A teacher struggles with inappropriate feelings for a student.
This was going to be the longest year of Josh Baker’s life. He was forty-two, had already suffered thru the loss of his wife to cancer three years ago, but that anguish couldn’t compare to what he was dealing with now. Maybe he was being overdramatic, but the tension that constantly inhabited him now felt too much to bear.
Josh felt like running away. How childish, he knew, but he did feel like a child, or more like a teenager who is relentlessly being observed and judged by his peers. He always felt watched, and moreover, he always felt guilty. Absurd, he hadn’t done anything wrong, not yet at least. Don’t think like that he told himself. He would not do anything wrong.
Today was just another Monday as he felt himself dragging getting ready for work. He didn’t want to go. Maybe he could call in sick, again. No, he had already been reprimanded for absences and he had only started his job a little over a month ago. He would have to go face the vultures, with their sneering faces and holier than thou attitudes.
He wanted this job originally. He thought he would be one of those teachers that could make students want to learn. Being a savoir to some child going down the wrong path used to be his fantasy. His daydreams were much more different now.
Teenagers were mean and cruel. Blinded by optimism at first he thought he could guide them in the right direction, be their friend. He probably still could if it wasn’t for his little problem. Her name was Samantha, or Sam as she preferred to be called.
This fourteen year old little girl was going to be the end of him. She was ruining him and there was little he could do to stop it. Half the time Josh didn’t even face the fact that there was a problem. If he just ignored it, ignored her, she would eventually go away. At the end of the year, he wouldn’t have to teach her anymore. If he could just make it until then everything would be fine.
He couldn’t ignore her. She flitted through his mind constantly. He tried to banish those feelings, think about something else, anything else. She didn’t stay gone long though. Resurfacing at the most inopportune times, her face would pop into his thoughts.
Samantha, her long dark hair and striking green eyes floated before him. Josh tried to concentrate in the palm tree outside his window. Maybe she had become this problem because he looked like a much younger version of his dead wife. Not quite, but there was a similarity. His wife, before the cancer had ravaged her, was rather remarkable.
Walking to the bathroom he thought about his wife. Aching with her loss, her absence felt like the best parts of him were missing too. He was ashamed. What would his loving dead wife think of him? Nonsense, he hadn’t done anything. She would never know.
Peering at himself in the mirror, he didn’t look as vital as he had two months ago. He had more gray hair, more tiny wrinkles. He was still very attractive. He kept fit, working out three times a week to maintain good muscle tone. But his posture was a little more hunched like he was withdrawing into himself on the outside as well as on the inside.
Making an effort to straighten himself, he brushed his teeth and continued getting ready to start his day. The smooth lines of Samantha’s legs in her tight little cheerleading outfit accosted his thoughts. Stop, he told himself as he grabbed his old leather briefcase and glossy new laptop and headed toward the door.
Why did he have to take this job? True, they offered more money. This school district was better than the last. He was fine where he was previously. Why couldn’t he have been happy there? The beach was a motivating factor, he had to admit. Moving from the snowy mountains of Colorado to the sunny California coast would be a no brainer for all but the die hard skiers and snowboarders. He hadn’t cared for skiing much, surfing however was more appealing.
One of the reasons he kept in shape was so he would look good in his bathing suit. He didn’t want to be one of those desiccated wrinkly old-timers in a Speedo. He loved the beach and the sun, but not to much sun to get leathery. He always wore sunscreen, and he felt like an old man to have concerns for such things.
Samantha in her bikini didn’t worry about those things yet. He had seen her twice, sunning herself on the beach with her friends. The first time was before she had become his little problem. Then she was just another cute girl in a sea of teeny-boppers. He didn’t know why he remembered that particular time but now he could recall every detail.
The next time he had seen her stopped him in his tracks. He was carrying his bright yellow surfboard out to the sea when his step faltered, just for a second. He tried to continue on to the waves as if nothing had happened but he was fairly sure that Samantha had seen him hesitate. As the blush rose into his face he was inwardly screaming. He couldn’t let her see the affect she had on him. Thank god he wasn’t wearing a Speedo. Now he was afraid to go to the beach.
Stop, take a deep breath. He looked at his car and tried to contemplate that instead of her. It was good car, not new by any means but reliable and clean. It needed an oil change and put that on his mental list of things to do. He entered the car and took another breath. He was off to the school. Just make it through today, he thought. This was his mantra. Just make it through today. He couldn’t consider how he was going make it the rest of the year.
The ride to his torment was to short for his liking. The ticked away and by the time he was walking up the stairs to the school he still didn’t feel prepared. It was going to be a few hours before he saw her. Sam was in his third period algebra class. He dreaded it but at the same time had a flicker of excitement knowing that he would see her. He hated himself for that twinge of enjoyment.
Hurrying to his classroom he avoided looking at the other students. His eyes firmly ahead and he squared his shoulders again. The other professors probably had noticed his change. When he first started here he was outgoing and loved to come early and stay late conversing in the teachers lounge. He used to go out of his way to say hi to the other teachers and try to make friends. Josh didn’t know anyone in this new town and he wanted to feel like he belonged.
Now he was slowly becoming a recluse. He hadn’t made any close friends in the two weeks before his problem began and the embarrassment he suffered prevented him from connecting with anyone else. There was nothing to be ashamed of, he told himself. What teacher hadn’t experienced a stray thought about a student? It had to be a natural thing, hadn’t it? As long as those thoughts were never acted upon, or verbalized, or acknowledged, nothing was wrong.
Stuff it down. Don’t look at it. Everything’s fine.
Once he got to his desk he set his briefcase down and opened up his shiny new Dell laptop. He hated this infernal machine and hated the reason that he had to use it. His old briefcase used to be his lifeline in class and then it was suddenly replaced by this mindless piece of technology.
He used to love standing in front of the class drawing equations out on the blackboard. He used to be animated and gesticulate. Now he sat behind his desk. He couldn’t get up in Sam’s class. If he had the frequent bouts of arousal they would be apparent to everyone. Then he couldn’t just use the projector in third period, it would be obvious that he was excluding that class for some reason. Someone would begin to wonder. He wanted to avoid anyone wondering about him now.
He had to spend hours with the school’s tech guy figuring out how to hook his laptop up to the class projector and how to work the damnable machine. The projector was a poor substitute, in his opinion, to the traditional blackboard. He was fine his first week at the school, the second week he had to assign more and more individual work, so he could sit down and hide behind his large metal desk. He wasn’t teaching much anymore, he was lecturing. There certainly was a difference. Despising himself he started to pull up the files he would need for today’s lesson.
Students begin filing in and taking their seat. He heard snippets of conversation about how lame so and so was, and how another student was a total whore. Teenagers are judgmental vicious creatures, he thought. He knew he was referred to as the blushing professor, he had heard it in the hall. Kids didn’t seem to have much volume control, or more likely they didn’t care who heard them. It was probably the latter. As long as no one pinpointed the reason everything was fine.
He was glad he never heard Samantha speak so cruelly. Stop. Concentrate on the lesson. The bell rang on now his day had officially begun. Once approximate silence descended he began. His lecture ran smoothly, and he caught himself veering away from the computer and gravitating toward the blackboard to accentuate points. He felt good for the first time in quite a while. A few of the kids seemed interested, or at least they were making an effort to understand his point. He could see the light sparkle in their eyes when they finally understood. He had made that connection with some of them.
There was Mary in the back of the class. She was looking at him dreamily. She was not the first of his students that had a crush on him. Before, he had dealt with them all in a very professional manner, none phased him before. She was just an insecure little girl, probably abused by some sick man in the past. Looking for another, or a better daddy to fill in the hole in her soul. Obviously she hadn’t heard two words he said. Undoubtedly, she would do poorly on the next quiz, as she had in previous quizzes. He wondered what Samantha thought of her. Somehow he knew Sam didn’t care for Mary. Sam would spot Mary’s weakness and prey upon it. Stop. Think about something else.
Suddenly he felt a powerful empathy for Mary. Who was he to judge her infatuation with him? He was no better. Actually, he was worse. He was the adult. Children couldn’t know better. He was the one hiding behind his desk. He was the man, and they were the children.
These children were entrusted to him. It was his duty to educate them. He felt like a failure. If anyone ever knew his thoughts he would be ostracized. No, they can’t punish you for thoughts. No one would ever look at him the same again though, even if they were just thoughts.
Closing his eyes he tried to find his center. Breathing in and out, he sat and tried to calm himself. The minutes were getting closer before he saw her. No, don’t think about it. Stuff it down. Don’t look at it. Everything’s fine. He had done one class already he could do another. The bell rang. One period down. Mary filed out with the others. Josh breathed a sigh of relief. He had ten more minutes to collect himself before next class.
Second period began. Josh started with his lecture. Again everything flowed except he felt restrained behind his desk. He wanted to accentuate his points. He couldn’t do that with the damnable PowerPoint. Looking at the laptop with loathing, he remembered the tech guy showing him how to create equations on the fly. He opened up the program and strained to think of the instructions. After a few fumbling attempts he gave up. He stood up, went to the blackboard, and began scrawling furiously.
In this class his main awareness was on the student Clyde. Wearing a light green polo shirt burgundy corduroy pants complete with a pocket protector and heavy glasses Clyde proclaimed visually to be a nerd at first sight. The strange thing was that Clyde wasn’t at all smart. Josh thought that Clyde might be a touch ‘special’. Clyde was one of the most vocal students he had, asking questions that had no relation to what he was talking about. In the real world you can tell somebody to shut up, but not if you are a teacher. Struggling to figure out what Clyde was talking about and finding a polite way to tell him that the point was irrelevant required more tact than Josh was used to. How on earth did Clyde manage to get into the advanced algebra class to begin with? Fortunately Clyde was quiet today and at the end of the lesson Josh assigned ten problems for the students to figure out themselves and had only to sit and grade the previous classes’ problems.
Mary, as he suspected scored close to the worst grade in his first period. Poor child he thought, then hated himself for the pity. Samantha flickered through his mind again. He wondered what torture she had in store for him today as both his excitement rose, and he felt slightly sick by that excitement. He let himself revel in the anticipation for a few minutes with butterflies in his stomach, remembering how nervous he was before first dates. Nonsense, he told himself. This was not a date. Then he had to stuff all his feelings down inside himself again and was awash in shame. The minutes flew by and before he knew the bell rang again. It was time for third period.