Cooperative Catalyst

The Evaluation

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Photo by Thomas Hawk

He stayed behind in the classroom for a few minutes, straightening desks, pushing in chairs, securing the wall safe, and digitally initialing the affidavits he had to sign in the presence of the school’s compliance officer that morning promising not to share any information about what or whom he taught that day. Not a post, not a tweet, not an update – not even a word.

He took those affidavits seriously. You never knew who was listening on the subway or looking over your shoulder at the noodle stand. No one would stop him- or herself from reporting a teacher; everyone wanted that job; narcing out a non-compliant teacher was the easiest way to create an opening in line.

He was sorry he stayed, but only a little. By the time he got out into the hall, the line for daily wages stretched all the way from the office to the library, where they key the books. He would probably be here for a few hours, waiting for the others to collect their pay and contest the charges nickeled and dimmed out of it. Yesterday he had been dinged for the janitorial pay it took to straighten his room. He guessed it was better to wait and get more pay than to rush out and be docked again on a “lack of organization” charge. Too many of those and he might as well not get in line at the beginning of the day any more.

Everyone in line kept quiet. There wasn’t much to talk about apart from the day, and talking about the day wasn’t allowed. Moreover, chatting up colleagues during contract time meant another charge, so no one wanted to risk being seen as a chatterbox after school – maybe there would be a charge for that; maybe the compliance officer was watching; maybe someone would say something in violation of their contract, lose his or her spot, and drag everyone around him or her into a compliance hearing costing each witness days of work.

He turned on his little cloud of privacy, catching up with friends, family, the news – and his teeter-totter finances – in his glasses, which he wore strictly for computing and the air of nerdery that they lent him in line and in the classroom. It was good to look a little cowered. Compliance officers liked that, and school discipline asked fewer questions after they took a kid from your room if you looked a little wimpy. More people in line wore glasses than not, but everyone had a way out into their own lives at the end of the day – a retinal display, a smart piece of jewelry, a haptic display projected from a little flourosynthetic me card folded up in a purse or wallet, pixel noise encrypted to resolve in the owner’s sensory cortex or under a cop’s broadbeam flashlight.

He caught up with his life, pushed some music into his brain, and then started spinning up prediction after prediction of how much he would make today and how far it would get him tonight. He’d have his dinner and his data paid for; he’s have subway fare back to his folks’ house. Maybe he’d have enough for that cheap bubble motel down the street from the bar his friends liked. If he could keep up his habit of saving a few bucks a day, he’d be sure to have enough to re-up his license at the end of the month, and maybe he’d have enough to buy an upgrade that would let him add a grade level or a few more students to his permissions list.

Everything shuffled ahead.

As he and his turn at the teller approached one another, he got nervous. His stomach started turning. It felt like his insides wanted to fold themselves sideways. He hated this part of the day. He hated knowing what he did wrong more than he hated not knowing. He hated seeing his charges more than he hated bad pay. He hated having to argue in public, at the head of the line, more than he hated the charges against him.

He heard that at nicer schools in the suburbs, there was a teller in every room – that every teacher got paid in private after taking all the time in the world to make their rooms just so. Brats, he thought. They don’t know what teaching really is.

It was his turn at last. Only a few teachers were queued behind him; he was glad there was only a small audience left. He hoped he wouldn’t say anything stupid. In his whole career, he had only seen two teachers get too specific in line. They made the mistake of talking about what had happened in class those days; they broke their affidavits. They lost their wages and licenses and picked up heavy misdemeanors which kept them from voting until they completed prison service hours staffing a feed line or something at a jail.

He wiped the data off the lenses of his glasses and turned off the music. He stepped up and slid his me card into the light on the counter outside the office door. The glass wall of the office had been dimmed so the teachers could’t make eye contact with the teller or compliance office, or argue with anyone in particular for that matter. Frosted letters on the door glowed with a soft light: “City Employees Only.” It was another penalty for any teacher who went in there.

“David Cruz?”

“Yes.”

“Do you swear that you complied and comported your teaching today – to the best of your ability – in accordance with the affidavits you filed this morning with the school compliance officer?”

“I do.”

“Thank you Mr. Cruz.”

“Thank you.”

“Fifty-dollar flat-rate for a teacher in good-standing, plus your two-dollar incentive under the ‘Men in the Classroom’ act, minus charges today.”

“Thank you. May I hear the charges?”

“Certainly, Mr. Cruz. Mr. Cruz, in non-trivial, non-terminative violation of your affidavits today, you went off-script during instruction a total of seven times, which accounts for the first seven dollars of charges. Those departures from the script negatively impacted the National Academic Proficiency test-passage actuarial matrix predictions of one hundred thirty-three out of one hundred forty-seven students you taught today. Those impacts were calculated to be non-statistically significant, however, docking you only ten cents per student, or thirteen dollars thirty cents. Those departures are predicted to benefit ten of the remaining students, but not in a statistically significant way, which means you do not merit extra pay for them. You did not exceed your materials or discipline allotment. Your left your room well organized. You will end the day at thirty-one dollars and seventy cents.”

“Could you tell me how I deviated from the script?”

“According to records, Mr. Cruz, you provided unproven and possibly confusing metaphors seven times, and in five of those instances you used flagged, though not prohibited, words. Would you like to purchase a review of the records?”

“No. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Cruz. Will there be anything else.”

“No. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Cruz. Would you like a receipt?”

“No.”

“Very well, Mr. Cruz. Your me card has been credited thirty-one dollars and seventy cents. You are over fifty-percent likely to be chosen as a teacher with us tomorrow. I am required to to inform you that we are experiencing a shortage of male teachers in the City Middle, Low Woods, and Banner Square neighborhoods, and that you are over seventy-five percent likely to be chosen as a teacher tomorrow at any school in any of those districts.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Cruz. Next.”

David Cruz bought some tenth rate Pad Thai and rode the subway to his parents’ home thinking about his future. He came home to an empty house; both parents were out working. He didn’t see them often.

Today was okay; he came out a few dollars ahead after paying for dinner and his ride. Maybe he would be able to teach 200 students a day next year, or add an art endorsement to his license – there were still a few schools that liked art and used it as a cover for school discipline. No scripts in those classes. Just quiet. Kids who knew that if they acted up in art, they would be out of school next on heavy misdemeanors. The kind of cushy job he imagined those suburban teachers had. Maybe he could get a few days of that a month, clear his head, practice his lines, pitch that perfect fifty-dollar game.

He fell asleep thinking about what he would do if more of the kids he taught this year managed to pass the NAP than fail it. What would he do with all those fractional bonuses? Commute to the suburbs for a few weeks? See what that was like?

What would he do if they all failed? Where would he have to live so he could work? Who would hire him then?

How would he pay back all those wages?

No more metaphors, he thought. No more going off-script. He could push in those chairs; he could push out those lines.

David Cruz fell asleep. He felt good about tomorrow.

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