The faculty lounge was almost empty. Howard Snow was sitting in one of the easy chairs next to Marcy Chez. They were drinking coffee, talking softly and trying to avoid touching each other. Snow liked the nervous energy that Marcy had trouble controlling when he was around her. He liked the plump ripeness that women no longer seemed to cultivate and that she possessed. He liked it when she saw him looking at her breasts and squeezed them together between her arms. He no longer wondered if his wife would find out about them. Marcy had left her husband last spring. Snow’s children were grown. If push came to shove, it would be an easy transition.
Newton Roxbury stared at the notes that he’d taken from the phone conversation with a grimace. The English Department Chairman didn’t like complaints about his teachers. He was particularly unappreciative of complaints that caught him off guard. The parent who called about Howard Snow had seemed realistic and that was even more troubling. She claimed that her son had received no corrected tests, quizzes, or papers from the first marking period and didn’t understand why he’d been given a D. In his two months on the job, Dr. Roxbury had few occasions for dealings with Snow. The veteran teacher seemed to avoid him. Roxbury had noted that Snow had missed turning in his lesson plans on two occasions and had been late with them several other times, but that was no big deal He decided to leave a note in Snow’s mailbox.
Roxbury waited the next day for Snow to walk into his office during the teacher’s prep, but it didn’t happen. With about fifteen minutes left in the period, he went to the faculty lounge to get coffee. Marcy and Howard jerked their heads towards the open door. Marcy ran her hands along the lap of her dress and picked up her coffee. Newton Roxbury tried to appear casual.
“Good afternoon, folks. How are we today?”
“Tired,” said Marcy. “The students have figured out that they’re back in school and that they’re going to grades.”
“Yeah, life is tough,” said Howard Snow.
“Isn’t it always the way,” said Roxbury. He moved over to the Mr. Coffee and poured out a cup. “Howard, did you get my message?”
“Something about a student?”
“Yes, we need to have a quick conversation, so that I can return a parent’s call.”
“Do you want to just give me the name and let me take care of it?”
“Probably, but let’s talk first.”
“I’ll come by in a few minutes, if you’re going to be free.”
“That’ll be fine,” said Roxbury.
Roxbury left the room after he’d fixed his coffee. He wondered when Snow intended to come down to his office, but decided that he could call the parent back at any point in the afternoon. He couldn’t help wondering why Snow hadn’t come to his office as soon as he got the message but dismissed the thought.
The rest of the day passed without Snow going to the office. Roxbury went down to the main office about twenty minutes after dismissal and found that Snow had left for the day. He would have to postpone his return call to the parent until the next morning. He wrote himself a follow-up note before he left for the school.
By the next afternoon, Roxbury was annoyed. He took his coffee cup and headed purposefully to the faculty lounge. Marcy and Howard were in their chairs and their heads again jerked up when he entered. Newton went over to the Mr. Coffee without saying anything. Peripherally, he saw the two of them exchange a tense look. He filled his cup quietly and started for the door. He stopped as if he’d been struck by an afterthought. “Howard, I do need to speak with you about that student matter.”
Snow looked up from his coffee and grimaced. “You know, I thought about that this morning, and then I just got tied up doing whatever. I’ll stop by in the morning.”
“I do need to return the call this afternoon,” said Newton Roxbury. He was trying to sound casual and official at the same time.
“When do you want to talk?”
“Well, I’d like to take care of it now.”
“Do you want to talk about it here,” said Snow. There were clear traces of annoyance in his tone.
“I’d like to have my notes in front of me. They’re at my desk.”
“Do you want to go get them and come back, or do you want me to stop down there?”
“Why don’t you come down to the office.”
“As soon as I’m finished with my coffee.”
About five minutes before the end of the period bell, Howard Snow walked in Dr. Roxbury’s office. He was dressed in a polo shirt, outrigger shoes, and casual cotton jeans. “What’s the problem?” he said gruffly.
“I got a call a call from Mrs. Van Tek. She’s concerned about the D that her son got on his report card.”
“Oh. I’ll call her,” said Snow.
“It seems that he told her that he didn’t have any tests, papers, or quizzes in the first marking period.”
“He said what?”
“That he doesn’t understand his grade because he hasn’t had any testing experiences or essays.”
“Did she also mention the kind of mouth that her son has?”
“Did she say anything about the lack of homework that he does?”
“Parents never talk about things like that when they call to find out about a grade. Perhaps we should have her in for a parent conference.”
“I don’t see why we have to do anything like that yet. Why don’t I just call her and straighten things out.”
“That would be fine,” said Roxbury. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I do need to return her call this afternoon as I said that I would. What can you tell me about Dave’s grades?”
“He got a D.”
The bell signaling the end of the period rang.
“What were his test grades?”
“I don’t have them with me,” said Snow.
“Could you bring them down before you leave for the day.”
“I think that I have those papers at home.”
“Well, just give the marks from the grade book.”
“I haven’t entered them all yet. I’ll bring the papers by in the morning.”
“That would be fine if it was yesterday, but I do need to call her.”
“Just tell her that you spoke with me and that I’ll be in touch with her. Listen, I’ve get to go to class. Who knows what they’ll do if I’m not in the room when the bell rings.”
“Bring me what you’ve got before you leave for the day.”
“Whatever you want,” said Snow. He sighed and left the room.
He didn’t come back at the end of the school day. Roxbury was furious. This was the second time. He decided to call Mrs. Van Tek and do what he thought was necessary so that he didn’t look like a fool.
“Good afternoon, this is Dr. Newton Roxbury from the high school.”
“Hello, Dr. Roxbury.”
“I said that I’d get back to you by this afternoon. I’ve spoken to Mr. Snow and he tells me that he’ll be happy to get in touch with you to discuss Dave’s grade.”
“Did he tell you what the grades were?”
“Not exactly. He did say that he was having a bit of trouble with Dave’s behavior in class, however.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“He said that Dave was inconsistent about turning in his homework and that he tended to mouth off in class a little.”
“I spoke with my son further last night. He tells me that they don’t do any work in Mr. Snow’s class. He said that he doesn’t get any real homework because all Mr. Snow does is tell war stories.”
“About his experiences in Viet Nam.”
“Sometimes teachers do share a bit of personal experience with the students in order to bring the literature home to them.”
“I’m aware of that, Dr. Roxbury. My husband is a teacher. I was hoping to get this settled before he had to get involved.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, I suppose I should have told you this at the outset, but we’ve had previous experiences with Mr. Snow, and I can’t say that they’ve been good. I think that what I’d really like is to have my son out of that class.”
“Perhaps the best thing for me to do would be to talk to Dave.”
“I’m sure that you’ll do what you think is best.”
“I should expect that you’ll hear from Mr. Snow this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest. In the meantime, I’m going to speak with your son now. I’ll call you back tomorrow afternoon if that’s okay.”
Dave Van Tek was well over six feet tall and was all legs. He stood in the doorway of the English Department office nervously. I got called down from the main office and they said that Dr. Roxbury wanted to see me.”
“You’re Dave Van Tek?”
The boy nodded.
“I want to talk with you about your English class. It seems that you’re having a bit of trouble with Mr. Snow.”
“No real trouble. I just don’t understand how he grades. We never get anything back.”
“Do you turn your work in?”
“Yeah. The class had a test a month ago, and we didn’t get it back. We turned in a paper at the end of the first week of school and never got it back. The only things that he gives back to us are homework assignments, and they’re not graded. They just have check marks on them.”
“What do the check marks mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“Doesn’t Mr. Snow explain them to you when you go over them.”
“We don’t go over them.”
“What do you mean?”
“He just assigns them and collects them.”
“What about quizzes?”
“We had one, I think.”
“Did you get a grade on that?”
“He said that he threw them out because they were so bad.”
“Do you and Mr. Snow have difficulties in class?”
“We didn’t until I asked him when we were going to start doing English. Then he told me that I had a wise mouth and that I’d do a lot better if I kept it shut.” The boy paused. He was uncomfortable with the situation. “See, this is my junior year and everybody says that it’s the most important one that colleges look at. I think that he gave me a D because of what I said.”
“Have you been doing your homework?”
“I was but then I stopped. It doesn’t count for anything.”
“What percentage of your grade does Mr. Snow count for homework?”
“He doesn’t tell us. He just says that we’re all getting what we deserve. Look, can’t I just get out of his class. Once he finds out that I talked to you, he’s really going to screw me.”
“Why do you think that?”
“He screws everybody that gives him a hard time. All the kids know that.”
Before he went home that afternoon, Roxbury decided to run the story by the high school principal. There were several aspects of the situation that quietly gave Adele Becker cause for concern. As Roxbury was talking she jotted down a note to herself to review Mr. Snow’s last three years worth of evaluations before she left for the day. When Roxbury got to the part of the story where Dave Van Tek said that Mr. Snow was infamous as somebody who screwed all the kids who gave him a hard time, she ran her hands through her blonde hair, straightened a pin on her jacket lapel, and scrutinized Roxbury. She wondered why she needed to hear all of this, and why he hadn’t been more forceful in the way that he dealt with the incident from the start. It was true that this was his first year on the job, but it wasn’t as if he was an inexperienced administrator and the truth of the matter was that it was also her first year as the high school’s principal. When she’d heard enough, she began to try to abbreviate his story by saying, “uh-huh” at the end of each of his phrasings. Roxbury noticed the technique but decided that he was going to make sure that his boss was completely informed of this matter. He wasn’t going to be second-guessed at a later date for not having kept her abreast of things. Roxbury had noticed, in his brief time with Adele Becker, that her patience quickly evaporated after she had a sense of what it was that she was hearing. He’d also made mental note of the hot and cold mood swings that she seemed to have.
It was about six-thirty that evening when Becker came across her note to herself on Snow. She went to the file cabinet and pulled out his folder. Over the next hour, her mouth fell open several times. Snow had been employed by the district for ten years. She had intended to look at the last three years worth of final evaluations and wound reading all of them. The pattern was repeated again and again. Complaint after complaint that papers were not returned in a timely manner. Complaints that he did not teach the material in the curriculum. Complaints that he used grades in a retaliatory manner. But what shocked her the most was that the documentation of this behavior had been noted since the first year of his employment. Nothing had ever been done. There were no letters of reprimand. There were no unsatisfactories listed on his final evaluation check sheets, but instance after instance had been alluded to in the narratives written by previous administrators.
It was after seven-thirty. Adele Becker had been in her office for thirteen hours and wanted to go home, but her curiosity about this Snow character was keeping her there. She needed a clue as to why they had given him tenure. She knew it would be there, but she wasn’t sure what it was that she was searching for. It popped up about fifteen minutes later when she decided to check his attendance and use of sick days. In his ten years in the district, he had been absent more than 250 times! That was strange enough but the irregularity came when she saw that he still had accumulated sixty-four unused sick days. The numbers didn’t come close to matching. It was then that she found the envelope of letters requesting military leave on a yearly basis. She saw the superintendent’s approval along with the supportive notes expressing personal gratitude for Mr. Snow’s dedication to the service of his country. She decided to pack away the problem for the evening and head home
The next afternoon Newton Roxbury approached Howard Snow in the hall before the beginning of the last period of the day. “I was wondering if you got a chance to straighten things out with Mrs. Van Tek.”
“No, I haven’t had a chance to call her yet. I was intending to take care of it in the morning.”
Snow forehead shifted back and the curly head of hair seemed to elevate. “Is there a problem with that?”
“I was hoping that you would have called her last night or at least by this morning.”
“I have to leave the building right after school today. I’m refereeing a soccer match.”
“Suppose I come down to your class for the last fifteen minutes, and you use the time to go down to the office and give her a call?”
“Whatever you want,” said Snow with exasperation.
Roxbury decided to wait until after he’d taken care of this part of things before he went to see Adele Becker again, but his phone was ringing when he got back to the office. “Mrs. Becker wants to know if you can come down to her office,” said the secretary.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Could you put me through to her.”
“Hi, Adele. This is Newton Roxbury. I was hoping to postpone our getting together until after school.”
“Did Snow call that parent yet.”
“No. As a matter of fact, I’m covering his class in a few minutes, so that he can make the call.”
“That figures. Why didn’t he call last night or this morning?”
“I asked him but he really didn’t say.”
“Ask him again and give me a call when you’re done with him. I think that I’d like you to set up a parent conference with the kid, the parent, the guidance counselor, Snow and yourself.”
When Roxbury relayed that information to Snow, the teacher was very annoyed. “Why does she want me to do that?”
“She didn’t say.”
“Did the mother call her?”
“I don’t know,” said Roxbury.
“Well if there’s going to be a conference, there really isn’t any reason for me to call her, is there?”
“I think that it would be wise to make the call.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and call her. I can say whatever I have to say at the meeting. I don’t want to have to repeat the same things over and over again.”
Now it was Roxbury’s turn to look annoyed. “I thought that you said you were going to take care of this either last night or today.”
“Details,” said Snow. “Besides it seems that the principal already took care of it. Did you tell her about the mother’s call?”
“It was appropriate that I should.”
Dr. Roxbury set the meeting up for the following morning. The mother said that she thought that her husband would want to attend. Roxbury said that would be fine. Then he called the guidance counselor. The meeting was set for 7:30 in the morning. He informed Snow who just shook his head and said that he supposed that this was necessary, although he didn’t see why. Finally, Roxbury went back to see Adele Becker.
“I’ve set up a meeting with the Van Teks for tomorrow morning.”
“Did Snow contact the mother?”
“No. He said that he didn’t want to repeat himself and that he’d speak with her in the morning.”
“That son of a bitch.” Adele Becker took off her glasses and began to pace in front of her desk. “I did some reading last night. I think you’ll find it very interesting. The bottom line here is that this isn’t a new problem and it might only be the tip of a real iceberg.” She handed him Snow’s file. I’d like you to read this before tomorrow morning’s meeting.”
Derrick Thomas arrived at about 7:15 in the morning. He made a mental count of the number of people expected at the meeting and started bringing in extra chairs. Space was going to be very tight. In fact, they were going to be right on top of each other. Thomas didn’t like confrontational meetings, and he was less than pleased that he hadn’t been brought into this situation earlier. He would include those sentiments in the memo that he was required to send the guidance director after the meeting.
Roxbury was the next to arrive. He was wearing his traditional Brooks Brothers suit, carrying his mug of coffee and a legal pad. He went into the counselor’s office and began to spread out his things.
“Can you give me a little background about the situation?” said Derrick Thomas. He was purposefully trying to sound friendly and to hide the edge that he knew was in his voice.
“The student and the parents have some concerns about how Howard Snow arrived at his English grade for the student’s first marking period.”
“What kind of concerns?”
“The student claims that he didn’t receive any work back from the teacher.”
“Nothing unusual about that, is there?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” bristled Roxbury.
At that point the Van Teks arrived. The three of them were together, the young man coming in complete with his book bag. They exchanged “good mornings” and maneuvered in the close quarters. Mr. Van Tek opened his attache case and took out a pad. The guidance counselor offered the parents some coffee, which they refused. Roxbury made a mental note not to drink any more of his coffee. By 7:35 they were staring at each other a little uneasily. Snow had been due to arrive in the building twenty minutes earlier. There was no sign of him.
“Was Mr. Snow informed about this meeting,” said Mr. Van Tek.
“I told him about it yesterday afternoon,” said Roxbury.
The bell rang for the start of first period and Snow still wasn’t there. A minute or two later, he appeared carrying a mug of coffee. “Sorry about being late folks,” he said without looking at the parents and moved into the room. “Sort of tight in here, isn’t it?”
“Once we’re all seated it will be better,” said the counselor.
“Mr. Snow,” said Mr. Van Tek making obvious note of the time by looking at his wrist watch and jotting something down, “my son’s report card tells me that he’s not doing acceptable work in English. I’d like to know what his problem is.”
” Well to begin with,” said Snow, “he doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.”
Roxbury and Thomas grimaced. It was hardly the tone that they wanted to set.
“What exactly is he supposed to keep his mouth shut about?” said Mr. Van Tek.
“Well it would be nice if he’d show me some respect in class. If he chooses not to learn, I don’t think that it’s appropriate that he keep his classmates from learning.” Dave Van Tek put his head down and shook it back and forth. He knew that these kinds of meetings never worked out well for students, but the problem was that this time he knew that he was right.
“Why don’t you think that he wants to learn, Mr. Snow?” said Van Tek. His wife’s face shared the hard expression that everyone in the room was beginning to have.
Howard Snow laughed. “Well I suppose that I can’t prove that he doesn’t want to learn, but his performance surely indicates that to me.”
“What performance?” said Van Tek deliberately.
“For one thing, his homework assignments are rarely turned in.” The boy raised his head in a look of disbelief.
Van Tek made notes on his pad. “How many assignments has he missed?”
“I don’t know exactly, “said Snow. “I left my book upstairs. But it seems that the real question is how many has he turned in on time and complete.”
“Would you be able to tell me that?” said Van Tek.
“Not many. I can tell you that for sure,” said Snow with another sarcastic laugh.
“What about tests and quizzes?”
“What about them?”
“Well how’s he done?”
“Poorly,” said Snow.
“Did you bring those grades with you?”
“I thought that we were here to discuss his behavior,” said Snow glaring at Roxbury.
Newton Roxbury returned his look. “Why don’t you go upstairs and get the grades.”
“If these people have enough time to wait, and you can find coverage for my classes.”
“We can wait,” said Mr. Van Tek. He turned to his wife and she nodded.
When Snow left the room, she said, “What’s done is done here, Dr. Roxbury. My main concern is Dave’s future and it seems to me that changing classes would be the easiest solution to the problem.”
“Dave, are you sure that you didn’t get any grades back from Mr. Snow?” said Roxbury.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Then there are some issues here that we need to get settled,” said Roxbury.
“Forgive me if this sounds selfish,” said Van Tek, “but if Dave is going to transfer out of the class, then I’m not sure that we have much more to discuss.”
“Basically, you’re right,” said Derrick Thomas. “The only other thing would be Dave’s first marking period grade.”
“Dave,” said Van Tek, “did you stop doing homework in his class?”
“He didn’t go over it or use it for anything, Dad!”
“That’s not what I asked you.”
“Yeah,” said Dave,”I stopped doing homework in his class.”
“Do you understand why that was a poor decision?”
“Not really. Except that any excuse that he pulls out of his butt will be enough to satisfy everybody.”
“I wish I had a better answer for you about that, Dave.”
“You don’t need to get obnoxious!” said Mr.Van Tek
“Let’s see how difficult it will be to change this class,” said Thomas.
By the time Snow came back with a fresh mug of coffee and his grade book, Mr. and Mrs. Van Tek were on their way to the car. Dave Van Tek, Derrick Thomas, and Roxbury were in the office. Thomas was putting the necessary entries into the computer.
“What happened?” said an indignant Snow.
“Dave is going to be transferring to another English class,” said Thomas.
Snow looked at Roxbury who was writing a list of things down. “Do you need me here for anything else?”
“Let’s talk upstairs,” said Roxbury.
“I just came from there,” said Snow.
“Dave,” said Roxbury, “I’ll get back to you about your grades myself.”
“Let’s just forget it,” said Dave Van Tek.
“Let’s make sure that you don’t forget to turn in your books,” said Snow.
They walked upstairs in silence. When they got into the English office, Roxbury said, “Can I see the grades, please.”
Snow handed Roxbury a torn half of a sheet of notebook paper. An F and a C were the only two letters on the page. What do these represent?”
“His two first marking period tests.”
“When were they given?” Roxbury held the paper out away from him and kept staring at it while Snow went to his book.
“The first one was given on September 28, and the second one…. Oh, I see the second one was a quiz that was given on… the week of October 4th.”
“Are these all of the grades for the first marking period.”
“No, there was homework and class participation.”
“And what did he get in those?”
“He got D’s in both.”
“And what percentage of his grade was homework?”
“Oh, I’d say 25%.”
“And class participation?”
“How was the rest of the grade figured?”
“Tests and quizzes.”
“Of which you provided one of each?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“And when were they returned?”
“I don’t keep track of that,” said the frustrated Snow. “Let me put it this way, were they returned? I’m sure the quiz was.”
“What about the test?”
“I think so.”
“You’re not sure?”
“I’m pretty sure. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was. You probably shouldn’t hold me to it though”
“So, all of the students got one quiz returned to them so far this year?”
“Well, you could look at it that way, I guess.”
“Dave Van Tek isn’t far oft when he says that he had no way of knowing what kind of a grade he was going to receive.”
“All he had to do was ask,” said Snow.
At five-thirty that afternoon, Newton Roxbury was debating about whether he wanted to face Adele Becker before he went home or in the morning. Her moods were immeasurably better in the morning, but this late in the day there was much less chance of being interrupted. He decided to call her and test the climate.
“Hi Adele, this is Newton. I was wondering if you had a preference about meeting this afternoon or in the morning.”
Newton was a bit startled. She had led him to believe that she was waiting to hear from him. “The meeting with Snow and the Van Teks.”
“Come on down now.”
When he got there, he found here fiddling with a stain that one of the after school kids had gotten on a new shirt. Roxbury was privately chagrined at the grammar school nature of the activity. He reminded himself again that he was no longer working at the college and that it had been his decision to leave the campus.
She finished with the stain while Roxbury stood and watched. The principal would have liked to spend a few more minutes talking with the student. It was a relatively new phenomena that she was noticing; kids that didn’t want to leave the school; who would deliberately get detentions and join clubs and teams that didn’t interest them so that they could avoid going home.
“How did the meeting go?”
“What does that mean?”
Roxbury flipped open his legal pad. “Well first of all both Mr. and Mrs. Van Tek showed up for the meeting.”
“What was the outcome?”
Roxbury stammered. He had prepared what he expected would be a twenty-minute synopsis of both of the meetings, and he had organized and structured his presentation. “Well there were a lot of factors…”
“Just tell me what the determination was.”
“The student is going to change classes.”
“Snow’s marking period grades seemed to be largely based on the results of one graded quiz.”
Her eyebrows went up like the tailof a hunting dog catching a scent. What does that mean?”
“It looks like that’s the only paper that he returned to them, if he even returned that.”
“There were no tests, no papers, no reports.”
“He says that he gave a test but that he’s not sure if he returned it. He thinks he did.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Roxbury shrugged. “He also says that he had class participation and homework grades, but he wasn’t at all clear on how he arrived at them.”
Adele Becker felt her face flushing. She took off her glasses and began to pace in front of her desk. “We have to find out how bad this actually is. How many classes are in this kind of shape. How deep this pile of bullshit is. I want you to meet with him again tomorrow and get the big picture.”
“I’m not sure that he’ll be very cooperative.”
“Well he fucking well better be cooperative, or I’ll personally chew off one of his balls as a warning.”
Roxbury was stunned. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever heard a woman say that. He was certain that he’d never heard a school official talk that way. Before he left the office, Becker instructed him to call Snow at home to set up the meeting and to make sure that the teacher had all of his materials prepared.
“Good evening, this Newton Roxbury at the high school. Can I speak with Howard please?”
“He’s still working, Mr. Roxbury. He must be right around there someplace.”
“Perhaps I’ve just missed him. Can I leave a message with you?”
The next afternoon Roxbury and Snow sat down with his grade book. Snow showed up at the beginning of his prep period with all of the necessary materials. The tone in his voice was less casual.
“I understand that needed to go over some things with me?”
“Mrs. Becker is concerned about the number of evaluative experiences that you’re providing for your students.”
“I suppose that it was touched off by the Van Tek meeting.”
“I wish somebody would have just drowned that kid at birth.”
Roxbury faked a chuckle, got out his legal pad and Snow’s schedule of classes and said, “Let’s begin with your first period class.” By late that afternoon he realized that the problem was even deeper than he thought it would be. Some of his classes had “not gotten up to” the point where they were ready to be tested. None of the classes had seen any essays returned to them. It was a mess. Becker would want to chew off both of his balls to prevent further propagation.
Dave Van Tek was on his way up the main corridor stairs talking with his friends. “So, I’m out of his fuckin’ class as of today. What I feel like doing is walking in and shoving the books that he says he’s doing with us right up his ass in front of the whole class.”
Marcy Chez was walking in back of Van Tek, close enough to hear what he was saying and who he was talking about. She told Howard about it over lunch.
That afternoon Dave Van Tek entered Snow’s class.
“Here are my books, Mr. Snow. I need for you to sign my change of class form.”
“Isn’t there anything else you want, Dave?”
“What do you mean?”
“I understand that there’s something that you want to do with these books in front of the class. Well, the class is here. I’m here. You’re here, and the books are here.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
The class was shifting uneasily now. Usually when students changed classes it happened with little discussion. A voice from the back of the room said, “Maybe he wants you to tell us how much you enjoyed reading them, Dave.”
“I don’t know what’s confusing you,” said Snow. “From what I understand, you were pretty clear about what you wanted to do with these books earlier today.”
At that point, Van Tek realized that somebody must have overheard him. He shifted from one foot to the other and tried to find a place to look.
“Is there something else that you wanted to do?”
“Because if you think you’re a man and you want to step out into the hall we can settle this thing right now.”
“That’s right no. Because you’re not a man are you? You’re a little boy who has to run for Mommy and Daddy every time he gets himself into a mess, aren’t you?”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Snow.”
“The class will hardly miss you.” Snow signed the class change form and indicated that the student had done failing work for the fraction of the second marking period that he’d spent in Snow’s class.
“Adele Becker speaking.”
“Mrs. Becker, this is Donald Van Tek calling.”
“How can I help you?”
“My son Dave is a student at the high school.”
“Until recently, he was a student in Mr. Snow’s class.”
“Your teacher embarrassed and physically threatened my son today, Mrs. Becker, and I want to know what you intend to do about it.”
The principal grimaced. “Excuse me?”
“He called him out in front of the class and then humiliated him for not being willing to fight. What kind of a teacher is this man?”
“Mr. Van Tek, this is the first that I’m hearing anything about this.”
“Mrs. Becker, this is a courtesy call. I intend to take this up with the superintendent.”
“Of course. That’s your privilege. But, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate you filling me in on the details.”
The principal now felt that she had several obligations. She drew up a quick list of three steps: 1) notify the superintendent and fill him in on the details 2) notify Roxbury of this new development 3) set up a meeting with Roxbury and Snow. It was time that she started to address this situation directly.
The call to Peter Farmer was a brief one. The superintendent listened to the details of the story without comment. He made note of the date, and the name of the teacher and the name of the family and nothing else. He had always believed that putting too much in writing was a weakness that could cause vulnerability at the most unexpected times. It also made it difficult to change the position that one took or the way one characterized ones actions in hindsight.
Adele felt good about having brought her boss into the loop. He didn’t seem overly concerned. She liked the confident approach that he exuded about everything.
Her next step was the meeting with Roxbury. That would be easy, but it would take more time because he would be a fusspot about wanting to know everything that the father said. Newton Roxbury’s attention to detail was comforting in a different sort of way. She had instructed him from the start to document what had occurred with the Van Teks. She was sure that what he had prepared was comprehensive. For the sake of time, she could do that on the phone. The last step was the meeting with Snow and Roxbury. She’d let her secretary arrange that for the next morning.
Newton Roxbury hung up the telephone and scanned his legal pad. Before he went home that afternoon, he would transcribe the notes to the computer file that he was preparing. His phone rang again.
“English Department Office, Newton Roxbury speaking.”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“My name is Georgia White. My son is a student in Mr. Snow’s English class. There are some things going on in that class that I don’t understand.”
“What seems to be the problem?” Roxbury cleared out another sheet on his legal pad.
“My son says that they’re studying the Viet Nam War instead of literature this year.”
“My son, William White, he tells me that his teacher has told them that they’re not really responsible to do any reading this year. That what he wants is their undivided attention in class while he explains what happened during the Viet Nam War. I’d like to know if you’re aware of this.”
“No, Mrs. White, I’m not aware of any course that we’re presenting in the English Department that is based on the Viet Nam War. There are certainly books having to do with various wars that we do discuss in English. Is it possible that he misunderstood what Mr. Snow said?”
“I’m sure it is. You know how teenagers hear what they’d like to hear, but William has always loved English and almost always has gotten A’s and B’s. This year he’s only getting C’s, and when I asked if he was having difficulty, he said that when his teacher got around to correcting his essays that he was sure that his grade was going to be changed. I didn’t understand that. I thought that report card grades were rather final, unless of course some kind of a mistake has been made.”
“They are rather final unless some error or incompleteness has necessitated a change.”
After the conversation he saw that he had two more legal sheets of notes. He called Adele Becker. He was sure that she was going to go ballistic when she heard this latest problem but instead she laughed.
“Well, what do you know, there’s more than one run in the hose, isn’t there? Isn’t that too bad! Did you get the details and tell her that you were going to get back to her?” said Becker.
“Make sure that you follow the same sequence that you did with the Van Teks.”
“Do you want me to start a new file for the Whites, or shall I just keep it all together?”
“Absolutely a new file,” she laughed again. “Maybe you should give him his own computer folder.”
“I’ve got all of this information stored on a confidential disk so that no one else can access it.”
Adele smiled on the other end of the phone. She was sure that he also had a backup locked away someplace too.
At the next morning’s meeting, Howard Snow produced a letter from the army saying that he was being called from the reserves for a three week period of maneuvers beginning the day after next. Adele, her eyes squeezed together against the frame of her glasses, asked to see the letter. It was dated September 14. “When did you get this?”
“A while back, but you know how things are I just kept forgetting to bring it in from my house.”
“Did you inform anyone about it?”
Snow’s left eye flicked with a nervous twitch. “l think I told you, didn’t I?” he said to Roxbury.
The chairman’s face crinkled into a grimace. “When did you tell me about it?”
Snow’s eye continued to twitch. “I don’t know exactly, but I think it was right after I got it.”
“I don’t recall that.”
“Well, that’s just detail. In any event I’ll be gone for at least three weeks.”
Adele Becker was angry now, and when she was angry she dealt in clipped tones with nothing but facts. “I’ve had another call from Mr. Van Tek.”
“What now! His precious son is out of my class, isn’t he?”
“The boy claims that you embarrassed him and physically threatened him in front of the class.”
“Do you believe that! I never threatened him, and if he was embarrassed by what happened, it was his own fault.”
“What did happen?” said Becker. She hated men like this. They were cowards and bullies. This one made it all the worse by being incompetent as well.
“He came in with his class change form and I signed it. That’s all.”
“What did you say to him?” said Roxbury.
“He had been mouthing off about what he was going to do when he left the class. I just gave him enough rope to hang himself with.”
“And did he hang himself?”
“No. He acted like a little baby. He shut up like a clam.” Snow’s eye stopped twitching. “I want both of you to know that the way these things have been handled doesn’t give any feeling of administrative support.”
“Administrative support!” Adele Becker shouted and leaped to her feet. “What have you given us to support you with?”
The twitch began again. “I’ve gone out of my way to cooperate with both of you, but I feel like I’m being accused of things and that the two of you are just leaving me out there to hang.”
Becker walked over to her window. “Van Tek has told me that he’s bringing his concerns to the superintendent. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Do you know who’s going to be taking my place for the three weeks?”
The principal took a breath to avoid hollering again. “You’ve just informed me about your leaving a minute ago.”
“As I said, I thought I told Mr. Roxbury but I’ll let that go.”
Sometimes Newton Roxbury very much enjoyed his own sense of timing. “Unfortunately, we now have another problem to discuss.”
“What now?” said Snow.
“William White’s parents contacted me yesterday. It seems that William told his Mom that they weren’t going to be doing any reading this year because you had decided to teach them about the Viet Nam War instead.”
Snow’s eye was twitching furiously now. “Excuse my language, but that’s just horse hockey.”
Adele Becker had already decided what her next move was going to be. “I think that you and I should get together tomorrow afternoon. We need to get a number of things straightened out. Bring your lesson plans for the year. Bring the unit plans that you’ve prepared for the substitute and also bring me samples of some corrected essays.”
“You want all that by tomorrow?”
“I’m sure it’s just a question of gathering it together in one spot. What time is good for you?”
“My prep is period seven but I had planned to do some of this work then.”
“What about after school?”
“Darn it. I’ve got to leave right after school tomorrow. I’ve got some things to clear up before I go away .”
“It’ll have to be during your prep period then,” said Becker. “I’m also going to ask Dr. Roxbury to join us. Now, as I understand it, you’re telling me that nothing really out of the ordinary happened when the Van Tek kid came in to have you sign his change of class form and that the White kid is mixed up about his facts.”
“He’s just plain lying,” said Snow.
“I see. Well, that about does it for today. Gentlemen, I’m going to have to cut this short. I’ve got to be in Morristown in less than an hour.”
Howard Snow was holding court in the faculty room. He was surrounded by Marcy Chez and three of their colleagues. “You know, they wonder downstairs why the students act the way that they do, but it never occurs to them that they might be part of the reason. Let a parent call the school, and they’ll hang a teacher out to dry without thinking about it twice.”
“What did Becker say?” said Marcy. She already knew the answer, but she wanted to give Howard a chance to get it off his chest again. Talking like this was good for him. He held too many things in as it was.
“She wants to over my lesson plans and see samples of the essays that I’ve corrected.”
Maria Taglieri was one of the building’s union reps. She had seen administrations do more inappropriate things than she could remember. “What does that have to do with the way the kid was behaving in class?”
Snow extended his hand. “Exactly! What does it have to do with that? I guess that a student’s behavior in class isn’t important enough to discuss when a parent decides to call the superintendent.”
“Maybe it would be a good idea if you didn’t go to this next meeting alone. Maybe it’s time for the union to get involved.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” said Snow.
When Adele Becker got Maria’s request for class coverage so that she could attend the meeting with Snow, she was relieved. It was about time that he had union representation. She was planning on bringing the issue up herself but it was better that it came from them.
The four of them sat down at the beginning of seventh period the next day. Maria began the meeting by saying that she was there on behalf of Mr. Snow and that she would like to see any memoranda that had been placed in his file relative to the meetings about the Van Tek incident, the White incident, or Mr. Snow’s military obligations.
“As far as I know there haven’t been any memos placed in Mr. Snow’s file. If there had been, the law requires that he be given a copy and a chance to respond.”
“I’m just checking,” said Maria. “So that we can all agree that as of today’s date there have been no documents or notes placed in Mr. Snow’s file?”
The approach annoyed Roxbury. It was tinged with distrust and it seemed to him to be an attack on his sense of propriety. Adele Becker was amused. “I want to assure you, Maria, and you too Howard that our only focus here is how to help you to resolve all of these matters in an equitable way.”
Maria Taglieri tilted her head to the side in a skeptical way. She knew that Becker was patronizing her but she could also play that game.The principal went on to say that Mr. Van Tek hadn’t yet contacted the superintendent and that she would let him know as soon as she heard anything in that regard. “Have you brought in your lesson plans?”
“Only the ones for this week,” said Snow. “I wasn’t able to put my hands on the other ones last night. I’m sure that I have them but I just wasn’t able to locate them at a moment’s notice.”
“Why’s that?” said Roxbury.
“I just didn’t lay my hands on them.”
Maria Taglieri said, “Wel, l according to the contract all of the lesson plans were already submitted to you.”
“That’s not completely true, “said Roxbury. “According to my records, Mr. Snow has failed to submit lesson plans on two occasions: 9/8 and 10/20.”
“That’s according to your records,” said Snow.
“And what did you do when you didn’t receive the lesson plans?” said Maria.
“I made note of it.”
“Did you ask for the plans?”
“I’ve mentioned at department meetings that it is necessary that I receive all of the lesson plans in a timely way. You know that. You’ve been at the department meetings.”
“Did you ask Mr. Snow what happened to his plans?”
“No. I didn’t see the need. I was relying on his professionalism.”
“So you never followed through and asked for the plans?”
“Let’s take a look at what’s here,” said Becker.
The examination of the lesson plans was grueling. Whenever Snow said anything that Becker didn’t understand, she asked him to clarify what he was saying. After he clarified what he was saying, she would ask questions about the clarification. What was becoming very clear was that Snow didn’t understand the teaching of the language because he had a vast amount of trouble understanding the language himself. When they came around to a discussion of the upcoming military leave, Maria Taglieri re-involved herself. Roxbury had quietly noted to himself that she had passed no comment and had tried to seem as disinterested as possible in the discussion of the bogus lesson plans. When Snow had stated that a junior English class had spent two weeks on the formation of a thesis statement, Roxbury had asked her how long she spent on the same topic with her freshman classes. Taglieri seemed offended by the question and said that she would be more than happy to spend as much time as he would like her to spend clarifying her own lesson plans, but that she had no intention of commenting on the teaching techniques of one of her colleagues. Her message was dear; she was not there as an English teacher, she was there only in the capacity of a union rep.
“When did you receive notification of the military obligation?” said Becker.
“A while back, as I said yesterday, and I’ve thought about since then and I’m positive that I informed Mr. Roxbury at that time.”
“You did no such thing,” bristled Roxbury. “If you had notified me, I would have made note of it and taken the appropriate steps.”
“We seem to be at impasse on this point, and I suggest that we move on. Mr. Snow has stated that he informed Dr. Roxbury and Dr. Roxbury has replied that he doesn’t remember being informed,” said Taglieri.
Newton wasn’t satisfied with that rendition of the facts but he decided to let it pass.
“The last thing on the agenda for today’s meeting has to do with the White family. I received a call from Mrs. White concerning her son. She tells me that he’s saying he doesn’t have any literature to read this year and that instead you’ve decided to talk about the Viet Nam War.”
Snow raised his voice. “You asked me about that yesterday and I told you that it wasn’t true.”
“Well how do you suggest I respond to the mother?’
“Did she ask to speak with me?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Then I guess it’s your problem.”
Adele Becker cut in sharply. “You don’t see this call from a parent about the literature in your class as your problem?”
Snow began to twitch again. “Ultimately, I suppose that it is.”
“And you don’t see the fact that tomorrow you’re going away for three weeks and you haven’t begun to draw up at least a unit plan to cover that time as your problem either?”
“I know that’s my responsibility.”
“Well thank God for that!”
“I don’t see the need to become abusive here, Mrs. Becker,” interjected the union rep.
“Does the union intend to take responsibility to make sure that I’ve got these plans in time to implement them?”
“Of course not.”
“Do you, in your capacity as a rep, recognize that adequate planning is one of the responsibilities of the position?”
“There’s no need for me to answer that, and it won’t be at all useful to become condescending.”
Becker turned to face Snow. “I want those plans on my desk by 7:15 in the morning.”
“That’s not a problem,” said Snow.
When Mr. Van Tek got through to Peter Farmer’s office, the conversation was rather brief. Farmer had been the district’s superintendent for three decades and there wasn’t much that was going to get him excited. He listened to the story and was satisfied that Van Tek wasn’t saying anything that Becker hadn’t already told him. When Van Tek had finished he said, “Well this certainly seems quite serious on the face of it. I’ll have Mrs. Becker speak with Mr. Snow, but you say that Dave (he’d written the student’s first name down when the father had first used it) is no longer a member of the class? That would mean that the possibility of him having to have any more dealings with Mr. Snow is rather remote.”
“That’s true,” said Van Tek.
“We’ll certainly follow through on this. We don’t want any of our students ever put into a situation where they’re abused in any way.”
After they said goodbye, Farmer called Becker. “The situation with Mr. Van Tek has been resolved. I don’t believe that we’ll be hearing too much more about it. I’ve told him that you’d speak with the teacher and he seemed satisfied. Just make sure that the kid doesn’t get him for any other classes.”
“I wish the situation with Snow was as easy to resolve,” said Becker. “I just had him in here with his union rep and the department chair. He’s a disgrace. He has given no tests, he’s not doing the proper readings with his classes and he’s uncooperative.”
“I suppose that you’d better draft up some kind of memo about it for his file.”
“Do you want me to copy you?”
“Not unless you feel that it’s absolutely necessary.”
“He’s also going away for three weeks on military leave.”
“We can’t blame the man for that.”
“No, that’s true. But it would have been nice if he’d told me before today.”
“When is he leaving?”
“Well maybe it’s a godsend. It’ll give the smoke a chance to clear. Follow up on him and keep me posted as you see the need.”
Adele Becker was perplexed. She had gotten the message. It hadn’t exactly been subtle. This was no big deal. She was to keep him posted as she saw the need. The translation was simple. If you must be a pain in the ass about this, do it sparingly. She didn’t have to wonder why. It was a no win situation for Farmer, and for her too actually. Before she got into any more of a confrontation with the union or with anybody else, she was going to have to rethink her position. That afternoon she wondered out loud with Newton Roxbury about where they were going with this.
“I think that we have a obligation to educate students or to see that students are being provided with the opportunity for education,” said Roxbury.
“I know what our obligations are. I’m asking you what we can hope to accomplish.”
“We need to get him back on track in the classroom, if he’s capable of that.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about. We both know that the next obvious step is to evaluate his classroom performance. What are we going to do here if we find out that he’s not capable of getting back on track? Suppose we bring his incompetence out in the open where both of us have to look at it and know it’s there,” said Becker.
“What you really mean is what are we going to do if we know it’s there and can’t do anything about it”
Roxbury closed his pad and put his pen away. He took off his glasses and put them into the leather case that was engraved with his initials. “How far are you willing to take it?”
“How bad do you think it is?”
“I’m afraid that we really don’t know how bad it is yet. My instincts tell me that it’s going to get worse.”
“I was wondering if other administrators had gotten to this point with him and then backed away,” said Adele. “It’s nothing but a huge can of worms. If he’s absolutely horrible and we get full board and central office support and he doesn’t get any better, it will take a minimum of two years before we can actually threaten his job.”
“Two years, two hundred more students.”
“That really is the only problem, isn’t it?” she said thoughtfully. “Let’s rethink how we want to approach this or if we want to approach this.”
“I know what I want to do. It’s the only thing that I can, in good conscience, do.”
“Is it? We’re talking about a thousand hours of work that you’re going to absolutely despise. Do you think that there’s a way that you spend that time more effectively? I want you to think about that.”
Snow seemed like less of as problem when he was away. Roxbury and Becker both knew that his classes were reading minimal amounts of material and writing out answers to study guide questions that came were taken verbatim from Cliff’s Notes, but they pushed those observations away. Becker pushed for one more conversation with Peter Farmer who asked her, after she had delicately cornered him, why, if Snow was so bad, no one else had brought this to his attention before now. She responded that she didn’t know. Farmer then told her that she had a careful line to walk. “I’ll support whatever decision that you make regarding him, but I don’t want you to be draining your own resources with this any more than necessary. Perhaps you can effect a change in his job performance with a certain amount of coaching and arm twisting.” Based on that conversation, Becker decided that she wanted Roxbury and herself to observe his classes. She also told Roxbury that she wanted to postpone any more discussion of Howard Snow, unless something new came up, until after the observations.
Waiting for Snow and most of his students to enter the room, Adele Becker quietly slipped into a desk in the back near the door. She smiled and nodded at the students who acknowledged her. She didn’t seem to be staring but her attention was fixed on the front of the room. The buzz that accompanied an observer passed among the students and then the bell, which signaled the beginning of the period, rang. Becker noticed that a large group of students entered the room several minutes after the bell, but Howard Snow hadn’t seen them or her. He was busily engaged in conversation near the front of the room with Marcy Chez. Another two minutes went by and finally one of the students got up and went over to the two. “Can I help you?” said Snow. The student handed him a sheet of folded notebook paper:”The principal is in the back of the room” said the note.
Snow began to twitch and stared up at the back of the room. Adele Becker returned his gaze with even tempered ice. Marcy Chez followed Snow’s gaze was visibly startled by the sight of Becker. She began talking loudly. “Well I’ll make sure that student stays in contact with you, so that she doesn’t fall too far behind.”
Becker heard one of the students close to her mutter, “What about her behind?” There was a small rash of laughter and then Chez walked quickly to the door and left without making eye contact with Becker. Becker shook her head in an imperceptible back and forth of disgust and glanced up at the clock. She had been there for almost eight minutes, and he’d only now discovered her presence, and that had only come because one of his students had brought him a note. It was the first positive thing that she’d seen about him; he had instilled enough of a sense of loyalty for the kid to take the trouble to tell him that she was there.
“Sorry about the interruption,” said Snow. “Let’s take out our books and get to work.”
“Which books, Mr. Snow?”
“Well,” said Snow thinking it over, “I think that we need to concentrate on some grammar today.”
A collective groan rose from the class.
“You can complain all you like, but the way to get out of using grammar is to stop making stupid mistakes.” Becker winced. “If I didn’t need a translator to read your essays, maybe we wouldn’t have to spend as much time on the boring stuff as we do.” Becker winced again. She saw one student put his head down on the desk and close his eyes. Snow didn’t seem to notice him.
“What page?” said the girl that had brought the note up to the front of the room.
Snow thumbed through the book. His eye was a explosion of twitches the made the side of his face go up and down. “I want to say some things about commas,” said Snow. The class groaned again. Becker noticed that less than half of them had their books out. Becker read the first ten rules of comma usage slowly. The he called on students to reread the rules after which he would ask if the student knew what it meant. When the student responded affirmatively, Snow went on to the next rule. Then he turned to the board and started copying the sample sentences for one of the rules out of the book. While he was doing that, the students who had largely forgotten that Becker was there chatted among themselves. Snow had just finished copying the last sentence when the bell rang. He quickly told the students to do the exercises on the next page. Becker looked over at a book on the desk of the student next to her and saw that the next page was a continuation of the rules. The class filed out quickly. Becker left without saying anything to him. It was easily one of the worst classes she had ever seen.
That afternoon Newton Roxbury told Snow that he would like to observe one of his classes and that Snow should pick the one where he would be most comfortable.
“Not to be confused with this morning when the principal just walked in to one of my classes,” said Snow:
“This is one of the two formal observations that are conducted for all tenured teachers.”
“And what was that this morning with her?”
“I don’t really know,” said Roxbury coldly. “You’ll have to ask Mrs. Becker.”
Snow chose the junior class in which Dave Van Tek had been a student. “The class is reading Hamlet right now,” said Snow.
That next afternoon Becker and Roxbury got together to compare notes. Both had come away appalled for different reasons. In the class that Roxbury observed, Snow had read all the parts of the play to the class for the entire time. Less than half of the students had come with their books. Snow read the parts of the play badly. Roxbury had seen students sleeping or engaged in private conversations throughout the class. At one point a student had raised his hand and asked if the class was ever getting their tests from the last marking period back. Snow had replied that the question was not pertinent to what they were doing.
“You’ve had the tests for a really long time, Mr. Snow. I was just wondering if they were good enough for you to correct this time.”
“I’ll speak to you after class.”
“Never mind,” said the student.
Adele Becker shook her head sadly. “You were right,” she said to Roxbury. “It’s even worse than I thought it was. I don’t see that we have any choice.”
“I spent the afternoon drafting his evaluation. I’d like you to take a look at it before I give into him.”
Becker read the evaluation form. Of the fourteen categories listed, Snow had received Unsatisfactories (U’s) or Needs Improvement (N’s) in eleven of the categories.
In his attached narrative, Roxbury had written: “‘Mr. Snow seems incapable of preparing and presenting well organized instruction. His students do not appear ready to learn and their lack of enthusiasm for work seems to be a reflection of their teacher’s inability to be enthusiastic.”
“We need to also draft a letter which says that if improvement isn’t shown by the end of the year that we will be recommending a withholding of increment.”
“I’ll draft it before I go home,” said Roxbury.
“When do you want to give him the evaluation?”
“I’m ready whenever you give me the go ahead.”
“Do it tomorrow,” said Becker.
When Howard Snow sat down to read the evaluation form, he prefaced his reading by saying, “I’ll bet this is a glowing report.” As he read, he shook his head back and forth and several times he muttered, “Yeah right,” to himself. Roxbury was maintaining control, but he could feel his anger rising. When he was done reading, Snow said, “You don’t expect me to sign this, do you?”
“That’s up to you.”
“Well I’m not signing it,” he said. He let the evaluation slide from his hand and it continued across the desk in Roxbury’s direction. Snow got up to leave.
“That’s your copy,” said the chairman.
“Thanks,” said Snow.
“If you’re going to respond, you have ten days to put it in writing.”
“It won’t take that long,” said Snow. Then he left.
The next day the teacher received the letter about the need for improvement and the possible recommendation for the withholding of his increment. Snow went directly to Becker’s office and asked if they could discuss the letter. Becker said that she would be happy to do that, but that she wanted Roxbury present and she suggested that it would be a good idea for Snow to have his rep with him.
The mood was tense when the four people sat down for their next meeting. They began by handing out copies of Snow’s response to Becker and Roxbury.
“To say that I was shocked by the content of my most recent evaluation is an understatement. Why Dr. Roxbury has singled me out for unfair treatment is a mystery to me. I can only conclude that I possess some unknown quality that he resents. Perhaps it is his lack of experience with secondary school education that it is at fault, but only he can truly know that. I have done nothing to him to instigate the personal attack that he has waged on me, but I do know that the strain of his unfair scrutiny has soured my relationship with my principal and adversely affected my relationship with some of my students.
I reject the unfounded notion that my classes are not well prepared because Dr. Roxbury has never commented negatively on any of my lesson plans. He has given me no clue that he was less than satisfied with my work. Therefore, as is my right under the contract, I request an observation by a different administrator. I further request that any recommendation regarding me be postponed until the results of that observation are clear.”
Roxbury felt the heat in his face as he read. He told himself to take it easy. He told himself that he should have expected this kind of attack. He glanced down and saw that a copy of the response had also been sent to the superintendent
Adele Becker read through the response easily. “I think that getting a second opinion on your classes is a good idea,” she said to Snow. Roxbury bristled.
Maria Taglieri saw that Newton was on the edge and took the opportunity to add, “What we would really like is to have Dr. Roxbury’s evaluation expunged from the files,” she said.
Roxbury opened his mouth to respond but Becker cut him off. “That’s not really an option that, according to the contract, you have. You can request a second evaluation and, as I said, I think you’ve done well to do so.”
Newton maintained his silence until the meeting was over. When they left, he snarled, “Can you believe the gall of this man?”
Becker laughed. “Do you think that he wrote the response himself? I don’t think he’s capable of it?”
“It’s easy for you to take this lightly; they didn’t attack you,” whined Roxbury.
“Oh, grow up Newton. What did you expect them to do? You’re a big boy.” She slid her tongue into the side of her mouth. “A little constructive criticism is good for you.”
Roxbury knew that she was busting his chops but he couldn’t help himself.
“How can you call that constructive?” he complained.
“Ok, let’s get down to business,” said Becker. “Who do you think we should have observe him?” Becker watched Roxbury’s face with delight. She had already decided that she was going to do the observation herself.
The second marking period was over. Becker sent a memo to Snow requesting that he come to her office, with his grade book and his plan book for a pre-observation conference. She purposefully waited until the grades were due before she wrote the memo, but prior to sending it out she received a call from Roxbury.
“We’ve got a problem.”
“What is it?”
“He’s given out thirty-five incompletes.”
“I want to see him and I want to know about each incomplete on an individual basis,” said Becker..
Sitting in his office, Roxbury reflected with relish on the two and one half hour meeting that he’d just sat through. Becker was a surgeon but she made her incisions so delicately that Snow didn’t even know he was being cut until she was holding up the organ that she’d removed and was asking him questions about it. Roxbury had begun to take real pleasure in seeing Snow squirm. He waited with expectancy for the nervous tick to begin twitching. He enjoyed the way she smiled and sweetly led Snow to the conclusion that he was an asshole. He fantasized that at one of these meetings Snow would actually admit that he was a useless teacher and that for the sake of everyone involved he was getting out for good. But that wasn’t going to happen, and Roxbury knew it. Why should he get out? He was making a better salary than anyone else in the department and doing no work for it.
After the marathon meeting about the incompletes, Becker directed Roxbury to begin weekly monitoring as part of Snow’s Professional Improvement Plan. Snow was to show Roxbury all of his tests before they were given. He was to show him the corrected papers before they were returned. He was to submit his lesson plans for evaluation and then redraft them after his weekly get together with Snow.
Maria Taglieri had objected to the provisions of the PIP, stating that they placed an undue pressure on Snow, but Becker had showed her where, in the contract, such provisions were allowable and Taglieri was forced to acquiesce.
Roxbury kept a written record of all the meetings. By spring vacation he had written more than fifty memos concerning Snow. By April, Roxbury and Becker were prepared to take their recommendation to the Beard of Education.
The Board met in executive session to hear the substance of the situation surrounding Snow. By law, they were not allowed to act in executive session and also, according to the law, Snow had the right to attend the meeting. He declined to attend. The executive session was composed of the five voting members, the board lawyer, the school business administrator and the superintendent.
Peter Farmer had seen boards of education come and go. Sometimes they were a help, but more often than not they presented hurdles that he had to clear in order to get what he wanted. The law said that Farmer worked for them, but no one was naive enough to think that was the case. Whatever happened regarding Snow had already been decided. The meeting itself was perfunctory.
Becker and Roxbury made their presentations and then Adele Becker presented her recommendation. “After almost an entire year of close supervision, I have come to the conclusion that I must recommend the withholding of Mr. Snow’s increment. I must further recommend that we present him with a one year timetable for sufficient improvement. The consequences of not meeting this professional improvement plan would be a breaking of tenure and dismissal.”
Jack Speck, a longtime friend of Farmer, was the first to ask questions. “Why do you think that all of this is just coming to light now, Mrs. Becker?”
“I can’t speak for what happened in the past. My check of evaluations has shown that these patterns of incompetence are chronic and were first noticed during Mr. Snow’s initial year of employment.”
“But what are you telling us? Are you saying that he’s just a poor teacher, or that he has problems with his paper work?”
“At this point, I would have to say that both of those things are true.”
“Do you seriously believe that his performance can be improved?”
“Predicting the future is not something that I like to get involved with, Mr. Speck, but I know what you’re asking me, and I would have to say that given his attitude and actions, his ability to improve is highly suspect”
Eva Ringbolt was one of the newer board members. She’d been elected to the board about a year and a half ago and already twice threatened to resign as a result of what she termed Farmer’s blatant disregard for acceptable procedure. As a result of her actions, Farmer usually informed her about nothing. “Do you dislike Mr. Snow?”
“I don’t have any personal feelings about him at all, Ms. Ringbolt.”
“Have you visited his classes?”
Becker hid her annoyance at the uninformed question. “As my evaluation indicates, I have observed two of his classes personally. I have spent a number of hours reviewing his lesson plans and grading procedures. I would say that I have acquainted myself with his job performance as well as I could in a year.”
“But is a year a long enough time to make this kind of a determination?”
“As I also said, I reviewed his evaluation history and I am recommending that we give him formal notice of the need to improve during the upcoming school year.”
“Aren’t we really just threatening him?”
“No. I don’t intend that this monitoring become a threatening situation. However, I have little control over Mr. Snow’s perceptions.”
Paul Grady was the next board member to ask questions. Adele Becker had been around long enough to know that he was a swing vote. Most times he aligned himself with Farmer, but he also had five children in the school system. The oldest was going into tenth grade this year. “Has anyone suggested that this man might need psychological help?”
The question hung like a suspended object over the table. Adele Becker did not answer right away. Roxbury did not want to meet her gaze. Peter Farmer decided that it was better if he spoke up now. “As I have said on several different occasions in the past, whatever the board decides to do is fine with me. However, it is my job to advise you of some of the consequences that certain actions might have. I have spoken with our attorney regarding the possibility that Mr. Snow is in need of psychological assistance, and he tells me that it would not be in our best interests to raise this issue.”
“Why is that, Mr. Caray?” Ringbolt had deliberately avoided asking the question of Farmer.
The attorney responded, “If the board was to raise that issue, and Mr. Snow should allow himself to be evaluated, it would be incumbent on the board to assist and financially support that psychological evaluation. It would also be necessary for the board to wait until after that treatment had been rendered to reevaluate his circumstances.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Simply put, you could be stuck paying him for the several years that psychological therapy might take and would be prevented from raising these issues again until after it was concluded.”
Paul Grady had another concern. “Isn’t Mr. Snow a member of the military?”
“Yes, he’s in the reserves.”
“With what’s occurring overseas, don’t you think that the timing of this is rather poor? I mean the truth is that Mr. Snow doesn’t know when or if he’s going to be asked to go and risk his life for his country. He’s forty-one years old. He’s got a family. It would seem that he’s under a great deal of pressure. Have you factored those things into your evaluation, Mrs. Becker?”
“No, I haven’t. My charge is to oversee the education that is offered at the high school. My only concern here is the number of students that are not receiving adequate preparation.”
“Dr. Roxbury, do you have anything to add?”
“Only that I concur with Mrs. Becker, and that I assure you that we haven’t come to this recommendation without a good deal of soul searching.”
The Beard reconvened its public session and voted to withhold the increment. However, they voted to reject the mentoring plan and the letter that Becker had recommended.
“They gave us something anyway,” said Becker. “Although I hate to think about what next year is going to be like for us.”
“We need to talk about that Adele. I’ve been asked to return to the college as the Dean of Humanities. I’ve decided to accept the offer. I’ll be leaving after the school year is over.”
Becker smiled. “Do you think that college life will be less upsetting to you?”
“I don’t know if it’s that, but this is a good opportunity.”
Snow and Roxbury had one last conversation before the end of the year. Snow tried to be conciliatory. “I just don’t think that you understand what we’re facing at this level. This isn’t like college.”
“Did you ever enjoy teaching?” said Roxbury.
“This is a job, like any other job. It gets colored over with a bunch of sugar coating but finally that’s a load of crap.”
Roxbury couldn’t answer him. It really was as simple as that for Howard Snow.
At the end of that school year, Marcy Chez was transferred to the middle school and Maria Taglieri was named as the new department chairperson. Her initial conversations with Becker included no mention of Howard Snow. Adele Becker was now heavily involving herself with curriculum restructuring. Peter Farmer retired that summer and the board went about the search for a new superintendent.
By the end of the next September, Maria Taglieri was becoming familiar with her new duties. She was a bit concerned about the hard fact that she was no longer a member of the union, but she was enjoying the curriculum work with Adele Becker immensely.
“Ms. Taglieri, my name is Sheila Penn. I wonder if I might talk to you about a rather unusual situation that has developed with one of your teachers. It’s about a Mr. Snow…”
Taglieri knitted her eyebrows together. As she listened, she found herself reaching for a legal pad to take notes.