July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Esther held tightly to the overhead strap as the bus lurched and swayed through the city traffic. She felt the sweat trickle down her back and pool on her forehead and under her armpits. Although it had had taken weeks to coordinate her “first day of school” teaching outfit, clearly she should have planned for the possibility of an Indian Summer. Her careful choice of a dignified blazer and crisp starched shirt and matching skirt in fall colors was so very wrong. It was only eight in the morning and it was already in the 90s. She felt like a wet rag.

This was to be Esther’s very first day as a real teacher! She had eagerly anticipated this morning ever since she was a small child play-lecturing to imaginary students in her bedroom while scribbling on a toy blackboard. But this morning she was panic stricken. A huge knot of dread lodged in her chest and she was afraid if she opened her mouth to speak she would throw up. What was she thinking? How could 16 years in a yeshiva setting prepare her for high school students in a large city public school? Could they ever even relate to her? Would she be able to interest them in Shakespeare and the classics? Could they even read? She had heard many frightening stories about Eastern District High School after she had been placed there by the Board of Education. And naturally, as a new teacher she would be assigned to the worst classes. What had she gotten herself into?

Esther slipped out of her jacket and tried to wipe her face with a crumpled tissue she retrieved from a pocket. Gosh, if only it wasn’t so hot. Her hair was probably one big frizz ball by now and she knew that first impressions were so important. Esther gazed at her fellow passengers and then focused on an attractive young woman seated directly in front of her who was clearly unfazed by the heat. Instead of sweating and checking her wristwatch every moment as Esther was, she was engrossed in thumbing through some textbooks on her lap. Elementary Mathematics, Esther read over her shoulder. It figures, she thought, math, my worst subject.

The math teacher was pretty and appropriately dressed for the weather in a gauzy white dress that looked soft and bright. Not a strand of her long blond hair was out of place and her makeup was light and flawless. She looked cool in every sense of the word. She flipped through her book with an authoritative air that Esther just knew students would respond to. They would listen to every word this teacher said. Esther was sure of it.

As the bus reeled forward again, Esther almost stumbled into Ms. Textbook-Teacher’s lap, but the poised passenger never looked up. Righting herself, Esther watched her in wonder. Why wasn’t this lady even sweating? What was her secret?

Finally, finally, the bus pulled up in front of the large high school building and Esther slowly followed the other passengers through the aisle to the exit. In front of her now was the classy Math Teacher, confident and ready for her day. It was only when she walked down the steps of the bus that Esther saw it. On the back of the woman’s pristine, white dress, there it was. A bright, pink wad of bubble gum wedged and flattened into the gauzy fabric like a huge blob.

Esther thought briefly of just ignoring what she had seen, but then she tapped the oblivious woman on the shoulder. “Excuse me miss, but there’s something on the back of your skirt. You must have sat on it.” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise and then disgust as she swiveled her skirt around from back to front. Her face turned red. “Yuck,” she moaned. “Now what am I going to do?”

Esther stood up straighter and smiled at her bus mate as she walked with new confidence towards the school building. “Don’t worry,” she called back over her shoulder to the woman, still frozen on the sidewalk. “You’ll be just fine. Nobody’s perfect, you know. Have a great day!”

Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.

By Estelle Glass

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