Algebra 2, Monday Morning
School starts way too early. It’s only third period, and already I’m exhausted. Which is my own fault for staying up late last night watching a Planet Earth II episode on Netflix. I can’t believe someone with a camera waits for hours and hours by a pond in the jungle to film five seconds of a frog snapping its tongue out at a dragonfly. Last night’s show eventually was about African elephants, and when it got to the part about them mating, I couldn’t stop watching.
David Attenborough, the narrator in his grandfather voice, tried to be witty, saying words like “romance” and “foreplay” and “insertion” while the male elephant tried to balance his front legs on the female’s back as she stomped around. The male’s legs kept sliding off, however, and the female kept lurching forward, but he wasn’t a quitter. He finally got it in, and like me, he was done in a minute.
I think my head hit the pillow around 1 A.M.
Other students hurry by my classroom – Room 129 here at Tremont High – during the exchange time while my Algebra 2 students saunter slowly into my room in threes or twos or alone. They smell of sweat and Egg McMuffins (a McDonald’s is across the street from the high school) as they shrug off their backpacks and slide into their desk seats. Sneakers, ripped jeans, sweatshirts – the teenage fashion statement for the day. Every day, to be sure. The dress code says no hats, but several boys are wearing Harley Davidson or John Deere or camouflage ball caps, and I let them because I don’t care that much about the dress code. Did I ever care about it? Although this is only my first year teaching, I still don’t get how a hat is a distraction. I feel slightly guilty that I’m not enforcing a school policy, but this is the first week of September; if I was going to make them take their hats off, I should have demanded it two weeks ago in August when the school year started.
Suddenly, this raven-haired girl with a ring in her nose rushes in and gravely tells me Mr. Chambers, the French teacher, is in the hospital with double pneumonia, and the French Club is raising money for him. Chambers? Double pneumonia? We have a French Club at this school? She’s trailed by a tall boy, maybe a basketball player, holding one of those large, plastic pretzel jugs only without the pretzels. He shoves the jug towards me and shakes it a little, making me think for a moment this is some sort of raffle. I don’t want to be the Scrooge the kids complain about later, so I pull out a dollar (actually I have three dollars in my pocket, but I’m saving another buck to get a Pepsi out of the machine in the teachers’ lounge at lunch) and throw the bill into the jug, which is, in fact, already half full of dollar bills and scattered coins at the very bottom. Clearly, this Chambers guy is popular. Unlike me, he must be one of the cool teachers.
If I was sick, would students and my colleagues throw in any dollars for me?
My dollar collected, the pair rush back into the hallway of Tremont High School on their way, I’m sure, to the next classroom.
Who is this Chambers? Doesn’t that woman on the second floor with the pink strands of hair teach French? Did I just get scammed?
I suddenly think of this Chambers guy and feel guilty I didn’t give my other dollar. The poor guy has double pneumonia, and I want a Pepsi.
I loosen my tie as the last of my Algebra 2 students shuffle in. Darren, however, rolls in, and he’s not wearing a hat. He’s not even wearing shoes. He notices me staring, grins, and says, “Hey, Miller, what’s up?” Then he stretches out in his front row seat, his hands behind his head.
“Why are you wearing roller skates?” I ask, my eyes on the rollers.
Darren scratches his thin neck and peers at his black roller skates. “I get to class a lot faster . . . You know, I glide down that hallway.” Actually, Darren uses several seconds to say the word glide, and to make his point, he extends both arms to his sides and slowly lifts them up and down, like he’s a surfer on top of a wave.
Hands on hips, I stare at him: a classic teacher pose. “Are roller skates allowed in this school?”
“I don’t know, Miller.” Darren glances again at the skates, like they’re his most important apparel. “You’re the first teacher who’s said anything.”
“Well, don’t roll around in class. Okay?”
His eyes tell me that it is none of my business what he does with his roller skates, and out loud, he groans, “Okay, I got you, Miller, but can we just get going with this algebra stuff?”
I only nod as the bell rings. I reach for my teacher’s Algebra 2 manual and announce, “Chapter two, page sixteen, everyone.”
Some students groan, some sluggishly open to page 16, a few perk up in their seats and pull out their homework. One of them is Cameron Slansky whose hand goes up immediately, his face is beaming with confidence. He starts waving his hand, as in “Call on me, call on me,” and he’s so energetic he reminds me of a swimmer signaling a lifeguard for help.
“What is it, Cameron?”
His hand goes down, and he smiles at me. “I think I know the answer.”
I glance around the room, but the other students’ eyes are either on page 16, their phones, or out the window. I’m wondering if I missed something when I turn back to Cameron. “But I haven’t even asked the question yet.”
He peers down briefly at his textbook and then back at me. “We had to do the odds, right? Weren’t you going to start with number one. I think I know the answer.” He smiles broadly.
He’s right. I was going to start with number one. “Okay, Cameron, go ahead.”
Am I in control here?
By Keith Manos 1050 words
38705 North Bay Drive
Willoughby, OH 44094
440-223-5394 ( C )