DEDICATION: This story is for you Michelle - because I wanted to tell you where I come from - in more ways than one.
PLEASE NOTE: Parts of his story have a high "yuck" factor. If involuntary bodily functions turn you off then I suggest you find another story. Don't read this over lunch, and if you have something in your hand while reading it I suggest that something is not your sandwich. In a central scene, George is looking after a very small, very sick child - and her mother. It's not for the squeamish...
" ... and if you want to have an assignment marked I must have it no later than Friday noon in my e-mail. I am away all weekend and won't have time Monday morning," the teacher said over the general noise.
Most of the students in the room were already getting ready to leave and they were every bit as noisy as the teenagers who would usually be taught this kind of material, that is to say senior high school students. But while such high school students at the end of class would head off to their afternoon jobs or hang out with their friends - and the swotty few would go home to do homework, this group of students had a range of different agendas as wide as their age-span which went from mid-twenties to late sixties. Many of them had families they needed to get home to as soon as possible - either to relieve a spouse, or to dismiss a babysitter. It was eleven thirty at night and they all seemed tired.
What also set these mature age students apart from their teenaged counterparts was their dedication to their school work. Mindful that they had gotten a 'second chance' and often having difficult circumstances, they were much better prepared for class and much more consistent in handing in written work.
The course syllabus stipulated a minimum number of written assignments; but George - as the young teacher was called - offered students that they could do more if they wanted more practise before the exams. Provided he got them in time, he always did a thorough job marking them with individual comments and suggestions for further study. Many students accepted his offer and in consequence his course always had exceptional pass rates and grade averages despite his young age.
For George was actually the youngest in the room, although that didn't faze him. Despite his only 23 years, he was already an experienced teacher. Way back in primary school his own teachers, having recognized an unusual intellect, used (and sometimes misused) him to assist his classmates.
During his high school years he was a popular and sought after tutor, always willing to share his knowledge and understanding and never expecting - or indeed receiving - anything in return. Many a pretty girl would bat her eyelashes at him to get help with classes she was failing - either because she was stupid, or more likely, too lazy and preoccupied with everything but school work. George would help them, but none of them would dream of going out with him. His social life was virtually non-existent. He wasn't exactly a virgin when he finished high school, but his experience was very limited.
At University he studied with people very much like himself. The gender distribution in engineering was extremely skewed and the few girls there were even more socially awkward than him, so he hadn't had a steady girlfriend ever and not even a casual one for years.
To support himself during his undergraduate studies he had applied for - and to his amazement got - a job at an evening school specializing in teaching senior high school subjects to mature age students wanting to enter tertiary education. That fact that a uni freshman could get such a job was merely indicative of a desperate shortage of qualified high school teachers.
The school's principal hadn't expected much from George - his impossibly high grade average didn't say anything about potential teaching skills and the principal was simply pleased that he didn't have to cancel the courses for lack of a teacher.
As it turned out, George was a natural. The first indication came when the drop-out rate for his course nosedived. That was money in the bank for the school since their public subsidies ultimately depended not on the number of students enrolled but the number actually sitting for the examination. And when those exam results came back with the highest pass rate ever in the history of the school, the principal knew he had a winner and he ensured that George was offered to return the following year - which he happily did.
He was teaching two courses, each with 4 hours on a single night. It was a tough way of doing it, but many of the students couldn't manage being at school too many nights a week and it suited George fine having two nights working (Mondays and Tuesdays) and the remaining ones free for his own studies.
When George graduated at 21, he went straight on to do a master's degree and although he had a state scholarship for that, the stipend wasn't very big.
Having tired of the Danish "kollegium" system - which are essentially just cheap student accommodations with their dirty shared kitchens and endless noisy parties, George had spent a small inheritance from his parents on a share in an "andelslejlighed" - a coop apartment in the curious Danish system where dwellings are owned by a cooperative of the tenants, usually in one or at most a few neighbouring apartment buildings in the major cities. The apartment was small, although bigger than what he had had before - but the cost was stretching his finances so he was happy to stay on as an evening school teacher and even happier when he got his first pay-slip that year and discovered that his graduation had meant a sizeable jump in his pay.
Two years later he was a Master of Electrical Engineering, having specialized in advanced circuit design. His university department really wanted to keep him on with a view to doctorate. Since that is actually a real job with a real wage in Denmark it would take some time to organize, but in the meantime he was kept on as a research assistant with a similar wage to what he had been getting from his master's stipend.
George happily accepted and started just before the summer holidays. He liked it well enough, but he never really hit off with his colleagues who were all a bit nerdy - albeit elite nerds. In consequence his social life remained the same, i.e. non-existent. So in August when the principal - with hope against hope - asked if he still wanted to teach even though he now had a job, George said yes and the principal almost leapt with joy, as did his students.
The way the courses were laid out, you could either do one or two years of mathematics depending on what level you needed for the particular tertiary education you had set your mind on. Tuesday was the first year/single year course and Monday was the second year course. A few highly motivated students would do both at the same time, but most took them over two years. When George walked into the classroom on the first Monday evening in September, he was greeted with surprise and real appreciation and they were quickly off to their first lesson on advanced math.
One of the students was a woman called Christina. She was a single mother of a 4 year old daughter named Lena. Christina was in many ways a typical student at the school. She had dropped out of senior high school - which is a 3 year course in Denmark - midway through the second year, thoroughly fed up with school. Her elderly parents - her father was now dead and her mother close to 70 - had been very disappointed with her and never understood that she needed a break. 13 years ago there were plenty of well-paid jobs in the booming economy at the end of the last millennium and Christina had had a ball.
A few years later things started to get difficult. She had uninteresting lowly-paid jobs and 5½ years ago she was living in a failing relationship with an abusive boyfriend - the latest in a string of equally rootless contemporaries. In a disastrously misguided attempt at 'patching things up', she had quit taking the pill and had fallen pregnant almost instantly. Before she could say 'I'm pregnant, ' he was out of there never to be heard of again - he wanted no contact with Lena and was notoriously inconsistent in paying the minimal support he was obliged to pay under law.
Maternity pay is fairly generous in Denmark compared with many other places in the world, but it certainly doesn't make you rich. The local council had found Christina a small subsidized apartment in a public housing estate and the day-care for Lena - which she started at 6 months - was also heavily subsidised.
While Christina had been on maternity leave, the job market had gotten even worse. She was notoriously under-employed and could only just make ends meet. Just. But the New Millennium had brought in a new right-wing government and her situation started to erode.
For more than a century all Danish governments - regardless of whether they called themselves conservative, liberal or social democrat, had been heavily influenced by N.F.S. Grundtvig - a 19th century pastor, political philosopher, and hymn composer who, it is fair to say, had a much greater influence on the Danish political way of life than Marx or Friedman. In a nutshell, Grundtvig's - and with him, Denmark's - political philosophy was summed up in a line from one of his hymns: 'Then we in richness have made it well - when few have too much, and fewer too little'.
.... There is more of this story ...