Mr. Webb had a great gig. It was the start of his eleventh year as an Economics teacher at Edward Teller High School in Garson, Texas. Garson was one of those infinite suburbs north of Dallas, Texas that always did its best to vote for as many Republicans as possible. The kids were all right in Mr. Webb’s opinion, but other teachers complained about “the demographical change” that had happened in the years between now and 27 years ago, when Mr. Webb was a senior named Dean Webb at Teller.
When the demographics started to change after the S&L collapse of the early 90s, the nearly all-white student body of Teller took on more and more color each year. Some teachers couldn’t stand that. Frau Hassenfleisch, the German teacher, had a great suggestion: just fail all the Mexicans and Blacks so they’d drop out and transfer to “their” schools. Mr. Webb winced when he heard that story in the faculty lounge. Of all the teachers to be unreconstructed racists, it had to be the German teacher.
“Oh, it got worse!” said kindly old Mrs. Smiley. “Mr. Stein told her she was crazy to even suggest that and then she jabbed a finger right up in his face and said, ‘And we should have shoved you all into the ovens when we had the chance!’ We were so glad when she left after winter break.”
“Mr. Stein? The Math teacher? The guy that never hurt a fly?” Mr. Stein was famous for his lectures on how roaches and flies “were God’s creatures, too.”
“Good old Mr. Stein, that’s right.” Mrs. Smiley nodded and frowned. “Poor guy lost two uncles back in Germany in the Holocaust, and she had the gall to try and put him there, too. Just awful.”
But Mr. Webb wasn’t worried about shifts in demographics. He had grown up watching Sesame Street, so he didn’t care if his students were covered in blue Muppet fur. He did care if they were freshmen. He had been at Teller for eleven years, and the years he had freshmen in a Geography class were, hands down, his most stressful ones. This year had a certain sweetness to it: all his classes were senior Economics. He didn’t care what diversity he had in his classes as long as they were properly segregated by age.
His classroom really lent itself to the senior scene. When he got a room all his own in his second year at Teller, he had chucked out all his desks and replaced them with tables and chairs that were being tossed out of the library during its remodeling. That had led to a scene when the lady that used to have that classroom tried to order him to keep the desks in his room.
“Those desks are brand new! You can’t just put them out in the hall!” Mrs. Martinet was hysterical, as if Mr. Webb was putting her mom on the street.
Mr. Webb stayed calm as the football team members moved the furniture around. They laughed a little as they overheard the exchange. “It’s my room. I prefer tables and chairs. It’s more collegiate.”
“They look like junk!”
“They were good enough for our library. It’s a sin to waste them.”
“It’s a sin to waste the new desks! There are rooms with crappy old desks and you’re just putting these out! They’ll go back to the warehouse and nobody will use them!” Mrs. Martinet was turning purple. The jocks’ quiet laughter probably had something to do with it. She hated children. She only taught because the salary was basically money for jewelry and handbags – her husband more than covered all her other bills – and there was a lot to be said for the 80-day weekend teachers got every summer.
Mr. Webb liked the big vacation, too, but he was in teaching for the kids. That’s why he had tossed the desks. He didn’t want his room to be any more like a jail than it had to be. It was bad enough that bells decided when conversations should stop and start, privileges could be revoked on a whim, and going to the bathroom required a security clearance. He didn’t need to add regimented, uncomfortable chairs with plywood bolted on to remind the kids of their institutionalized status.
He also liked to cover his walls from top to bottom with maps and posters from comic book stores. As Mrs. Martinet tried to get between a linebacker and a shiny new desk, she lashed out against the decor. “This place looks like a dump! It looks like some kind of deranged head shop!”
“Hey, I don’t have any glassware!” A cornerback lost it on that one. He laughed so hard, he dropped the desk he was schlepping and scuffed it on the floor.
“Oh my God, do you know how much that costs? I’m getting the assistant principal up here! This is unacceptable!” She stormed out.
Mr. Webb called out after her, “Hey, we could swap out the new desks with the crappy old ones and send the old ones back to the warehouse. That’s a win-win.”
The assistant principal ruled in Mr. Webb’s favor and Mrs. Martinet had to continue her process of losing it somewhere else. Over the years, Mr. Webb had acquired more chairs, tables, sofas, and even a beanbag so his room was the most comfortable in the building. If chairs lost their legs but were otherwise serviceable, he’d set them on a back shelf where computers were supposed to be installed, but had been removed when the district decided that it wanted to “go wireless”. The three big, legless chairs along the back shelf were fondly known as “the thrones.” Kids that sat in them had a commanding view of the whole room, so Mr. Webb tried to reserve those for the students that were least likely to abuse such a vantage point.
To be sure, chairs that old and vintage had more than a little dust in them. Basically, it was best to just sit on the furniture and not ask too many questions. They were much more comfortable if one didn’t think about how many years of dead skin cells were in that dust that would arise and hover over the chairs for a few seconds every time they got a hard thump. At least the tables got wiped down with bleach every week, so those were mostly sanitary.
The two microwaves and the full-size refrigerator were also pretty clean, so students liked to warm up their lunches in his room. That was cool with Mr. Webb, so long as they didn’t interrupt his daily Bollywood showings at lunch. Lots of kids enjoyed having their Bollywood a half-hour at a time, and Mr. Webb had picked up a pretty decent command of Hindi and Urdu over the years. If there was a movie title or a song lyric that could convey his meaning, Mr. Webb could keep a conversation going.
The 2012-13 school year was just about to start, and Mr. Webb was ready for it. He had a sweet gig and looked forward to the day before classes started, when he got his roll sheets and could begin to get ready for the first day. This year, though, when he got his roll sheets, he couldn’t believe what he saw.