The Room Mom.
After Christmas vacation, a note in my mailbox explained that ten of my students had been transferred to another teacher’s room. Among them, Ryan Spencer. The school secretary did not stop what she was doing to answer any of my questions, and I made my way to my classroom, careful not to slip on the icy pavement. Kurt,our custodian was sprinkling sand on the sidewalk, greeting each of us, with “Be careful, you don’t want to fall. Happy New Year!” My Christmas purchase of a new pair of comfortable walking shoes made me feel like a new woman. I did not expect Mrs. Spencer to show up.
I was right. The whole morning passed quickly. When children asked why we had such a small class, I ventured changes were inevitable in our lives.
At noon, I walked my half-class to the cafeteria for the first time that year and felt great. The
was not known for great weather, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. But, it had good clean air most of the time, unlike the smog-laden pall over Antelope Valley The San Gabriels were our dividing line, the only real landmark to position ourselves outdoors during our physical education program. “Look to the South, look to the mountains!” I’d shout, often, as everything around us was flat and non-remarkable. The Mountains told us we were north of the other valleys that looked, smelled and acted like L.A. Here, jets from the Mojave conclave of Edwards Air Force Base reminded us often that our mission in life was to look up to new frontiers. L.A.
The sun was shining, though it hadn’t melted the ice and the snow on the ground. As I walked back to my room, I ran into the mousy first grade teacher who greeted me with enthusiasm.
“It’s so good to see you!” she said smiling, “Do you know that now I have your Evelyn in the afternoon?” A genuine halo of cheerfulness smiled down on her.
“Oh? ” I said less enthusiastically.
“I get the kindergarteners left over from the morning. Evelyn is still with you in the morning, right?”
“No! Her son and half the class has been moved.” I was feeling anxious about the conversation, and didn’t want to say anything that might be misunderstood.
“We were all envious when you got her…” Mousy chattered with no commas or periods and though I continued toward my room, not quite catching or responding to her, she kept on. Conversations get out of hand so quickly. You say something, meaning nothing, then, well. I wanted to ask her, how is it that you have your first grade all day and then add kinder in the afternoon? My goodness! I would have quit if I had no help. I mean, how do they prioritize these things?
Right at my door, she added, “I heard Mrs. Macke always wanted sixth grade. But they always gave it to you.”
If I responded to her, I could get the information I needed; nobody else seemed to get into the conversation. I mumbled, “If two of us want the same assignment, we draw straws.”
“Well, her test scores were never high enough, so she couldn’t really bargain for anything with you having so much seniority. How did you do this year?”
Ah, ah! The test scores conundrum. I shouldn’t be talking to Mousy about this.
“There is plenty of time to…” I started to say something vague and unimportant, nothing she could quote to somebody else and get me in hot water. I had learned that these new teachers were so eager to please they became conduit of instant interpretation.
“Easy for you to say!” She rebutted all too fast, before she knew what was on my mind, “ You’re about to retire and nobody… Oh no! I didn’t mean that!!”
She looked concerned.
They were all counting the days to my retirement. I had no intention of retiring. What would I do with all my time, with nothing to do, with no grandchildren to spend time on? My only son moved to
following his hippie girlfriend, to live out their environmental dream, and doesn’t even call me on Mother’s Day. No. Retirement was not appealing to me. Oregon
“How many students does she have now?” I asked, to be polite. We were at my room, and she walked in and sat down in the front seat by my desk, as though she had been invited to fill me in on all the details of the change in my class.
“Some of her fifth were combined with fourth. And some of the fourth went to third. I got Jennifer’s kinder so she can be assistant principal in the afternoon. Isn’t that a great idea?”
“Mrs. Spencer must have put a good word in for her.”
“They are sisters! The entire family is devoted to this school. You should have seen the lunch they catered for us at the Christmas Party. Oh, I forgot. You didn’t come.”
I was too old to handle a full classroom, they thought. Maybe this whole change was Mrs. Spencer’s and her sister’s idea. How could they get away with so many changes for so many families in the middle of the year?
The first bell rang, and Mousy gathered her stuff to leave. I noticed she left her paper bag on the desk. I looked to clear other stuff from the desk, since the child that had sat there had been transferred. I wanted nothing out of place. Then, I moved down to Ryan’s desk where I found a crumbled piece of paper in his textbook. Instead of automatically tossing it in the trash with everything else, I read it. It was a typed list of people he hated and was going to take care of. Five names. My name at the top.
My children were lining up outside, but right then, I marched over to the office to talk to the Principal.
“This is what Ryan Spencer left in his desk! What are going to do about this?” I said as I approached Mrs. Jones’s desk. She was on the phone and motioned for me to wait. Well, I couldn’t wait, not with the bell and the kids waiting in the hall, confused that I left my room after the bell. I waved the note at her, and left it on the desk, fuming on the way out.
Nothing like this had ever happened in this room, I thought. No student had ever threatened other students in this way, or their teachers. What have I ever done to Ryan Spencer to get him so riled up? What was going on with that family?
At the end of the day, after everyone left and the bus duty was over, I went back to talk to Mrs. Jones. I was going to talk about the note and also about the bill Mrs. Spencer had accrued for the holiday show, which had bothered me all Christmas vacation. I had even decided to pay for those things and be done with. No. This is the final straw, I thought.
“Did she see the note I left her?” I inquired of Marylyn, the secretary, after she told me Mrs. Jones had left campus.
Marylyn didn’t know anything about the note.
“Well, there is another thing she needs to have. Give her this when she returns.” I gave the secretary the bill of the Christmas program expenses Mrs. Spencer had accrued.
Marylyn looked confused.
“You see? Mrs. Spencer had no permission to spend that money. She had offered to help, to come up with the sets. Instead, she went out and spent all this money with no permission from anybody. Mrs. Jones or somebody might have given her permission. But I didn’t!”
Feeling exhausted and light-headed, I walked straight out of the office and to the parking lot. I left school at 3:00 p.m. for the first time in my teaching life.