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Road Trip

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ven if Aunt Edith’s request was strange, Raffi thought, the timing was sort of perfect. He’d finished the school year three days earlier, handed in the marks and the summer-school recommendation list, cleaned out his desk in the teacher’s room and sat down for the annual review with the supervisor from the Ministry of Education.

The supervisors kept changing, a stream of patronizing, overeager bureaucrats whose official job it was to monitor the public school system and offer support, but who were really there to make sure that the teachers knew they were being watched so that whichever politician was in power could boast about having cleaned up our public schools.

Raffi had been doing this for long enough that he was given a certain measure of respect, but he still had to endure the fake compliments twice each year. “Nice, the average grade has stayed the same again, that’s impressive given the overall decline in the district, Mr. Strauss, it’s not a small accomplishment.” This usually came with an effusive nod, bobbing head and too-wide, toothy smile, followed closely by, “Just one small thing, Mr. Strauss, a few students complained about signs of anger in the classroom, which isn’t terrible, a classroom environment can be stressful, and three or four little flare-ups are completely normal.” The most recent supervisor, a skinny Indian gentleman named Mr. Patel, had frowned after he said this and added, “The important thing is to make sure, of course, to use anger constructively, no abusive remarks and certainly no physical interaction.”

Of course there were complaints! They gave every student a form to fill out at the end of the school year, and, for Heaven’s sake, there was a line that said COMPLAINTS___________. The students probably thought they had to fill it in, that it was mandatory, like using uppercase letters in your personal code for online banking.

Once Mr. Patel had Raffi squirming, he said, “There were some compliments as well, a young woman who said that she hated the idea of math before your class but with your ‘credit card program’ you changed everything, she really enjoyed it. I would love to hear about that program, Mr. Strauss.”

Raffi spoke about the fake credit cards he’d given each student on the first day, the conversations about interest and exchange rates and debt, while Mr. Patel pretended to write, after which they shook hands and Mr. Patel made a joke (What’s a math teacher’s favorite sum? Summer!) and Raffi stood up and rolled his eyes to the science teacher, Mr. Liu, who was next.

Summers were nice. Sarah was a dental hygienist with a flexible-enough schedule; once the children started daycamp, Raffi and Sarah could do little day trips, museums and walking tours, or tackle projects around the house. Nothing more spectacular, because, as he liked to tell Sarah, “I spend ten months teaching teenagers eight hours a day, all I want is quiet, I’m not looking for any action, thank you very much.”

(Excerpted from Calligraphy, Issue 757)

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