper and finally picked up her pencil and wrote:
Bruins hockey, while exciting and enjoyable, exists to get me through the Red Sox off season.
Looking at her paper, she smiled. Succinct, unexpected and it also had the by-product of being true.

When the teacher collected their papers, Janet saw the pasted on smile fade a little when the teacher saw her paper on top. Coming from a boy, that kind of thing means one thing but from a girl, it’s still unexpected. In fact, Janet would postulate, the more liberal and “inclusive” the teacher, the more shocked they tended to be that she was “the sport” twin and her brother, Jason, was all about art and dance. It was even more fun for Janet because her brother looked like a line backer and she was often described as a “mere slip of a thing.”

“What an interesting philosophy,” the teacher smiled her teacher smile, “but I meant more along the lines of your philosophy towards school.”

“I don’t see how it needs to change,” Janet replied. “It doesn’t matter if I’m in school or not, the Bruins exist so there is meaning to the Red Sox off season.”

This was Janet’s favorite part, watching the internal debate about picking battles. She had already won this one. She knew she would win the next two as well. The share what book you read this summer and the share some place special you went this summer. She had been preparing this for the past week.

It didn’t take long before the share someplace special discussion got to her.

“My father and I went on a major league ball park tour this summer,” she said with a confident smile. “We went to see the Red Sox play in Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, Chicago, Baltimore and Kansas City. If nothing else, it convinced me the old Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers song about New England is absolutely right because I’ve ‘been out west to Californ.” She made her voice go up the way his does in the song that always got played before games at Fenway. “But I missed the land where I was born’”

A bunch of kids stated singing along with her when she sang “Oh New England” and her first thought about the impromptu concert was this was all priceless.

Score: Janet two, the new teacher still struggling. She was pretty sure she’d get one more in before the hallway talk. The teacher was struggling right now and Janet was glad. It was important to show these people early and often exactly who was in charge.

The teacher moved on and, not surprisingly, a couple of the goody two shoe kids did exactly as expected. When the teacher got to Jason, Janet wanted to hurl. Mr. Perfect’s philosophy was Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see,” and he talked about their major league baseball tour as having “a cross country RV trip with my family getting to enjoy things that were important to all of us.”

The teacher was regaining ground and Janet knew that the teacher now knew how to neutralize her. She would call on Janet early, cut her off and move on to one of the goodie two shoes. So she had a choice of employing the disaffected “whatever,” for the last piece of summer stuff or try to push her a bit more. She had a decision to make and she needed to make it soon.

“All of you had to read three books over the summer, two from the list that was sent to you and one free choice book. I’ll collect your book reports because it would take too long for all of us to share our reports. What I am going to do is ask you to just state the title of the free reading book.”

The teacher looked straight at Janet with a smile.

“Janet, would you like to start.”

“I read ‘The Baseball Codes” by Jason Turbow.”

The teacher smiled, “What a great book that is. I particularly loved some of the stories in there about some of my more favorite moments in baseball.”

Janet was speechless as the teacher moved on.

Damn, Janet two, teacher one.

After she went through the room they went through the usual first day thing - making name tags for lockers, handing out various books, folders and things as always. Towards the end of the day came the assignment notebooks, but this year the notebook was different than usual.

“I designed and make my own assignment books,” the teacher started. “One thing that will happen this year will be a lot of time management and learning how to break down tasks. It will start with me telling you how to break things down and progress through the year to you guys finding what works for you. You won’t just have 30 minutes of reading like everyone else. You will have weeks where you have free reading, weeks where you will have to read within a genre or subject and weeks where you will have will all have an assigned book. I do not accept late work unless your parents have provided a specific excuse in advance. That includes things like vacations, recitals and those sorts of things. Once a month you get a free homework pass. Some assignments the pass does not apply and I will tell you in advance. Second miss of an assignment you stay in during recess to do it. Third time is a conference with your parents.”

She looked at Janet on that one.

“Your first assignment is the book ‘How to be Like Jackie Robinson,’” she said. “Jason, could you please pass out the books,” and she indicated a milk crate off to the side.

“Now you get to hear a bit about me. I have been a Red Sox fan since before the designated hitter rule. I grew up spending afternoons at Fenway and you won’t meet a bigger fan than me. My husband and I are both teachers and he used to be a ball player back in the day.”

She paused as the kids built into an excited murmur and the questions began to slip out. She smiled and held up her hands.

“I’ll answer questions later and yes he did play in the major leagues for a short time. My job here this year is to take you from learning to read to reading to learn. It will also be helping some of you,” she looked directly at Janet, “understand it’s not a win or lose situation or competition. It’s about realizing that there’s a ton to learn and you are just really starting out.”

Janet looked at the teacher. By her reckoning right now, the teacher was dead even with her and starting to pull ahead. She needed to make a decision: did she want to start the year defeated? Then her brother dropped the book on the desk in front her with a thump.

“Hope your happy,” he hissed, “I have to read a stupid baseball book.”

She smiled.

“Along with reading for 30 minutes, you need to take your philosophy statement and turn it into a full essay with an introductory paragraph, three arguments supporting your philosophy and a concluding paragraph.”

Janet heard her brother’s groan and knew that the win didn’t need to mean she bested her teacher. Every minute Mr. Perfect was sulky was a victory for her. He hated going to Wrigley Park to catch a Cubs game and then the next day get to catch a Red Sox/White Sox game. She hated the art museum but in the end, it was worth the price of two ball games. Now they had to read a baseball based book and he would hate every minute of it.

Worked for her.

She thought she’d give this teacher a chance. Anyone who could torture her brother without blinking an eye was worth a chance. She’d leave them at even on for the first day and build from there.
Pulling out a blank sheet of paper in the few minutes they had, she started her essay.

“My philosophy is that Bruins hockey, while exciting and enjoyable, exists to get me through the Red Sox off season….”
It was going to be a good year.

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