It’s been a while, readers! Summer break is here and I have time to catch up on my writing again. Yay!
Spy in the Couselor’s Office is long past the deadline I set for myself, but my day job, family obligations and grad-school classes have a tendency to make me try to force my brain to believe it wasn’t born to write. That doesn’t change the fact that I love the creative process—when I can find the time. I want to thank those of you who read and enjoyed Spy in the Teachers’ Lounge for encouraging me to cough up a sequel. 🙂 Thanks for you patience while I work on it. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of part of the opening chapter, written from six diverse first-person viewpoints. If you read the prequel, all of these characters will be familiar, but now we’ll have a chance to get to know them all a little more in depth. The story begins about two months after the prequel ended. Please keep in mind that this is still a draft and a work in progress. Constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated. You can leave a note in the comments section below this post. Thanks in advance!
Spy in the Counselor’s Office
Copyright 2018 by Béa Tomaselli Tiritilli
Chapter 1: Tuesday, Jan. 2
Usually I’m all sad to return to school after Christmas break, but this time I’m happy, ’cause I get a break from my crowded home. And I mean crazy crowded. My Tia Grizelda, Tio Rafael and their new baby and their humongous dog came for a Christmas visit. And they never left. And now they seem to think they can just take over my Abuelita’s house. Nine people, plus a dog, plus my brother’s big-ol’ pet iguana, all sharing three tiny bedrooms. And one bathroom. I sure do wish that Lassen Intermediate had a napping room, ’cause let me tell you, it ain’t always easy to sleep where I live.
Anyhoo, thanks for assigning us to write in journals, Ms. Hahn. I love to write—it’s how I get stuff off my chest, so to speak. I know how teachers sometimes complain about grading too many papers, so I apologize in advance if I go overboard and give you too much to read. I know you said to keep our entries to about 50 words each, but once I get started writing, it’s hard for me to stop. It’s like the whole world fades away and there’s nothing left but just me and my brain and all these words flowing out of my head through my fingers. Which is probably why you’re yelling at me sternly to put my pencil down and pick up my textbook. I’m not sure how long you’ve been giving me stink eye, but let me just finish this sentence before I move on.
During winter break I decided I needed to find a clever way to stimulate my students’ writing. I’ve used journals in the past with students, but I stopped a few years back when that wretched Mrs. Orozco threatened to sue me, the school, and the entire Santa Ana Unified School District over such a common practice. I made the mistake of calling her after her daughter wrote a troubling account about the medical condition of her younger brother.
“Why is it any of your business?” Mrs. Orozco snapped at me.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. The reality is that we teachers are often called upon to take the role of social workers. I’ve been known to buy shoes for students with holes in their soles, for example; I’ve helped identify families in need when we’ve collected for our annual canned food drive; and of course we are mandated first responders when it comes to suspicions of child abuse or neglect. So when Cecelia Orozco wrote about her brother’s hospitalization for asthma, I merely called to check in and see if there was anything I could do to help.
“I’m sorry,” I told Mrs. Orozco, but I was close to a loss for words. “Cecelia wrote about your son in her classroom journal, and I—“
“She what?!” Mrs. Orozco’s voice exploded, and I fear she would have ripped my head off had we been speaking in person. “You had my daughter share her personal stories in a journal for everyone to read? What makes you think that is any of your business?!”
Before I could even begin to explain the purpose of class journals, the fact that they were only between me and my students, and that I was merely phoning to see if there was anything I could do to help, Mrs. Orozco ranted out a tirade of venomous words, calling me a nosy good-for-nothing who only cared about her job protections and her paycheck. She explained in no uncertain terms that she was a fantastic mother who was doing everything possible for her son; and she yelled at me, “How dare you accuse me of being a bad mother!” Then she rambled on and on about how public schools are taking on the role of parents, and classroom journals are the tools of the devil and the C.I.A., and were just one more way to spy on families and try to take them over. I half expected her to throw in something about space aliens and Sasquatch while she was at it, but I hung up on her before she had the chance.
The next day I got called into the principal’s office (who at the time was Neil Estrada). He informed me about Cecilia Orozco’s mother’s threatened lawsuit, assured me that he understood I had done nothing wrong, but recommended that, as a precaution, I should discontinue classroom journals. I was devastated. I had used them regularly in class to stimulate conversation and essay topics, but a legal battle wasn’t worth it to me at that time. (This was in the midst of my divorce, and I had enough on my legal plate.) Cecelia—sweet girl—was moved to another teacher’s classroom, again, just to quell Mrs. Orozco’s twisted sense of justice. Soon after, I’m told, Cecelia was pulled out of Lassen Intermediate entirely, to be homeschooled.
The whole incident traumatized me, but—during the mind-freshening relaxation of my winter holidays—I decided enough time had passed, and perhaps this time I could avoid lunatic parents by 1). Sending an opt-out letter home to parents about the journals, offering an alternative assignment if they wished, and 2). Allowing students their own sort of opt out. This time, we shall use Red Alert paper. Students who want to keep their thoughts private may, on occasion, staple a red paper over their journal entry for that day. I assured my students I don’t intend to read every word anyway. I simply won’t have time, but I will skim them for the main ideas, and take a quick peak under red pages just to make sure students completed the assignment. I do miss using classroom journals. In addition to the aforementioned journal benefits, they’re a wonderful way to get to know students and their thoughts on our classroom topics. This time around, I decided to keep a journal of my own. I shall match each of my students’ assignments with at least one response written by yours truly. After all, amongst my reasons for becoming a seventh-grade English and Social Studies teacher was my own love for reading and writing. Reading I do plenty of, but writing… I simply haven’t made the time for it as of late, but I do miss it, and it feels good to return to it, like visiting an old friend.
Speaking of friends: It is often a tradition to give one’s journal a name.
I shall dub thee… hmm… Florence. Yes, Florence shall remind me of the trip to Italy I have often dreamed of but never made the time and budget for. And such an adventure would surely enhance my knowledge—and ability to teach—Roman history. So, dear Florence, you shall serve as a reminder for me to begin my summer travel plans.
PS: I probably shouldn’t have sent home the opt-out forms the same day I gave students their first journal assignments. Oops! Hopefully Mrs. Orozco was my last lawsuit-happy parent.
Ms. Hahn, I’m sort of a private person, so I’m glad you gave us the ability to use Red Alerts if something personal comes up. I’m sure you know by now that I’m a good student, and I promise not to take advantage of your red alerts, but I’m just not comfortable sharing everything about myself to people. And by the way, you probably believe me when I tell you I had nothing to do with that incident before Halloween, right? Again, Ms. Hahn, I value my own privacy and of course I value yours as well.
At any rate, the assignment was to write about The Best Part of My Winter Break. Sorry, Ms. Hahn, but you just told us time was up.
Winter break was boring at first. Then I got a new video game for Christmas. Then it wasn’t boring.
Well, hi Miss Hahn, welcome back from vacashun! It was fun but I’m a little sad, cause so many kids are telling me about there Xmas presents but my family we are Buddhist and we dont selebrate Xmas. But soon we will selebrate Tet which is Vietnamese New Year which comes after American New Year. It will be fun!
So… winter break. No holiday is a real holiday at our house without some family drama. Not lacking this time. There were no presents under the plastic Christmas tree, but we woke up to Dad yelling at Mom about it. They had bought presents, but Mom had pretty much spent three days straight in bed, hadn’t wrapped them, and Dad was working overtime, and he yelled at her, “Dang, woman, did you quit taking your anti-depressants again?” So my big sister, of course, she always saves the day, and blah blah blah, Christmas at my aunt’s house, and like, yeah. It turned out cool.