Disclaimer: They aren't mine.
Summary: Charlie finds that even teachers must learn some lessons.
Author's Notes: I'm a teacher, and went through an experience similar to the one that I put Charlie through. Though it may seem somewhat tame to someone not in the education field, this situation seriously bothered me for several weeks. See the end of the story for more notes on this situation.
" . . . review the chapter and be ready for a pop quiz on Monday." Charlie Eppes grinned up at his students as they began to pack up their belongings and move out of the room, each tossing a smile and a farewell to the young professor.
Charlie's smile softened as Kyle Preston approached his desk. The young man was one of Charlie's most promising students, and could easily be in the top if he learned a little more self-discipline. Kyle, though, seemed to enjoy working with Charlie. He frequently stopped by Charlie's desk on his way out of the class to chat a little about the topic they had discussed that day.
"Hi, Kyle," Charlie greeted warmly. "Do you have any questions about today's lesson?"
Kyle shrugged, smiling slightly. "Nah, not really, professor. I was wondering, though, if you could recommend some supplemental reading for me? I'd like to study fractals a little more closely on my own."
"Sure!" Charlie pulled out a scrap piece of paper and scribbled some titles down. "Take this to the library. Eva knows where these are; she'll help you. I really think you'll like what you'll find."
Kyle's smile widened ever-so-slightly as he took the paper from Charlie. "Thanks, professor. See you Monday."
"Bye, Kyle." Charlie watched him go, feeling a warmth flood his heart. He loved working with budding mathematicians, helping them to appreciate the beauty of numbers as he did. True, many students left his class at the end of the semester with a greater understanding of math, but only a select few became truly enriched by Charlie's passion. It was those few, though, that Charlie loved finding and helping.
Charlie collected his books and moved down the hall to his office, glancing through a door as he passed at Larry. A slight smile tugged his lips. Larry was looking a little more harassed than usual as he tried to outline some topic on the board, only to be interrupted constantly by unending questions from his sharper students. Charlie moved past the door and entered his office.
He wasn't planning on staying long. He had promised to meet up with Don and his father at a diner for supper. They had made this plan a week ago with the hopes that Don's latest case, which had been a big one, would be done. Don had called the day before to claim that they were wrapping it up, which relieved the youngest Eppes to no end. He hadn't seen his brother much in that time, and he cherished every moment he got to spend with his big brother.
Charlie turned to find Vanessa Edminton standing in the doorway to his office. The sight of the school's dean of student affairs caused Charlie to pause and frown in confusion. "Dean Edminton? What can I do for you?"
Edminton stepped into the office and closed the door behind her. "I'm afraid, Charlie, that I'm not here to bear good news. Please note, however, that you are in no way in any sort of trouble. I'm just here to give you a head's up."
Charlie felt unease wash over him. Gesturing for Edminton to take a seat, he asked, "What is it?"
Edminton took the proferred seat and sighed. Focusing a strong blue gaze on the young man, she began, "I received a call earlier today from one of your students. A Kyle Preston."
Charlie's expression cleared. "Kyle? Yeah, I just spoke with him. He's a great student."
Edminton nodded absently. "Yes, well . . . Charlie, he's on the verge of lodging a complaint. Against you."
Charlie stared at Edminton for a moment, unsure whether Edminton was being serious or not. "He . . . I don't understand. He has a complaint against me? Why?"
"Not a complaint," Edminton corrected. "At least, not yet. I've spoken with him about it, and he has decided to wait for awhile to reconsider. He apparently feels that you lack the skills necessary to really reach your students, namely him, and that you assign massive amounts of work without explaining how to actually complete it."
Charlie sank into his chair, trying to wrap his head around the dean's words. A part of him refused to take her seriously. "I . . . I lack . . . I'm afraid I still don't understand."
Edminton sighed again. "Mr. Preston feels you are unapproachable. He feels he cannot come to you and ask you for help, and that the other students in your class are also struggling through the semester. He also has expressed that you have singled him out and have increased his own workload because he is having a harder time than others."
Charlie still didn't understand. He shook his head. "What?"
Edminton's expression turned to one of sympathy. "For what it's worth, Charlie, I don't believe him. You are one of our most prized alums as well as an excellent teacher. We wouldn't have hired you if we thought otherwise. What's most likely happening is Mr. Preston has an issue he needs to deal with, and the only way he knows how is this way. I'm calling a meeting with the three of us on Tuesday at noon to deal with this. Hopefully, we can come to an understanding that we can all live with. I just wanted to give you a heads up."
She stood and moved back to the door. Pausing, she turned back to look in Charlie's stunned face.
"Don't let this make you doubt yourself, Charlie," she said softly. "You're a great teacher, and I'm going to stand by you on this. Just think of it as another challenge to overcome. You've certainly had your fair share of those."
Charlie nodded numbly, barely noticing the dean exit. He acknowledged Edminton's encouragements for what they were, but his ears still rang with what Kyle had reported to her.
Other students struggling.
Thinks you are too unapproachable.
Singled him out for extra work.
A wave of nausea swelled in Charlie's stomach, which he fought down sharply. He had always prided himself on being a good teacher, on always doing right by his students. Even when some of his students were loathe to take him seriously due to his age, in the end Charlie had always won their respect. But this . . .
Extra work? But Kyle had always asked for the extra work! Maybe Charlie had encouraged some outside assignments, but he had always thought that Kyle liked them! Charlie had always done the same to other promising students in the past . . . did they think the same thing as Kyle? Did they feel Charlie was singling them out for some sort of misguided punishment? Was Charlie kidding himself in thinking that his students actually appreciated his classes, his lectures?
Unapproachable? Okay, Charlie supposed he could buy that one. He tended to become so ensconced in a math problem that he naturally tuned out the world around him. He had tried to be more accessible lately, though. Tried to pay more attention when someone needed to talk to him. The memory of Finn Montgomery sent a sharp stab of guilt through his heart.
The students were struggling? Their papers and test grades had been all right. Not great, but they seemed to understand on a more than proficient level every concept he taught. Sure, there were those that always struggled, but that's what office hours were for. And Charlie had extended offers for extra tutoring, which a handful of students usually took. But was that because they were afraid to say no?
And his teaching skills? Charlie knew that he, at times, tended to talk over everyone's heads. It was something that Charlie had done since he was a small boy. Don certainly had no problem reining Charlie back in, bringing him back to their level of comprehension. Terry, too, had done the same. Had Charlie been teaching at a level all too difficult for his students? He ran back through lesson after lesson in his head, but was drawing a blank. He couldn't pinpoint one specific instance, but there had to be one. After all, why would Kyle lodge a complaint against him?
Charlie jumped in surprise and looked up at a pair of familiar brown eyes. "Don!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
Don was frowning slightly at his little brother. "I thought I'd swing by and pick you up on my way to the diner. CalSci is on my way, after all. What's the matter?"
"What makes you think anything's the matter?" Charlie asked, stalling.
Don gave him a curious look. "Other than the fact that I called your name several times, and that you were a million miles away? Without working on a math problem, I might add."
Charlie half-heartedly shuffled through some files. "No, I . . . nothing's the matter. Just some school stuff. I'll be ready in a sec."
"Take your time," Don replied, eyes tracing the cluttered office. "I've already put your bike in my car."
Charlie grunted in acknowledgement, his mind still swirling around his meeting with Edminton. Suddenly, Tuesday seemed like years away.
Don glanced again at his younger brother's form, noting the blank expression on his face and the glossy eyes. He knew that look; knew that it meant that Charlie was thinking about something, and that it occupied a large percentage of his incredible mind. He had noticed Charlie's distant attitude since their dinner out two days ago, but had refrained from commenting on it. Now, though, Don was becoming worried enough to ask again. Charlie had barely spoken at all in the time he'd spent with his brother, and Charlie's appetite had been greatly reduced.
Alan caught Don's eye; he had seen the worried looks Don had sent Charlie's way, and was concerned too. Even though Charlie lived with their father, Alan was just as in the dark about Charlie's problem as Don.
The baseball game they had been watching suddenly went to commercial. With a pointed glance at Don, Alan stood and said, "Well, I'm getting some more to drink. Anybody want anything while I'm gone?"
"No thanks, Dad," Don replied.
Alan nodded and turned to his youngest. "Charlie?"
Charlie gave a start, then looked up. "Uh . . . no thanks, Dad, I'm fine."
Don waited until Alan had left the room before speaking. He knew why Alan had elected him to be the one to talk to Charlie; of everyone he had ever known, Charlie could hide nothing from his big brother. He could evade and deflect conversation with masterful skill, but Don saw right through him. Don knew how to get Charlie to open up.
"So, you gonna share with me what's been bothering you?" he asked.
Charlie looked at him, blinking several times as he shifted his mind back into focus. "What do you mean?"
Charlie couldn't fool Don, but that didn't mean he never tried.
Don fixed him with a steady gaze. "You know what I mean. You've been acting distant all weekend. I know something's up; Dad and I are both worried about you. Is it that school thing you mentioned last Friday?"
Charlie thought for a moment, then nodded.
Don waited. When nothing more was forthcoming, he prompted, "And that would be . . .?"
Charlie sighed and shifted his eyes to the side. "It's nothing important, Don. Really."
"Then why are you so bothered by it?" Don pressed.
"I'm not!" Charlie insisted. At Don's deadpan stare, he quickly amended, "Okay, so I'm a little bothered. But I have a meeting on Tuesday to work it all out. It's nothing, really."
"Then you can tell me what it's all about," Don reasoned.
Charlie picked at a loose thread on the couch. "I'd rather not," he replied quietly.
Don was surprised, but quickly masked the look on his face. "Okay, Buddy. But you know I'm here if you need to talk, right?"
Charlie gave him a slight smile. "Yeah, Don. I do. Thanks."
As Don smiled back and turned back to the television, Charlie let the smile slide off of his face. He knew his brother meant well, but he wasn't a teacher. He couldn't understand how he was feeling.
And not only that; Charlie didn't want his big brother, whom he had admired all his life, to know what a bad teacher he was. What a failure he was. That, on top of everything else, would be too much for Charlie to take.
Charlie had been dreading his classes on Monday. After his talk with Edminton, he had been doubting his abilities to teach his students. This left him stammering through lesson after lesson, restating every complex equation to even his advanced students. He had received unusual looks from them all day, but no one had said a word.
Kyle was in his last class of the day. Charlie had afforded him, along with his other students, a nervous smile and had stumbled through this lesson as much as the others before it. After he had finished, the students had called their familiar farewells with confused grins. Charlie sighed and turned his back on his classroom, busying himself with erasing his blackboard.
Charlie felt a jolt of nausea in his stomach at the voice, but choked it down. Wearing a rather forced smile, he turned and regarded Kyle Preston. "Yes, Kyle?"
Kyle smiled, unconcerned, at his professor. "I spent the weekend looking over those books you recommended. I thought they were really interesting, and was wondering if we could talk about them sometime."
Charlie studied Kyle, wondering if the student was truly sincere in his desire to learn more, or if he had some other motives behind his request. "Uh . . . sure, Kyle. When do you want to meet?"
"I'm free on Wednesday," Kyle volunteered. "Two o'clock?"
Charlie nodded slowly. "Sure, Kyle. Stop by my office."
"Thanks, Professor." Kyle smiled wider and walked out of class.
Charlie stared dumbly after him, wondering if he had done the right thing. If anything, he thought as he gathered his notes, he was now more confused than ever.