Scenes from a teacher-parent conference
The time – 3.00 A.M. The place – a back alley in south Tel Aviv.
Girding his incredible strength, Rav-Pakad (Superintendent) Tomer Levi kicked the locked door with his iron tipped boot. With his second blow, the door yielded, and Tomer led his seasoned unit into the room, where three of the country’s most wanted drug dealers were counting piles of cash. The criminals reached for their guns, but on seeing Tomer, they raised their hands in a gesture of defeat. No-one could escape the former Olympic judo medalist, whose ruthless reputation for never relenting until his quarry stood behind bars was the nightmare of the Israeli underworld. The police team swiftly handcuffed the quaking felons and led them to the waiting van. After ensuring that the hideout was secured, Tomer squeezed his 2.15 meter frame into the front of his car, and drove himself home for a well-deserved rest.
The next evening’s challenge was harder than any he had undertaken before. It was Tomer’s wife’s choir practice night, and so he had to attend his daughter Adi’s teacher-parent conference all by himself. His own memories of school were a haze of failures and misunderstandings, to be escaped as often and early as possible. And now he was being forced to go back, albeit from a different perspective. But the dread of the establishment had never left him.
The Levis had been allotted the time period 19.15 to 19.25, and been requested not to come late so as the timetable could be adhered to. At 19.12, Tomer and Adi seated themselves close to the door, behind which a heated argument could be heard. Tomer had a vision of the prisoners’ holding room in the law courts, where the condemned criminal awaited his sentence.
Suddenly the door opened, and a small red-faced mother pushed her mortified son ahead of her. “We’ll talk about this when we get home. And you’re grounded till you’re old enough to enlist in the army.”
Tomer and Adi stood up but a timid voice called behind them. “It’s our turn next. Look at the list.” Adi checked the timings, which were arranged alphabetically, and nodded at her father.
At 20.35, they heard “Next” and no-one objected to Tomer and Adi entering the classroom. Tomer held Adi’s hand for reassurance and tried to hide himself behind her as they walked in to face Teacher Yonit. She looked at her watch pointedly, as if blaming them for coming late. She tried to smile but just managed a grimace, then barked “Sit!” The police Superintendent deposited himself on the edge of a chair, and began to pray silently.
Teacher Yonit had been at school since 7.45 this morning, and had been giving classes all day with only one short break, in which she tried to grapple with a pile of marking that never seemed to get smaller. Her husband was in reserve duty, and the babysitter (who earned more per hour than she did) had promised to come at 16.00 but arrived an hour late, leaving her three children to fend for themselves. She had just received a WhatsApp that the last bag of milk had burst in the fridge and her three year old was screaming for his chocolate milk.
Yonit had to see 34 parents that evening, and being head of the history department, some parents of matriculating students wanted to discuss urgent matters with her too. Some of her class pupils had serious behavioral issues, others came from problem homes or had learning disabilities. Most parents did not have time to be involved in their children’s school life on a regular basis, and saw the TPC as the only opportunity for fulfilling their parental responsibilities. Many were disconcerted at the teacher’s revelations about their child, most had seen but not fully read the previous report cards with the ‘no mark just comments’ policy. Yonit had to explain to each parent where their child’s strengths and weaknesses lay, how they were doing socially, which electives worked best for them. Yonit wondered sometimes whether the parents even recognized their own child. Most were clueless at what went on during school hours. And possibly after hours too.
Yonit made a point of speaking privately with every pupil in her class 2 or 3 times each term. She discovered secrets about them which sometimes worried her and occasionally drove her to seek advice. She knew, for instance, that Adi agonized over the possibility that her father would be killed or injured in the course of his work. Yonit could tell by Adi’s mood whenever Tomer had been out on a night mission — the next morning his daughter would come to school bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.
While father and daughter were walking into the classroom, she checked her watch and hoped her kids were in bed already. Yonit attempted a smile but understood that she had merely scowled. And suddenly she thought of her own husband, somewhere in a lonely outpost where enemy snipers loved to practice. Yonit tried to concentrate on Adi and her marks, but just then her stomach growled, reminding her that she had not eaten since lunch-time. There were two Adis in her class, which family name belonged to this one? The father was mumbling something and looked as if he could get violent at any provocation — Yonit had been threatened more than once by disgruntled parents.
She took a deep breath. “Good evening, Mr. Levi. Nice to see you, Adi. Let’s discuss your schoolwork, shall we?”
“Whatever that creepy teacher says, I’ll defend my little girl to the end,” thought Tomer.
And Yonit was thinking, “’L’ is for ‘Levi’. I’m half way through the class list.”