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by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Selma sighed and looked out the window nearest her desk. Beyond the schoolyard, doughty teens were smoking. Most of their peers, however, sat on benches or on the ground, their faces curtained by hair and their necks stretched toward their smartphones.


The English teacher sighed again upon glancing at a stack of papers. Insisting on handwritten homework added to her take-home load but warded against plagiarism. What’s more, she often compared those assignments to her students’ classwork.


Felicity had laughed at her, had called her, in front of all the occupants of the teachers’ room, “old-fashioned.” There existed apps to check originality, or the lack thereof. Given global inflation, there were more worrisome things with which their school’s attendees were concerned than “borrowing” a paragraph or twenty.


In answer, Selma had given Felicity a small, tight smile. Yes, increasing numbers of students were coming to school hungry, and yes, three times the district’s original budget for gratis meals had been spent before the first term ended. Nonetheless, there were kids who wanted to go to college and others who ought to want to go.


Damien, for instance, who had been carving up his desk with his stainless steel blade, had been redirected by Selma into making models of Greek and Shakespearian theatres. Further, under the tutelage of Matt Powers, the school’s chief librarian, Damien had gained skills in Microsoft 3D, and, subsequently, had graced several classrooms with cardstock creations.


What’s more, Gladys Brown, the student chairperson of the drama club, had noticed Damien’s builds. Suddenly, Damien was being praised not for his one-off use of a weapon but for his set design and construction. His popularity was increasing, too, as most of his associates liked theatre more than theatrics. 


There was, additionally, the case of Tobias Adkins. Born “Tabatha Adkins,” that youth fussed when anyone used their dead name. Selma had noted that student’s passion and had successfully funneled it. She had persuaded them to launch a poetry writing club. To date, that fellowship boasted over a dozen members, all of whom brought fresh work to their weekly meetups.


Gerry Meron too, had changed. At the beginning of the year, she had taunted girls outside of her clique, who brought lunches, when they had any at all, in plastic bags recycled from grocery purchases. Contrariwise, Gerry’s mom had filled her meal card with hundreds of dollars, which Gerry usually used to buy bananas and green salads. She was minding her waist and her account as her parent had promised that Gerry could pocket any residual monies.


Selma had heard Gerry boast about both goals. The teacher had been paying for her usual hamburger, apple, and seltzer. While the cafeteria food remained horrible, buying it meant that she had more daily minutes to attend to students’ handwritten papers.


Accordingly, that mistress of nouns, verbs, and conjunctions, and of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century short stories, strode directly to Gerry’s table. She pulled out a chair for herself, prayed for her food, ate, and prayed once more. Throughout, Gerry and her three gal pals sat bug-eyed.


Patting her mouth with a napkin, Selma began a soliloquy. In her declamation, she explained how her single mother had struggled to feed her, how she, herself, had matriculated through college on a combination of scholarships and work-study jobs, and how nothing in life, including, and especially, financial security, ought to be taken for granted or flaunted. Simply, Gerry and her coterie were wrong to mock students who were less economically endowed than them.


The teenagers looked at each other. Then, after a moment of silence, they began to giggle. The adult admonishing them was somewhat unkempt, definitely not trendy, overweight and  a very boring lecturer.


Selma frowned.


The girls quieted.


She remained seated until five minutes before the next period’s bell.


At that point, Gerry offered, “not so nice?”


“Not so nice,” agreed Selma. Those youngsters had hair, nails, makeup, and clothing that were “on point,” but little else. She was more sad than angry.


Eventually, those kids founded and staffed a food bank for their school. Later, one became a community organizer, another a nurse, and a third a nun. As for Gerry, she was known to have become a teaching volunteer in Cambodia.


Selma pulled her eyes away from the window and reached for the stack of papers. There were fifteen minutes left in her planning period. She could read at least one of them.




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