He took the carton into the lounge room. Then with a mug of hot tea in hand and he pulled the coffee table up and rested his knees against it. Then, he lifted the carton up onto the couch beside him. The tedious task of sorting began as he separated the notebooks, plastic sleeves and folders into piles. Students’ note books and project work, he placed on the floor near the couch. Lorri’s personal files and lesson materials he placed on one end of the table. The work was nearly complete when he found it. Wedged between some student notebooks near the bottom of the box, it was a Tudor 240 page exercise book. As it did not have a name written on the front cover, he opened it. The handwriting was Lorri’s familiar slanting script. He began to read. The first entry was dated sometime in 2010. Eighteen months prior.
11 March 2010
I am not sure what the real problem is any more. Everything I am doing lately seems to be wrong or needs redoing because it is ‘inappropriate’ or I am told it is not appealing to the students. I chose a text that Lee has told me, is just wrong for the class. I thought we could do ‘Trust Me’ a collection of short stories but I was told they were ‘too childish’ and I had to do ‘Before I die’ which would deal with more mature themes. ‘She chose the text. It is rather grim. Before I die’ a short novel by Jenny Downham, about a girl who has only a few months to live and she wants to live life to the fullest. While it is well written, it deals with some risky behavior by the sick girl and her girlfriend Tessa. The two girls smoke, take drugs and indulge in some really risky sexual behaviours. Do we need to be so obsessed with drugs, drink and rock an roll? Lee thinks it is all about educating students to the potential dangers and teaching them to deal situations but we leave moral issues alone. Lee and I had words about what is appropriate and then the next day she gives me back my Visual Lit task for year 10 and tells me to make it block style and not indented. I said, ‘lee does it really matter?’ She says ‘Of course it does. Do as I ask you.’
I see the two other Year 10 teachers’ tasks on the desk. Neither of them is indented. They are block style. Is this petty or what? I indent the text and she looks at it for a few seconds and says to me, ‘I have changed my mind. It looked better before. Put it back into block style.’ Lucky I had the text saved in the other format. I just print it out again and take it over to her. She looks at it. Then she takes a red pen from her set of different coloured pens laid out on the desk, lined up next to the rubber and pencil sharpener on the left hand corner of her desk. She slashes through the second paragraph with the criteria and tells me ‘You need to rewrite it. The language is too sophisticated for students in year 10.’ I could not for the life of me see what was so difficult about the language used. So I asked her for suggestions, after all she is the head teacher.
There and then, she said to me, ‘you are a teacher too, you should be able to figure it out.’ I had to redo my Year 10 task for the Visual Literacy Unit a total of nine times and then when we finally got it right it was the original wording except for the use of ‘organize’ instead of ‘classify’.
I had changed it and changed it and then it went back to the original wording. I was beginning to feel desperate. I have never felt so wrong in all my life. I felt like the dumbest of the dumb. Unworthy to bear the title teacher. I just hope that this is not going to continue. I used to always have such a good report with my HT ‘s and students and my working colleagues. I just can’t understand what is going wrong. I left work with a dull ache like a tight band around my head and my heart pounding. I had marking to do, but did not want to stay at work at the school. I decided I would do it at home and bring my work in tomorrow in the morning. Brian will be there to get the kids up. I so need this job. We need this job and the money. I must try and do what she wants. I must not lose my job at any cost.
Brian took a long sip of his coffee. He began to feel like he might need something stronger. He flipped through the pages of the exercise book. It was 240 pages and possible two hundred pages of writing with possibly forty pages unwritten at the end. The next entry was dated the 16th of March, 2010. It was a Tuesday. It was not a long entry but it was water stained and the page was crumpled. She had underlined several words heavily.
16th March, 2010
Why is she doing this? What does she gain by it? I have not yet figured that one out. I have always worked in collaborative workplaces. It is as if she hates me! I want to work with her. I do not want to lose my job. Today one of the students passed a note in class. I happened to be standing behind her as she passed it into my hands instead of the student sitting behind her. I had been walking through the rows of students. A big year nine class with 28 students and nine of them are on behaviour cards including this girl. She tried to grab the note from my hands and actually crushed my fingers in her effort to retrieve the note. I did not let go of it and asked her to remove herself from the classroom. She just said ‘Make me!’ I sent a student out to get the head teacher. Then I stood next to the door of the classroom and asked her to leave the room. She began to shout and throw her things around.
‘Fuckin ‘ shit. You fuckin’ dickhead of a teacher. You are a fuckin’ bleedin’ dickhead.’You know that?’ she came up to me and stood close breathing her smoke laden breath into my face. I tried not to grimace. Then she swung her bag around and wacked me with it. Clearly intentional. While shocking, it was not as bad as what happened next. I gritted my teeth and said as quietly as I could, ‘Please leave now and stand outside.’ She laughed and told the class,’ She’s in me way. Should I smack her out of me way?’ the class burst into laughter and some applauded. Lee Hammer marched down the corridor her blonde corkscrew curls bobbing. She stood at the door. The laughter died.
Looks as things are a bit out of control, are they Lorri? Then she turned and addressed the students.
You need to behave for Mrs Witz. Don’t you lot want to pass your School Certificate next year?
There were a few mumblings and then an audible comment from the back row of students carried to the front.
‘Ow ken we pass with a fucken shit of a teacher like Witz. Sack the bitch and get someone else in ‘o knows what they’re doin’.
Lee stood at the door and scanned the students who fell silent. She turned to me and the student with her bag slung by this time over her shoulder.
‘Finish to question four,’ I told them ‘and then write a reflective response to the text.’ I motioned with my hand for the girl to leave the class room. Lee stood back from the door and waited.
‘So what’s going on? ‘She asked Tess. Tess screwed up her face and looked weepy.
Miss took a note from me ‘and. She snatched it and ‘urt me ‘and. She held the hand up for Lee ‘s inspection. It looked perfectly ok apart from the chipped black nail polish.
There was not a word to Tess about the fact that she was not supposed to be writing notes in class and no mention of the fact that black nail polish wasn’t a part of the school uniform. She turned to me.
‘Well, Mrs. Witz I guess you owe this student an apology. She says you hurt her hand.’ The students in the row next to the corridor wall tittered.
‘Mrs. Hammer, I think you may not have understood the situation. Tess was meant to be doing her work and not passing notes in class. In fact, I confiscated the note she was passing to the student behind her and she tried to snatch it back from me. Then she swore when she was asked to leave the room and actually belted me with her school bag when I insisted she leave.’
‘You were gunna read me bloody private note. ‘and you was standin’ in tha way otha door. ‘ow do you bleedin’ well spect me to go out when ye fat carcass is in me way? Ay AY?’ Lee put up her hand for quiet.
‘Shh, stop now Tess. Mrs Witz will apologise for snatching the note. And Lorraine, you need to stand back from the door, if you are asking a student to leave and you are in the doorway, it is kind of contradictory. You need to give students clear instructions that they can follow. Tess you can come with me and finish your work. Have you got all your work and your things? I will take the note and you can have it back after the lesson is over.’ She held out her hand for the note and like a chastised school girl I gave it over. She turned and said to me over her shoulder, ‘Lorraine, we need to talk in the first half of lunch.’
‘I have yard duty near the canteen.’ I blurted out.
She paused. ‘Do you? Ok, I will swap someone and you can do second half. We need to talk.’
I went back into the classroom seething and feeling completely misrepresented and deliberately undermined. In a daze I stumbled through the last half hour of the seventy five minute lesson. The bell went for lunch and I walked up to the staff room. Lee was there in the staff room. She had her booted foot up on the chair. She looked at me as I walked in.
‘That was most unprofessional. You are not to touch students.’ Taken aback, I blurted out, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘You apparently grabbed the note from Tess and you held her hand and used your finger to stroke her wrist. Then you stood so close to the door that she had no choice but to use her bag between you and her and she accidently hit you with the bag. She was so freaked out by what you did with the note and trying to hold her arm.’
At first I was furious and then amazed. But what was worst was that this Head Teacher was telling me that I am some sort of female pedophile and trying to come on to a student and a girl at that. It would have been funny, if it had not been so disgusting. I tried to tell her my side of the story and she did not listen. She blathered on about duty of care. I told her she should ask some of the other students in the room what had actually happened. I had the note in my hand because I had seen her try to pass it behind her while she had her head down and pretending that she was working. The boy behind her had half risen in his seat to take the note. That was what alerted me and I had indicated he was to sit and I took the note intended for him. She realized split seconds later and that was when all hell broke loose.
The conversation with Lee Hammer was bad enough, because it ended by her saying she would have to discuss this incident with the principal and other head teachers. I went down to playground duty. Tess was standing over to one side with her group of friends. They were the rough tarts of the town and proud of the fact. Sad little girls. I took my place near the lunch lines and ignored them. Suddenly I felt a presence at my back. It was one of Tess’s overweight friends with too much make-up and attitude.
She leant close to me reeking of cigarette smoke. I moved away, but not before I heard her whisper. ‘Lessy bitch. You are gunna get the sack. Leave Tess alone.’ I felt something close to palpitations and my chest hurt. I pretended I had not heard and I wanted to say to her how dare you? Leave me alone. But I could not. I decided to ignore irrelevant behaviour and do my duty. The bell went and I was lucky I had a spare. I decided to revise my lesson plans and do my registers for the first semester. The events of the day had upset me. Things were to get worst. Lee came in at the end of the day and told me that she had arranged a meeting with the principal and her to talk about my issues.
I want to talk to Brian about this but it seems so stupid. How do I say to my husband, one of the students today accused me of making a pass at her when I disciplined her for doing the wrong thing in class. Is he going to believe me? Is anyone going to believe me? The Head Teacher did not believe me. I decided to read and just do my job and it will all sort out. Hopefully. Tonight is Tommy’s second birthday. Work has become such an uncomfortable place.
Brian stopped reading. He put the exercise book down and walked over to the room they used as their office. There on the desk was Lorri’s last letter to him. He did not want to read it again. Instead he went to the phone and called Ella.
‘Where are you?’
‘Down in the coffee shop writing. What’s up, bro?’
‘Can you come back soon? I found a diary of Lorri’s in all that stuff that Maria and Rita bought over from the school.’
‘Ok. Where are the kids?’
‘They are with Rita and her children. She picked them up from childcare at midday and they are in the park.’
‘Ok. I will come now. Have you made anything for dinner or do you want me to get something from the supermarket? Why don’t we have fish?’
‘Fish sounds good. Ok. See you when you get here.’
‘Get rid of the old man kvetch. You sound half dead.’ The phone went dead and he debated whether to ring her back to protest or ask her what she meant by that remark. Instead he went into the kitchen and began to do the dishes. If they were going to make dinner, it should be in a clean and tidy kitchen. The potted happy plant looked very unhappy. He sprayed it and gave it some water. Then he had to clear the ledge of dead and dying herbs. The floor needed cleaning and the refrigerator was smeared with small palm prints. The family would soon be home with one notable exception. He needed to clean up.