Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who you gonna call?

When the phone rings in the English Department office in the middle of the afternoon, I know it can only mean one thing: whatever it is, it'll be unexpected.

It's my free hour after lunch. I have a quiz to write up so that I can get it to the Reprographics guy to get it copied for tomorrow. If I work quickly, I'll get it done before the next class starts. So when the phone rings, I'm tempted to ignore it. But maybe it'll be something interesting ...

"Sorry to disturb you, but can you do us a big favor?" It's the head of high school, so how can I refuse? "Can you run down to the health center and get a stretcher? A student took a spill in science class."

Every teacher knows that our job description entails much more than “teach course material.” We’re counselors, parents, friends, disciplinarians, confidantes, and sometimes cooks, janitors, and money lenders to our collection of crazy, mixed-up kids. At a boarding school, all those jobs are multiplied, and new ones emerge. Today I'm about to take on the role of "paramedic."

I run down the high school ramp to the health center. The nurses are waiting for me, and they are laughing when I arrive. "So sorry to make you do this," the head nurse says, "but it's just the two of us here, and we've already got a full house." 

I see one of my students, nose bandaged up. "Hey, you look better than ever," I say. He broke his nose a few days ago playing rugby, and he's just returned from the hospital.

I grab the stretcher and run back up the ramp to the senior lounge. A girl is sprawled on the floor, and a couple of friends and teachers are gathered around her. "This is so embarrassing," she complains when she sees me. We scoop her into the stretcher, and the office assistant and I carry her down the ramp. "I'm so sorry that I'm so fat and heavy," the girl says. She's one of the most petite girls at the school. I laugh and ask what happened. She doesn't know, doesn't remember. 

Walking down the ramp with us is a senior boy, holding the girl's hand and telling her she'll be OK. He's not her boyfriend. Nor is he just trying to get out of class. He's one of these incredibly nice guys that always seems to be helping others out. On another occasion, he has walked another girl from my class down to the health center after she had some weird epileptic seizure.

I try to say something funny, try to lighten the mood, but mostly I'm thinking about the quiz I'm trying to create for tomorrow. As soon as the girl is safely in the health center, I run back up to the office. If the phone rings again, I think, I should ignore it. But I know that I won't be able to resist.

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