Meredith Beck is a high school English teacher who recently has started teaching in a new school. Meredith knows her principal hasn’t liked her since day one, but she doesn’t (yet) know why. In this excerpt, from Meredith Against the Wind (book two of the Meredith series), the two butt heads over how to handle a problem student.
Nancy’s eyes met Meredith’s. She said, “Meredith, can I speak candidly with you and assume the conversation that takes place in this room stays in this room?”
“Then in that case I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “Dr. and Mrs. Richter generously tithe large gifts to the school every year. They have five children. Jason is their fourth child, and all three of the older children have matriculated through the academy. The fifth is due to start with us next fall. What this means is that they need to be kept happy. Perhaps you can discern where I’m going with this.”
“Yes. Jason cannot receive a D on his midterm.”
Meredith stared at her, unsure of what to say.
When Meredith didn’t respond, Nancy said, “What do you think you can do about it?”
Meredith waited to answer, her mind working furiously. She had thought she was going to be reprimanded today; instead she was being asked for help by the woman who had disliked her from the beginning and had made clear to her that she was being scrutinized. Meredith realized she had the power to turn the tables, that she could instantly get on Nancy’s good side by conceding whatever request she was about to make, thereby saving the day. On the other hand, she was certain that she would have to sacrifice her integrity to do so.
“I’m not sure, Nancy,” she said. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
“Can you re-administer the midterm?”
“The same midterm he already took, so he can look up the answers to the questions he knows will be on it? Absolutely not.”
“Can you write another midterm, then?”
“Right now it’s all I can do to grade my other exams and papers, written by students who are not receiving any special treatment.”
Nancy sat in thought for a moment. She nodded. “I understand that I’m asking a lot of you, Meredith,” she said. Meredith wondered if Nancy truly had softened toward her, now that they had a common problem, or if she was trying to mollify her so she would accommodate her request. “Here’s what I propose. Exempt Jason from the midterm, and calculate his semester grade without it.”
Meredith stared at her. “I’m sorry, Nancy; I’m not sure I understand.”
“It’s just what I said. Grade him without the midterm. Then you don’t have to write another exam, and Jason doesn’t have to retake the old one.”
Meredith was dumbfounded and was sure her shock registered on her face. “Nancy, I. . .” she began, but faltered, never having imagined that such a solution should actually be suggested to her.
“Meredith, I’m not sure you understand the seriousness of this situation,” Nancy said, her tone turning stern and anxious. “Do you have any idea how much pressure I’m under from the board? Do you think I’m proud of myself, asking you to curve his grade like this?” She shook her head. “It pains me to do it. I know it isn’t fair, and I know it isn’t teaching Jason the right lesson. But the fact is that the school cannot function as it does without the Richters. And if I am responsible for their displeasure, then it’s my head on the chopping block.”
Meredith thought, but did not say, that it was quite convenient that now Nancy was transferring the responsibility to her, putting her head on the chopping block instead.
“You’d be doing me a huge favor, Meredith, and the school a great service.”
Meredith’s eyes turned downcast. “Nancy, there aren’t any words I can say that can possibly express how much I want to do this for you and for the school. But it’s not right. It isn’t fair to any of the other students. I sit and watch them work, and I’m so proud of them. What does it say about their vigorous efforts if we do this for Jason, just for the money?”
“I agree with you. But I’m asking you to do it anyway because that’s the game we’re playing.”
Meredith sat for a minute in thought, her eyes lowering to the bottom of Nancy’s desk as her mind drifted into consideration. Finally she looked at Nancy again. “I’m sorry, Nancy, but I can’t approve this. I couldn’t go to sleep at night knowing I had done such a thing.”
Nancy’s face turned dark with disapproval. “If you don’t do this, you will appear uncooperative and insubordinate, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to look past it.”
Meredith suppressed a smirk. So Nancy had resorted to playing that card after all. Meredith had wondered when the honeyed words would make way for Nancy’s usual hostility.
She studied Nancy, thinking quickly. Deep down she knew that Jason would never receive a D on that midterm, whether she approved the change or not. She was tempted to tell Nancy no and force Nancy to be the one to change his grade. But she couldn’t lose her job. She somehow felt that Nancy was looking for reasons to reprimand her, that she was keeping tabs on how many times Meredith had displeased her so she might drive her out. But on the other hand, she couldn’t live with herself if she fulfilled this request. Changing Jason’s semester grade might be the difference between acceptance to and rejection from Princeton. If he was accepted, that spot would be taken from a student who truly deserved it.
Suddenly Nancy said, “You’re concerned about what it teaches the other students, but think of the effect on those students when their programs are cut and their textbooks aren’t updated.”
Meredith softened and looked at Nancy, who was smiling in triumph. Meredith frowned as she realized that she couldn’t argue with what Nancy had said.
“All right,” she said, practically forcing the words from her throat, so distasteful were they for her to say. “I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful,” Nancy said, and stood. “Please take care of that right away. You can send the new grade any time before the end of midterms.” She walked Meredith to the door. “I appreciate your help, Miss Beck,” she said as she opened the door, closing it behind Meredith as she stepped out.
Amanda Gale taught high school English before she began writing romance and women’s fiction. She is a lover of history and an incurable night owl. She lives outside Philadelphia, where she enjoys taking her three young boys to the art museum and hiking on the Wissahickon trail.
About the Meredith series:
Meredith Beck, a teacher from Philadelphia, must redefine herself after she is shaken by tragedy. The series chronicles the remaking of her life and her relationships with three men, each struggling with his own journey. Carrying her experiences with her, Meredith emerges stronger, wiser, and at peace as she discovers the beauty of an imperfect world.