Fast Times
At the New
We were sitting there, in the office of the School of the New Millennium, Leon and the Parents Committee and me, all of us smiling. That foolish little blind-date smile you wear when you discover, Thank God, that the One across the table, improbable as it seems, actually has something in common with you: a taste for Cabernet, perhaps, or water skiing. In this case, what we shared was simple. They needed to hire someone. I needed to be hired.

If only all relationships were so easy. Leon Greene [the principal] looked like Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows.

He looked remarkably like Mr. Toad, short, a little goggle-eyed, with the rounded, waistless physique so common among principals, as if, the way the Japanese must take their shoes off before entering the house, they have to unlace their bones and muscle before coming in the door. That is the price to pay for Authority. Not that it mattered. I didn't want to go out with this man. I wanted to be paid by him. While a little bit of sex harassment, by the right person anyway, in my current state of mind, would probably have been a very nice thing, it was not my first requirement. So he talked, and I beamed, and as he kept talking, I beamed more and more, as if I were discovering that it was not just Cabernet, thank you very much, but '94, from a vineyard only few had heard of, and water skiing done backwards, with triple axels and quadruple flips.

"So," Leon Greene said. "What do you want to know about the School of the New Millennium?"

"Everything," I said.

He commenced.

He told me things, some of which I already knew. But I let him tell me again, while I nodded and smiled at all the right moments. He told me how some children in the New York City system were getting a very good education, and some a very bad; how classes were too large, bureaucracy too great, how children needed to feel loved, and safe, in order to learn anything. He told me how some teachers and parents had gotten together, less than ten years before, and formed a school that would provide all this, and utilize all the wonderful resources of the metropolis around it.

He told me that the school was a family, which is why it went from kindergarten all the way to twelfth. That way there were big brothers and sisters and little brothers and sisters. We, the teachers, were part of the family, too. That is why we were all on a first-name basis here. None of that old-fashioned Mr. and Miss; equals all, that's who we were. He told me that our mission was to develop New York's future leaders. He told me our students' self-esteem was crucial. He told me every child had a voice. He told me we must love all the children, equally.

"Can you do that?" he asked.

"Sure I can," I answered.

"This is a class that needs a lot of love," he said. "They've had nothing but bad luck. They started out with Sharon. A wonderful teacher, a science teacher who decided to switch to English. Then she got sick. Then we got April. She's a dance teacher, but she has a B.A. in English, so that's all right. Then she got sick. Then we had Natalie sub for us for a few weeks, but what a relief: here you are. A permanent teacher. They'll be so happy to see you."

"Great," I said.

"I have just one question," he added, and my heart sank a little. This was the moment in the blind date when it was no longer Cabernet and water skiing. This was the moment when he would lean across the table, and take my, hand, and whisper softly: How do you feel about men in pink garter belts? Or, Do you love Goebbels the way I do?

"How are you with discipline?" he said.

Discipline. I had spent my whole career avoiding it. What does someone who writes poetry and lives in an illegal sublet in a midtown tenement know about discipline --- either keeping it or having it? It was a miracle, as far as I was concerned, that I didn't weigh five hundred pounds and that I brushed my teeth every day.

"Oh, I'm great with it," I said.

"Discipline is important," he said. '"It's not about yelling, and it's not about size, either. It's certainly not about fear. It's about ... authority. Yes, authority. It's something poor April had. She's just in her early twenties, and weighs only about a hundred pounds, but when she spoke, her students listened. And they loved her. They really did. No matter.

"I'm sure they'll love you, too."

--- From Brief Intervals of
Horrible Sanity

Elizabeth Gold
©2003 Tarcher/Penguin

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