“Mr. Gunderson” were the words that the plain looking man scratched onto the blackboard at the front of the class. The students muttered to each other, occasionally looking over their World History textbooks to shoot caustic glances at him.
“Hello, class. As you can see, my name is Mr. Gunderson.” He underlined his name and turned to face the students. “I know I’m not Mrs. Honeypot, but I hope you’re eager to learn because I am very eager to-”
“Uhm, excuse me?” a girl in the back of the room blurted out.
“Yes? Do you need something?”
“Seriously? BEARY eager? Just who the hell do you think you are, coming in here and talkin’ shit like that?”
“Winifred,” she snarled before cramming a paw full of honey into her mouth.
“Miss Winifred, you know that my intentions weren’t malicious. I’m a substitute teacher looking for a paycheck, not some sort of anti-Bear American fanatic.”
“Pfft, just the kinda bullshit I would expect from a porridge eater,” Winnie muttered under her breath.
“Now that was uncalled for!”
“What? It’s true!” Winnie stood up from her desk and walked up to the front of the classroom. “You people are always looking for the easy way out. You say something offensive and you drop that hot bowl of porridge and head for the one that’s just right for you. Sometimes you’ve gotta eat the hot porridge, man. It might burn your tongue, but that’s just what the truth feels like.”
Gunderson stood scowling and arms crossed, waiting for the students to stop staring at him. To look past his pink flesh and sparse coat and see his people as equals.
“Alright, we got off on the wrong foot. I don’t even know if there is a right one to step with, to be honest, but let’s start over. I know that I am not your usual professor, who I assume is a wonderful woman, but I am here to help you learn until she returns. Until then, whether we like it or not, I want you to trust me.
“You may think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Oh, that human couldn’t possibly know about the War Between the States (and the Other States That Are Run by Bears). Well, you know what? I’m just as capable as any of your other professors. The fact that I am 5’9” and buy my salmon from a supermarket instead of catching it doesn’t make me any less smart.
“I understand the way you feel, though. Someone walks in. He looks weird, small and weak with barely enough hair to cover his head. I can see why you’re scared of us. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be us versus them. Why don’t we just… work together for a change? Put this petty division behind us, for the joy of discovery and mutual respect. Together, whether it be for the rest of our lives or for one class period… we can beary the hatchet.”