Chapter Description: Clark is invited to give a presentation...in a class full of obnoxious Amazon third graders...for a teacher he barely knows. This could be a trap.
Chapter 8: Guest Lecturer
“Okay folks,” I said. “Check out this neat trick.” A bunch of Amazon third graders looked at me expectantly as I got ready to show them the math trick I’d worked out when I was bored. “We’re talking about the Greatest Common Factor, today.”
I got a chorus of exasperated groans in reply. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I know I know. This is soooo easy that you’re tired of it. Right? Right.”
More groans and shaking of heads. A hand went up. “Mrs. Grange, this stuff is haaaard!” A bunch of kids grumbled in agreement.
“Just give Mr. Gibson your attention,” Grange said, staying at her desk. “This will help and he only has half an hour.” My stomach grumbled. I was skipping lunch for this. Somehow, Brollish got wind of my plans to guest lecture in Mrs. Grange class.
I could leave my kiddos with Tracy in the lunchroom and skip my own lunch when I wasn’t required to be teaching, but I had to be “supervising” my preschoolers during their scheduled nap time. Beouf tried to have my back, but technically the giant bitch was within her rights as Principal.
“How can the baby teacher teach us math?” A kid I didn’t know asked; his cheek smashed lazily into the palm of his hand.
Mrs. Grange didn’t bother to get up from her desk. “Just because he teaches the babies doesn’t mean he doesn’t know much more than them, Kayden.” The kid sat up straight under her glare. “Or do you think you’ll be smarter than me once you’ve reached fourth grade?”
Another student behind Kayden tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. Gibson taught me to read!” she said. Holy crud, Hyacinth had gotten big! I almost didn’t recognize her.
“Please proceed, Mr. Gibson.”
I smiled. “Thank you Mrs. Grange.” I walked over to the board. “I assume you all have something to take notes on. Whiteboards or notebook paper?”
“They should all have their tablets out and ready, Mr. Gibson.” The few unprepared third graders took the hint and dug around in their desks.
I walked up to the board. “So let’s take a second to consider the words. Greatest Common Fac-..” And I stopped cold. I couldn’t reach the board. Out of habit, I looked around for a step stool. I found none. “Um...I can’t reach.”
Giggling from the students. My classroom wasn’t Little equipped either, but I’d been teaching in it so long that I’d adapted it for my purposes. Here? Not so much. “A chair please?” I said as calmly as I could. I glanced at the clock.
Tick. Tock. My stomach growled again. If I was even a minute late, Brollish would put it in my file. If I didn’t do a good enough job for Grange, I’d be “unreliable” or some bullshit, I was sure.
“Hurry!” Mrs. Grange. clapped. “Time is money, kids!”
A student pushed an empty chair up to the front and gave me a friendly nod. “Thank you Mason.” I nodded back. Mason was a good kid. I tried climbing up the chair and pulled myself up and I scrambled up. These chairs were NOT meant for someone my size.
I stood up and grabbed a stylus for the digital board. “Let’s talk about Greatest. Common. Factor. What does it mean? Let’s look at those words and use the commutative property of…”
“This is stupid!” A voice called from the back. “Why do we need to know this? When are we ever gonna use this stuff?”
“Jeremy Merriwether!” Mrs. Grange barked.
I held out my palm in the universal sign for “stop”. “I think I got this, Mrs. Grange.” Jeremy Merriwether was a former student of mine. “Question Mr. Merriwether?”
“Why do we gotta learn this?” He demanded to know. “When are we ever going to know this?”
“Besides the end of the year assessment?” I asked. He grunted in reply. “Maybe never,” I said. “But learning Math isn’t just about memorization. It’s about problem solving. It’s about learning the rules and relationships between things and seeing how they’re connected. It’s about-”
Jeremy stood up at his desk. “Why can’t we just memorize the facts? Why do we need tricks?” Jeremy always did have a penchant for interrupting. I’d hoped he’d grow out of it. Not yet, it seemed. I was disappointed. Disappointed, but not surprised.
I stood up tall in my chair, hands behind my back. “There are over a hundred trillion atoms in a single cell, Mr. Merriwhether. Would you rather memorize each individual atom, or figure out the patterns so you can worry about the bigger picture?”
The rest of the class looked at me as if I was some sort of guru. Wisdom from the mouths of Littles. Jeremy was not. “Gibson’s not even potty trained! He’s just a Little!”
“JEREMY-!” Grange was getting out of her seat. I didn’t know if Amazons had paddles in their desks or if that was just a rumor, and I didn’t need to find out.
I hopped down from the chair. “What’s two plus two, Mr. Merriwhether?”
“Could you teach me that?”
“Course I could. I know it.”
Damn, I loved it when Amazons got smug. “Then how could I not be potty trained? I potty trained you.” I said.
A beat of silence. Then the class erupted into laughter, and from their eyes and pointing fingers, it was obvious that they weren’t laughing at me, but with me. “Class...heheh” Mrs. Grange started hiding her mouth behind her hand. She was smiling. “Settle down...heh..heh.” The laughter didn’t stop. “It’s not that...it’s not that…”
I climbed back up on the chair in front of the board. It was easier the second time. I got a running start. I waved my hands to get their attention. “TO BE FAIR! TO BE FAIR!” I yelled over the laughter (and Jeremy’s angry scowl), “THAT WAS WHEN JEREMY WAS VERY YOUNG!” They started to settle down. Oddly enough, public humiliation seemed to be something of an Amazon ice -breaker. And standing up and waving my arms to get kids’ attention was nothing new. “THAT WHEN HE WAS VERY YOUNG! He’s much older now. You all are.”
Then Mrs. Grange threw in. “And do want to act like the older and mature third graders that I know you are? Or do you want to whine about how hard things are and act like one of Mr. Gibson’s current students instead of his graduated students?”
That brought everyone back to attention. A few of my former students actually grinned proudly at that. I grinned back at them, but inwardly I sighed. It always came back to maturity, with these people didn’t it? Typical Amazons. At least Mrs. Grange didn’t stoop to comparing her students to babies... or Littles. I looked up at the clock. Time to cram a thirty minute lesson into twenty. “As I was saying…”
That afternoon, after school, there was a knocking at my classroom door. I jogged over and pulled the cord on the handle, yanking it down and opening the door from the inside. The towering form on the other side pulled on the door. “Knock knock,” she said, still coming in. It was Mrs. Grange. She took a step in and froze. “Oops! Sorry about that, Mr. Gibson! I didn’t see you there.”
I was already backpedaling, more than used to Amazons about to knock me over. It was almost like that without some indicator that I was a baby, I was invisible at times and they wouldn’t think to look down, (even when they were entering my room).
“Well hello, Mrs. Grange!” My voice became all fake smiles. “What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to thank you again. About half of my kids, my lower half, too, really took to that trick you showed them during your lunch. If you ever have any others, talk to me and we’ll try to have you drop on by. Maybe get Mrs. Brollish to let you get your lunch,too.”
More fake smiles from me. “Oh sure,” I said. “I’ll let you know if I think of anything.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. I just had zero intention of agonizing over Oakshire’s Third Grade Math Curriculum and wasn’t going to lose any sleep agonizing over clever little workarounds. I’d done the other one because I was bored and Grange had stumbled onto it.
What Mrs. Grange’s students learned was another method to solve some niche math problems. What I’d learned was to hide my notes and scribblings better if I didn’t want to be put into sudden jeopardy.
“Were you able to get your lunch time back?”
I motioned to the empty cafeteria tray still laying on my desk; scraped clean. “Tracy snuck me something from the cafeteria during nap time. She’s good like that.”
“Ah,” Mrs. Grange said. “Well I loved having you in my classroom today.” She looked back over to the tray. “You’re lucky to have Tracy. I’m jealous.”
I bit down on my most caustic reply- something-something-kick-around-something, and instead said. “Assistants are nice. Definitely helps with my caseload. They can be a handful.”
“Yeah,” Grange agreed. “I bet they are. Mine are too, but they’re old enough to understand threats and I’m allowed to kick them out of my room for a couple of minutes.” She laughed at her own joke. “Must be nice to have another adult to talk to though. Gets lonely going six to seven hours with nothing but kids. Being in here with Tracy, with another adult, was a nice change of pace.”
Quietly, I sucked in my breath a bit, genuinely taken aback. Did this Amazon just casually label both me, a Little; and Tracy, a Tweener as ‘Adults’. “It’s one of the few perks,” I allowed. I was still weary of a trap of some kind, but I couldn’t see any sign of a bait or tripwire. Better to verbally high step it. “Doesn’t mean this job is easy though.” I instantly regretted that and backpedaled. “Nothing I can’t handle, of course.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Grange said. “I couldn’t handle your students all the time. They’re still babies, but you’re expected to turn them into tiny adults!” I felt myself nodding in earnest. Amazons did have some weird double standards regarding their parenting. They both spoiled their kids and expected them to grow up awfully quick. One tended to hinder the other. “Some days I feel like I can barely keep my guys in line, and they’re supposed to know better.” She put her hand on my shoulder and I almost flinched. Almost. “I’m really sorry about their behavior today. That was uncalled for and disrespectful.”
I tried not to look at her hand. It could slide off my shoulder and down to my wrist at any moment. “They’re a good bunch,” I said. Then I dared to add, “After they get the giggles out of their systems.”
She released my shoulder and stood up to her full height. “The way you talked to Jeremy Merriwether was hilarious.”
“Yeah,” I blushed a bit. “I’m sorry about that, Mrs. Grange.”
“Pffft,” she waved my apology off. “Jeremy’s an asshole who needed to be taken down a peg. I’m sure I’ll get an angry phone call from his mother. I’ve dealt with her before.”
I groaned. Mrs. Merriwether was no picnic either. “Me too.”
Grange turned to let herself out. “Thank you again.”
“No problem,” I said out of habit. “Have a good evening Mrs. Grange.”
She smiled, her hand frozen on the handle. “There aren’t any kids around. Call me ‘Janet’.”
Wow. Okay. Hadn’t seen that one coming. “I’m just old fashioned,” I said. “I was taught to call teachers by their proper titles.”
“Me too. And I was taught to refer to co-workers by their first names after hours.” Wow. I didn’t even call Beouf by her first name most of the time.
“Alright…Janet.” The name tasted funny on my tongue. Funny. But not bad. “I’m Clark.”
Mrs. Grange...Janet... opened the door, and stuck a foot out. “Thanks again...Clark.”