"What were you thinking?" the principal roared.
Stacy cringed. "I'm sorry sir. I just lost my head."
"I'm very disappointed in you. Frankly I expected better."
Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as she wiped her nose. "I'm sorry sir."
"Maybe you should consider another line of work. If you can't deal with one difficult student, that doesn't bode well for your career."
Fear gripped Stacy. She had become a teacher after determining her intended career was beyond her reach. Failing at her backup career would be too much to bear.
"Sir, please give me a chance to prove myself. I can improve. I know I can." A note of panic was evident in her voice.
Mr. Bo nestled his chin in the palm of his hand and sighed. "I might have something for you. Darren Tate is a young man that, by law, can't be left behind. He's an annoyance but never crosses the line enough to be expelled. His eighteenth birthday is well behind him, which should tell you enough right there. I've spoken with him and have been unable to convince him to drop out. The school board and I are concerned that his poor performance combined with similar poor performances by other young people may impact our funding."
Stacy gulped and nodded.
"You'll tutor him every day after school. I'll administer a weekly test to monitor your progress. At the end of the semester he will take a standardized test. It is imperative that he score in a desirable percentile. Let me remind you that you are the most junior teacher here and we will be facing budget challenges next year. This is your chance to prove you are worth keeping."
Hope with an undercurrent of anxiety welled within Stacy. "Thank you, sir. I'll do it."
He pulled a stack of books from a drawer. "Here is the material, please have a lesson plan ready to go on Monday."
Stacy scooped up the books. "Thank you, sir. I won't let you down. I swear." She scurried out the door. As she passed through the outer office, she locked eyes with a young man lounging in a chair. He was plain with a slight boyish look to his face. A tangible menace radiated from him. Stacy hoped she didn't look as nervous as she felt as she hurried past.
After dinner she immediately went to work. It had taken patience and determination to find this position. For almost a year she worked odds jobs to make ends meet while she searched. All that time she had sheltered a spark of hope and had not allowed it to extinguish. There was no way she was going to give up just yet. Bit by bit a plan of attack solidified as the hours passed. Sunday night her cheek rested on her pillow while visions of success danced in her head.
Stacy waited nervously behind her battered oak desk. She preferred nurturing and guiding students rather than being stern. Conflict always unsettled her. Stacy fantasized exciting Mr. Tate about his education, becoming his mentor, and turning his life around.
Mr. Bo opened her door and stepped inside. "Ms. Simm, this is Darren. I'll leave him in your capable hands." The young man following him was the same young man she passed in the office on Friday.
Without acknowledging her, Darren slipped into a desk and slouched in his chair. After exchanging pleasantries Mr. Bo excused himself and departed. Stacy wiped her hands on her pants and began her lesson. After thirty minutes he hadn't moved, or even taken notes. The surface of his desk was empty.
"Do you have any questions?" she asked.
"Yeah, can I go now?"
Frustration welled up in her. "Yes, that was enough for the first day. We'll start in earnest tomorrow." He was out of her room in a flash. She took a modicum of comfort in that fact that he expressed interest in something; even if it was leaving her class room. His behavior repeated the next two days. No notes were taken or questions asked. His disengaged, bored look never wavered. She stopped her lesson halfway through on Thursday when her frustration got the better of her.
"You're aware you have a checkpoint test tomorrow aren't you?"
"Do you understand what's at stake here?"
He shrugged. "Nothing for me, really."
She ground her teeth and clenched her fists at her sides. "This is your future we are talking about."
"I was in the office on Friday. I heard him yelling at you. It's really your future we are talking about."
Stacy blinked in surprise. Anger quickly replaced her initial shock. She thrust her pointer finger at the door. "Get out. Now." Darren shrugged and sauntered out of the room. Stacy paced back and forth for almost thirty minutes attempting to formulate a course of action for her troublesome student. Her anger didn't cool until late in the evening.
Butterflies flittered in her stomach as she sat in the lobby of the office. After what felt like an eternity, the door cracked open and Darren slipped out. He gave her a knowing smile as he walked past. Mr. Bo loomed over her. With trembling hands she took the test and glanced over the results. Darren had only answered two questions correctly. A small part of her was surprised he knew two answers.
"You are off to a rough start. I hope you have plans to improve," grumbled Mr. Bo.
As Monday ended she took a firm grip on her courage. Her usual approach hadn't worked so it was time for plan B. She slapped the test down in front of him. "Only two questions? A ten year old could answer more than that. If your future plans include living under an overpass and begging for change, then you are well on your way." Her intent was to spark his anger and use that as fuel to motivate him. His bored expression never changed.
"Are we done here?" he asked in that smooth, calm voice.
Stacy nodded. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday found her illustrating concepts on her whiteboard while Darren slouched deeply in his chair.
"Do you have any questions?" she asked as her Thursday lesson drew to a close.
"Yeah," he mumbled.
She perked up as a ripple of excitement ran through her. A notebook was in front of Darren and during the lecture she had seen his pencil move. She had snared his interest.
"What is me passing worth to you?" Darren asked.
Stacy stalked to his desk and turned the notebook towards her. It contained a rather elementary and quite rude sketch of her. She ripped the page free. "That's it. I've had enough of your behavior. I'm going to report you," she said.
"Do you want me to pass the test tomorrow?" She froze in her tracks. "I know you aren't Bo's favorite. I'm betting you are freshly minted from some fancy college. With a fancy education comes lots of bills. With jobs the way they are right now, it's gonna be hard to find work."
Stacy stared at the floor, extended an arm, and pointed at the door. "Leave now," she growled.
"No problem. I'm not the one with something to lose," Darren said over his shoulder as he departed.
Her stomach was sour and a sharp, acrid taste lingered in her mouth despite the mint under her tongue. Darren didn't look at her as he walked past. Mr. Bo handed her the test. All the answers were incorrect.
"I dare say this is almost becoming a trend, Ms. Simm," rumbled Mr. Bo. His voice was heavy with disappointment.
After dinner Stacy spread out all her financial documents on the kitchen table and set to work. Painstakingly, she tallied her income and her expenses. Stacy put her head in her hands. She was teetering on insolvency. After a long, hot bath she crawled into bed.
The next day she tried her luck at the numbers again. The result was the same. Lunch gave Stacy time to ponder her options. Her determination wrestled with her shame as she picked up her phone and dialed her sister. After exchanging pleasantries, she got down to business.
"Oh, Stacy. I thought this was behind us, especially after your sophomore semester."
"I know Jill. I know, but I'm in a bind and need help."
"Times are hard. James' commissions haven't been what they used to be. The twins needed braces. We are down to one car Stacy."
Her heart sank. One of her options, as few as they were, wasn't going to pan out. "I'm sorry Jill. I didn't know."
"I'll talk to James."
"Thanks Jill. I appreciate it." They chatted for a while longer. Having dispensed with the unseemly business they were able to talk casually. With the phone back in its cradle Stacy slumped in her chair.
It was mid-afternoon but her living room felt dark. Stacy swallowed down the catch in her throat and promised herself she wouldn't cry. Her eyes fell on the papers spread over her table. During the summer break she would need to work a couple jobs to begin to improve her position. Her thoughts drifted to Monday. She was an adult and it was time should took control of the situation. Darren was just a teenager after all.
When Monday arrived, Stacy felt calm. The day passed normally and for the first day in two weeks she felt like her old self. At the appointed time, Darren sauntered into her room. She positioned herself in front of his desk and planted her fists on her hips. The night before, she had practiced this pose in front of a mirror. Stacy felt it emphasized her authority, especially over a seated teenager.
"We've had a bad start Mr. Tate. Today we are going to remedy that. Get out a notebook and let's begin."
Darren lifted an eyebrow and reached into his bag. Stacy launched into her planned lecture. As she expanded on the material Darren never moved his pencil.
"That's all for today. You are dismissed," she announced.
.... There is more of this story ...