Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet try to handle dishonesty honestly

The Maria Chronicles, #50

Maria expects there to be a phone message waiting for her when she picks up the phone at her desk, and there is. "Mrs. Bradstreet," a voice intones, "this is Dr. Ronald Chiklis, father of Jacob Chiklis. Jake tells me you believe he cheated on an exam he took yesterday. I would like to hear your evidence for this assertion. I will be calling you again later today and/or following up with an email."

Hearing Chiklis's voice reminds Maria of the irritating conversation they had last fall, when he challenged the grade his son received on his essay, Maria suspects, because the Good Doctor himself had a large hand in its argument, if not its execution. Just one more reason she correctly felt dread when she saw Jake looking at Kenny's answers during an exam yesterday.

There's no doubt in Maria's mind now that Jake was cheating. At the time, it seemed surreal, and she didn't want to believe it, in part because the reality of a cheater was going to complicate her life. Maria is not a longtime teacher at the school, something that weakens her when dealing with the likes of Chiklis, and she has felt increasingly isolated ever since budgetary concerns have placed her job in jeopardy. She could take the matter to the principal, and she's aware that there is some kind of disciplinary committee. But she's really hoping that she can contain the controversy by having some kind of candid conversation with Jake, whom she's summoned to come see here this morning. And here he is.

"Good morning, Jake," she says as cheerfully as she can to a notably morose kid. "Like the jacket." It's a dark green windbreaker, seemingly new. "Pull up a chair," she says. He does an unloads a blue backpack from his shoulder.

Maria swivels in her desk chair to face him, dragging her cast-bound foot from the fall on a set of stairs four weeks earlier. "Jake, I want to you to tell me what happened yesterday."

Jake looks down and turns away. "I don't know what happened," he says dejectedly. "I was overwhelmed. I had a chem lab and an English essay and your test. And no time to study, because I had a baseball game Tuesday at Poly and didn't get home until late. And I saw all these questions I didn't know and I just panicked."

"You panicked," Maria repeats.

"Yeah. I just panicked. It's like I went into circuit overload, and I had to do something, anything, to just push my way through."

Maria nods. "I see." She pauses. "Did you not think we could talk about it?"

"What would there be to say?" he asks, irritated, looking at her briefly and then away. "That's not something you could fix. Talking only makes things worse. I made the mistake of telling my mom, who told my dad, who of course hit the roof."

"Yes, I got a message from him."

"Sorry. I told him not to do that."

"Not your fault." Maria's unsure where to go. Return to the test? Talk about workload? "Jake, I know that keeping the balls in the air can be hard sometimes. But you know, you're not half bad at it. I mean, you've been doing OK in my class."

"Yeah, well, tell my dad about it. He's even more upset with my grade in chemistry, which he insists on trying to teach me."

"I certainly can talk with your dad."

"Wouldn't do any good."

"Do you know what would?"


Maria purses her lips. "Jake, I don't think we can undo what you did yesterday. You would have failed the test yesterday anyway. But it doesn't have to be the last word in our work together."

Jake puts his hand on his forehead. "So what does that mean?"

"Well, it means that you've fallen into a hole. But it's a hole you can dig yourself out of."

"Great," he says in a voice of bitter dejection. "Just what I need. More work."

"Not necessarily. Jake, do you do read the assigned homework?"

"Sometimes I do," he answers candidly. "Like on the bus. But sometimes I just can't get to it. I just have too much other stuff --"

Maria cuts him off. "I get it. And that's OK. The thing is, Jake, you don't talk much in class. You could help yourself, and me, by speaking up more."

Jake pouts. "Yeah, I guess. But a lot of times I just agree with what other people are saying."

"What if I called on you first? If you know it was coming?"

"Yeah, but what if I don't know the answer?"

"Then you say 'I don't know.' No crime in that. But I'd probably ask you a question you did know -- or, at any rate, a question that's more of a request for an opinion. The important thing would be for me to feel that you were actually paying attention, and that I could ask you a question without you feeling that you were being ambushed. It wouldn't be a 'gotcha' thing. I think that would be good for the class to see, and it would be good in that it might make it easier for me to do this with some of the other kids."

"Yeah, I guess." He hesitates. "But what would this mean for my grade?"

"I don't know. Not trying to be coy here. I'm not going to saddle you with more work. But I am going to be watching to see how you engage. I think it's quite possible that come June what happened yesterday will make no difference at all."

Jake looks down and nods. And then he looks up. "OK, Ms. Bradstreet. I can do that."

"Great. We have a deal."

Jake stands up. "Look, I'm really sorry this happened. I didn't really want to do it. And I didn't want to do it to you. I don't really know why it happened."

"I don't either, Jake. And I know that you've still got stuff to deal with. But there's no reason why you and me can't finish the year on an even keel."

"Yeah, OK." He hoists his backpack on his shoulder. "I gotta get to class. Thanks a lot, Ms. Bradstreet."

"OK Jake. See you this afternoon."

Jake has been gone for all of thirty seconds when the phone rings. Maria knows who this is.

"Mrs. Bradstreet?"

"Yes. This is Ms. Bradstreet. You must be Dr. Chiklis."

"That's right. I want to talk with you about that exam yesterday."

"Well, I don't believe that will be necessary, Dr. Chiklis. Your son and I had a conversation and worked things out."

"Worked things out, you say? What did you work out?"

"Well, maybe you should have a conversation with him about that."

"Oh you can be sure I will. But right now I'd like to have a conversation with you."

"I don't think that's necessary, Doctor."

"But I think it is. You're the teacher of my son. If I ask you --"

"I suggest you listen to what your son has to say, Dr. Chiklis."

"Who do you think you are, Ms. Bradstreet? Do you think that as a teacher at this school you can simply refuse --"

"Since I'm likely soon be an ex-teacher at this school, I think I can, Dr. Chiklis. Please listen to your son. And have a good day." Maria hangs up.

Oh, that felt good, she thinks. May well be a mistake, but God that felt good.