“Her intellect was an aphrodisiac to me…I loved how she retained data, analysed information and boldly drew conclusions.”
Rarely has a well-planned lesson appeared quite so seductive. But novel The Teacher’s Strike does many unexpected things. Firstly, it highlights the sexiness of a good classroom manner. And then it shows that collective industrial action is not only a means of achieving better pay and conditions, but that it is also, frankly, hot.
Newly published as an e-book, The Teacher’s Strike is set during the Chicago teachers’ strike of 2012. The author, pseudonymously Gabby Matthews, has apparently conducted considerable research into the eight-day strike, during which the Chicago Teachers’ Union protested against mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reform-driven policies.
But she has also added spanking. It is a classroom Fifty Shades of Grey. Fifty Shades of Grades, if you will.
It tells the story of chronically excluded pupil Telly, and his affair with Clair, a student teacher. Telly is a troubled kid and proud; Clair is conscientious, but turned on.
For an erotic novel, the sex takes a while to arrive. First, Telly must content himself with “masturbation – my cheerful inner passenger”. And so he thinks of Clair, while “my hands slipped into my boxers as gracefully as a whistling chef could enter a kitchen to work some sizzling magic with wet, raw vegetables.”
The next day, he discovers a newfound interest in school. He arrives early, meeting the caretaker, who “staked the gate poles into the ground holes”. Telly may not be alone with his whistle for much longer.
There is, therefore, a moment of classroom passion. “I knew things would never be the same between us,” Telly says. “How could the classroom walls hold us from now on?”
And there is the concomitant emotional journey: “The deeper angst would pierce and prod my insides, like a well-meaning 19th-century surgeon,” Telly says.
Then, however, union politics intervene. The teachers decide to strike; Clair’s attention is divided between supporting the picket line and keeping Telly’s red flag flying.
The Chicago Teachers’ Union has not been entirely delighted with this interpretation of its moment of glory. It objected to the original cover of the novel, which showed the teacher wearing a shirt showing the union’s logo. In a letter, it stated that it “does not want to be associated with ‘a new erotic spanking novel’.” The cover was subsequently changed.