I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance blogging with working on some of my longer-term writing projects. I have a few things that are started, not finished, and begging for my attention. Most of these projects are too long to be a post, so I’ve decided to try something I’m calling “Sunday Story”, where I can use the motivation of this blog to return to some neglected writing, and post it in installments. I’d love to hear how it works (or doesn’t work) for readers… I know it might be hard to read stories chopped up into bits! Here’s my first Sunday Story (I think this one will be spread out over 3 Sundays…)
It’s the South Bronx, 1998, in a neighborhood with cratering sidewalks and too many nearly-abandoned buildings. The first-year teacher is standing in her classroom, a gray room with a gray linoleum floor on the second floor of an elementary school that is one block-long and four stories high. It’s a classroom that smells like sweaty coats and chalk dust, like worn rubber erasers and pencil shavings. And today, for the first time, it also smelled faintly fluorescent, like cheese puffs and grape soda.
Later, long after she moved on from that job in that school and its cratering sidewalks, she would remember that smell and all that came after. She would look back and wish that she could do that day, those last hours, all over again.
It was Halloween—the day the first-year teacher would hold her first official Class Party.
The first-year teacher glanced at the clock. The time read 2:15, but the sluggish red second hand said, “This day will never be over.” Her desk—piles of unchecked homework and notices home to be given out two days ago reproached her, saying, “Disorganized!” But the thing that made her saddest was the faded, torn list entitled “Our Community Rules” that she’d posted above the door early in September. It sagged, already yellowing and torn. It seemed to snicker at her, “Our rules? What community do you see anywhere in this room?”
As a girl, the first-year teacher had dreamed of having her own classroom, one she could fill with books and games, colorful rugs and paintings, and neat student work that hung in shiny rows. Most of all, she’d dreamed of a career helping people who needed it most, of giving all of her energy and love to children who would surely blossom with enough time and attention.
But instead of placing colorful rugs just so, she’d spent hours dragging abandoned, mildewed books out of her cabinets and hauling reams of paper and boxes of pencils from the bus stop to her classroom. Instead of singing cheerful songs, she’d resorted to tapping her chalk loudly on the chalkboard to get attention, and to threatening to send kids to the principal’s office. And instead of colorful paintings, she had… well, she had dollar-store, construction-paper masks.
As per the principal’s memo, she’d been informed that while she should provide an opportunity for students to change into their costumes at the end of the school day, not every student would bring a costume to school. This seemed a little sad and unfair to the first-year teacher, so she’d decided that mask-making would solve for the inequity.
As with pretty much all of the decisions made in her first year of teaching, only in hindsight could she see the gross miscalculations she’d made.