You know, you can only put up with so much bull before you realize that you aren’t needed. The ironic part of this is that I heard a radio ad this morning about the city schools needing teachers. No wonder they need teachers. Of course, Marilyn probably thinks I’m happily teaching for Mr. Poole or have already talked with Dr. Berkley. So I guess it’s back to Cloth World for a year. I’ll look again maybe in December, maybe I’ll sub for a year. It won’t be that bad.
“Is this Bridgett Wissinger?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hello, this is Marilyn Jefferson from the St. Louis Public Schools. I have an interview scheduled for you at Simmons School with Dr. Justin. Can you make it at 1 p.m. today?”
“Yes, thanks for finally getting back to me.”
“Well, we only just got your file reviewed today. Your police record check was late.”
“Oh, ok, then.” That makes no sense, but ok. “I can be there at one.”
Simmons School is in a rough part of town. Perhaps the roughest. When I called my parents about the hopeful presence of another interview, my father was amazed that I’d drive to Simmons.
“You know that’s right down the street from the deadliest corner in America,” he reminded me. “St. Louis and Sarah. More gunfights and deaths there than any other.”
“Yes, but wasn’t that in 1975?” I ask sarcastically. My father had been an emergency room nurse back then.
“How much could it have changed in 20 years?” he retorts.
I drive around the red brick, seemingly abandoned, school several times before I decide where I should park. I stop the car in the parking lot behind the school and walk around front to the locked doors. A security guard sees me through the bulletproof glass and opens the door. I explain who I am and he lets me in without conversation.
A middle-aged woman, impeccably dressed and manicured, looks up from her high desk and smiles at me. Her hair is a bright golden color, which matches her nails and her shoes, I note as she stands up and walks around to greet me.
“Are you Bridgett Wissinger?” she asks, not butchering the last name too badly.
“I certainly am,” I respond. This is where I’ll teach. This will be just fine.
Dr. Justin is in his air-conditioned office behind a windowless door. The woman—who turns out to be the instructional coordinator for Simmons—leads me down the narrow corridor and knocks. He answers the door and flashes a bright grin at me. He welcomes me in. Shakes my hand. Nice. Good. Lovely.
The interview goes like so many others. He asks me no specific questions. He talks about his school and that it’s part of the systemic urban initiative—or some doublespeak like that, which means it’s segregated and gets paid for it. They have a science grant as well. He wants me to teach fourth grade. I offer him my portfolio and he shakes his head.
“I’ll see you in action soon enough and that will tell me if you can do the job.”
This comment reminds me of a temp job I held once, making reference check telephone calls for corporations too busy to do it themselves. Thing is, the people I was checking on had already been hired. Once Dr. Justin sees me in action, it’ll be too late to do anything about it. Of course, I’ll do well, right?
He takes me on a tour of the peculiarly empty school. “We’re missing about 100 students,” he says without alarm.
“Where are they?”
“Who knows? They move, or perhaps they are on a bus to another school. I was told 250, and I have about 140 this year.” We take a wide curving staircase up to the second floor. He points up and down.
“Kindergarten is that way, and first grade. There’s a few special education rooms as well. Down there,” he waves in the opposite direction, “is second and third.” We continue up the stairs.
The third floor, he tells me, and I believe him, hasn’t been used in over 30 years. I choke on the dust as we stir it up on the way to what will become my room. We pass the fifth grade classrooms and the other two fourth grade rooms. Mine—my own room—is at the east end of the hallway, next to a stairwell that terminates on the second floor, he points out.
The room is large and probably coated in lead paint. Just as I’m about to remark on the age of the paint, he tells me that the painter is due this week. That’s a good sign. There are built in lockers made of wood, and the desks are the old fashioned kind with the writing surface attached to the desk chair in front of you--like Laura Ingalls style desks. They’re all pushed into one corner. There are two bookshelves, designed for primary classrooms, low to the floor. The other furniture is more odd. Three free-standing metal gym lockers, a rolling audiovisual cart without any equipment, a teacher’s chair without a desk, and an assortment of long poles.
“Anything in here is yours to have,” he tells me over-generously.
“Does this mean I have the job?”
“There was no question of that. This isn’t an interview, Mrs. Wissinger, this is a tour.”
I leave Simmons with the elation of someone who has finished a long race. Exhausted, happy, and desperately in need of water. In my case, it’s not due to thirst but the cakes of dust and grime on my hands from touching the windowsills in my new room. I have directions to head to 911 Locust for my orientation and to report to Simmons tomorrow. My first teaching job, I keep thinking to myself. I win.
Still dressed in the cheap interview suit that was all I really could afford on the salary from Cloth World last fall, I find myself sitting on the 4th floor of the 911 building, as it becomes to be known in my mind later on, with each number enunciated like an emergency call—9-1-1. Marilyn Jefferson comes out to greet me and two other frightened girls clutching what are obviously unread portfolios. She hands me off to Helen, who then escorts me to a cubicle to fill out the paperwork. Easily accomplished. I’m given a handbook and an instruction sheet for calling in absences to the phone line. Helen asks me which school I’m headed towards.
“Oh yeah? Don’t count on staying.”
I don’t ask for clarification. I’ve learned that the administrators at 911 are bitter, uninformed, and uncaring. If I’m destined to move on in one of the city’s famous teacher reshufflings, I’ll deal with it then. No reason to worry right now. I have a job either way.
I sign the contract for first year teachers—who turn out to be the only teachers who get contracts in St. Louis City due to labor disputes—and take my canary copies and handbook back out into the September sunshine. My car doesn’t have a ticket or a broken window, although it will have plenty of both by the end of this school year. I drive home, my head bursting with plans for my Simmons fourth graders.
But this adventure hasn’t yet begun. When I get home, there’s a message on the answering machine: “Bridgett, this is Marilyn Jefferson at St. Louis Public Schools. I have an interview scheduled for you tomorrow at 10 at Scruggs School. Please call me back to let me know if you can make this interview.”
As it turns out, St. Louis Public Schools didn’t simply make a note in my file about my name change once I was married—-my letters of reference, for instance, were written about Bridgett Blake, not Bridgett Wissinger. They had separate files for Bridgett Blake and Bridgett Wissinger. They also had two other files, on Sarah B. Blake (I never go by my first name, but my old Social Security card did), and Sarah Wissinger, which is a name combination that never existed for me. Never mind that these people all had the same addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth. To put it simply, if I had wanted to, I could have signed up to 4 contracts with them and probably pulled in a few paychecks for each before 3 of them were fired for not showing up for work.