Friday, October 30, 2009

She Blinded Me with Science

“Night creatures calling, the dead start to walk in their masquerade

There's no escaping the jaws of the alien this time

(They're open wide)”

Rod Temperton, Song “Thriller”, Michael Jackson

My suspicions that the high school Science department had been requesting me were confirmed when I subbed yesterday. I was addressed on the letter from the AP Biology teacher, along with a note, “Thanks for subbing again.” In addition, my name was already on the board when I came into the classroom. It felt good that I was considered a competent substitute, but is that an oxymoron or is it more like being a big fish in a little, odd pond?

As expected, the day was fairly easy. The students were editing one another’s lab reports, which should've taken at least forty-five minutes of the one-hour-and-twenty-minute block. Here and there, the students needed cajoling to stop chatting. When they were finished, they had other work to complete. While some worked away for the entire block, the ones that didn’t made me concerned that they were beginning to see me as a pushover, so I made sure to make the rounds with greater frequency. I didn’t want to tarnish my good reputation, so the school would keep calling me for work.

That said, I was disappointed to be working today because my son had a class breakfast, but I didn’t want to take myself off the sub list because I’d worked so little last week, and besides, my husband could go. Then I had to worry that I’d get a job that I couldn’t walk or ride to, since my husband would need the car to drive to the breakfast. When the inevitable call came, it was for the high school, which meant I could ride my bike, so I was relieved that I didn't have to scramble to borrow a friend’s car.

My children’s (politically correct) school has a ban on Halloween costumes, but the high school encourages students to dress up, with a long list of exceptions that were posted and announced this week: no masks, no weapons, nothing offensive, and so on. Upon arriving at the school, two teachers had orange and black striped tights and another was dressed up as Santa Claus. A science teacher came as a tsetse fly, and showed students pictures of the diseases she could cause. Of the costume-clad students, I spied a flapper, a banana, a police officer, a soldier, Frankenstein, Super Girl, and a goddess. I could tell it was going to be a fun day. Last year, I wore a Rosie the Riveter costume, but normally a pumpkin t-shirt was as dressed up as I got. My feeling is that the kids are bouncing off the walls as it is, without reminding them it’s Halloween each time they look at you.

I didn’t expect the “Honors” (ie: regular) classes in Chemistry to be calm today, and apparently, neither did the teacher. She wrote:

They may be a bit excited because Halloween is

approaching. They have worked hard and are mostly ready

for the midterm, so they can afford to have a somewhat

relaxed day. If it is getting too noisy and some students

seem to be having a hard time working you can make an

appeal for more quiet on behalf of the students who are


The teacher had a prep first period, so I could have made the breakfast after all. Second period I’d be co-teaching an AP class, but the last two periods I’d have my own classes. Then I realized that when school ended at 2:30, I’d have my bike, so I wouldn’t make it to my children’s school in time. My poor kids, by association, have an unpredictable schedule. If they had their way, I’d be a stay-at-home mother to cater to their every need. But when I called my son, he was fine with it and told me that everyone loved the frittata I’d made, so I felt better.

Throughout out the day, I saw several students smeared with blood, a female chef with a micro mini (which would be impractical and maybe even dangerous for cooking. She was surprised that several people asked her, “Have they kicked you out yet?”), Little Red Riding HOOD (she emphasized that last word) with garters, a Goth/butterfly/bat type with skeleton accents, Dorothy, a nurse (again, dressed much sexier than the job requires), two hockey players (pretending to fight), a bumblebee, Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame, a gypsy, Donald Duck, a doctor (who felt confident enough in his abilities that he took a fellow student’s pulse during class), an ‘80s chick decked out in neon green with a side-ponytail, Peter Pan, Tigger (worn by a tall male), two Pilgrims, a white Rosterfarian, a blind referee (complete with walking stick), and various zombies and ghouls.

My classroom was located in a stairwell on the second floor, with the stairs only heading up, but not down. I found the room at the other end of an aquarium-muraled cave, and realized that this cluster of classrooms in the stairwell connected to the other stairwell. I was more confused by the layout than ever. The AP Chem class had quite a few of the students I'd subbed for in the AP Bio class yesterday. One was kind enough to warn me that third and fourth period classes are, “bad”, causing the Michael Jackson song of the same name to be in my head for the rest of the day.

The co-teacher twice blinded the students with science. Her first trick: taking a clear liquid “water” and pouring it into a vial so it became purple “grape juice”; next into a glass so it became yellow “lemonade”; and into a soda can, where it became bubbly; then into a glass so it became white “milk”; and lastly into a glass so it became pink “Pepto Bismol”. The students cheered. Her next trick was to pour hydrogen peroxide into a beaker of green-dyed detergent; next she placed the beaker into a jack-o-lantern, poured a catalyst into the beaker, and then placed the top onto the pumpkin. Quickly, the eyes and mouth of the pumpkin began to spew foam, and when she lit a match near in the foam, it glowed. The students gasped. A History teacher just can’t compete.

After what the students said, I wondered if the following classes would be bad. The third period students were great – I only had to walk around periodically to keep voices down and cell phones away. Fourth period behaved just as well, though they were a little noisy, but what should I expect last period on the Friday before Halloween? And my (now) favorite student ever told me I look like Holly Hunter. In both classes, I knew a few students from my old school and my children’s school, so there was a nice camaraderie. It turned out that the costumes were scarier than the students.


  1. Hi

    Halloween sounds like fun!! I'm so glad that the high schoolers were allowed to dress up - it's sets of lots of creativity and it's such fun! And so does that science teacher who seems to have walked out of a Harry Potter book. Good grief!

    You know, I'm looking at your pic and I'm seeing the Holly Hunter likeness..


    Take care

  2. Old Kitty, I think it's nice that the high schoolers can dress too, since they can't at my children's elementary school.

    I WISH I looked like Holly Hunter. I did some celebrity match from a site I found on Google, which said I look like Zooey Deschanel. I think it's the similar hair.

  3. Halloween.. The holiday that unites US youths in otakudom via cosplay. : j
    I had to look up Holly Hunter and Zooey Deschanel, I have no head for actress names...

    I suppose history could fight back with tales of historical horror? ; j

  4. Alesa, is that dressing up because of anime/manga? You can see how little I understand about this.

    When I first got the "compliment" I had no idea which actress the student was talking about.

    My son had a book that was similar, something about gruesome events in history. He read it very carefully.

  5. Technically, otakus are people who are obsessive about any pop culture thing.

    In japan, you have plastic model builder otaku, anime otaku, airsoft (a kind of paintless paintball) otaku, etc etc.

    In the west, the word otaku tends to be solely used for people obsessed with anime/manga and/or japanese videogames...

    Cosplay (costume playacting) is japanese word for people dressing up as characters of story (animes, mangas, books, movies), a cultural phenomenon in Japan that has seeped over.

    Gruesome history tales, yep perfect for Halloween. : p

  6. That's rich coming from a teacher who teaches so many different things. ; j

    I only know about a couple specific things, but those I'm happy share when I can.

  7. @ I may teach, but there's plenty I don't know.