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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Tough Teacher
by Reid Laurence

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"Okay... everyone take out a sheet of graph paper and remember, if you don't turn this quiz in on the green graph paper I told you to get, you get a zero for the day... is that clear? Now then, after I get this on the board, you've got exactly fifteen minutes to solve it." But as the decidedly difficult taskmaster turned his back and finally completed writing out the question for the class - which was only one of the many, daily tortuously difficult quizzes required to pass the term, not to mention the weekly tests each student had to endure - one of the more timid pupils raised a shaky hand in the air, waiting for Dr. Laurence to turn around and discover it.

"I don't remember Castigliano's Theorem," remarked the student, as every eye in the classroom looked on in wonder and pity. "What can I do?" he continued, as the teacher, now standing directly in front of him, seemed to take on more of the appearance of some looming monster, ready to strike out at any moment and deal the metaphoric death blow he'd become so famous for... the ever present threat of the evil, grade crushing 'zero with a dot in its center'. Just the type of thing which had made Dr. Laurence so infamously threatening at the school in which he taught, or should I say... tortured, for lack of a more justifiable description.

"And whose fault is that?" answered the teacher on his way to his desk. Then, opening the top drawer of his shiny metal enamel desk, he removed the grade book which concealed to everyone but himself some of the most personal and unflattering information one could ever imagine, and opened it to its proper page. "I don't mind doing this Jeffery. You've been forgetful much too often - more so than the rest of the class - and good engineers simply don't forget their lessons as easily as you do. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes Dr. Laurence, but..."

"Good. Well then, you get a zero with a point in the center for the day. I trust that there will be no more memory lapse in you, and let me make another thing perfectly clear... there will be no epidemic of this nature in this classroom. I will not tolerate forgetfulness in any of you. And I can assure you also, that none of the more wealthy or influential fathers you may have will be buying you a grade out of this class. That is an insufferable monument to laziness, something else I won't tolerate. Now then," added the fiercely stern teacher, "I want to see every eye on the board. You've got fifteen minutes. Ready... begin."

But even as the teacher announced the beginning of the quiz session, a knock came at the heavy, fireproof, classroom door and as it opened, it revealed a familiar, moderately built man in his early fifties, dressed neatly in an all black suit with white shirt and black matching tie, asking in a very low, monotone voice if he could have a word with Dr. Laurence. Seeing no alternative, the doctor of structural engineering turned to his class and interrupted them at their task to inform them of his untimely departure, and to announce that there had better be no cheating. "If I find that anyone of you has even glanced at another's paper, you will all end the day with a failing grade. I hope I have made myself clear," he finished with, as he was accustomed to saying, and passed through the threshold of the door, shutting it firmly behind himself with a resounding thud.

"Now then Dr. Laurence, pull up a chair," muttered the well dressed, confidently poised man. "I don't expect this to take long."

"I hope not," replied the doctor. "You realize my class is taking a quiz and I really should be in the room, watching them."

"Well... that's just the thing. That's why I brought you down here to my office."

"Alright, let's get to the point then... exactly what is the problem?"

"Oh, come now doctor, we've had this discussion before, but you still remain evasive on the issue. When I hired you, I knew all about your background in engineering, but I never dreamed..."

"Yes... never dreamed what? Please come to the point Dr. Killingsworth. Remember, I have a class in session at this very moment taking an important quiz."

"But that's it! That's my very point. This is an elementary school! You can't expect five year old children to absorb the type of difficult material you're trying to teach."

"Hmm, are you sure?"

"Yes, for God's sake! I'm sure!"

"Alright then, if you really think I'm wrong in this. My gut feeling tells me the students will be lost in boredom, but we'll just have to back up to plain calculus."

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