Teaching Partners

Mr. H and I were meeting for dinner to celebrate our successful project together during my student teaching.

He’d given me his phone number when we first started working on the writing project together for our students; his being ninth grade suburban students, mine being sixth grade inner city ones.  I was thrilled that it had worked out well.  I had wanted him to finally see me outside of my student role, or the sad single parent role.  I wanted him to see me as an equal now.

During the project, we’d talk on the phone to iron out details.  I described what the school was like, the neighborhood, the little I knew of their lives.  He’d never taught in an urban environment before.  He listened with the interest of someone who appreciated an experience in others that they personally had never experienced.  In turn he gave me experienced suggestions on how to tweak this or that in the lesson.  It finally felt like give and take.

We met at the Firehouse, a local bar and grill.  He was already there when I arrived, and he waved me back to the booth where he was already seated with a beer in front of him.  I could see he’d already ordered me a glass of white zinfandel, even though I was still a month off of my twenty first birthday.

“It’s good to see you,” he said with a hug.  Mr. H was six foot four, and I was five feet nothing.   I still hadn’t figured out the kosher way of greeting him, so I leaned awkwardly sideways into the embrace.  We were in this strange place where we were friendly, there was nothing untoward about it, but it still felt like there was an edge of something forbidden every time I made physical contact with him.

“You too,” I answered.  “Can’t believe the summer is already half gone.  It seems like yesterday we just started the winter term.  Sorry I couldn’t get together sooner.”  My mother’s schedule at work was unpredictable; she was watching Zachary tonight at home while I was out with Mr. H.

“That’s OK.  I know it’s hard to iron things out with Zach.”  I smiled.  I loved that I didn’t have to explain things to him.

“I thought overall, the project went really well,” he enthused.  “Still, too bad that our parents out here balked at the field trip down to the school.”

Yes, that was the one downside to our joint activity, and one I would have never shared with Mrs. Simmons or the kids in Highland Park.  The suburban kids created a video message for their fellow pen pals, a great montage tour of their school and personal messages from each student to their pen pal.  Ostensibly, the reason for the video was that we couldn’t clear busing at such a late date for a field trip, that they had to be booked much further in advance than I realized.  The truth was, enough parents of the suburban kids didn’t want them to go down to the city.  And the Highland Park kids could not afford to pay for the bus out to the ‘burbs, so the video seemed like a good compromise.

“Well I can’t wait to do something again.  I teach fourth grade in Roseville in the fall, so we’ll have to see if we can make something work with that age group.  It’s so much younger.”

“And less diverse in experience,” Mr. H countered.  “The justification really for our work with your other students, other than wanting to work with you, of course,” at this he winked at me and raised his glass, “was to have each group experience the diversity of the other one.  That wouldn’t be the case with kids from a suburb just a few miles south.”

“Fair enough,” I answered.  “I guess we’ll just have to find another justification to keep working together, somehow.”  I raised my glass right back at him.

“Definitely,” he said.  “We’ll come up with something.  So, what else is going on with you this summer?  Any wayward soldiers calling in the middle of the night still?”

God, he knew me well.  Sure, during our conversations last winter I’d let slip about my pen palling with Ray, the irony not being lost on either of us.

“As a matter of fact, he called a few days ago.  He’s coming home on leave.  He wants to spend some time with me.”  I stopped there, unsure of what to say next, because I was unsure of how I felt about it.

“Really?”  Mr. H. sounded like one of my girlfriends.  “Huh.  That’s pretty nervy of him.  What did you tell him?”

“Um.”  I looked down at my hands, and took another gulp of wine.  I didn’t want to admit to Mr. H, who knew everything, that not only did I tell Ray I would see him, I told him that I was looking forward to it.  “Well…”

Mr. H’s face suddenly got serious.  “You listen to me, little one.  You make sure that he knows the value of who he is dealing with here.  I am not going to lose my teaching partner with more potential than I’ve seen in years to the idiot behaviors of a user guy who just wants to get laid while he’s home on leave.”

I choked the mouthful of wine still in my mouth.  “Uh, nothing like being direct there.”

He laughed.  “He’s a guy.  He’s a twenty one year old guy.  I’ve been there.  Heck, half my brain is still there.  I know what he’s thinking, and I know what he’s planning.  All I’m telling you is that you’re worth more than he will make you feel like.  So be careful.  Promise me you’ll be careful.”

I looked up at him, looking at me.  My heart leapt at the affirmation, the compliment, the intensity.  “I promise,” I answered.

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