Find today’s 2800 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/070.html
The schoolmaster is at the end of his life, and it seems that everybody knows it but him. To Fyodor Sysoev’s credit, he is so caught up with minor slights of his students during their examinations and making his fourteenth annual dinner, that he only thinks of his illness as a nuisance. Chekhov does a masterful job of showing the world through Fyodor’s point of view, while allowing the readers to see the bigger picture that the school master stubbornly misses. He doesn’t get that he is listening to his own eulogy days before he’s put into a pinewood box. From where the story starts, it seems that he is living on the flames of anger. I like that Fyodor is so surly in defense of his students. It seems to me that he is a man who expects high marks from his students and has nurtured their talents. So when they are insulted or marked down, he takes it personally. The toasting scene is great. I found myself sitting in the room, watching the absurdity of Fyodor’s long winded speech where he “referred to certain enemies of his, tried to drop hints, repeated himself, coughed, and flourished his fingers unbecomingly.” The master of the house, Bruni was also wonderful character. “[I]ngratiating as a friendly dog,” the man “who, in spite of his German origin and Lutheran faith, was a Russian at heart” has a big heart and affectionate love for Fyodor. At the end, Fyodor, still stubbornly refuses to believe that he is dying. Reassuring himself that his “….face is a much better colour to-day than yesterday,” he goes to the pile of exercise books doing the one thing he loves and was born to be, a schoolmaster.
How ironic that today’s story about the consummate teacher should fall on Teacher’s Day. Fyodor Sysoev is preparing for his 14th appearance at an annual dinner for teachers hosted by the board of managers for the schools. Early in the story we are given an appreciation for the pride he takes in his job as he regrets the performance of some of his students despite their passing the exams. We are also given a hint of something else lying in wait under the surface as he struggles to get dressed on account of weakness and his “poor wife” notes “how weak you have grown” and makes a failed attempt to convince him to stay. Everyone was surprised to see him upon his arrival and Fyodor continues to be dismissive as they inquire about the state of his “illness”. The best part however was the fight he tries to pick with a competing schoolmaster by accusing him of deliberately dictating words to his students so that they might make a mistake. He is relentless in his defense of his students and not shy about his contribution to their success. He did not hesitate to deliver his yearly toast which ultimately was “boring and unpleasant” but like Travis I found myself sitting back and enjoying the ornery old man give his last speech. The master of the house was brilliant in his response giving the most glowing compliment to Fyodor: “you are a schoolmaster to the marrow of your bones. You must have been born a teacher. You have all the gifts — innate vocation, long experience, and love for your work.” This prompted others to contribute to what we later realize is a practice eulogy. Fyodor “listened with indifference to the noisy enthusiasm of his admirers” knowing full well that he “was a person of consequence”. It was not until the host noted that his family would be cared for and in fact money was set aside the month prior that the reality comes crashing in around Fyodor (“intensely sinister, like a terrible truth”). He returns home to the one thing he loves–a stack of his student’s books–and “sat down and fell to contemplating the beautiful childish handwriting.”