October 11

Night Class (Part 7, Conclusion)


[…continued from October 10 entry…]


Rutland’s past mistakes appeared before his eyes, just as might happen at the moment of death.  All his failures as a teacher.

“Why are you here?” he asked his visitors.

“I think you know.” A small-framed girl waved her hand from the second row. He remembered her former confidence, the quizzical tilt of her head and the long brunette hair she tied behind her head with a barrette. He remembered how tiny she’d seemed, standing next to him during another awkward morning in his Department Chair’s office. He couldn’t remember her name, but he’d done his best to humiliate her when she complained about her grade.  Now, it was her turn to repay him.

Then Andrew, clueless Andrew—the one visiting student who seemed to harbor no ill will toward his former teacher—offered to act as mediator. “Eric, sit back down. I’ve got an idea.” Andrew’s ideas had never been particularly strong in the past, but Rutland welcomed the attempt. Maybe this one time, the kid would be on to something.

Andrew stood, and with one hand he lifted a large inter-office envelope for the room to see; with the other, he held aloft a small box of golf pencils. “You don’t need to teach a lesson today, Mr. Rutland. We can skip right to the evaluations.”

He untwisted the red string-clasp and pulled Scantron sheets from the envelope. “Take one and pass the rest,” Andrew said, splitting the pile into two stacks and sending them in different directions. As he followed with the box of pencils, he reminded everyone to shade each bubble completely, so the Scantron would register their scores.

In the front row Rutland’s former crush, Karen Brinsfield, removed her gray business jacket and hung it on the back of her chair. She rolled up her shirt sleeves as she prepared to fill out the evaluation form. Her wrists were thin and pale and lovely.

Rutland again felt compelled to shout, “This isn’t fair.” They couldn’t grade him on a lesson that hadn’t happened. Then again, his student evaluations were always inaccurate: they never reflected the high quality of instruction that occurred in his classroom.

At his seat, Andrew flipped to the back of the Scantron sheet — the section for written comments. His pencil scratched furiously at the page, perhaps drafting the only positive comment Rutland would get from the group: “Great write, he teached me.”

The front-row students, current and former alike, made little effort to hide their answers. They began to shade circles in the “Strongly Disagree” column.

All around the room, relentless golf pencils scratched at paper. For the first time this evening, the students seemed happy.

“Stop writing,” he wanted to say, except he knew they wouldn’t listen. His words never got through to his students.

That meant, of course, that he was a terrible teacher.

Stop writing.

Perhaps there was a more effective way to communicate his message. He could grab each of their hands and snap the pencils in half. He considered snatching away the Scantron sheets and tearing them to pieces, laughing like a maniac.

The students continued to bubble circles in the negative columns, then personalized their rankings with words such as “haughty” and “ineffective” and “monotonous.”  For years, he’d enjoyed a tyrant’s authority over these students, but Rutland sensed that world was ending tonight.

Red dye dripped down the torn sleeve of his shirt, rolled off his fingertips and fell to the floor.  A staged tragedy tonight, followed by a resurrection of his past failures.  Tomorrow, in his Department Chair’s office, the axe would fall.