“Mostly the Midwest, Indiana, but we moved around a lot. My dad was a sales rep for a plumbing-supply company, and his territory kept changing.” Chris lied, excellently. In truth, he didn’t remember his father or mother. He had grown up in the foster-care system outside of Dayton, Ohio.
Dr. McElroy glanced at the fake resume. “I see you went to Northwest College in Wyoming.”
“Got your certification there, too?”
“Hmmm.” Dr. McElroy paused. “Most of us went to local Pennsylvania schools. West Chester, Widener, Penn State.”
“I understand.” Chris had expected as much, which was why he’d picked Northwest College as his fraudulent alma mater. The odds of running into anyone here who had gone to college in Cody, Wyoming, were slim to none.
Dr. McElroy hesitated. “So, do you think you could fit in here?”
“Yes, of course. I fit in anywhere.” Chris kept the irony from his tone. He’d already established his false identity with his neighbors, the local Dunkin’ Donuts, Friendly’s, and Wegman’s, his persona as smoothly manufactured as the corporate brands with their bright logos, plastic key tags, and rewards programs.
“Where are you living?”
“I’m renting in a new development nearby. Valley Oaks, do you know it?”
“Yes, it’s a nice one,” Dr. McElroy answered, as he’d anticipated. Chris had picked Valley Oaks because it was close to the school, though there weren’t many other decent choices. Central Valley was a small town in south-central Pennsylvania, known primarily for its outlet shopping. The factory store of every American manufacturer filled strip mall after strip mall, and the bargain-priced sprawl was bisected by the main drag, Central Valley Road. Also on Central Valley Road was Central Valley Dry Cleaners, Central Valley Lockshop, and Central Valley High School, evidence that the town had no imagination, which Chris took as a good sign. Because nobody here could ever imagine what he was up to.
Dr. McElroy lifted a graying eyebrow. “What brings you to Central Valley?”
“I wanted a change of scenery. My parents passed away five years ago, in a crash. A drunk driver hit their car head-on.” Chris kept self-pity from his tone. He had taught himself that the key to evoking the sympathy was to not act sorry for yourself.
“Oh no! How horrible.” Dr. McElroy’s expression softened. “My condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” Chris paused for dramatic effect.
“How about the rest of your family? Any brothers or sisters?”
“No, I was an only child. The silver lining is that I’m free to go anywhere I want. I came east because there are more teaching jobs and they’re better-paying. Teachers here are rolling in dough, correct?”
Dr. McElroy chuckled, as Chris knew she would. His starting salary would be $55,282. Of course it was unfair that teachers earned less than crooks, but life wasn’t fair. If it were, Chris wouldn’t be here, pretending to be somebody else.
“Why did you become a teacher, Chris?”
“I know it sounds corny but I love kids. You can really see the influence you have on them. My teachers shaped who I am, and I give them so much credit.”
“I feel the same way.” Dr. McElroy smiled briefly, then consulted the fake resume again. “You’ve taught Government before?”
“Yes.” Chris was applying to fill the opening in AP Government, as well as the non-AP course Government & Economics and an elective, Criminal Justice, which was ironic. He had fabricated his experience teaching AP Government, familiarized himself with an AP Government textbook, and copied a syllabus from online, since the AP curriculum was nationally standardized. If they wanted to turn the public schools into chain stores, it worked for him.
“So, you enjoy teaching at the secondary level. Why?”
“The kids are so able, so communicative, and you see their personalities begin to form. Their identities, really, are shaping. They become adults.” Chris heard the ring of truth in his own words, which helped his believability. He actually was interested in identity and the human psyche. Lately he’d been wondering who he was, when he wasn’t impersonating someone.
“And why AP Government? What’s interesting about AP Government to you?”
“Politics is fascinating, especially these days. It’s something that kids see on TV and media, and they want to talk about it. The real issues engage them.” Chris knew that engagement was a teacher buzzword, like grit. He’d picked up terms online, where there were so many teacher blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter accounts that it seemed like the Internet was what engaged teachers.
“You know, Chris, I grew up in Central Valley. Ten years ago, this county was dairyland, but then the outlets came in and took over. They brought jobs, but we still have a mix of old and new, and you see that in town. There’s been an Agway and a John Deere dealership for decades, but they’re being squeezed out by a Starbucks.”
“I see.” Chris acted sad, but that worked for him too. He was relying on the fact that people here would be friendly, open-hearted, and above all, trusting.
“There’s an unfortunate line between the haves and the have-nots, and it becomes obvious in junior year, which you will be teaching.” Dr. McElroy paused. “The kids from the well-to-do families take the SATs and apply to college. The farm kids stay behind unless they get an athletic scholarship.”
“Good to know,” Chris said, trying to look interested.
“Tell me, how do you communicate with students, best?”
“Oh, one-on-one, definitely. Eye-to-eye, there’s no substitute. I’m a friendly guy. I want to be accessible to them on email, social media, and such, but I believe in personal contact and mutual respect. That’s why I coach, too.”
“Oh, my, I forgot.” Dr. McElroy frowned, then sifted through his file. “You’re applying to fill our vacancy for an assistant baseball coach. Varsity.”
“Yes.” Chris had never coached before, but he was a naturally gifted athlete. He’d been going to indoor batting cages to get back in shape. His right shoulder ached. “I feel strongly that coaching is teaching, and vice versa. In other words, I’m always teaching, whether it’s in the classroom or on the ball field. The setting doesn’t matter, that’s only about location.”