Back to School

Writing Prompt from Poets and Writers Magazine: Back to School

Ms. Taplick took a breath and straightened her back, bringing herself to her full five-foot three-inch stature. First impressions were so important, especially when she would have these kids for only a short time. If she could gain control immediately, the class always went more smoothly. For a substitute teacher whose last name was Taplick, control was always a slippery slope.

She’d broken up with her longtime boyfriend at the end of the last school year and went into a spiral of depression. Dumping her tiny apartment and putting her belongings into storage, she retreated to the only thing she enjoyed, backpack traveling. It was pure chance she’d come across this substitute teacher position.

She’d waited as long as she dared in the tiny teacher’s office to the side of the one-room, multi-grade class. The shuffling of feet entering the room had quit a few minutes ago and the room was amazingly quiet for the first day back at school.

“Good morning, class. I’ll be your teacher while Mr. Turner is indisposed. My name is Ms. Taplick, and you can call me Marie,” she said, introducing herself as she walked into the room. It hadn’t taken her long to reject the idea of trying to substitute teach classes while being called Ms. Taplick. She’d heard them all. The names kids thought they could get away with saying because they had misunderstood her name or misheard it. It was much better just to deal with the informality of being called Marie.

But this class seemed different. After introducing herself, the entire class responded in unison, “Good morning, Ms. Taplick.”

There wasn’t even a hint of a snicker from anyone and the pronunciation was perfect. No odd placement of emphasis on the ‘lick’, no addition of ‘n’ between the ‘tap’ and ‘lick’. Whomever this Mr. Turner was, he must have been a strong disciplinarian. Or at least he had commanded respect. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad semester after all.

Midway through the morning, when the younger students were finishing up their drawing assignment and the older students were between Chemistry and Agriculture, one of the older students brought her a cup of tea.

“Mr. Turner liked a cup of tea at the morning break,” she said, “We were thinking that you might like one as well.”

The student placed the cup of milky brown, steaming liquid on the corner of her desk, smiled, and retreated to her own seat.

Ms. Taplick didn’t think about how the student produced a cup of steaming tea in the middle of a classroom during chemistry class until later. That is, later, after the first couple of sips of the sweet, strong brew. After her feet started to tingle, her head began to spin, and her arms went limp and numb.

Later, after the oldest boys picked her and her chair up, while she felt glued in place, unable to move. After they unlocked the door to the surprisingly spacious lower level of the small country school building, struggled getting her and her chair down the wooden steps, and placed her at the end of the line of grey looking bodies sitting in similar chairs.

She’d wondered if she could handle the chemistry class when she began reviewing the book earlier this morning and now she knew the answer.

She could not.

This class was way ahead of her.

The bottles on the shelves in front of the row of chairs varied in size, shape and color. Some were ink black and others glowed with multi-colored phosphorescence.
It was now clear, this was going to be a very long semester.

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