The New Teacher

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“Take your seats,” she announced. Since we had no assigned seats, this was perplexing, but we stirred ourselves to crawl in somewhere and tested the desks for size. We pulled out the resistant drawers, wriggled, rocked, and fingered the hard, squashed gum on the underside of the desk tops. After considering whether neighbors seemed satisfactory we made our choices. “Through?” she finally asked, not having paid us the least attention. “All right now, I’m going to read some literature to you before we do anything else. You better shut up and listen because I could just as easy not read.”

She picked up the book. “This is The Bobbsey Twins at Meadow Brook , Chapter One.’ “Well, here we are back home again!” exclaimed Nan Bobbsey, as she sat down in a chair on the porch.’ ”

She read on and on, passing chapters five and six. At the end of each section she paused, teasing us, until we applauded to show our interest. Things really became exciting, and I hardly heard my stomach growling, a sure sign it was eleven o’clock. “Now this is absolutely the last,” she said, launching into the eleventh chapter. I knew it was hard for her to put the book away, for she’d become highly interested in the story; she was reading in such a fast singsong we couldn’t understand her anymore.

Finally, with an exhausted slam of the book she declared recess and moved quickly for a dipper of water. We played softball until we got so hungry we had to fetch our lunch pails. Miss Flock seemed to take our general declaration of noon hour in stride. We sat on the platform before the front door and dangled our legs over the edge while we munched dry sandwiches and gurgled milk from our vacuum bottles.

Miss Flock had a strange lunch, not in the least balanced. She ate five huge dill pickles right in a row, then a devilled egg and a piece of cream pie that was gooey and difficult to manage. After wiping cream fluff from her nose she asked if anyone would care to finish her coffee. We all spoke, eager to see if it would stunt our growth. Miss Flock smiled and passed her cup around. A rich feeling of excitement and freedom crept over me. I had to share it with Delbert. “She ain’t no teacher,” I whispered to him. “She’s a kid like us.”

“I ain’t afraid of her,” Delbert said, swaggering—missing my point.

I crawled over to Norma. “What do you think of her?”

“She sure ain’t like the other one.”

“She ain’t a teacher,” I whispered. “There’s been some mistake. But let’s not tell anybody.”

Norma gave me the look of an accomplice. “Let’s play ball again after lunch.”

But Miss Flock would have none of it. She marched us inside, wound the Victrola, and we started the music lesson with “Old Dog Tray,” followed by “The Camptown Races.” Miss Flock, a mezzo-soprano, joined in, experimenting a bit with harmony, especially when big DeWayne growled along in a deep bass. At the end of a song she burst out laughing and sometimes even clapped. We clapped, too, having more fun with the singing business than ever before. “Let’s see what all you’ve got here,” she murmured and went through the whole collection, record by record. I didn’t know when I’d sung so much, and Miss Flock, challenged by the vocalists, couldn’t seem to stop.

I began to feel a little uneasy lest some parent stop by and wonder if the songfest should take the place of arithmetic and spelling. But of course no parent would visit unless invited, and none of us was driven to school by car, so there was no chance of a parental glimpse into our life there. We walked from our farms even in winter, when snowbanks closed the roads; we travelled in a group, gathering neighbors along the way. Miss Flock was in no danger of being checked on unless one of the pupils talked.

Delbert, a stickler for regularity, became increasingly nervous about the neglected flag, which still lay folded neatly on its shelf of honor. At last when a record ended, he marched to the shelf and took up the precious cloth. “Come on, DeWayne, you and me’s going to put this up, before it’s time soon to take it down.”

Miss Flock watched them with lifted eyebrow. “Where they going?” she asked me.

“The flag’s supposed to go up in the morning, first thing.”

“Well! After this, they’d better not forget it.” Then she slammed shut the Victrola and immediately assigned us lessons. We drew out our books reluctantly, feeling that Delbert’s allegiance to rules had spoiled a good thing.

In the middle of the afternoon Miss Flock declared recess and organized another softball game, four against four. She pitched in the balls to DeWayne so hard he complained his hands stung. We could scarcely see the ball, let alone bat it. And whenever we did score a hit, she always caught it and fired the ball into first, no matter who was first baseman. I could tell from the way she played that her aim was not just to be a good sport. She loved softball as much as anybody, and we had somehow to live up to her expectations. Otherwise tomorrow might be different, with endless hours of spelling, geography, and arithmetic.