Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Just a slice

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet size up a substitute teacher

The Maria Chronicles, # 27

Maria emerges from the salad bar having succumbed to the appeal of the pumpkin pie now on her tray and looks for a place to sit. She sees Jen Abruzzi at the far end of the cafeteria, waving her over. Maria can't see who's sitting opposite her until she puts the tray down beside him. And then Maria feels a knot in her solar plexus.

It's Cuff Man. The person she's seen around the school occasionally wearing slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Like they are today. Cuff Man.

"Hey Maria," Jen says brightly. "Do you know Jack Casey? He's a substitute math teacher."

"We've m
et," Jack says, extending his hand. "Maria, right?"

"Yes. Maria. Hello." Maria catches Jen's lingering looking at her.

"I met Maria at the library last time I subbed for Wayne Stanislakis. We had a little conversation about Ted Sizer's work."

"I'm a big fan," Jen says. "I read it in graduate school. Horace's Compromise and The Shopping Mall High School."

"Yes, but
Sizer didn't write Shopping Mall. That was another guy, Arthur Powell. He was a colleague of Sizer's at Harvard. That's actually an excellent book, too. Both of them remain remarkably relevant 25 years later."

"Well aren't you the expert," Jen says, amused in a slightly flirtatious way.

"Well, I read it relatively recently."

"Jack was telling me that he's new to teaching," Jen tells Maria.

Maria hears herself ask, "What were you doing before this?"

"Investment banking," Jack answers. "I was allied with the forces of darkness at Bear Stearns. I got out just before the firm imploded. Decided it was a wake-up call."

Glib, Maria thinks.

"Why teaching?" Jen asks.

"It was always something I was interested in. My mother was a kindergarten teacher; my dad taught science. I always thought what I wanted was to make a lot of money. But when I did, I realized it wasn't enough."

"So now
you're teaching?" That comes out a little harsher than Maria intends. She doesn't see a wedding band.

Jack doesn't seem to notice her chilliness. "After a fashion. I'm not certified, and I don't think I could stand what I know about Ed schools. So in terms of getting a job, that leaves private school teaching. Actually, I spend a lot of my time these days doing some volunteer work for Prep for Prep. I sub where I can for as long as I can, which I figure is a way of learning the lay of the land. Maybe at some point I'll be able to sort it all out."

"Fascinating," Jen says. "But with your business experience, it sounds like you might make a good administrator."

"Maybe. But I will confess that I love the classroom."

a's student Ali approaches the table. She's annoyed; she doesn't like to have her lunch interrupted, and is particularly unwilling to have it interrupted now. But Ali never makes eye contact with Maria. Instead, she's surprised to realize it's Jack he wants.

Jack stands up. "Ali. Glad you made it. Let's go over there and we can review the homework." He looks at Jen and then Maria. "Excuse me, ladies. I had a prior appointment with Ali here. But I very much enjoyed our conversation."

I'm no lady, Maria thinks.

"Take care, Jack," Jen says. "Nice to talk with you."

"This was fun," he says to Jen. "Maria, I believe I owe you a copy of Sizer's The Red Pencil. I'll get that to you at some point." But before Maria can respond -- before she can object -- he's gone.

Jen looks at Maria and raises her eyebrows. "Well," she says. "That was interesting."