By Profe Steve
Profe Stevens stopped speaking and crossed his arms, staring balefully at the twenty-some-odd eager faces in front of him, waiting for silence to fall. He closed his eyes as it registered on his befogged mind that he might be waiting for a while; perhaps some were not as eager as others.
"Mama warned me there would be days like this. Don’t be a teacher,” she always said. “They will break your heart,” she always said. His hand groped blindly over the top of his desk in search of his coffee mug.
Stevens sighed, imagining warm sand under his swim trunks, one hand holding a bottle of sunscreen and the other a Dr Pepper. He envied his peers from other schools who were already kicked back with mojitos and tacos while the golden sun burned away the memories of the last few weeks.
Stevens opened his eye and gave Johnny and Pablo his medium-wattage glare. It was their first offense of the day, so they did not warrant the full “Death Stare.”
When he unleashed that look, the kids shuddered, wailed, and quickly policed themselves back into order, knowing that someone was about to get it. Not the office, no. Stevens did not believe in sending his problems to the principal.
He had other, more effective was of dealing with them, like showing up in the weight room for a little challenge. The kids knew. They also knew that he would normally help them with anything because that’s just the way he was.
Chris and Hannah weren’t speaking to each other again. Stevens had seen the frosty look on her face as she entered the room balancing a stack of books, computers, backpack and assorted flotsam that was almost as tall as she was.
He often wondered how she managed to wrangle that heavy a load day after day, but supposed that she must lift weights after school or some such. Her dramatic entrance warranted a raised eye-brow from the teacher, but Chris simply shrugged, looking baffled as the wind of her passing left icicles on the quartet in the center of the room.
Poor kid. If they kept dating, he would likely wear that look a lot. The kids were all in their desks for a change, but Audra and Olive were making paper wads to toss at Brandon and Scott.
Stevens moved a little closer and cleared his throat, making them hide the projectiles and start fumbling for papers. The chat didn’t slow much, but at least they were getting ready.
Damien and his group were playing “tattoo artist” again, and his arm was covered with fresh designs. Stevens had to admit that Luis was really good and wondered if the boy would work on the design he wanted for his next ink.
Stevens shrugged, it might turn out to be a great tattoo, but could cause problems. While this was going on, Sarah and Al, seated on either side of Tristan, were both leaning over the poor boy’s desk both trying to advise him at the same time.
Meanwhile Austin tried to look cool but was listening to see if he could pick out the answers to yesterday’s homework. If the other two would let him think, he might have a chance of getting the answers.
Mary had her headphones in again, so Stevens walked by and whispered for her to please join the class. She removed them, but he knew they would be back by the time he got up the next aisle. At least she passed the tests.
Stevens sighed as he walked away, and jumped as he caught a glimpse of Puppy Eyes boring a hole through him. He could not remember exactly when he had mentally given her the nickname, but that look was disconcerting.
He never knew where she would be sitting from one day to the next. Mostly a loner, she did get along well with others, but still preferred to work alone.
Puppy Eyes tried to pick up the pencil that she had dropped and almost fell out of her chair. She squealed in fright, which drew a face palm from him. How long until he could go to the South Padre?
As he took roll, Stevens thought about the little steakhouse near the beach. The tea was always cold and the baked potatoes hot. He could almost taste the butter and cheese as he glanced up to see Kat and Kari trading nail polish advice with Abigail.
It must be the latest project for the cheer squad. A quick shake of his head told them that they had been seen, so they reluctantly put it all away and got their vocabulary forms.
The three liked to work together, and it was a good system for them. Stevens knew they were neither shallow nor vain, they just liked the trappings of growing into women and liked finding themselves.
Every day was a new adventure, a new challenge, and sometimes even Uncle Billy Bob had no wisdom to offer them. Stevens tried to teach Spanish, but mostly wanted to help these kids navigate their teen years.
He remembered what it was like, and wondered if he had given his teachers ulcers. He said a prayer just in case. He didn’t want Karma to bit him on the backside.
Attendance done, Stevens punched the button to throw the view on his computer up onto the screen in the front and moved over to the center of the room, the smile returning to his face. How long would it take these yahoos to figure out his method; figure out that he was an actor on stage?
He hoped he could get through another six days, because then he would be telling this group goodbye at the door and watching their excited faces as they left. One more day down. One more day closer to summer. Hurry summer!
“¡Buenas tardes, clase!” He began the ritual and slowly the rest of the group joined in with him, echoing the formal greeting with which he always began class. It was silly, but somehow it added a level of comfort to the proceeding. "Buenas tardes, Profe," they echoed.
As they talked about the weather and the date, he and the kids knew they were where they belonged. That’s all he wanted. He wanted them to know they were safe and wanted.
Steven’s knew that most of them would forget the Spanish lessons before the door was fully closed on the last day as they dashed out to get on with their lives, but he felt confident that they would never forget the smiles they always got in his room, the patience he showed when he repeated instructions for the twentieth time, and the acceptance.
He often wished he could to yell, smirk or make cutting remarks when the frustration got to be too much, but he couldn’t. He would not be that teacher. He couldn’t be.
Stevens was old, his face lined and hair almost white, but he still remembered what it was like when he sat in their chairs and had the teacher who was unkind. He would not be that way even if he had to go home in the afternoon and pound on rocks to take out his frustrations.
Something took over then: the magic, the actor, and he began to pace. The kids could not relax too much in his room, because they all knew he would be nearby soon. Stevens liked to move, the energy of the performance infusing him and animating his movements.
It all started flowing then, the patter, the sly puns, and the movies references. Sometimes he was as surprised as they were about what came out of his mouth, but it usually fit the moment. Usually. He smiled at the faces, most now attentive as he mixed grammar with life and spoke of culture and far-away places.
They never knew what he would say from one minute to the next, and he laughed to himself when his chatter left them with mouths hanging open. He didn’t know all the time what he would say either, but he liked being that way. He liked it because they kids had to stay tuned or they might miss something.
Hannah had stopped looking daggers at Chris, turning her eyes to track Stevens as he paced the room as if it were a stage. Kallie and Victoria were writing down what was on the screen, and everything was rolling along now. This was what it was all about. This was life!
Lesson finally done, Stevens assigned their work and kept circulating, watching for errors, but mostly reinforcing what he had just shown them how to do. Much of what he did was encouraging, and that was what he took most seriously.
He loved it. He enjoyed the look of accomplishment on their faces when they got it right, and Stevens loved the smiles. A glance told him that he hadn’t reached everyone. Not even close.
That always haunted him, kept him awake at night. There were so many needs and only so much time. He longed to know each one as a person, and he tried. He tried, but he knew he couldn’t.
Class wound down and the kids began to pack up their things after a brief teaser about tomorrow’s lesson. He chatted a little bit with a couple of the kids as they left, one or two taking time to look him in the eye. They didn’t say much, but he didn’t need them to. He knew.
Turning back to his empty room, his eye fell on the calendar and he sighed. Summer would be here too soon. Much too soon. On second thought, summer, don’t hurry. Take your time. I only have these kids for a short while. Let’s not rush things.