A Tale of Two Teachers

An Illustrative Dramatic Dialogue for College-Bound HS Students

“Equations written in chalk on a worn-out blackboard” by Roman Mager on Unsplash

Originally written for TA 114 at Victor Valley College, 
Playwriting with Prof. Ed Heaberlin.

[AT RISE: A vaguely academic setting. There are two teachers. KATHY[1], a saccharine and over-enthusiastic high school English teacher, and BUTCH, an astrophysicist in sweats and a Grateful Dead t-shirt, who looks like he’s more familiar with rolling papers than a superconducting supercollider.]

KATHY: Good morning! I’m Ms. Johnson, and I’m your Freshman English teacher.

BUTCH: Hi, I’m Butch. This is Astro 7A, Intro to Astrophysics.

KATHY: I hope that you all are here on time and ready to learn, every single day. I expect you to be in your seats, ready to learn, precisely when the bell rings at 8:05, every morning.

BUTCH: So this 9 AM thing isn’t going to work for me. I keep telling the dean not to schedule me for anything before noon, and she never fucking listens. So, this is literally the only time we will have class at the scheduled time. Get here sometime around noon, and we’ll be golden. My TA records the lectures and uploads them to iTunes U, so if you can’t be here, you can find them there.

KATHY: Later this week, we will go down to the library, and check out your textbooks. You will need to create a paper cover and make no marks inside of it. And consider yourself lucky — in college, you’ll have to buy your own textbooks.

BUTCH: If you bought the textbook, you’re an idiot. The bookstore exists solely to screw you over. I’m forced to list the newest edition in the syllabus and online, but you don’t need it. Anything after the 12th edition will work, though some of the page numbers will be different. You can find it on Amazon for, like two bucks. Or if you can live with an ebook, there’s a whole thing on Reddit. Just google it.

KATHY: I expect all of you to be professional with your work and the way you treat each other. This is a college preparatory class, and, therefore, you will be building the skills necessary to succeed. It’s never too early to be thinking ahead. Make sure you take good notes, and schedule plenty of time to do all of your homework.

BUTCH: So, yeah, this is an intro class. I don’t care if you come to the lectures or take notes or do the homework. Just don’t do anything sexually inappropriate, turn in the labs, and be here on test days. That’s your entire grade.

KATHY: I know that some of this will seem hard, but you have to persevere and build up the skills. They are the foundation on which your entire future will rest. Your goal is to graduate! Don’t give up, and never surrender. You can do it!

BUTCH: Some of you are here because you watched Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson and thought “hey, I want to do all of that star stuff crap” like it’s some fairy glitter-dust magic. You know how, when people are trying to emphasize how easy something is, they say “this isn’t rocket science”? This is literally rocket science. So, if you decide it’s not for you, drop the class: bon voyage, no hard feelings, go learn something you want to learn.

KATHY: Now I’m going to pass out the syllabus, and we’ll read through it. You’ll have to take it home and get it signed by your parents, and we’ll have a quiz on it tomorrow. So be prepared.

BUTCH: Jesus Christ, I need a smoke. Okay. Be here Wednesday at noon. If you want the syllabus, check my website. Any questions, you can text me. Number’s in the syllabus. Now get out.


[1] Actors of any gender can play either role. Change the names, honorifics, and pronouns as needed.


Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.

He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.