“Teacher! Teacher!” Mr. Manuel sighed and smiled. He had barely stepped foot into the classroom, and already this frantic hail. They didn’t use his name, never had. They all knew it, certainly, but they preferred to simply call him “Teacher.” He didn’t mind. At least they realized his role in their lives.
“What is it, PT?” he asked. He smiled at the boy. Perhaps his favorite in the lot, and also the one he usually wanted to shake. The boy could certainly be most frustrating. Once, PT had refused to allow Mr. Manuel to tie his shoes before going out on a fieldtrip. Mr. Manuel had calmly explained that if PT did not let him tie his shoes, the boy would have to stay in the class and not be a part of his group. PT had been willing then to let Mr. Manuel tie his shoes, and zip up his coat too. Now the boy gestured wildly to the center of the room.
“Jonathan and Jamie are at it again!” Mr. Manuel shook his head and started over towards the sound. The two boys were shoving each other.
“I want to be first in line!”
“No, I do!” Mr. Manuel stood quietly until the two noticed him. Both dropped their fists and closed their mouths.
“Is this how my students behave?” Mr. Manuel asked. Jonathan and Jamie hung their heads. They really were the sweetest of boys, and both had good relationships with their teacher. But their hidden tempers were strong and had a tendency to explode with little provocation.
The incident taken care of, Mr. Manuel glanced around the room to get attendance. Matt and Si were in the corner, playing poker; he only hoped it wasn’t for money, as Matt often tried. There was a strange pair. When the students had first begun coming to his class, those two had constantly been at each other’s throats. If they weren’t shoving and shouting, they were refusing to speak to one another. Now, after much guidance from Mr. Manuel, their friendship was pretty solid.
Issy was over in the corner, huddled to himself, watching the others. Mr. Manuel worried about him; he didn’t fit in with the others, and didn’t try. But Mr. Manuel refused to give up on him or treat him differently. And there was Drew, always so concerned with others, trying ineffectively to coax Issy into the group.
Tad and Bart both sat reading books quietly to themselves, a part of the group, but somehow always in the background. They were essential to the class, but quiet.
Jim Al and Phil were desperately trying to convince Tommy of something; Mr. Manual could tell by the way they were gesturing and the way Tommy stood, back rigid, arms crossed, face stone-like. Finally Jim Al and Phil grabbed Tommy by the arm and pulled him over to Mr. Manuel.
“Didn’t you say that the pyramids in Egypt were built before Moses was born?”
“Yes,” Mr. Manuel addressed the answer to Tommy, who still did not uncross his arms.
“Prove it!” he said. Mr. Manuel smiled gently.
“Tommy, have I ever lied to you before?” Tommy hung his head and shook it, but Mr. Manuel knew he would not be convinced until he looked it up.
These kids were so important to him and he loved them so much. A specialized group that had been picked and given specifically to him. Entrusted to him. They were counting on him and he was counting on them. He ached when he thought of leaving them, but his contract would be up soon and they would be sent back to their home schools. That’s when he would find out just how much of what he had thrown his life and soul into teaching them would stick. Would they remember? Would they apply? Sometimes he wondered; they couldn’t even seem to remember that he was leaving soon, though he had told them so many times. But he had done what he could. And he knew that his love would go with them even when he wasn’t around anymore.
“Okay, class,” he called. Immediately all twelve scrambled to their seats and turned their attention to him.
“Today we are going to work on writing letters. Get your papers and pencils and I want you all to address your letters to me, like this…” he picked up a red dry-erase marker and wrote boldly on the white board:
“Dear Mr. E. M. Manuel…”
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