Here's a little treat before the official release of Hot for the Principal on March 7th. Enjoy!
Gatsby was a loner who didn’t deserve Daisy, so his death was kind of deserving.
How can a student end their essay for their grade twelve academic English paper like that? How do students think they are going to survive in university ending an essay like that? I remind myself that the question was to state if The Great Gatsby was an outdated novel, or if it was still relevant today. Overall confusion dawns on me, as I try to make sense of this student's conclusion.
I put the paper down on my desk and rub my temples. How did I end up here? In my hick hometown? As a high school English teacher? I lean back in my chair and thank God that lunch is about to start.
The bell rings signaling to everyone that it’s lunchtime. I don’t have class during the period before lunch, so I usually spend that time marking students' work… or on Netflix watching Friends.
I stand up to disinfect the students’ desks, as I do every morning, but I’ve made it a habit to do so during lunch as well because everyone is getting sick. With the beautiful winter in Ontario, students are sicker than usual, especially since exam season starts next week. I go around the thirty desks to make sure they’re somewhat clean and put the spray back in the brown cupboards that usually stay locked.
I look around the room and sigh. The walls are all off-white bricks with a blackboard taking up a full side, well almost—there is an active board that sits in the middle. What was once just a simple chalkboard has now become a large screen that projects my computer screen to students. It also allows me to write on it, like a chalkboard. Instead of chalk I use a pen that connects to the special surface of the smart board. On the opposite side of the smart board there are windows. Some classrooms at Angel’s Catholic High School don’t have them, but thankfully mine does. I open up the bland grey covers and allow a small amount of sunshine to come through. My desk sits near the door and shows a little glimpse of who I'm to my students. I have a pencil holder that looks like a typewriter and a framed photo of me with my two best friends; Hannah and Emma. I walk back over to my desk while straightening a few of the desks along the way.
“Hey babe!” My best friend Hannah walks in with a spring in her step and plants herself on the desk in front of mine. Hannah and I have been friends since grade nine. We have been stuck together since our first day of high school and that was eons ago. Appearance-wise Hannah is my polar opposite, but we're utterly compatible on the emotional front. I'm five-foot-five, with long brown hair that hits the middle of my back, hazel eyes, and a bronze skin tone. With caramel blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, she’s practically a model, standing over me at a stunning six feet. She could definitely be a model if her dream wasn’t to be an artist.
“Hey, how was Art class?” I reach under my large, square brown desk and grab my bag. Pulling out my Greek salad, I lean back in my chair and put my feet up.
“You know what, I think these students are finally starting to get it. It’s grade nine, so I don’t expect them to be fantastic but this one girl, Joana? I can see her becoming an artist. She does beautiful work.”
“Well, I'm glad you’re hopeful for your students. I had a student end their grade twelve paper like this.” I shuffle through the mass of papers on my desk and hand her over the essay. I watch her eyes scan the conclusion, and she spits out her coffee, laughing. Luckily, the spray of liquid missed the papers on my desk. I open the top drawer of my desk and grab wipes to clean off the coffee that was sprayed everywhere.
“Oh my God Vic, I actually feel bad for you. Teaching English is definitely not easy…” She looks at me, sympathetically, and I roll my eyes.
“How did I end up becoming a teacher? In my country-ass hometown?” I ask, throwing my body back and feeling my chair almost tip. I always wanted to be a writer, and I know I still can be. I have all summer to try writing a novel, but as soon as I'm in front of a computer or have my writing book in hand; I freeze. My anxiety gets the best of me, and I end up just putting everything aside and telling myself I'll write my book the next summer.
Four years later, that notebook still sits in my bag. Blank.
Every. Single. Day.
“Oh babe, we live in a competitive world…I always assumed I would be an artist with my work hanging in some beautiful art gallery, but apparently life had different plans.” Hannah crosses her legs and shrugs. I continue eating my salad when I hear squeaky running shoes coming down the hallway.
Here comes Emma, the last of our trio. Emma is naturally beautiful with short black hair, brown eyes, and an olive skin tone. I love Emma because we’re both short, which makes us feel better when we’re standing next to Hannah. The three of us became inseparable in tenth grade when Emma moved to Simcoe from Edmonton. Although Hannah and I had already been friends, Emma’s magnetism drew us to her on the first day of tenth grade. It was a dramatic change, but she made friends with the perfect girls.
“Oh, my God! Sorry for being late, some boy thought he could lift more than he could handle and ended up with the barbell coming down on his forehead. It was a disaster, I just took him to the office to head home.” She takes a pause and sits down beside Hannah. “Why do boys think showing off is a good idea? Especially in Gym class? As if you’re not six feet tall, sexy, and all man… you’re fifteen, five-foot-five, and your balls haven’t even dropped!” I laugh, I can’t help it. This is why I love Emma. She doesn’t hold back, but she’s a ray of sunshine on a shitty day. We continue to talk about our day, and then suddenly, Emma slams her hands down on her desk.
“I forgot to tell you guys, Principal Hiffin put in her notice for retirement. She won’t be back for next semester!” Hiffin is an elderly woman who has been a principal for over twenty-five years. She could be mean, but if you got on her good side, then you were all good. Even at twenty-nine years old, I’m still afraid of principals… especially since she was mine.
“What? But we’re just getting to exams for the first semester. How are they supposed to find a principal in the middle of the year?” I ask Emma. She always has all the answers. She’s the one you go to when you want a good laugh and the inside scoop on everything going on in these brick walls. Last year she caught two teachers going at it in the boys’ locker room - after school hours, of course. It was still no less of a shock. Emma didn’t tell anyone except us, but eventually, the fuck buddies got caught…and lost their positions. You would think teachers would know not to mess around with one another.
“Well, allegedly they already found one. He will be coming in from the city and apparently, he’s a hard ass. Doesn’t really like to socialize and keeps to himself.” Lucky him, I think, wondering if he will be able to talk his way out of going to the bar on Friday night. Every Friday after school, all the teachers go to Kline’s, a local bar, for drinks. The girls and I always try to get out of it.
Emphasis on try.
“Is he another old person? I swear it’s so difficult to keep the older staff up to date on all the latest technology we use.” Hannah groans; she’s not just good at Art, she’s also a tech wiz. Which is why she’s always called in to help the older teachers when they can’t get their computers to turn on. I laugh to myself, remembering the time that one of our colleagues unplugged his computer with his foot. He would have thrown the damn thing on the ground if it wasn’t for Hannah coming in and plugging it back in.
“Apparently not…” Emma takes a bite of her ham sandwich and continues on with her mouth full, “From what I know he’s only thirty-three, a total hard ass for rules, but sexy as hell. I haven’t seen him, but that’s what I’ve heard…” She shrugs. I’m curious as to where Emma gets all her information from. She loves participating in extracurriculars; nothing that has changed from when we were students. She frequently attends conventions and meets with various teachers around Ontario. It came to benefit us as she would get all the scoop from one side of the province to the other.
“Now I’m intrigued, I can’t wait until after exams to find out for ourselves!” Emma smirks and pretends to swoon. I roll my eyes at her. All three of us are almost thirty and single. We would go out and meet men, but in a town of fourteen-thousand people, most already have families or are elderly; the pond is limited. I close my glass container and put it back in my bag. Emma throws hand sanitizer my way, and I put a small circle in my hands. The strong smell of alcohol and flowers filling the air. Emma tries her best to mask the smell of sweaty teenagers with the highly fumigated hand sanitizer.
“Do you have your exams ready, Vic? They start tomorrow, right?” Emma asks me, and I nod.
“Yes, they do, thank God.” I take my legs off my desk and stand up to stretch. I feel the pull between my shoulders, giving me release from sitting for over three hours. I should consider moving around more during my lessons. “Then I will be marking until Friday, and then long weekend!” I do a little shake of my hips. This is one of my favorite times of the year, usually on long weekends teachers have to stay up marking. This year, however, the exams will be over before the long weekend which means we can actually spend our time relaxing before the new semester.
The bell rings and our girl time is over. Emma grimaces, knowing her next period is grade twelve Fitness. Which means it’s a mixture of people who may not want to be there but need a Gym credit; the perks of a high school curriculum.
I wave the girls goodbye and go to the front of the classroom to erase the notes from my earlier class. I hate having to use this pen to erase things. I have to click the little eraser icon on the screen and drag it along the plastic material. The scratching sound of the pen dragging is worse than nails on a chalkboard. My shoulders slump due to my last period being grade ten English. These students don’t have a care in the world for school. I prefer teaching grade eleven and twelve because at least they make an effort with their studies. After all, post-secondary is only a couple years away.
The classroom becomes louder as students filter into their seats. Every student has a phone now, and it makes teaching so tricky. If you take away a student’s phone, you become a “bitch,” but if you don’t take it away, they’re distracted the entire time.
“Good afternoon guys, if you could put your phones away that would be appreciated. I don’t want to have to take it away, but if I notice it becoming a problem; it’s gone.” I pause to watch some nod their heads, and some roll their eyes. “We’re almost done with the semester, just a few more things to go over. I will be giving you guys the rest of the class to study for your final exam that’s coming up.” I walk over to the computer and start the final review slide of the term.
* * *
“Oh my God, finally!” I say aloud to myself. It’s finally three o’clock, and school is over. I thought I dreaded this more when I was a teenager, but it’s so much worse as a teacher. I want to get out of here and have an evening to myself before I have to be here again tomorrow morning. I grab my bag from underneath my desk and throw it over my shoulder.
Locking my door, I head towards the front doors to the parking lot. These hallways always leave me anxious. I try to walk as fast as my heels will take me to get out of here. People always liked to say, “You’re going to miss high school and university, they’re some of the best days of your life” and I still disagree with that statement. School was my worst nightmare come to life; there is nothing that could make me go back.
I step outside into the bright sun which is shining at the end of January, I cannot believe it. Anyone who lives in Canada knows that it’s almost always snowing in January. There is snow on the ground, but not enough that I have to wear a full snowsuit and boots to work. I make my way to my black Mini Cooper parked in the staff lot. Trying not to wipe out on the ice as I walk around my car to the driver’s side as I try to keep my heels from gliding against the thawing. I unlock my car, open my door, and slide down into the faux leather seats. I throw my beautiful black leather shoulder bag onto the passenger seat and turn the car on. Maluma’s Mala Mía starts blasting through the stereo, nearly giving me a heart attack. Music is part of what keeps me alive, so I tend to have it blaring at any time of the day.
I put the car in reverse and pull out of my spot to head home. I can’t believe another term has gone by, a time of the year that always leaves me feeling anxious and excited. A new semester means new students, fresh minds at work, and more assignments to work on. I roll to a halt at the stop sign near my house and feel my phone vibrate beside me in my bag. I look in my rear view mirror and see nobody behind me, so I grab my phone.
Hannah: So once exams are over, drinks at DP on Saturday?
Me: Absolutely! Emma coming too?
I’m about to answer back when a sleek black BMW pulls up behind me. I can’t see the person behind the wheel to gauge if they’re irritated or not.
I take my foot off the break and throw my phone back on the seat. I turn left towards my house and drive for another eight minutes before pulling up my driveway. I live on the outskirts of Simcoe, just far enough to be away from people, but close enough that I don’t dread running errands or my drive to work.
I pull up to my house. It’s a beautiful, simple rustic country bungalow with large glass windows framed by wood pieces that make them pop. Most country homes have a wrap around porch, but mine has a multi-stone square porch in front of the French doors. My porch would be much larger if I didn’t have a swing bed installed, but I wanted to be able to sit in my front yard comfortably because it’s where the sun sets. I saw the idea for the bed swing on Pinterest and had our local contracting company come in and install it. It’s the perfect place to sit on a beautiful day.
I park my car in the separate garage and grab my bag on the way out. One thing I hate about this house is the independent garage. The snow and I aren’t friends, so the trek isn’t ideal especially since I wear heels ninety percent of the time. I walk carefully, dodging the ice on the driveway while closing the garage. I reach the French doors and unlock one. Throwing the door open, I kick off my heels as I walk in and throw my bag on the lavender ottoman sitting against the wall in the foyer.
This house used to be so different. Save for the swing, the exterior of my house has always been the same. Once it became mine, I had some walls knocked down, the walls repainted, and I revamped the master bedroom, kitchen, and laundry room. Emma and Hannah love coming over because of how big and rustic everything looks.
I put my containers in the dishwasher and grab a bottle of wine out of the fridge. The next two days are full of exams, so I will be marking for what is going to feel like a year. I take a big gulp from my glass of wine and get ready for the upcoming exam season.
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