Death of a Teacher
August 18, 2011
Immersed in my own trivial but heartfelt concerns, the principal of which was that my six-week summer vacation had, as ever, lasted at least a fortnight too long and, despite a couple of stimulating vacations, left me feeling isolated and resentful and anxious to return to the camaraderie and energy of a large adult school. I didn’t wait till the official beginning of teacher orientation. I appeared two days early and quickly began to feel connected again, cruising through halls and offices and saying hello to a variety of people, reclaiming my room keys, trading some old textbooks for new, acquiring new computer passwords, and beginning to read my email from top down, most recent to oldest. After deleting a couple I saw an announcement from the main office that memorial services were going to be held for Bob. I hadn’t heard, and that date had passed, and the email before it was one of regret from the school principal.
I hadn’t known Bob well. He taught in a different department, independent study, on the other side of the campus. But he was the school’s union representative and sent scores of emails that updated fellow teachers on the staggering economy and how that was costing many jobs in education and freezing our wages at levels from several years ago when food, clothes, and gas were much less expensive. He also apprised us when a variety of meetings were taking place on and off campus, and in particular awakened me, from my general slumber regarding all non-teaching matters, with reminders to attend the once a semester faculty meeting with our district union representative and make sure to let him know what kind of sandwich we wanted. I always ordered turkey with mayonnaise until last spring when my cholesterol level – after years of enthusiastic consumption of fat, dairy products, and sugar – registered too high. Next time I emailed Bob that I wanted a veggie sandwich. On another occasion I got lassoed by lesson planning, or simply forgot, and didn’t attend the meeting to claim my lunch, and sent an apology that Bob genially accepted. That’s what I remember most. He was a friendly, upbeat guy who helped adults graduate from high school and fellow teachers navigate the minutiae of union issues.
I only had one personal conversation with Bob, early this year as we returned by school bus from a district workshop held in downtown Bakersfield. He mentioned he had heart trouble. At that point I was a month or two from discovering my need to change. I asked him a few questions about his condition, concluded he was slender and looked healthy, and wouldn’t have any problems. We then discussed the brief opportunity the district was offering to buy long-term care insurance that would apply if one got seriously ill or injured or became incapacitated by the aging process.
“I’m not going to pay for that because I’d rather be dead,” I stated.
Sensing I’d spoken too strongly, and naively, I glanced over at Bob, who continued to appear relaxed. I don’t know if he had or was planning to acquire the insurance against catastrophe. Now it doesn’t matter because Bob most needed what everyone must have: good luck.