I stood up hesitantly, in utter confusion and, not for the first time, wondered why this was happening to me. The teachers were all seated, their bowls of soup abandoned, their spoons forgotten in their hands and their eyes locked on me.
Some of us are lucky enough to work at one school while some of us are unlucky enough to work at two or more schools.
I obviously fall in the latter group. And as if I am not unlucky enough working at two schools, all my second schools have been a nightmare and all for different reasons. When my second school changed at the end of my first contract, I thought it would be different. But just because a school has fancy equipment in fancy classrooms and fancy food in a fancy cafeteria and fancy mazes in a fancy garden and fancy toilets in fancy bathrooms which have fancy heated toilet seats and which play fancy classical musical which make you feel fancy while you pee, doesn’t mean the school is going to be less of a nightmare.
There was this teacher. He was older than the other teachers. He didn’t walk; he strutted. He didn’t talk; he shouted. And when he did so, I noticed he was often ignored by everyone in the room or given nothing more than a grunt of acknowledgement. His English was also almost perfect, which meant he latched onto me like a tick. Whenever the teachers spoke to one another, he demanded that they spoke in English. They obviously ignored him and continued with their conversation as if he never uttered a word. Whenever my co-teacher spoke to me, he interrupted us, only to say something completely pointless/bizarre.
“SAM, I AM YOUR SUPERIOR. YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO ME!” he shouted when we first met.
“Don’t listen to him,” my co-teacher whispered to me.
“I AM THE HEAD SUPERVISOR AT THIS SCHOOL!”
“He’s not the head supervisor at this school,” my co-teacher whispered.
“I WILL PROBABLY GET A PROMOTION AND MOVE ON FROM THIS SCHOOL!” he continued.
My co-teacher breathed out heavily and rolled his eyes.
This was every Thursday. Until one Thursday.
At 9am the teachers decided to start the day with a hike. At around lunchtime, we settled in a cozy restaurant to recharge our batteries. He sat himself opposite me. I scanned the little restaurant and my heart fell when I saw my co-teacher sitting at another table.
I stared at the ceiling while the teachers chatted among themselves. I stole a fleeting glance at the older teacher – I didn’t want him to catch me looking in his direction – but thankfully he was looking at his phone.
A trolley laden with our bowls of rice cake soup was pushed towards us by a young waitress. I was famished after our hike and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I took a spoonful and just as I was about to open my mouth, he opened his.
“SAM, BEFORE YOU EAT, STAND UP AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO THE TEACHERS.”
“STAND UP AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO THE OTHER TEACHERS,” he said again.
I introduced myself to my co-workers three months prior when I started working at that school, so I was thoroughly confused.
“TELL THEM YOUR NAME.”
“But they already know my name?”
“I AM YOUR SUPERIOR; DO AS I SAY.”
By now the teachers had all abandoned their food and just looked back and forth at the two of us like they were watching a tennis match.
“I’m not introducing myself again.” I laughed as I said this in an effort to ease the tension. But he wasn’t giving in.
“SAM, STAND UP!”
I looked at him in bewilderment and I made to get up. I looked over at the other teachers. My co-teacher and the principal were both making Xs with their hands and mouthing “no”. I was half standing, half sitting, looking from the old loon to my co-workers. I had never been that puzzled since high school maths.
Eventually I sat down and ate my lukewarm soup. And so did everyone else. The silence was deafening.
When lunch finally ended, I was grateful to head back to school. While the other teachers walked on to the teachers’ office, I made a quick stop at one of the fancy bathrooms. I wish I spent the rest of the afternoon in that quiet toilet cubicle listening to that awful classical music – anything would have been better than what was happening in the teachers’ office while I was away.
As I approached the office, I could hear shouting. I opened the door hesitantly and walked in.
Everyone was standing. And everyone was shouting. I looked to the older teacher. His face was almost purple from shouting louder than usual. It was he versus the rest of the office. This time it was my turn to watch them like a tennis match.
The older teacher moved to a cupboard while he shouted. He opened it violently and slammed it shut again. I jumped at the gunshot sound it made. The other teachers fell silent. He opened the cupboard again and this time he reached in and started flinging items to the floor – a jacket, a hat, a bag and a walking stick. He banged the door again, the sound it made was louder than the first time. He gathered his strewn belongings and without another word he marched out of the office. He was gone.
The office was deadly quiet. The cupboard door was still ajar. His computer was still on. The teachers didn’t bother to look for him; they merely returned to their computers. So I did the same.
I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. It was the maths teacher.
“Sam, is okay?”
Update: That teacher was not there the following week, I didn’t bother asking what happened to him and I now, thankfully, work at a different second school.