Once upon a time, there was a teacher who was enjoying her summer break. The teacher’s husband resented that his wife got summers off. Never mind that she spent all her evenings and weekends during the school year grading papers and preparing lesson plans while her husband watched ESPN and took long naps. He always prepared a chore list for her in the beginning of June. The teacher accepted the list with a smile and said, “Yes, Dear.” She didn’t mind because she had a Merry Maid on speed dial. What her husband didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
The teacher spent her summer days reading and going for leisurely walks. Sometimes she would go shopping and watch harried parents try to manage their kids. She would watch them closing their eyes and counting to ten and think, “Now they know what I have to deal with all school year!”
One day the teacher went to the grocery store and found that the aisle with the cute patio items had been cleared out and replaced with notebooks, pencils and crayons. The teacher felt her eye begin to twitch. She bought four packages of chocolate chip cookies and five pints of ice cream and went home.
The next day, the newspaper was full of Back To School ads. When the teacher turned on the TV, there were commercials for Back To School clothing sales. She got online and found that one of her Facebook groups had started a Back To School countdown. All the parents were overjoyed.
The teacher ate some ice cream and cookies and went back to bed.
She began to spend her nights tossing and turning. When the teacher did manage to drift off, she had nightmares. She dreamed of parents having her arrested for giving their kid a bad grade. She dreamed that all the other teachers in the school quit, so all the students were placed in a giant classroom and she was responsible for every last one of them. She dreamed that six new standardized tests had been introduced.
When the teacher told her husband about the nightmares, he laughed. He said, “You do this every year.”
“This is different. I can’t go back.”
“Of course you can,” he said and kissed her on the forehead. “I’m taking your car to work today. I need you to get mine an oil change. Oh, and I invited a few people from work over for a barbecue this evening. You’ll need to pick up some ribs and make potato salad and all that.”
Sometimes the teacher wanted to murder her husband in his sleep.
While she drove around doing errands, the teacher thought about the parent who had threatened to burn her house down. She’d signed up for a security system, even though her husband said she was overreacting. She thought of how the kids last year had made fun of her “beard.” She’d have to start shaving her chin again. And she thought of the number of times she had been stuck running lunch detention. Once she had been called out of the room for a few minutes to put out another fire. When she returned, she found one of the little turds eating the carton of yogurt from her lunch.
She couldn’t do it anymore. She needed a plan.
The teacher cleaned out her checking account. She pawned all the ugly jewelry her mother-in-law had given her. She cashed out a CD. And she bought lottery tickets.
The night the numbers were drawn, she sat down with a pint of ice cream and her stack of tickets and checked them one by one. She grew more and more anxious as the stack slowly shrunk. After she checked the last ticket, she stared at the pile on the floor in disbelief. Not one winner. She hadn’t even won a dollar.
The next morning, she told her husband, “I’m not going back. I can’t do it. We can live on one salary. I’ll buy generic brands. We can cancel the cable. We can share a car.”
“Of course you’re going back,” he said, but he sounded uneasy. And he didn’t even know about the empty checking account yet.
After her husband left, the teacher announced on Facebook that she was quitting her job. Then she shut down her computer and unplugged her phone.
That afternoon there was a knock at the door. The teacher opened it to find the young teacher who occupied the classroom across the hall.
“Hello!” the young teacher said, with great enthusiasm. She did everything with great enthusiasm. “I heard you’re quitting! How can that be? We have the greatest job in the world! We get to shape young minds! We get to shape the future!”
“Common Core math. That’s why I’m quitting. Teaching to the test. Lack of administrative support. Endless paperwork. Unreasonable standards. Parents who don’t teach their children basic decency.”
The young teacher wasn’t beaming now. “I was told all of that would get better. Last year was only so hard because it was my first year.”
“Who told you that?”
“The computer teacher.”
“She lied. There’s a teacher shortage right now so she knew that if you quit then she’d have to take over your class. It all gets worse every year, not better. You just learn how to cope.”
“Well, hell,” the young teacher said. “I need a drink.” She turned around and walked back down the lane.
The teacher felt a little bad about bursting the young woman’s bubble, but at least she hadn’t lied to her.
The next afternoon, there was another knock at the door. The teacher opened it to find the school principal on her doorstep. He gave her a big, friendly grin.
“I heard you’re quitting,” he boomed. “You can’t do that. I need teachers like you. You turn in your paperwork on time. You chair committees without complaint. You handle your own discipline problems.”
“You’ve told me the ways I make your job easier. Let me tell you the ways you make my job harder. You don’t make your little clique of favorites follow the rules. You hide in your office when the difficult parents show up. You force me to use my planning periods for your lame-ass Increasing Parent Participation Committee. And you complain that I don’t change my bulletin boards often enough.” She gave him a scathing look. “Bulletin boards.”
The principal looked dazed. “I thought you liked me,” he said. “I thought you respected me.”
“Sure, you’re a likeable guy, but no one respects you. All the teachers think you’re a sniveling weasel. And word in the hallways is that some of the women teachers have bigger balls than you do.”
“I don’t need this,” the principal said. “Maybe it’s time for me to retire.” He turned around and walked back down the lane.
The teacher didn’t feel at all bad about bursting his bubble. She felt like the Terminator, except she wouldn’t “be back.” Ever again. She giggled and ate a cookie.
The next afternoon, there was another knock at the door. “Bring it on,” the teacher thought with a smirk. She felt ten feet tall.
Standing on the doorstep was her favorite student from two years back. The girl had listened, wide-eyed, to every word the teacher said. She had tackled new ideas with enthusiasm, and soaked up knowledge like a sponge. The teacher had looked forward to every class because of this kid.
Right now, the girl was crying. “I heard you’re quitting,” she wailed. “How could you? You’re my all-time favorite teacher! You brought in those cocoons and we got to watch them go through all the stages until they turned into butterflies. Then we took them outside and released them. I’ll never forget that!”
The teacher felt herself shrinking with each word. She remembered how excited the kids had been when those butterflies lifted off and fluttered away.
“I remember how you spent the week before winter break teaching us how people celebrated Christmas all around the world, and how some places don’t have Christmas but they have other holidays that are just as good!”
The kids had always been restless during that week, so the teacher had created a social studies unit that was based around the holidays of other cultures. She had always loved that week. She would even show up one day wearing a sari. The teacher felt her resolve weaken.
The girl continued, “I remember the end-of-year cookout you had at the lake where we all got to roast wienies over a campfire and then we went stargazing. I still have my flashlight with the red light in it! My little brother was supposed to have you this year. He’s all excited for the school year to start because I told him how much I loved you!”
This was a Good Kid. There had been lots of them over the years. Despite the decline of civilization, there would always be more Good Kids.
The teacher sighed. She knew when she had been beaten. She opened the door wider.
“I guess I can manage one more year,” she said. She hoped the principal had been serious about retiring. Otherwise this next year could be rocky. “Want to come in and have a chocolate chip cookie? You can tell me about your brother.”
The girl smiled and wiped away her tears. “I knew it!” she said. She followed the teacher into the house.
And they lived happily ever after.
The girl left the teacher’s house and walked down the lane. The teacher’s husband stepped out from behind a tree, where he had been hiding.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Perfect! She’s not going to quit.”
The teacher’s husband pulled out his wallet and peeled off a one hundred dollar bill and handed it to the girl. He felt a little bad about deceiving his wife this way, but there was no way he was giving up cable. “It was worth the money,” he said.
“I would have done it for free.”
The Good Kid laughed and walked away.