Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stephen Harper, Grade Eight

Beverley McLachlin cleared her throat. She’d been teaching junior high for thirty years, long enough that she’d started thinking of things in self-coined aphorisms. There are all sorts of troublemakers, went one of them, but the smart ones are the worst. That definitely applied here. “Stephen,” she said sharply, and tapped her foot until he turned around.

“Sorry, Ms. McLachlin,” the boy replied. “We were having a caucus meeting.”

She managed not to sigh. Ever since little Stephen Harper had been elected class president, his ego had been swelling steadily. This was even though he’d won more out of luck than popularity. His rival Iggy had managed to staple his hand to a bulletin board while trying to put up campaign posters. And still, Stephen had only won because a number of students had actually written “Anybody but Stephen” on their ballots instead of voting. 

“Stephen,” she said, very calmly, “whispering with your friends in the back of the class is not a ‘caucus meeting’.”

“But we were discussing how to make student elections more fair – ” he began.

Ms. McLachlin pulled down a roll-out map of Canada, making just enough noise to drown out the boy’s protests. “Today,” she announced, “we’re going to discuss the St. Lawrence Seaway.”

Stephen raised his hand. “Ms. McLachlin, before we start I think we should talk about Billy Smith’s punishment.”

“Why would we discuss that?” the teacher replied.

“He swore in class,” Stephen continued, “and he wasn’t punished for it.”

“That isn’t any of your business.”

“But anyone who swears in class should be punished, and he wasn’t. He’s practically getting away with murder.”

The teacher straightened up. “It’s none of your business, but Billy and I discussed the incident, and he understands now that Samuel L. Jackson is not an academic source, and we went over how he should have done the research for his presentation on snakes.”

“But there has to be a minimum penalty for breaking the rules – ”

“It’s not your job to discipline your classmates.”

“But as the democratically elected leader of the student body – ”

Stephen,” she said in a tone of voice roughly equivalent to applying pliers to one’s jugular. “What did I say about referring to yourself in the third person?” Last time I tell them not to use ‘I’ in their essays

She took a deep breath and began again. “The St. Lawrence Seaway is here.” She gestured with a pencil vaguely around the Great Lakes. “It was constructed in 1959, and – ” Stephen had his hand up again. “This had better be about the St. Lawrence Seaway,” she growled.

“Almost,” said Stephen breezily. “I thought I should tell you my plans for the red chamber.”

“The old detention room?”

“Yep. The room of sober second thought. We’re just using it to store useless old junk these days, so I came up with some plans for it.” He read from a sheet of paper on his desk. “Idea #1: Make it into a party room.”

“Stephen – ”

“Idea #2: Let the students vote on what to do in there, and I’ll make the final decision. Idea #3 – ”

Stephen. You do not get to decide what we do with the old detention room.”

“But why not?” The boy looked at her with apparent shock. Whether it was feigned or real she couldn’t tell.

“Because it’s not your room.”

“But – ” the boy stammered. “But the room has the foul stench of corruption!”

“That’s the hockey bag you left in there. Listen.” She struggled not to get angry. “If you have some ideas for what to do with that room, you can make a presentation to the board and get seven out of ten of them to agree.”

“But I can’t do that!” said Stephen. “They’ll never agree to making it a party room. They’re all old and boring and stuff. And what about my base? I promised them red chamber reform.”

“Please stop calling your friends your ‘base’.”

“But I'm the democratically elected – ”

“You,” said Ms. McLachlin, “are in class. So quiet down.” She gave him a glare, honed through decades of teaching, that could make a charging rhinoceros lose control of its bladder.

Stephen harrumphed and crossed his arms.

“All right, then,” she said with exaggerated sweetness. “The Saint Lawrence Seaway was constructed in – ”

There was a knock on the door. What the hell is it now? she was careful not to say out loud. She opened it to find a pudgy, balding man with a very unassuming look, as if his dream was to be an accountant but he'd never had the gumption to try for it. “Who are you?” she snapped.

A familiar face slid over next to the visitor, and a familiar voice grated, “This is my friend Marc. I think he’d be an excellent candidate for the new French teacher.”

Ms. McLachlin paused and chanted three times to herself, You’re not allowed to hit students. “Okay, Marc,” she said slowly, “if you speak French and have an education certificate, you can leave your resume at the office.”

“Thank you very much,” said Marc. “Though I don’t quite speak French.”

“Excuse me? How are you going to teach French if you don’t speak it?”

“He used to work in Quebec!” Stephen chirped. “That’s close enough, right?”

Ms. McLachlin clenched her teeth. “Stephen, go sit down.”

“By the way,” Marc said, “this job isn’t full time, is it? Because I don’t usually work full-time hours – ”

Ms. McLachlin slammed the door in his face. She spun on one heel to face Stephen. “Sit down. If you disrupt my class one more time I will have you suspended.”

“But I’m the d– ”

Now.” She vested the syllable with the force of a claw hammer to the skull.

Stephen’s face turned pink; he clenched his fists; his sneakers stomped on the floor as he went back to his desk. Several girls in the back row snickered.

“All right then,” said the teacher, trying to piece together the tattered shreds of her composure. “The St Lawrence Seaway was constructed in – ”

“Ms. McLachlin called me up,” Stephen blurted out.

“What,” said the teacher.

“She totally did. She called me up one night and she was all breathing hard and moaning and stuff. And she went, ‘Ohhh, Stephen. Talk to me about Marc Nadon.’ And I was like, ‘Ms. McLachlin, I don’t think this is appropriate.’ And she went, ‘Oh, Stephen, I love your aloof demeanour.’ Yeah, it totally happened.”

The teacher only realized how hard she was clenching her fists when she heard her pencil snap in two. She was focused on her mantra: You’re not allowed to hit students. You’re not allowed to hit students.

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