'Bob Levey speaking."

"Bob, I'm a schoolteacher in Montgomery County, and I'm mad as hell."

"Well, ma'am, I'd say you probably have a whole lot of company on both counts."

"I knew you'd be an understanding ear to lean on."

"Do you teach English, ma'am? I hope not, because if you do, you just wrote tomorrow's lesson about mixed metaphors."

"No, I teach math, Bob, and now you know why! But I'm not going to teach it for long. I suppose you've heard this before, but I have to get out of teaching at the end of this year. I just have to. I've had enough."

"Enough what? Enough of the salary? Enough of the kids?"

"No. Neither. The union would kill me if they heard me say this, but the salary is okay -- not great, but it's enough to live on. And the kids are terrific, most of the time. What I've had enough of after 11 years is the administration."

"Hey, we all have bosses, ma'am. And they all used to live in a zoo somewhere."

"Bob, what would you say if I told you that my principal refused to order textbooks for me because he just forgot?"

"I'd say, 'Hey, everybody blows one once in a while.' "

"And what would you say if I told you that the principal ordered a substitute for me on a day when I showed up, and then insisted that the sub and I teach the class together?"

"I'd say, 'Strange.' "

"And what would you say if I told you that the principal refused to allow me to go home early on the day my brother had a car accident and there was no one else to take care of him?"

"I'd say, 'Awfully insensitive.' "

"Well, what the principal said was that he's always being pecked at by the bookkeepers at headquarters, and they have rules about the closeness of family members who get sick and brothers just aren't close enough. Flesh and blood isn't close enough?"

"That's really ham-handed. I mean, if you'd had 11 brothers who'd just had car accidents in the last month, I could understand his suspicion. But you were obviously telling the truth. When will principals learn?"

"The sad thing about this is that the kids know it, too. I mean, Bob, my school is in Bethesda. They don't grow 'em stupid in Bethesda. The kids can tell when a principal is so hung up on the letter of the law that he can't see the forest for the trees."

"Uh, ma'am, I hate to say it, but do you know what you just did to two perfectly innocent metaphors? Again?"

"You see how upset I am? I really did take English courses in college! I really did!"

"Okay, you really did. But tell me something. Do other teachers feel the same way as you? Do they feel that dopey principals are enough of a reason to give up teaching? I'd be surprised if many did, because I'm hearing from disaffected teachers who take one look at the job market outside the school and come scurrying back."

"Bob, I could get a job with a computer company tomorrow. The physics teacher at my school could get a job in the government tomorrow. Any English teacher at my school could get a job as a consultant tomorrow. The job market is better now than it's been in years."

"I really doubt that, ma'am. Here you have teachers with the whole summer to look for work, and they can't find any. On the other hand, you also have thousands of teachers who come limping back on the first day of school because they've been too afraid or too lazy to look anyplace else."

"You really know teachers like that?"

"I sure do. I remember a teacher from Dale City who called me back in August. It must have been from a pay phone in the hall; I could hear kids raising hell behind her. She said, 'Bob, I couldn't think of anybody else to call, but I'm going crazy here. It's the first day of school and all I did was play tennis all summer. I hate this, and I didn't do anything to look for another job, so I had to come back.' I had to tell her, 'Ma'am, if you're looking for sympathy, you're not going to find much here.' "

"Well, I can certainly understand why you said that. Maybe she has a better principal than I do."

"Maybe. But you could have a better principal, too. Have you ever considered transferring to another school?"

"I've considered it. But you know what they say about rolling the dice over the question of the frying pan and the fire."

"Uh, ma'am . . . ."

"I was kidding! Joke! Honest!"

"You're stretching my credulity."

"Bob, would a schoolteacher do that?"

"I figure anybody with eight months left on her sentence is capable of anything."

"It's seven months, three weeks and four days, Bob. There are some things a math teacher -- even an angry math teacher -- doesn't miss."