Friday, March 4, 2011

46. Teachers

We enjoy an early spring in our state as a recompense for brutal summers and mercurial winters. So I was enjoying one and visiting, in my mind, a place far away in a time equally distant. I was aware that someone had taken the seat next to mine on the park bench where I sat. But I paid no attention until I felt a poke in my side and someone said, “You always did daydream a lot.”

I looked, and was startled to see, looking me over as if I were a newly captured criminal, my fifth-grade teacher, Miss Edith Rupe. Well, of course it was C.W., but the resemblance was so uncanny that I allowed myself to be transported back to 1953. It felt strangely comfortable, but then I am a white male.

“Do you remember me?” she said.

“Oh yes, you were everyone’s favorite.”

“Do you remember where I lived?”

“Yes, in a boarding house on Sixth Street.”

“From where I walked the eight blocks or so to work.”

“You never had a car?”

“Do you think a teacher in those days could afford a car?”

“What a about the bus?”

“I saved bus fare so I could have a parakeet—my only luxury.”

“Yes, I seem to remember when it died. Petey, or something like that was its name.”

“Something like that. It was a lonely time.”

“Did you have a good life?”

“What do you think?” She—it—leaned back on the bench and looked wistfully toward the river. “How good a life do you think an ‘old-maid’ had on a teacher’s pay in the 1950s?”

“Well, you were good at it”

She just looked at me as if I had passed wind or something.

“I mean, several people I know, who you taught …”

“Whom I taught.”

“Whom you taught, have done quite well. I know one, a stockbroker now, who made nearly a million dollars a year before he retired.”

“Yes, that made it all worthwhile.”

I looked to see if I could detect irony. Nothing. Just sadness.

“We all did a good job considering,” she said. “Teachers still do, don’t they?”

“Oh yes, and under very tough circumstances.”

“Then tell me something.” It was C.W. talking now.


“Why are your leaders trying to take teachers back to the conditions that existed in the old days? Don’t they respect them at all?”

“Well, some do.”

“What about the others?”

“Well, they seem to think things would be better with private schools, or even better with religious ones.”

“After what some of their leaders have been doing to those young boys?”

“Well, in some cases their thinking may be a little behind …” I stopped and flushed a crimson red.

Not Miss Rupe, but I did get your attention, right? - C.W,
Fortunately for me, Miss Rupe interrupted. “Before you buy into that “private school” thing, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” I was glad to change the subject.

“Did I ever teach you about a concept called ‘Cherry-picking’”?

I thought. “That is … when …”

“That is when you provide excellent service to those to whom it is profitable to provide excellent service—usually the rich—and let those to whom it is unprofitable to provide service—usually the poor—fend for themselves.”

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