The classroom buzzed with whispers, “Where is Mr. Y?” “He’s not coming back.” “Why?” “I don’t know.” “There was something about him in the paper but my parents wouldn’t let me read it.” A man in a plaid shirt and jeans entered the room, “Good morning students.” He spoke through a stuffy nose. An illustration of Ichabod Crane flashed across the screen of my mind. “I’m Mr. V. I’ll be taking over for Mr. Y.” We looked at each other. Taking over? our eyes grew wide. “I don’t have his lesson plans,” the stuffed voice rang out again. “So let’s just begin with the standard seventh year curriculum.” Gary held up his hand, “Mr. V.?” “You are?” he looked down at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Frank Murgum?” Gary’s forehead puckered, “I’m Gary Wright. Frankie is over there.” Gary pointed. Frankie held up and waved his freckled hand. “That’s not right,” Mr. V. studied the paper again. “The seating chart has Frank where you’re sitting and you,” Mr. V.’s forehead wrinkled, “I’m not sure where you’re supposed to be.” The class exchanged swift glances. “Mr. Y. didn’t use a seating chart,” Gary told him. “He didn’t,” our voices chorused; we shook our heads. “And we’re the gifted class,” Frankie told him his bright blue eyes serious. “We don’t follow the standard curriculum.” Mr. V. raised his head and looked into Frankie’s eyes, “We will follow the standard seventh year curriculum.” An almost mute collective groan hummed throughout the room. My heart tumbled into my stomach.
“I’ve been reading the Aeneid,” I told Mr. V. “Next year we begin Latin and Mr. Y. wanted to prepare us.” Mr. V. sighed, “The Aeneid is not part of the standard seventh year course. I want a book report on “Where The Red Fern Grows.” Today’s Wednesday. Get it to me by Monday.” “I read that two years ago,” my head bobbed in time to my words. “I wasn’t here then!” his stuffed voice snapped. Mr. V. stared out at the class, “You’re to stop telling me what you’ve done in the past. Just follow my instructions.” We breathed a collective sigh. Mr. V. placed stacks of thick books and workbooks on each desk in the front row, “Take one of each and pass the others back.” A collective groan rumbled through the class.
“Here’s my book report,” I placed it on Mr. V.’s desk on Thursday morning. “It’s two days early,” he looked puzzled. I shrugged and raised my hands, my eyes wide, one corner of my mouth lifted. I’m bored, I mutely told my Friend. My eyes returned to the Aeneid hidden in the history workbook. Mr. V.’s voice snuffled. I lifted my head, caught Lourdes’ eyes and smiled to her across the room.
“You ought to be doing your home work,” I jumped at Mr. V.’s stuffiness booming in my ear. Our eyes stared at the sketch of a horse I had been working on. I left it face up and pulled a pile of workbooks from under my desk. “It’s done,” I shrugged one shoulder. “Then do the next lesson,” he held the books out to me. I sighed, “They’re all done.” I pointed at the stack of books he held, “That’s all my homework, for the rest of the year, for every subject except French; M. Abadie does not use workbooks.” Mr. V. ran his fingers through his hair. Dandruff flakes fell onto his dark plaid shirt. “Then you’ll have to sit quietly, won’t you?” he placed the stack of workbooks on my desk. I returned to my sketch and, later, to the Aeneid.
A paper airplane landed on my desk. I looked up. Frankie’s bright blue eyes sparkled, a big smile lit up his freckled face. “Read it,” he mouthed. I unfolded the plane. Inside, “Toss me to Gary!” was written in block letters. I refolded it and tossed it to Gary. Mr. V. sat at his desk grading papers. “Have you any books on making paper airplanes?” I asked the school librarian. “Or aerodynamics?” Gary hastily interjected. I mouthed, “Thanks.” “I think I have some books on making model airplanes,” the librarian directed us to a shelf. At lunch, the students in the gifted seventh year class, pored over a book. “We can make these,” Gary assured us.
“I ought to give you an F in citizenship,” Mr. V. blocked the doorway as, I, the last student to leave that day, approached the door. “You’ve disrupted my class from the first day,” the stuffed complaint was like nails on a chalkboard. “But you won’t,” and, without thought, I knew he wouldn’t. “You think so?” more scratching. I sighed, “You won’t. An F will look strange next to all those A’s.” The words tumbled out, “I’ve been at this school since kindergarten and skipped two grades. Mr. E. will want to know why, all of a sudden, I have an F in citizenship. He’ll find out you’ve been teaching the gifted class the standard curriculum.” Mr. V. swallowed and stood aside. “A ‘B,’” I told my Friend as I walked along reading my final report card. “I can live with that. I did deserve an F; I’ve been really bad. But we’ve all been so bored. And we’ll be behind next year.”