Wednesday, September 30, 2009


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet misjudge the dimensions of a playing field

The Maria Chronicles, #13

Maria, preoccupied with getting the Last of the Mohicans DVD into the computer in her classroom, is a little surprised to see Janey approach at the start of class on a late September Tuesday afternoon. Bent over the machine, she looks up. "What can I do for you, Janey? she asks.

"Hi, Ms. Bradstreet. Hi." She pauses. "I just wanted to let you know that I have an away soccer game at Poly tomorrow and that Coach Atkins said we need to be let out of class at 2:30 tomorrow.

This was not what Maria expected her to say. She stands up, now about Janey's height. "Oh he does, does he?"

"She, actually."

"Ah. She. She needs you at 2:30." Maria puckers her lips and nods her head slightly. "You know, Janey, I have needs, too. Like that colonial history essay you were supposed to give me last week. I never heard back from you regarding that e-mail I sent you yesterday asking about it. I need to grade that essay."

Janey's eyes dart across the room and back before she looks at Maria. "Yeah. OK. I'll turn it in tomorrow."

"Wonderful. So you'll turn it in at the start of of class, and I'll let you go halfway through at 2:30. We have a deal?"

"Uh. Yeah. OK." She walks to the back of the room and takes her seat next to her pal Karina.

Believe it when I see it, Maria thinks. She returns her attention to the pending film screening. With the movie cued, she asks Willie to pull down the shades and Kenny to shut off the lights. At one point she sees Janey staring off into space during the scene when Daniel Day-Lewis rescues Madeleine Stowe from the evil Magua. Maria's annoyance is trumped by her enthusiasm for the movie, which she must have seen a dozen times now. My God, she thinks, Daniel Day-Lewis is a handsome man.

Maria doesn't think about her exchange with Janey again until the next morning, when she arrives at work and sees through the doorway of department chair, Jen Abruzzi, who is on the phone. "Morning, Jen," she says. Jen looks at her, nods, and hold up a finger indicating she wants to speak with Maria in what seems to be the conclusion of her call. She turns away for a second to hang up and then comes out the door. "Good morning, Maria," she says. "Can you tell me what's happening with the Janey Wilcox situation?"

Maria is taken aback, and responds guardedly "Well, not much. I came to an understanding with Janey yesterday that if she gave me an overdue essay I would excuse her early for her soccer game."

Jen nods. "That was Ed on the phone."


"Ed Siborsky. The AD."


"The Athletic Director. Apparently Janey told Sherri Atkins, a part-time coach who doesn't actually teach here, that you weren't allowing her to participate in the game, so Sherri called Ed. Ed called me."

"I didn't say she couldn't participate." Maria pauses and then speaks, unable to contain her irritation. "And I didn't realize my handling of 'the situation' required three other people to get involved. Seems to me that the athletic people are encroaching on what should be an academic matter between student and teacher."

Jen maintains an even tone. "Well, I guess Janey couldn't or wouldn't finish the essay, so she reported she wasn't allowed to go. School policy is that students are to be excused for athletic events at the discretion of coaches, under the supervision of the AD, unless the kid is on academic probation. Ed checked with the high school office that Janey wasn't on probation, so he called me to find out what was going on. He probably should have called you directly, but we've worked together a lot on these things."

"I see."

"Ed's position is that when you tell a kid she can't make a game you're actually penalizing a whole team. He said Janey's coach describes her as 'the linchpin of the defense,' using her fingers as quotation marks to convey that she doesn't necessarily accept everything Ed says at face value.

"Since when do coaches use terms like 'linchpin?" asks Maria, who's only half-joking.

"Now, now Maria," wagging a finger that may also only be half in jest. "I reminded him that the burden of team spirit should fall on the child meeting her responsibilities, not on the teacher managing a course. Ed doesn't disagree. But he points out that this isn't always the way these things are understood by the student or her teammates, and that faculty don't always appreciate the impact of their decisions or the logistical difficulties the PE staff has in trying to organize games."

"Should that be my problem?"

"Don't get me wrong," Jen says, refusing to engage in direct argument. "I understand where you're coming from. If you decide that Janey really should be on academic probation, we'll get that form in and I'll back you with Ed a hundred percent. And he'll back down. I just want to clarify where we stand."

"That's exactly the problem," Maria replies. "I haven't actually seen any real work from this kid yet, so I don't know where we stand. I can't tell if she's lazy, or has a learning disability, or whatever. I don't like her classroom profile much. I probably should have more work from her than I do, which is partly my fault. But until I feel like I have a sense of her, I can't really say where she is. Except that I now know that she's pretty good at gaming the system."

Jen nods. "Well, I think you're going to have to decide if this is a battle you want to fight."

Maria chuckles mirthlessly. "I didn't realize I was in a war zone."

Jen smiles at her sympathetically. "This is just one of those things that happens when you're new. Not really anyone's fault."

No, Maria thinks. But that doesn't make her any less the loser. She believes Jen really would back her -- to a point, anyway. But she can't really afford to take on the Athletic Department now. She simply doesn't have the political capital. Yet conceding the point will undoubtedly cost her with the students. Jen Wilcox will be on the bus to Poly this afternoon, and everyone will know it. God knows if or when she'll actually see the essay, and when she does, any critical comments will be seen as Ms. Bradstreet having it in for her. Wilcox 1, Bradstreet 0.

Maria exhales sharply. "All right then," she says after what has been a long pause. "I'll tell Janey she can go, whether or not she gives me the essay."

"And I'll take care of Ed," Jen says.

"No," Maria says. "Let me do it. I'll send him an e-mail and apologize for my ignorance about school policies. Sounds like he's a reasonable guy. Probably better to take my lumps directly than for this to turn into some kind of lingering thing. Who knows, maybe he'll explain the point of soccer to me."

Jen smiles appreciatively at this plan. "Not bad, Maria. Not bad at all."

"Well, not good, at any rate. Serves me right. This is what I get for cutting gym so often."