After my journal entries about merging our family back together under one roof (my husband had to take up residence in his college town three hours away while I and our daughter made ourselves at home in his parents’ basement) and transitioning to a rural life style, I finally mention “Lucy” (name changed). I only need to say her name at the dinner table and my husband braces himself for a painful laugh. Laughter is my only medicine with dealing with her. As one co-worker told me, “I usually don’t talk to her. But then I feel obliged to and I remember why I don’t even try.”
Lucy and I make up the English Department, if you could call Dr. Doolittle’s Push-Me-Pull-You a team. The first time I met her, she cried. We were supposed to talk about the department, I think. What I got was how sentimental she is about her students which I was correct to take as frightening, and how possessive she is. I decided I’d have to chart my course without her and treat her like bone china.
About the time I arrived on campus, so did another teacher and his program. One prison had just closed. In closing, the Department of Corrections had to distribute not just prisoners and staff, but all the stuff that makes up a prison. You’d be surprised. I’m mostly surprised at what my boss has had to turn away because our campus simply can’t house it all, like the Toys for Tots program that would have kept our young men busy and taught them work skills. We could, however, take Mr. R– and his graphic design class. In government fashion he and his computers, printers, and tables arrived before his room was finished. Lucy happened to be on vacation, so naturally we crammed her room full of the supplies and we tried to gently urge the electricians to hurry. No one who knew Lucy wanted her to see her room this way, our boss most of all. We got everything moved just in time.
I wondered at all of this. Had anyone seen her room? Roughly a 12 x 12 square, she had filled it with five file cabinets, three computers, four bookshelves, a teacher’s desk, a computer desk, and 12 student desks. I didn’t like being in there, so it took me awhile to locate the books other teachers insisted we owned. They were stashed away in the file cabinets. The first time I saw her open a cabinet, stealthily like she was opening a safe filled with the family gold, I suddenly understood just how much stuff she had hidden in her room and how reluctant she was to share. The math teacher who had worked with her almost twenty years said, “She’s afraid that you’ll take something that the offenders enjoy. Then they won’t want to take her class.” As if they have a choice which class to take. As if that changed their attitude toward her.
Auditors were coming that Spring, so once the computers were cleared from her room, people started to suggest she rearrange her room. It was a hazard. Then I finally got hold of my room a week before the semester began. The teacher who had it before me likes to procrastinate and held me up with jokes about my work ethic as I threw open the shades, dusted every surface, and removed everything superfluous. The offenders who helped me watched quizzically. We removed the faded paper on the tack board, rearranged the posters someone put up years before, and added my own writing posters. Finally, my room looked like a classroom, airy, bright, and inviting. It became the classroom my boss wanted to show to visitors. Unused to this, though, I received complaints that everything was too bright. Too bad, I thought, I was going to enjoy my windows even if they did look out at razor wire because I had just spent four years in a huge classrooom without a window. Bring on the Vitamin D.
Well, Lucy saw my room and two hours later had offender rearranging her room, even removing things. A few weeks later she was bothering our security officer about ways to empty her classroom of unneccessary items so her room could look more like mine. She’s like that. When I had to pass on my English 10 students to her and explained that I was diagramming sentences with them for grammar instruction, she immediately requested about $200 worth of sentence diagramming books. She didn’t have to diagram with them, and she didn’t need to spend money to do so. I didn’t.
While she took ideas and things from all of us like oxygen (and often to her detriment), getting anything in return was asking for the moon. I was on the verge of asking my boss to help me secure a computer when she dramatically had one delivered to me. It was such a shame to give me a student computer because she “used it every day.” Really? One couldn’t even sit at the computer desk, and I had to wait another hour before she could bother to bring me the keyboard locked in one of her file cabinets.
Our classrooms are next door to each other, across the hall from the principal. We are placed there strategically, which says something. As a new teacher, I was considered a security risk. Even though we monitored the hall every passing period, we worked side by side with relatively no interaction for several weeks. It was peaceful that way.