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Saving Charlotte
This winter morning was like any other. It was like Charlotte’s life: predictable and unpalatable.

Life had been tough for the 26-year old who taught physics at the elitist private school, Bright Stars Academy. Although she was smart, she was always inconspicuous. But she had learned to live with that. The snobbery and snide remarks from an old-time instructor, Miriam and her friends hurt deeply. She knew that she needed a new wardrobe but there was nothing she could do about it. Her mum’s comfort was more important.

Earlier that morning she had again received the full brunt of Miriam’s tongue as she walked to the Tea Room with Mrs. Parton, a biology teacher.

“Every teacher should be a role model for the students, at least in our appearance.”

Everyone heard the snide remark and everyone knew she was referring to Charlotte’s almost thread-bare clothes.

Mrs. Parton, a biology teacher, put her arm around Charlotte. “Ignore Miriam. She’s jealous of you.”

Charlotte stared at Mrs. Parton in unbelief.
“You didn’t know?” She had noted the surprise on Charlotte’s face. “Every senior student prefers to be in your physics class rather than hers.”

Charlotte was lost for words.

Still hurting from Miriam’s spiteful words, Charlotte stared back at her serious face in the mirror above the sink in the ladies’ restroom. Her clear complexion was perhaps the only thing she liked about her looks. Maybe her oval face, too.

Bending slightly over, she pointed at her reflection. “The good thing about being at the bottom is that there is no room to slide further down.” Giving herself another sharp look, she walked back, with stooped shoulders, to the staff room.

She had watched her mother struggle to put food on the table. She had heard other kids quote their mothers as saying that her mum was a loose woman. Those kids did not know what that meant and neither did she. However, they all knew it was something bad. It was not until she was in 9th grade that she understood what it meant after watching a movie on the television where a prostitute and stripper was being called a loose woman.
But that was a long time ago. Now all she cared about was being a good teacher as well as taking care of her mum who was incapacitated. The hard life her mum had lived had taken its toll.

“You’re such a good daughter,” her mum had said last night after dinner, giving Charlotte a wan smile, although her fading turquoise eyes remained sad. Those eyes had held so much cheer and beauty when Charlotte was growing up.

“Miss Henshaw.” The voice brought her to the present. She turned to see the principal’s secretary standing by the entrance. “Mrs. Jenkins wants to see you in her office.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Dickson. I’ll be there shortly.”

As she walked through the clean corridors, she noted that the walls were smudged and the classrooms were getting noisier by the day.

She was greeted by the welcoming smell of Lavender which contrasted with the austere look of the office. She had always felt that the Principal’s office looked more like a mini-library than an office. Why Mrs. Jenkins preferred to stow away all the trophies and educational posters, Charlotte never knew.

“Please sit, Miss Henshaw.”

Charlotte sat clasping her hands like a school girl and remained silent. She never liked to be taken unaware.

“I know you’re wondering why I sent for you.” After a pause, she continued, “The LEA has approved your appointment as principal.

I’ll be making the announcement to the whole school tomorrow morning.”

“Princ…Principal. What? Do you mean?”

“Miss Henshaw, I mean that you’ll be taking over from me as principal at the end of this month.”

Charlotte became principal, much to the amazement of every teacher. It was also at a time when the final year students were preparing for their final exams. For two years running, Bright Stars Academy had performed scandalously in the national examinations. Imagine moving from first position to seventh.

Charlotte was walking through the hall when she encountered three of her detractors. Her heart skipped a beat and then started racing.

“You’d think experience counts for something in this school,” said Mrs. Montgomery, loud enough for Charlotte to hear. She was the longest serving teacher.

Miriam looked at Charlotte. “What about physical appearance? What happened to leading by example?”

A third teacher, Carol looked at Charlotte, a derisive smile on her face. “I think the family we come from is important if we’re ever going to positively impact our students.”

“If you’re not from a respectable family, what will you teach your students?” Miriam asked rhetorically.

Charlotte walked past without even making eye contact with the ladies. She knew that she needed to do something about her clothing. They were always neat but most were worn. She had been spending so much on her mum – just to keep her comfortable. She knew she could manage to get a few clothes each month for herself but she had not considered it important until now. After all, as a Principal she needed to look smart, however conservative. But why bother? An inner voice asked. The position of principal is a long and challenging task. You’re timid and reserved. How will you cope?

She thought about the sneering remarks from Miriam and her cohorts. “I’ll go to the LEA office tomorrow and tell them that I’m content with being just a teacher.” After all, there are many who would be over the moon to be offered the position.

Charlotte sat behind the mahogany table, resting her elbow on the arm of the leather chair. Her eyes wandered around the Principal’s office. They rested on the 18 gleaming trophies of various sizes and designs on the cabinet attached to the wall.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kindle are here to see you, Ma’am,” said Mrs. Dickson

“Ask them to come in, please.”

Mr. and Mrs. Kindle were the parents of one of Charlotte’s favourite students, Sharon. Charlotte had seen Sharon that morning in class because she still taught her classes in spite of having become the principal. She was not aware they were coming.

As they entered, Charlotte smiled. “Please sit, Mr. and Mrs. Kindle.”

They looked a little uneasy. “Thank you.” As they sat, Mr. Kindle continued. “We’ll not take too much of your time. We’re here to inform you that we’ll be transferring Sharon to another school.”

Bombshell! Charlotte forced herself to remain calm. She was beginning to gradually master the technique. She took a deep breath and then smiled confidently. “Why?”

“You must admit that the recent Cambridge results for this school don’t inspire confidence.”

“Sharon is doing very well here. In fact, she’s one of our best graduating students. It might not be wise to transfer her from here so close to her final examinations.” She was aware that

Sharon’s parents were engrossed in their careers as IT professionals that they had little time for their daughter. Two years ago, Sharon had joined a bad group and was almost being lured into drugs but for Charlotte’s timely intervention. The ring leaders had left either due to misbehavior or consistent poor performance.

“We’re just trying to do what’s best for our daughter.” Sharon’s mother explained.

“If I promised to get everyone – teachers, students, parents to work extra hard for the exams, would that make any difference?”

She was more worried about what a move would do to Sharon psychologically.

Mr. and Mrs. Kindle looked at each other. Then Mrs. Kindle said,

“We’ll think about it and let you know tomorrow.”

“That’s okay.” She stood up and shook hands with them. “Have a lovely day.”

Just before close of school, the Kindles called in saying they were no longer transferring Sharon.

“You’ll not regret it.”

“We hope so.”

“I’ll get back to you soon. But for now, just know that we’re all in this together – teachers, students and parents.”

“We’ll do our part as soon as we know it.”

Having decided that her own feelings mattered less than the future of her students and of the school itself, Charlotte began work on a plan to turn around the scandalous trend of the last two years. Among other strategies, she included team teaching, parents’ signing off their children’s completed assignments, and parents reporting back to class teachers on students’ compliance with study timetable at home. Collaborative learning was also used elaborately, that way students were able to help one another in addition to acquiring knowledge and skills.

A special PTA meeting was scheduled for Saturday. Only final year students, their parents and teachers were invited.

The day before the meeting, as Charlotte was leaving the school, she met Miriam and Carol at the parking lot. Fixing a smile on her face, she said, “Have a good evening, ladies.”

They looked surprised at the cheerful greeting.

Miriam literally shouted. “You’d think some people would know when they’re wearing a jacket that is too big for them.”

Charlotte turned around and walked back to them.

“Where you by any chance referring to me?””

“If the cap fits….”

“You can see by now that your snide remarks are getting you nowhere. Let go of bitterness, it does you no good.” She smiled and walked to her car leaving the ladies stunned.

She drove past them with a slight wave and a sincere, self-assured smile.

The turnout at the meeting was unprecedented. The discussions and suggestions from the teachers and parents were constructive.

Charlotte chaired the meeting like she has been doing it all her life. She listened, moderated and made everyone feel important.

She elaborately detailed the duties of students, parents and teachers to guarantee success.

“As final year students, the next month will be one of the most important months in your life. It is an opportunity you must make maximal use of.” She concluded her charge to the students.
Closing the meeting, she appreciated teachers and parents. “Our students and children depend on us to succeed. It’s a huge responsibility which we must share as teachers and parents. We can’t fail them. Your presence and input today indicate that you’re all on board and I’m deeply grateful to you all.”

There was applause. Then Charlotte continued, “To help us monitor and evaluate our progress during this examination Preparatory Program, I wish to appoint the following head teachers, Miss Miriam Chancellor, Ms. Helen Neal, Mrs. Portia Parton, and parents: Mr. and Mrs. Kindle, Dr. and Mrs. Morales, Rev and Mrs. Rooney as our monitoring team. Their TOR will be made available to them after this meeting. Thank you everyone. God bless you.”

As Charlotte sat down, the resounding applause brought tears to her eyes. You’ve come a long way. Then everyone was shaking hands. Even Miriam shook her hands, respect and sincerity in her eyes. “We’ll make it work.”

Charlotte smiled back, “Sure we will. We’re an unbeatable team.”


Adios Amigos!

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