By Kat Bryk
“We’ve got a problem,” the principal said.
The teacher looked up from commenting on journal entries with coloured pens and sunny stickers. A small boy stood beside him. He had soft, dark skin, tight curly hair, big lips and wide eyes.
“He doesn’t know English,” the principal continued.
“Oh, I don’t think that’s a problem,” the teacher said. “He’ll learn.”
She smiled with a tender sweetness and walked over. She crouched in front of the boy in her fitted lavender pencil skirt, a sticker of a smiling strawberry on the back of her hand.
She put her strawberried hand on the boy’s shoulder and he tilted his head up slightly to catch a glimpse of her.
“I’m Teacher,” she said pointing to herself. “Teacher”. “What’s your name?” she asked, pointing to him.
“Sahal,” he said quietly.
“Well, Sahal, it’s nice to meet you,” she said.
“Amazing,” said Principal. “He speaks.”
“Well, of course he speaks,” said Teacher with the kind of lilt in her voice that would make one expect birds to appear. “I’ll show him the class.”
“Very good,” said Principal. “I need to get some things in place. We’ll need a lot of supports. It’s a big problem, big problem,” he muttered and left the room.
“Now then, Sahal,” said Teacher. “Let’s take a look around, shall we?”
The next day, Principal stood at the back of the class with three serious, arm-crossed people. Teacher was talking at the front of the class, the students listened, raised their hands, stretching them upward and waving them around when she asked questions.
“Teacher,” he said. “A minute.”
Her cheeks glowed with a healthy, pinkish hue and she wore a flowered dress that seemed to glide along with her.
“This is Consultant, Superintendent, and Counselor,” Principal said.
Teacher smiled sweetly. “How can I help you?”
“The boy,” Principal said. “He is a problem. We need help.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Teacher in a sing-songy voice. “It’s only his first day. Let’s give him some time, see what he needs.”
“I watched him,” said Principal. “He didn’t raise his hand once. He can’t be learning anything.”
“No,” said Teacher. “He’s learning everything. Right now, he’s listening.”
“Just listening,” said Superintendent. “He should be participating. Participating is important.” Principal, Consultant, and Counselor nodded.
“Call him here,” Principal said.
Teacher led young Sahal to the back of the class. Principal, Superintendent, Consultant and Counselor towered over his small frame. He backed into teacher.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, crouching. He didn’t understand, but felt safe.
“Now then,” said Counselor. She looked down at the boy with dark-rimmed glasses that slid down her nose. She bit her lip and tapped a pencil onto a clipboard.
“He looks traumatized,” she said. “He must be traumatized of course. I’ll need to assess him.”
“You better do it during recess,” said Superintendent. “We don’t want him missing class. He needs to catch up before testing at the end of the year. We don’t want him skewing the results.”
“No, no of course not,” said Principal.
“I’ll need to run some intensive tests,” said Consultant, “to see just what’s wrong. Then we’ll plot it on a graph.” She walked around Sahal and Teacher, studying him, her tight turtle-neck sweater making it near impossible to bend her neck.
“Good, good,” said Superintendent. “Let’s just watch the budget now.”
“Of course,” Principal said with a nod.
“Maybe I can help,” said Teacher. “Give me some time to get to know him. Work with him. Then I’ll tell you what I think.” She smelled like a meadow, her breath like cinnamon.
“No need, no need,” said Principal. “You haven’t taken the second language acquisition pie graph assessment workshop. Run the tests, run the tests.”
“Oh dear, I really wish I could help,” teacher sighed. “Well, if you would please excuse me, I must get back to my class.”
Teacher floated among the desks, looking down at the children’s work, oohing and awing and saying things as sweet as cherry lollipops. A soft hand on a shoulder, a gentle pat on the back and the sound of breathy smiles and cheery hearts.
The next day, Sahal was taken during morning recess, during lunch recess and during afternoon recess to work with Consultant and Counselor. Afterward, he slid into his little, wooden desk and put his hood over his head.
“We better wake him,” said Teacher Assistant. “Principal will surely be upset if he misses the lesson.”
“Oh dear,” Teacher said. “But, he’s so tired. Let’s let him rest.”
“Let’s,” said Teacher Assistant and went back to helping the freckled girl do subtraction with borrowing.
The following day, Principal strode into Teacher’s class.
“I’m afraid there’ll be no testing today,” he said.
“Oh,” said Teacher placing a bandage on a scraped knee. The knee felt immediately better.
“Yes,” Principal continued. “Counselor has much paperwork and Consultant is dealing with Vietnamese triplets. It’s a nightmare.”
“Oh, dear,” said Teacher. “I guess that means Sahal should go out for recess.”
Teacher stood outside on the grey pavement amid four-square lines and hopscotch. The fresh autumn air swirled around her face, blew through her hair.
Principal strode out and stood beside her.
“I thought I should tell you,” he began, “Your request to include Sahal with the learning resource group has been denied, as has more teacher assistant time.”
“A shame,” said Teacher.
“Yes, well, the budget you know.”
“Oh, but Learning Resource Teacher doesn’t mind one more student.”
“No, no, that’s too many photocopies. Best we continue to run some tests.”
Teacher nodded and an orange butterfly landed on her shoulder.
“Where is Sahal?” Principal asked looking out across the playground.
“Just there,” she said pointing.
“Why, he’s playing,” said Principal. “I don’t understand. He doesn’t know English.”
Teacher smiled and put a gentle hand on his shoulder.