Third graders Patricia, Billy and Denise meet at the bus stop for the first day of school in Anytown, N.M.
“Hey, guys, here we go again. Another school year with everyone trying to figure out if we are stupid or smart so they can make up some new tests. Adults are, like, weird,” Denise says.
“Yeah!” Patricia agrees. “Last year they gave our school an F at the beginning and a B at the end. It was like magic, all of a sudden we could read. I still can’t spell ‘jery’ but I know my dad had to go before one before they sent him to jail.”
“Oh, bummer, I heard about that,” Denise comforts. “Is your mom doing okay?”
Tears cloud Patricia’s eyes. “She’s still doing a lot of meth. My grandpa gave us some money so we won’t have to find another place to move this month.” There is a momentary silence as the kids think about their lot in life. Patricia breaks the silence. “I really don’t much care about going to school today.”
Denise agrees. “Yeah, me too. It’s terrible. Mom has the job at the convenience store but we can’t hardly afford nothin’. She met this guy and he helped out for a little while, but he’s gone now. I guess I am going to have a little brother or sister in seven months.”
“Does your mom help you with school work?” Patricia wonders.
“Nah, she just says I need to figure it out myself ’cause she is so tired. She really gets mad when I get bad grades though. She says it makes her look like a bad mom. Miss May said I needed to repeat second grade this year but my mom went down and raised such a stink they let me go on. I’m so scared it makes my stomach hurt.”
Patricia agrees. “But we are lucky to have a lot of teachers who really care about us. Some of them make me feel good inside and I wish I could take them home with me. They seem to be all, like, worried about this school grading stuff. I heard Miss May talking to Mrs. Johnson about teacher evacuation or something like that. It’s when someone comes in the classroom to watch your teacher teach.”
“No,” Denise corrects. “It’s not teacher evacuation. It’s teacher vacation.”
“Whatever,” Patricia says. “Anyway, Miss May told Mrs. Johnson understanding a teacher by just watching her for a short time would be like deciding to marry a guy after standing in line with him at the grocery store.”
Denise pondered that for a moment. “My mom would probably do that,” she said.
While the girls prattled on about school and life and threatening days ahead, they finally noticed, yuck, the boy. Billy sat staring morosely at the sidewalk and kicking dirt with his new tennis shoes. Billy’s parents were comfortably middle class, mom, a social climber who cared more about his honor roll status than what he learned, and dad, a jock.
“Hey, Billy,” Patricia said. “Why the grouchy face? First day of school is supposed to be fun!”
“Oh, it’s been a crappy summer,” Billy said. “My dad is all bummed out because I didn’t make Little League All Stars. And now my mom will be after me to make her look good by getting good grades. I wish they would just let me be a kid and help me be the best I can.”
The big yellow bus rounded the corner. As the three climbed aboard to begin another educational venture, the door squeezed shut behind them. “I wonder what’s wrong with our schools,” Patricia said as she settled into her seat.
Maybe New Mexico school czar Hanna Skandera ought to grade the parents?
Ned Cantwell –email@example.com – is a teacher dad.