©Robert M. (Bob) Leahy Approximate Word Count: 1,075

2110 E. Crosby Road

Carrollton, TX 75006

(972) 416 - 6098

Higher Learning

Dr. Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D., collected the math homework from his 9:40 Tuesday- Thursday college algebra class. It was his only lower-level course at South State in his first full-time teaching job. Five weeks into the semester, he was just completing the review of high school algebra. Only ninety-eight of the two hundred and twenty-three students came to class regularly; seventy-six had withdrawn or were administratively removed; forty-nine came when the spirit moved them. Only eighteen received A’s on the first major exam.

Come on, Danny Boy, he thought. Thirty-seven per cent of these kids have a reasonable chance to pass the course. Trying to generate enthusiasm, he smiled out at the class and launched into his presentation: "You will recall that the result of differentiation or, what we commonly call it, a derivative of a function y = f(x)," he paused to scribble the equation on the board, "is written dy/dx." He jotted this second equation below the first. "It can also be written as f’(x)."

After putting the third equation on the board, he looked out across the room, only to be disappointed by the handful of students who even had their notebooks open. Anger constricted his throat. He could feel the vein throb at his right temple.

Calm down, he said to himself. He began counting. One. Two. Three. Breathe, he had to tell himself. Four. Five. Six. His six years as a teaching assistant in Illinois should have prepared him for this response. And he knew he didn’t need to kill himself for these freshmen and sophomores. Seven. Eight. His research was far more important. And his graduate class in number theory. Nine. Nobody cared about the rest. Ten.

He drew a quick xy graph on the board and continued. "On a graph of f(x), dy/dx at any point is the slope of the tangent to the curve." He demonstrated by drawing a curve on his graph and marking a random point on the curve. "Y equals f(x) at that point."

Jenkins was about to write a differential equation on the board and give the students a chance to solve it before he showed them the process in more detail. But, from the back of the room, someone shouted, Hey!"

Looking up, Jenkins saw a tall, redheaded teen standing in the doorway.

Not quite sure what to do, Jenkins asked, "Can I help you?"

"You Jenkins?" the boy asked, his voice cracking.

"Yes, I’m Dr. Jenkins. Can I help you?"

"Yeah. You can tell me why you dropped me from this class."

Jenkins looked at the boy again, trying to recognize him. "Who are you, again?" he asked, pulling out his class roster.

"I’m Sean McRae," the teen replied.

Several students seemed to recognize the name. But it meant nothing to Jenkins. "Have you been to class before?"

"No," the boy replied.

Jenkins found the boy’s name on the list, followed by six x’s, indicating six absences. "I think you’ve answered your own question," Jenkins replied. "You missed all of the classes during the first three weeks of the course. I dropped you the Friday after your sixth absence. That’s the department’s policy."

Even as he was explaining the situation to the young man, Jenkins realized that he needed to table the confrontation until he could get the boy in his office.

He was about to suggest the boy see him after class when McRae said, "Someone’s supposed to be signing my name to the roll."

"Look, Mr. McRae, I really need to go on with today’s lecture. Could you see me in my office--"

"Didn’t you see my name on the roll?" McRae interrupted.

"I don’t use a roll sheet, Mr. McRae. I give a quiz every class and use the quiz to take attendance. Now, could you possibly come to my office--"

"Everybody uses roll sheets," McRae interrupted again.

"Could you come by my office right after class, Mr. McRae?" Jenkins asked.

"Coach said I have to be in at least fifteen hours this semester."

"Then you should have been in class, Mr. McRae," Jenkins said, knowing it was not a wise move.

"Coach said someone would sign the roll."

Jenkins was about to repeat the fact that there was no roll sheet. He was about to tell the boy that signing a sheet is not the same as attending class, but he simply repeated his request that McRae see him in his office after class. "Maybe we can work something out," he added, hoping to sound helpful.

"You gonna reinstate me?"

I can’t believe he’s still here, Jenkins thought. "See me in my office please." He turned to the board, hoping the boy would leave, hoping to get something done in class. He scribbled an equation down, calling out the symbols as he went. "Put this in your notes: dx/dy + 4x + 6 = 0. Try to solve that equation."

When Jenkins turned to face the class, he nearly tripped over McRae. The redhead was no longer standing at the back of the room. He was now in the front and on the dais. Jenkins was so surprised to see the boy, he almost missed the gun.

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the students frozen, many with their hands to their mouths.

McRae wiggled the gun in front of him. Jenkins could not breathe. He tried to think of something to say. But his mind was as quiet as the room. All he could see was the gun. All he could think about was the gun.

"You gonna put me back in class?"

Jenkins tried to talk. But he couldn’t force any words out. The harder he tried, the more his head shook.

"You ain’t gonna put me back in class?"

Jenkins’ faced reddened. He tried to bring his arms up to push the gun away. He tried to talk to the boy. He tried to breathe. His head jerked. First right. Then left. Then right again.

"You ain’t gonna put me back in class."

Just as Jenkins managed to say, "I--" the gun flashed in the teacher’s face. The sound exploded as his face whipsawed. Jenkins might have heard someone scream before the back of his head sprayed blood and bone across the board.

By the time Jenkins’ body crumpled to the floor, McRae had left the room.

No one else had moved.

the end

Revised text placed on

The Leprechaun News WebPages

4 March 1999