May 31, 2009

Wayne Scheer

This Is America, Isn't It?

Eugene always wanted to be a teacher. Even as a child, he'd do math problems on a blackboard and explain the answers to a classroom of stuffed animals.

His third graders loved how he'd allow them to sprawl out on the floor to do their work. And, instead of sitting at his desk, he'd get down with them and crawl from student-to-student, as they needed help. The children would call him over to ask a question just to watch him scurry about on all fours. And he'd egg them on by barking and howling whenever a child asked a particularly good question.

His students generally scored above grade level on standardized math and reading tests. He had few, if any, discipline problems because the children didn't want to disappoint him.

So he was surprised when he received notice that he was under review for "classroom management problems."

Eugene sought the counsel of his principal, who was also a friend.

"Eugene, there have been complaints from parents that your behavior in the classroom is undignified," she informed him

"Well, yes, it is. And I'm quite proud of that. But what parents complained? I'm in contact with all of them."

"Reverend Maxwell." She whispered the name as if it were a curse.

"He doesn't have a child in my class. Does he even have children?"

"That's not the point, Eugene." She avoided his eyes. "One of his parishioners saw you downtown last Saturday at the Gay Pride Rally holding hands with a man. I assume it was Gordon."

"Of course it was Gordon."

"The Reverend is threatening to go to the Board, Eugene."

"So? Don't I have the right to express my beliefs at a rally and show my affection for the person I love? This is America, isn't it?"

Eugene took a deep breadth, trying to compose himself. He continued. "My students do well. I have a great rapport with their parents. I have your support, don't I, Mary?"

She looked away. "Do you want your private life made public? Think of Gordon. He'd lose his job, for sure."

"We did think about it. That's how important it was for us to attend the rally." He tried making eye contact, but Mary focused on papers piled on her desk.

"Will you back me?" he asked.

"Reverend Maxwell is powerful, Eugene. The Board needs his approval." She paused. "I need his support raising money for the arts program."

"What are you telling me, Mary?"

"The term is almost over. I can stall."

"And what will you do then?"

"I'll write you a strong letter of recommendation."

—An earlier version appeared in The Painted Door, 2007


Wayne Scheer has been locked in a room with his computer and pet turtle since his retirement. (Wayne's, not the turtle's.) To keep from going back to work, he's published hundreds of short stories and essays, including, Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available here. He's been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net.

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