Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bag Lady

“I said you wanna be startin’ somethin’

You got to be startin’ somethin’

It’s too high to get over (yeah, yeah)

Too low to get under (yeah, yeah)

You’re stuck in the middle (yeah, yeah)”

- Song “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’” by Michael Jackson

I knew going into this day that it was too packed, would be too hectic, and I’d be too tired muddling through it. I subbed yesterday after a poor night’s sleep, rushed right to my children’s school to pick them up, brought my daughter to ballet, and then hurried home. I quickly cooked sloppy Joe’s (before my husband came home and took over), put out my clothes and set up the coffeemaker for the next day, and flew out the door for my first night with a critique group. When all was said and done, I was in bed by 10:30pm for a 5:30am wake-up.

In the kitchen doorway, on the way to switch on the coffeemaker, I stepped in something squishy. Turning on the light, I looked down to see cat vomit on: the rug, her cat blanket, and the kitchen floor, and also on my pant cuff. This meant doing a load of laundry before I left.

My first meltdown occurred while I was preparing my children’s breakfasts and lunches. Recently, I had told my family then when I have an early job, I need more help in the mornings. After I put out fruit and napkins, I returned to the bathroom to finish my hair. My husband started something in the kitchen, which I thought was the rest of breakfast, but it turned out that he replaced my fruit with another. Thinking all of the breakfast had been served, I continued with lunches. After a few minutes, when I realized the rest of breakfast wasn’t done, I called the kids in to pour their drinks, causing complaints. My son overfilled my daughter’s milk, and then he told my daughter she poured his water in the “wrong” cup, so she dumped it into the sink instead of transferring the liquid to another cup. That’s when I began screaming.

I left the house a few minutes with plenty of time to spare. Except. When. Traffic. Doesn’t. Cooperate. On Broadway, I was behind a Budweiser truck moving as if it were being pulled by lethargic Clydesdales. A mile later, the truck attempted to park, but didn’t fit, so it stuck out, bringing my lane to a standstill. When I finally made it through and reached Harvard Square, a city bus had broken down, blocking a lane and creating another traffic jam. Next, I was forced to crawl behind a school bus picking up children along Garden Street. By the time I reached the school, I was five minutes late for the first bell. Knowing I’d have ten minutes before the second bell (at best), I dashed to the building.

Resembling a bag lady, I passed by the assistant principal at the entrance. My handbag is huge for my petite frame. In addition, I had a laptop bag holding a couple of DVDs and some handouts (just in case), my Bose and plug (a necessity for Music) in another bag, and my lunch bag. No matter how nicely I’m dressed and coiffed, it’s a challenge to look professional when burdened under baggage.

The secretary handed me the schedule. I would have three classes in a row, with the first group being a bunch of eighth-graders. Great. They were already there, early and disorderly. Greater. I scanned the sub notes. They were supposed to watch a DVD, which I promptly put in the player. A spinning DVD appeared on the TV screen, and after a few minutes “Can’t read disc” popped up. I hit the eject button, but the DVD player didn’t feel like it. After a few minutes of silently arguing with the player, it finally spit out the disc. Thanks.

I called the office, set up my dock, and began playing Michael Jackson*, who taunted me that I, “Wanna be startin’ somethin’”. At least the students quieted to listen. Soon, the assistant principal arrived with another television, reprimanding a few students hassling the curtains. I failed to mention that the class was held on the stage of the auditorium, as if it were a set made to look like a classroom for a play. Trying to appear calm, I thanked the AP, and set up the new TV. The disc wouldn’t be startin’ in there either. Plan B – I brought “Fantasia”, not knowing how they’d react. Can you believe that most of the class pushed their chairs closer to the television, asking me to turn down the lights, while the other half were fairly quiet?

During the movie, I had time to read the rest of the plans:


Today you’ll have class in 4 locations

Period 1 – gr. 8 in auditorium. Please have them watch “From the Top” DVD

Period 2 – cafeteria. It’s just 4 students (gr. 5) They can do choral warm-ups on CD and then sing they know that are enclosed

Period 3 Go up to Rm 221 6th gr. Chorus – same as for grade 5

11:25-11:55 (half hour) Rm. 105. Junior K. Pick games and songs from Feirabend books

12:5501:40 gr 1-2 in auditorium We are starting to learn the song “The Moon” or have them watch “Animusic” DVD

These are incomplete plans. She didn’t tell me her secret hiding place for the CD player, and I couldn’t find it. Next I looked at the books, which are full of songs I didn’t know with music that I wasn’t adept enough to play on piano. (Does that room even have a piano?) Let me also add that third period was NOT in room 221. It was in room 212. Not cool.

Fifth-grade went smoothly. I played Michael Jackson for warm up and sat with them as they practiced a couple of planned songs (“Octopus’s Garden” and “Oh Susanna”). I wished for a piano to fix their off-key notes.

After I located the correct sixth-grade classroom, it was clear that they weren’t interested in singing “Oh Susanna”, and who could blame them? We did the assigned “Octopus’s Garden” along with my iPod a couple of times. After that, we sang a few of Michael Jackson songs, A Coldplay song, and two Black Eyed Peas songs. I was told that I was the “coolest” music teacher. Sure, when I let you sing anything you want.

The pre-K teacher was fine with me showing a video of “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, which is an animated musical. The class went smoothly until I mentioned the ages of my children, which led to, “I have a brother who’s eight. My sister is zero. I have a seven-year-old cousin.” I reminded them not to speak at once, and then I spent a few minutes calling on them so they could each tell me the age of a family member.

Schlepping all of my bags back to the auditorium, I got ready for last period, going straight to her suggested DVD, which was kind enough to cooperate. So were the kids. One student said, “At the end of class, if we’re good, she stamps our hands.” Apparently, the stamps are also too precious to put in an obvious place.

Hoping that the lead teacher didn’t mind my changes in lessons in response to her inadequate plans, I was glad that I’d brought alternatives to make it through the day, even if it made me resemble a bag lady.

* Thanks for the MJ music, Mike.


  1. I'm working on sewing tote bags. Design one that would fit your needs and I'll make it.

  2. That's exciting, Sheila! What kind of material are you using? Where did you learn how to make them? What an appropriate post title for your new endeavor.

  3. Hi!

    What a day! I was exhausted just reading it. I did laugh out loud when you said you stepped on cat puke only because I can so relate to that.

    And you play the piano - that's so great. But the best thing here was how the kids were hooked on Fantasia. I mean Fantasia. That's really sweet.

    Now I've got the Michael Jackson song playing in my head...

    Take care

  4. Yikes. I have to tell you - my sub plans are INTRICATE and sometimes I fear too much so. You handled it like a pro - big props... I'm hoping you had a nice adult beverage waiting for you when you got home. :)

  5. Old Kitty, I can't play piano much more than to tap one note at a time, but only if I know the song or I can't tell tempo. I think the cat threw up because my daughter fed her a carrot. I've had MJ in my head all day too!

    Halpey1, I love intricate plans. We sub don't know where anything is or what the rules are. You're probably a great teacher to sub for.

  6. This post caught my eye because I love that MJ song. What a day is right! :) Hope tomorrow is better. . .

  7. Thanks, Margo. The subbing job I had yesterday went much better. We'll see what tomorrow brings...

  8. I know this was a rough day, but all I can think about is how cool you are for being so prepared... for anything! You are a powerhouse with so many irons in the fire!

  9. Ha! Jackee, I don't know if I think about myself as a powerhouse, I did feel like I had many irons in the fire. If only I could find those protective gloves.

  10. I feel frazzled just reading all that. I'm one of those crazy people who likes to be super, incredilby, over-prepared for everything, otherwise I freak out about what could go wrong. I'll definitely have to make sure I have plenty of my own back-up plans to keep the kids occupied! Unfortunately I have no idea where to start.

  11. Surfie, sorry to scare you. I highly recommend I have a link to it on the right side.
    Also, here are some tips I've written in past blog posts:

    I think I'm going to write a post to help subs soon. Stay tuned!