Sunday, February 14, 2010

Questions and Answers

"You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been."

- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

It was a lean workweek. Thursday evening, I received a call to sub at the high school on Friday for English. Since I haven’t subbed English very often and it was my favorite Learning Community (S for sparkly), I was excited. If there were any more English jobs than Social Studies positions, I’d go back to school to get certified in English.

When I arrived at the office, it felt like home. I wanted to plead, “Hire me!” After signing in, I saw an elderly man - also a sub, confused about his placement. As I was leaving, the poor guy had the schedule inches from his face so he could read it.

My classroom was on the fifth-floor. I huffed and puffed up the stairs, and guess what? Room locked. The next-door teacher had a key, but it wouldn’t open (déjà vu), so she came in through the adjoining doors and opened it for me. The day promised to be easy. First block – off, homeroom on the fourth-floor, and second to fourth blocks would watch movies, with a student in each class in charge of setting up the movie. If they didn’t want to watch the film, they could work on their mask project.

When it was time for homeroom, I went to my assigned room, and saw the older sister of a kid in my son’s class. We talked about her goofy brother. When I asked what she was up to, she said that she had started thinking about applying to college in the fall.

“Do you have an idea of what you want to do yet?” I asked.

“I really like writing, but I don’t know what subject I want to write about,” she said.

“That’s okay. Just take classes to give you the tools on how to write. You can always figure what to write about later.”

Her awkward demeanor made me suspect that she thought if she didn’t have a topic or genre, that she couldn’t choose writing. Maybe her discomfort was from talking about her dreams with an adult. Or perhaps I was remembering my own insecurities about my qualifications to write.

The Friday before Valentine’s Day created a festive atmosphere at the high school, but not as festive as on Halloween*. Females walked around with carnations and balloons. Occasionally, I’d spy two people exchanging cards, chocolates, and hugs.

Second period Honors English went well. I had a former student I’ve seen around the school, and everyone watched the movie “Fahrenheit 451”and talked quietly. When there was a love scene, which involved a kiss that couldn’t be seen because arms were in the way, a slight opening of a bathrobe with pajamas underneath, and fade to black, one student cried, “That’s it?” I laughed. “That was considered racy back then.” The only hitch was that I couldn’t locate the light switch. A student pointed to a panel that had a small black rectangle with a hole in the middle.

“You have to use a scissor,” the student explained.

“That sounds like something you shouldn’t do,” another student responded.

“I agree,” I said.

The first student assured me that the teacher did this all the time, but I tried to use a pencil on the black hole where the light was supposed to work instead with no success. Another student tried the pencil, but couldn’t do it either. Then she used the scissor and got the lights to shut off. When the movie ended, I tried to turn them back on, but couldn’t do it. Why doesn’t someone actually install a light switch? Seems archaic.

Third period was a large class compared to what I was used to, but it was AP, so I wasn’t worried. The teacher’s notes instructed them to watch “Frankenstein”, but that if one of the students brought in “Young Frankenstein”, they could watch that instead. Well, the student brought a video instead of a DVD, so it couldn’t be played.

The students chatted throughout the movie, but not too loudly. Anyone who paid attention to it wasn’t impressed. I agreed. It took over forty-five minutes before anything interesting happened. If this film were made into book now, it would NEVER get published. (Does that make sense?) Near the end, one female student called out, “Why is Helen Bonham Carter’s hair so ugly?” I had no answer to that.

Fourth period Honors English, two girls spontaneously sang during the movie. (For those of you who haven't spent time with teenagers, especially African-American ones, this happens a lot.)

A boy next to them said, “Can you make them stop? It’s making my eyes bleed.”

I commanded, “Girls, don’t sing.” Then I asked the boy, “How does it make your eyes bleed?”

“I said ‘ears’.”

His friend agreed. “Dude, you said, ‘eyes’.”

My reply, “I guess your ears are bleeding so badly that you can’t hear what you said.”

And during the “love scene” from Fahrenheit 451, a student yelled, “PG13!” Near the end of class, the students were antsy to begin their winter break. A boy and girl were flirting, which meant throwing little punches at one another and seeing who could do more pushups. Just before the bell, the boy started chasing the girl, so I had to intervene.

“He won’t stop bothering me,” she complained.

“That’s because he likes you,” I replied.

She turned to him. “Hear that? You’re bothering me because you like me.”

“I don’t like you! You took my bandana!”

Not only were there a lot of signs of love in the air this pre-Valentine’s Day, but a steady stream of students leaving for guidance appointments. Some meetings were to figure out next semester’s schedule, but others to discuss college options. There’s been buzzing about the subject in classrooms as well. All of those questions in front of them; with more guesses about what they want to do, what they want to be, than answers.

I remember my own guidance appointment to discuss college and career options, even taking a test that was supposed to tell me which type of school and what type of career was best for me. The results? I preferred a small school (true), but the career, which I can no longer remember, made me laugh for its absurdity at the time. Who we are and what we want to be cannot be quantified.

Happy Valentine's Day. xo

*This was one of my favorite sub days and a fun post:


  1. Oh my god, I'm about to re enter the substitute teacher market and I'm well, terrified. I seem always to get assigned 8th grade in a bad district. I usually cry on the way home.

  2. Haha. Great teacher stories, Theresa. I can relate to your experiences. I also subbed high school English a few Fridays ago, and they were reading Beowulf, which I haven't read. They were a pretty wound up group. Hardly a dull moment in the schools.

  3. You have to love teenagers!

    I feel for them if they had to watch Fahrenheit 451. That movie is beyond boring. It doesn't do the book justice. I haven't seen Frankenstein, but I assume from your post, it's in the same field. They need to make GOOD movies based on these classics!

    Enjoy your winter break!

  4. Tara, I feel for you. There's nothing tougher than eighth-graders. And as hard as any class gets in Cambridge, I know it's easier than if I subbed in one of the tough areas in Boston - places with metal detectors.

    Shelley, Beowulf isn't the easiest of reads, so I wouldn't be thrilled reading that as a sub. In the fall, I subbed a sixth-grade class reading "The Raven", which was a lot of fun.

    Tiffany, I agree that the movie was boring. Besides, if it was supposed to take place in the 1990s, why did everyone look like they were from the 1960s? The only thing that seemed modern was the transportation. No imagination.

  5. I think there was a pre-WW2 seminar room at my university that had the same kind of light 'switch'... was it installed because people were worried about children touching the switch with wet hands? (That's about the only thing I can think of...)

  6. Hampshireflyer, The building was made in the 1970s, so I can't fathom why it would have that kind of "switch". The bathroom across the hall didn't have a paper towel dispenser and the hand dryer was broken, so I think some renovations of the floor are essential.

  7. Theresa, I love that you encouraged the student who wants to be a writer!

  8. Love was in the air at my school too! Carnations, cards, and random mini pink octopi.

  9. Hi!

    Oh it was such a shame that the class didn't watch Young Frankenstein instead! That would have been a better Friday night flick wouldn't it? "Werewolf?" "There wolf" = always cracks me up!! Frankenstein the movie with Ms Bonham-Carter was just plain awful. I wonder what the class would have made of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein (1931)?

    I hope that young girl you spoke to (the one who wanted to write) follows her true heart's desire.


    Take care

  10. Elouise, random pink optopi?

    Old Kitty, one student wished we were watching the 1931 "Frankenstein" instead of the one she got stuck watching.

    Sheila, Happy Valentine's Day to you too.

  11. You got some good dialogue for your next book - I love the bleeding eyes and the two fighting over whether he likes her or not. Teenagers are so funny to listen to, even when they're not trying to be.

  12. I can tell that you have been subbing for a while because you seem to adapt so well to all of the strange things that can happen on a school day. (Have you ever thought about community college? It's a pretty cool gig.) If you had been able to show "Young Frankenstein," do you think that today's teenagers would get the jokes?

  13. Sure enjoyed this post! So glad I'm not a teacher, or a student (uggh, what awful years those were) or having to switch on a light with a pair of scissors (death by electrocution anyone?) So wise of you to use a pencil, even if it didn't work. Holy crap!

  14. Susan, these teenagers are certainly good case studies to write YA. I've also been toying with writing a memoir about substitute teaching.

    Paul, I'm trying to get a job teaching high school (or - gasp - middle school), so I'm trying to stick with subbing, although teaching on the college level is enticing. I was a TA at a university for several semesters.

    Surprisingly, a lot of students knew "Young Frankenstein".

    KarenG, my husband reprimanded me for the scissors, but I told him that the students insisted that's what the teacher used, so what choice did I have? The lights went off + no deaths = success.

  15. Just one more piece of evidence that proves I would be a horrible teacher. :)

  16. M. Gray, thanks for the comment. Not everyone is meant to be a teacher. Some days, I even wonder if I've got the moxie.

  17. It sounds like a fun day! I'm glad you were able to have a little chat with the girl who wants to write. When I went to college I wanted to major in English but didn't because I thought it wasn't practical. Jeeze. Almost nine years after graduating and I am finally pursuing writing. I wish someone had talked about it with me then!

  18. Any writers out there who are searching for a unique kind of "help," see

    Theresa, I published y.a.'s before adult, years ago. If I can be of help in your search for publication, let me know.


  19. Rebecca, I was in a similar situation. I wish I had been honest about how I felt about writing and had someone encourage me, so I wouldn't have waited until my 30s to try.

    Jody, thanks for the offer of help. And I'll check out your blog.

  20. I took that test this year and it told me I should be a brick layer. A brick layer! The closest thing I come to physical labor is walking to the bathroom and maybe the Wii (or swimming in the summer).

    A teacher told me it was because I put down to many 'I don't care's on the question section.

  21. Brooke, people who don't care are often brick layers. Ha! That's too funny!