The lot of a casual relief teacher is not enviable. I turned up one morning expecting my quota of maths classes, but other plans were brewing as I sat in the staffroom in front of the TV. The daily organiser approached me smiling beatifically.
“Are you a good driver, Dan?” Henry asked as we watched TV footage of a car that had landed in someone’s swimming pool.
“Certainly!” I replied. “I’ve only had a dozen or so accidents in 30 years of driving, and none of them was my fault. By my reckoning, I call that a spotless record.”
Immediately I realised I had been baited and trapped.
“I know how you drive,” Melissa intervened unequivocally, “and so do many other teachers.”
She was sitting nearby, had overheard my comment and couldn’t resist the gratuitous analysis.
Henry was at his most unctuous. “I feel much better knowing you’re such a good driving instructor. The kids will learn a lot from you.”
“Hold on,” I protested, “I’m here to teach maths.”
“Look, Dan,” Henry cajoled, “you’ve got all the necessary credentials and experience. And you’ve taught Drivers Ed. before, right?” he stated rhetorically, pushing me deeper into my sarcophagus.
“OK,” I said to Sally, Ahmed and Truong as I stepped into the driver’s seat later that morning. “What do you want to learn?”
Truong acted as spokesperson. “Just drive normally, sir, and we’ll watch what you do.”
“That sounds good to me,” I said, happy to be a role model.
I started the engine and was about to reverse when Sally said with concern, “Sir, shouldn’t you adjust your seat, fasten your seat belt, check mirror positions and release the handbrake?”
“Mere details,” I replied. “I can do those things as I drive off.”
Noticing their glares, I pulled the seat belt around my waist with one hand and tried to manoeuvre it into position whilst reversing and holding the steering wheel with my other hand.
As I headed for the open road it was Ahmed’s turn to express disapproval.
“What now?” I asked in all innocence.
“You didn’t indicate your intention to turn,” he lectured me.
To defend myself I stated philosophically, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
“What does that mean?” they asked in unison.
“If there is no car behind or in front of me to see the indicator, why bother using it?”
They were pensive. Being a maths teacher has its advantages because mathematical logic is first cousin to philosophy. The gullible will accept your arguments as long as you pepper your statements with abstruse references to philosophical reflections and pitch them with a straight face.
Soon we neared traffic lights showing amber. Two options came to mind. I could put the pedal to the metal and go through the intersection or I could ease off the accelerator and coast to reach a gentle speed just when the lights show green. Did Julius Caesar make this kind of decision perched upon a chariot hurtling down the Appian Way?
I lifted my foot from the accelerator and the car’s velocity reduced significantly.
“Why are you stopping?” my minders complained.
“I’m slowing down so that the lights will be green when we get there,” I stated.
I tried to explain. “The lights are 150 metres away, the green/red cycle is 45 seconds and the car’s deceleration is 2 metres/second squared. A simple application of the formula v = d/t shows that we will be at the lights as they turn green and the car’s speed will be 10 km/h. Saves wear and tear on the car, too.”
More silence ensued. The car continued to slow at a rapid rate and I was about to explain this mathematical oxymoron when we were startled by a car’s horn.
I turned my head and saw an old Ford approaching, its engine sputtering. The driver was an elderly gentleman wearing a hat, and his attire showed him to be a man of the cloth. Incredulously, when we made eye contact he called out, “road hog” and sped off.
“Doesn’t your lot say to turn the other cheek and forgive?” I yelled at him ineffectually and added, “Thou shalt not commit road rage!”
Embarrassed, my students winced and slid lower into their seats.
I entered an on ramp to the freeway without slowing down and barely noticed the warning sign: “Merging traffic. Enter with care”. I found myself parallel to another vehicle. As the two lanes began to merge I warned the driver by gesticulating maniacally with both hands. My efforts were in vain, and I was obliged to sharply slow down and let him take lead position.
“You think you’re better than me?” I called out to him challengingly.
“Sir,” three edgy learner drivers exclaimed, “can we go back to school, please?”
“But I haven’t finished showing you what I can do,” I replied.
“Yes, you have. We’ve seen enough,” uttered three voices blended into one.
Next morning, I hurried to get to school. I’m a maths Emergency Teacher who wants to teach maths classes. Henry will now see to that!