Four days of inservice is the equivalent to forty years in the desert. The minutes pelt a psyche with the same frequency as grains of sand in a storm while wandering in search of a home. The pain of the days is tolerated so the mortgage can get paid and no teacher should ever feel ashamed for succumbing to positive constructive daydreaming. After all, survival is the name of our game and getting through the days before school builds a toughness that will serve teachers well over the next one hundred eighty days.
There were times during the meetings that Jack felt as if he was listening to Portuguese. He excused that away as subliminal influence from watching the Olympics in Rio. He was full of contradictions about this new year. His previous school year had been anything but traditional. The year had gone without incident. In fact, he was quite sure that the year had been his best year of teaching. After being an educator for nearly twenty five years, he was scared to think that he might have tapped into some kind of magic. His default feeling about the start of school had been programmed into him by a mentor just under a quarter century ago, “Don’t take the gorilla suit off. Once you do you can’t put it back on.” All the years of demanding respect and playing the tough guy had left Jack wondering why he ever got into teaching. The previous year he went about being singleminded. The goal was to have zero problems with students. He went against instinct in a way that could have had him hired by the New York Yankees given the right sit-com scenario. He tried to be nice from the start, which would have been forbidden under the old advice.
A strange thing happened as he pursued a “no conflict” professional life. He began liking work. The kids seemed nicer and more willing to try new things. Emails from The Commander, his principal, stopped filling his inbox. Life was good and the Frank Costanza theory of bliss and advancement proved to be real and not fiction. On this first day of the new school year, with PIOUS training in his tool box of teaching sorcery, Jack was ready to make all kinds of freestyle connections with kids.
An empty school is a sanctuary. They are so quiet and the light is so clean. Hallways pave the way with inspired directions. Benches in front of windows grant those fortunate enough to take a quiet moment of sitting the feeling of being on a chateau’s veranda. Jack loved getting to school before the first day’s mayhem. As he walked past a pigeon, he recognized it as a dove and felt as if his summer’s journey, even with its inservice shenanigans, was about to find security in learning’s house. Instead of being prescient, Jack was misguided by an expired coupon of hope. He ran into The Commander.
The Commander was an average man, neither fit nor fat, not smart or dumb, just average. He wore clothes long past their ability to hang properly. Jack thought of The Commander like a kid from high school, who was man enough to smoke a Swisher Sweet, but not so bold as to stay calm while riding in the backseat of a car that was racing around a tight curve on a dirt road in the dark of the night. He did excel in one area as a leader. He knew how to follow orders and wield the sword for his boss, The Commandress, so she would not get any blood on her bodice. The Commander was a master living life in a protective cocoon of Teflon where nothing stuck to him and everything was somebody else’s fault. Jack admired that quality, although he felt a bit disingenuous admitting it. When he saw The Commander, Jack felt the serenity leave him and he began humming that reaper song by Blue Oyster Cult.
“Good morning, Jack.”
“This is going to be a great year,” said The Commander.
“Yes, I think it will be, too.”
“Jack, I’ve been thinking. Maybe we should let the past go and start over. We are in this together and I think it would be beneficial if we could work together instead of being at odds with each other.”
“I don’t have a problem with you. I respect you as a boss.”
“Now, Jack, you know things that happened before were out of my control. I follow orders. I had to do what I had to do.”
“And you did. That’s in the past, like you said. I’m over it and looking forward to a PIOUS year and a continuation of what I started last year.”
“Really, you had a good year last year?”
“I did, so good that we never got the opportunity to speak to each other.”
The Commander did not know how to take that, “Uh, yeah, I guess we didn’t. Well, have a great year. I’m looking forward to not talking to you again this year. Hahahahaha.”
Jack smiled, “Me too.” He turned to his office and walked into nirvana. There was just enough light coming from the windows on the far side of the locker room to allow Jack to keep the lights off. He sat back into he chair and turned on Pandora which happened to be on the Dire Straits channel. Brother’s In Arms came on and Jack leaned back against the cool wall and took in every note of the song. Just as it ended, he could hear voices on the other side of his office wall. Students were walking to their homerooms. They talked, but Jack could not make out what they were saying. The tones of their voices suggested excitement, regret, and resignation about the start of the school year. Thoughts of The Commander were long gone, having been replaced by the peaceful energy Jack felt before he saw the average man.
Before leaving the office to assist lost freshmen, Jack wrote on a dry erase board, “We can all help people get better.”