Day 236 “True Merit”

Trudy rises well before dawn, throws on her sweats, grabs the dog leash, and the dog, and rushes out the door for a quick jog around the block, stopping only to allow Mitzy time to do her business.  Her husband, Frank, rolls over at the sound of her movements and absentmindedly reaches for her across the bed.  He moans with the realization that she is already gone.

“You didn’t get enough sleep!”  he chides her when she reappears, readying herself for the  morning ritual.

“Sleep is for the weak!”  comes her perky answer.

Frank rolls back over and resumes sleeping.  It will be an hour or so before his wife emerges from the bathroom, so he knows he has time.

Trudy’s morning ritual includes showering, styling her hair just right, applying just the right amount of makeup (including false eyelashes) and making sure her manicure is presentable.  As she coifs she runs down the day’s schedule:  meeting with parents at 8:00 am, report due to the Board by noon, meeting with Principal at 1:00, and a meeting of her staff at 2:30.  She has a class to teach in between, but there is just no time today, so she’ll have to ask Dorothy.  Trudy sighs.  Dorothy would not have been her first pick for her department, and she had tried to reject her, but the Principal insisted.  “Oh well,” she told herself, “I’ll just have to make the most of it – more work for me!”

The idea of more work never fazed Trudy.  She was a champion, and with her brains and capability, she was headed straight to the top.  She’d have to make sure Dorothy was clear about her expectations.

Black and white was the colour palette Trudy chose for this day.  She wanted to look and feel powerful and in charge.  Knee high black leather boots with stilletoes finished off the effect.  She was ready to go.  Slipping on her watch, she noticed that she was running behind.  “Oh well,”  she thought, “they can wait.”  She wouldn’t forgo her morning stop at Starbucks.

Dorothy arrived at school, early as usual, her salt and pepper hair barely dry yet.  She opened the doors, turned on all the lights and checked the agenda for the day.  Trudy, she noted, would be booked up, so that meant she would be taking on the task of her class.  “No problem,” she thought.  Dorothy co-taught most days with Trudy anyway, and to be honest, she preferred it when Trudy was busy, it gave her more autonomy with the class.

When Trudy’s 8:00 am appointment arrived, Dorothy ushered the parents into the meeting room, with apologies and assurances that Trudy would be along shortly.

Students started to arrive and her day began.  Questions, requests, complaints – Dorothy patiently dealt with each, and hurried the students along to their first class.  First period was always the quietest in their room, and Dorothy cherished this time to get organized for what typically turned out to be a challenging day.

Logging onto the computer, Dorothy intended to catch up with some of the paperwork that her position required.  She pulled out the overflowing file of  “to do”s” and started to search through for the most urgent, but stopped when she heard the distinct click, click of Trudy’s heels.

“Your eight o’clock is in the meeting room,”  she advised Trudy who was now fifteen minutes late.

“Can you hold them off a minute?” Trudy asked.  “I have to speak to the office first. Oh, and Dorothy, I will need you to take the class today – my notes are in the file.  They can just work on yesterday’s assignment, so you don’t have teach them anything new – I’d prefer to do that myself.  Can you also pull up the files I’ll need for the report I need to get done today.  Just leave them on my desk.  I will not want to be disturbed until it is finished.”

Obediently, Dorothy again advised the parents that Trudy would be along shortly, and offered tea or coffee as a peace offering.  “These parents have taken time out of their own busy schedule,”  she thought, shaking her head at her superior’s lack of courtesy.  Then she proceeded to complete the other tasks Trudy had given her, sending a quick message home to let her husband know she’d be late again today – no time to get to her own work.

Glancing up at the clock, she noted that there were ten more minutes before the changing of classes.  Dorothy would have test-takers, and some independent workers for period two, and she might be able to get through a few files.

She’d no sooner thought it, when a tall, slightly stooped boy appeared in her doorway.   His footwear caught her attention first – work boots, caked with mud – they appeared much too big for the gangly thin body they belonged to.  The boy wore a baseball cap and a t-shirt and jeans that hung loosely about him and reeked of dirt and sweat.  He was clutching a handful of crumpled papers and well-worn paperback.

“Hi Jack!  What’s up?”

“Miss P kicked me out of class,”  he said with a shy grin.  “She told me to come here.”

Dorothy pulled a chair up beside her.  “Let me have a look at what you’re working on,”  she invited.

Flattening out the papers, Dorothy noted that the pages lacked visible work.  “Are you supposed to complete each of these?”  she asked.

“Yep.”     Jack’s shoulders slouch a little more.  He doesn’t look at her.

“Jack, when was this work due?”

“Two weeks ago.  Miss P said I do it today or get zero.”

Dorothy tries to recollect any previous conversations with Miss P. about Jack.  How had this missed her?  She tries to keep on top of all her special needs children, and while Jack usually manages to stay under the radar, she had neglected to check.

“I apologize, Jack.  I had no idea you were having trouble.  Let’s see what we can do. Have you read the book yet?”

“No,”  Jack’s voice was tired – he’d been down this road before.  “You know I hate to read!”

Dorothy took the paperback from Jack.  “I know this book,”  she said enthusiastically.  “It’s actually not that bad.”

“Yea,”  Jack agreed.  “I read a bit of it.  It seems okay.”

The report Jack needed to complete was his final project for the class.  It would be worth twenty percent of his final grade.  Jack needed it to pass the class.  Dorothy looked at the pile of incomplete work.

“Pick one worksheet, and lets get started at lunch,” she advised Jack.  “I’ll read and you can answer the questions.”  Meantime, she’d talk to Jack’s teacher.  Jack was just one of the many students Dorothy saw in a day – students who ran the risk of falling through the cracks.

As the bell rang, Trudy came rushing through the room headed for her office.  “That was a waste of time!”  she remarked in passing, “I’ll be in my office.”

Dorothy stared at the closed door and wondered if anything important had been discussed that she should know about, however; the room quickly filled with students and her attention was dragged elsewhere.

Lunch came, and Dorothy and Jack settled into the back room with his book and papers.

“This question asks you to link a personal experience to something you read about in the book,”  she explained to Jack.  “Is there any part in the chapter we just read that you can relate to?”

“Totally,”  Jack’s response surprised her.  “You know the part where she talks about how she doesn’t know how she’ll ever learn to deal with the abuse at home?  I can relate to that!  Not abuse at home, but I’ve seen things that I wonder if I’ll ever get over.”

“Okay,”  Dorothy answers trying to hide her surprise.  “Let’s write about it.”

Jack, it turns out, was a volunteer fire fighter for the small community he lived in.  “I remember the first time I got called out to a car accident,”  he told Dorothy.  “The guy was dead.  To see at that blood and guts really shook me up.  We got some counselling, but I can’t ever get used to it.”

“You still volunteer?”

“Oh yeah.  It’s an important job.  Not everybody can do it.”

“I’m sure they can’t,”  Dorothy thought, seeing Jack in a whole new light.

“Can I see you in my office, now!” Trudy’s voice startled her.  “What are you doing in there?”

“Working with Jack.  Miss P sent him.”

“She also sent explicit instructions that we are not to do his work for him!”  Trudy scolded.  She showed Dorothy the email she’d received that very morning.

“Jack continues to be a problem in class, arriving late, not completing his work, and failing to demonstrate a willingness to comply.  I am sending him to you as one last chance.  It is important that Jack complete this work on his own to demonstrate his capability.  Please let him work in your room, but do not coach him in anyway.”

Dorothy’s heart sank.  “I just think that Jack is misunderstood,”  she started.

“Dorothy, you must be careful not to overstep your boundaries.  Jack has had plenty of chances, I don’t want you doing any more.”

“Well,”  Dorothy, who usually complied with Trudy’s wishes, was not willing to bend when it came to her students best interests.  “We are getting somewhere.  I’ll talk to his teacher myself.”

Another teacher popped his head before Trudy could reply and Dorothy took the opportunity to slink out.

“Jack,”  she said returning to the back room.  “We are on a roll and I want this to continue.  As long as you are working, you can stay here.  I will speak to your teachers for you.”

“Thanks Miss D!”  Jack looked hopeful.  “My friend Lisa said she would help me read on her breaks.”

Dorothy gave him a thumbs up as she headed towards his teacher’s classroom.

“She’s a useless piece of meat!”  Trudy’s voice boomed from her office.  Dorothy stopped in her tracks.  “Well, for one thing, she’s over fifty.  And she gives the student’s one on one attention, who’s got time for that!  I’m running out of patience here.”

Dorothy felt her own shoulders slouch.  Trudy’s phone conversation was disheartening.  It didn’t matter what Dorothy did, Trudy seemed to to disapprove.  She pushed on.  She and Jack had made a connection today, and Jack was making progress.  She refused to turn away now.

Just as she headed out the door, Miss P appeared.

“I’ve come to collect Jack’s work,”  she announced.  “You haven’t been helping him have you?”

“Hi P!”  Trudy emerged from her office.  “Come on in.  We were just talking about Jack.”

“I am so frustrated with that boy!”  Miss P exclaimed.  “He’s useless.”

Useless!  There was that word again.  Dorothy looked at her colleagues – young, smart, stylish – and the rage began to build up in her.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted, “but he is not useless! Do you know that young boy volunteers to save lives.”

“That’s nice, Dorothy, but it doesn’t get his school work done.”

“We are getting his school work done!”  Dorothy continued.  “Jack and I are making progress.  He needs help.  Jack has a legitimate learning disability and he has the right to help.  And if you don’t like that take it to the Board!”

Trudy and Miss P, shocked at this outburst, were momentarily speechless.

“Furthermore, that boy has witnessed more than all of us put together, and he may not like reading, but his heart is in the right place.  And that dear ladies, is what I would call true merit.  Jack not only deserves, but will get my help.”

Dorothy turned on her heels and walked out before she said more.

“Fine!”  Miss P yelled after her, “But I’m docking him marks for lateness.”





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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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