Math class crept along very slowly. It is a day of opposites, Rivky thinks, her gaze now firmly planted on the clock, willing the minute hand to leap closer to its destiny. She forces herself to peer at the board, but suspects that Mrs. Fein falls into a familiar category: the teachers who refuse to chastise Rivky the way they would another student so as not to incite her mother, the principal.
Little do they know that Rivky’s mother would sooner take a teacher’s side if for no other reason than to appear fair to the staff. Although Rivky knows she has some leeway in class, it’s for this very reason that she behaves well. Her social standing would only suffer further for being favored by a teacher.
When the bell mercifully rings, Rivky gets up uncertainly. She feels self-conscious and strange suddenly having somewhere to go. Does Aliza want to meet in the hallway or in the classroom? Is this a conversation meant for the bathroom? Is she going to mess this up?
Rivky looks toward the door and sees Aliza leaning against the doorframe. Aliza waves and jerks her head toward the hallway. Rivky slings her knapsack — pink, garish, all wrong, but her mother found it on sale — over her shoulder and eases her way through the desks and the girls gathering their books.
“Hey,” Aliza says, motioning for Rivky to follow her to the lockers.
“What’s up?” Rivky asks. She picks at the edges of her binder where some of the plastic coating is beginning to peel.
“So, you know how it’s been with Mrs. Schwartz.” Aliza says this as a statement, her eyes frank and serious.
“How it’s been?” Rivky repeats. She furrows her brow. She knows the girls dislike Mrs. Schwartz, and not only because of her poor taste in clothing (which, Rivky suspects, wouldn’t even be as big of an issue if other things weren’t wrong). Mrs. Schwartz’s parshah class is often taken directly from The Midrash Says, and her handouts are rarely her own. The class discussions are generally flat, and the other week Mrs. Schwartz told the girls that Rashi said one thing after which one of the girls pointed out that actually it had been Ramban.
“Girls, I don’t appreciate your attitude,” she’d said primly. “I stand by what I said.”
“It’s getting ridiculous,” Aliza says now. “I mean, she’s making mistakes, she’s a terrible teacher. Don’t you think?”
Rivky frowns. “I mean, she’s not great, but—”
“But what,” Aliza says, and once more it’s not a question. “It’s insulting. How does a school let a teacher teach when she’s this bad? It’s not right.”
Rivky lifts her heel and rubs at the floor with her foot. She sees the girls standing around watching her and Aliza, and for once she feels proud to be at the center of their scrutiny.