Monday, May 10, 2010

That's Messed Up

This poster was on the wall of the Social Studies classroom.

“History is merely gossip.”

- Oscar Wilde

I overindulged in food this weekend. Saturday morning was innocent enough with a bowl of granola cereal. Then for lunch, my husband, son, and I ate at a Thai restaurant and I ate half of my heaping plate of noodles. We had friends over for dinner, so I had way too much cheese and bread, followed by my (moderately) famous Mexican corn soup with lemon and fish tacos with a jicama slaw. For dessert, we had Trader Joe’s Tiramisu.

Sunday morning was Mother’s Day. To celebrate, my husband poached an egg, topped it with sautéed shallots, smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce. At our local Ryles Jazz Club’s brunch, it’s called Eggs Copenhagen. For lunch, I finished the other half of my heaping plate of Thai noodles. For dinner, my husband cooked potato gratin (and didn’t hold the cream) and fried calamari.

Probably five pounds heavier, I woke up at 5:25 am. By the time I got out of the shower, still no call so I was confident I’d have the day off. Getting dressed, I planned my day. I’d print excerpts of manuscripts for the conference, get some editing done on The Disappearances, prepare a few pages of my new manuscript (Naked Eye) for the peer critique at said conference, get my mother’s birthday present and buy two suitcases. It was gonna be a spectacularly productive day.

At 6:47 am, the phone rang me out of my reverie to send me to the Freshman Academy. Remember when I used to be a gym teacher? Now I seem to be the Special Ed. go-to guy.

I arrived at the school and the secretary immediately said, “She doesn’t have much of a schedule. You don’t have anything for hours.” This teacher only has two classes she co-teaches the last two blocks. If they didn’t have anything else for me to do, I wouldn’t begin until about 11:45. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball to know this nonsense in advance so I could sleep in? My sweatpants were way more comfortable than tights. Then I was told to wait in the library for someone in charge to show up and see if there was some other place to put me in the meantime. Did this mean I would be paid for a part-time gig? Grrrrr.

All of first period came and went. Then homeroom. I certainly had Internet and editing productivity even if I was trapped in a chilly library. Second period, a class came in to use the computers so I lost Internet access. After I could edit no longer, I read The Hunger Games.

Lunchtime came three hours after I’d arrived, and so I made my way to the teacher’s room to use the microwave.

At 11:45 am, I had my first class. All I knew was the classroom number, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was a History class. The teacher showed the students a news clip from eight years ago about horrendous factory conditions in Northern Marian Islands. The teacher received grudging respect from the ninth-graders, but he used a lot of street lingo, and I’m not sure he was being ironic about it like when I use it. And he said some phrases I wouldn’t say like, “Shut your cakehole.” Also, the volume of his tone was more appropriate for an auditorium than a small classroom.

The students had a lot of questions about how the system had been set up, so the teacher made an analogy to prostitution by women from Eastern Europe who’ve been tricked into coming to New York City as models. That led to a conversation about parents selling children into prostitution or to work in factories. And that turned into a discussion about power and husbands who can kill their wives and daughters without penalty in certain countries. Then the teacher reminded them about how slaves could be killed without convication during the time of American slavery. One student kept responding, “That’s messed up.” Indeed.

Halfway through, I was sent next door because the teacher hadn't returned from lunch that took place in the middle of class. I walked in and of course it was MATH. Aack! Prior to lunch, there had been a Math discussion so there was really nothing for the students to do. Instead of eating me alive, they quietly talked until the teacher returned. Turned out she'd failed to return in time for, "personal reasons". Then I was free to return to History class. Sigh of relief.

The last class was a small group of kids who were performing low and had behavioral issues. It was my job to take one girl, who’s not a problem when she’s one-on-one to work on the Social Studies packet. It soon became apparent why she’s a problem. She cannot read. Below are two sentence. Each word she couldn’t pronounce or understand is in bold:

On September 7, 1892, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the first heavyweight title fight under the Queensbury rules was fought. This championship fight was between John L. Sullivan and “Gentleman Jim” Corbett.

When the students left, I spoke with the teacher about this student. Her response? “She reads on a first-grade level. Maybe lower. There’s a program for her at the main campus, but her father refuses to let her in the ‘retarded’ class, so she’s just been moved up each year.” The following week the girl would finally be moved to a special program in Lexington.

On the way home from my children’s school, my daughter chirped, “How was your day?”

“Not too bad. I didn’t have much to do.”

“Getting paid for not doing much is good because it’s good to get paid and not do much. That’s one of the good things about subbing is that you don’t always have to do so much,” she said.

I can't argue with that logic.


  1. That school system is "messed up" if you ask me. I had to shake my head at what I was reading. Unbelievable. They seem very unorganized to me. That would never fly in the public school system here or in my current school. Hats off to you for putting up with such nonsense!

  2. Whew! And that is why I have so much respect for substitute teachers - nothing like living the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants life! :-)

  3. Like the comment about subbing. Athough, you do have to really be tougher than the regular teacher as far as behavior, I think. Oh! the joy!
    Glad to hear that you got some of your writing done, so all and all it turned out to be a good day!

  4. Words of wisdom, she's so smart, always looking on the bright side.

  5. Theresa, I want to come and live with you and eat all that food, sounds amazing. Another challenging day for you and I love the logic of your daughter.
    I wonder why we call math the plural maths? Glad you survived the day, wouldnt the father's attitude to the 'retarded' class make you nuts?, poor child, we do see a bit of that here, people just cant face reality sometimes.

  6. I really hope this is a whole day for you. You were there long enough for it to be.

  7. Not doing much? Wow, your day is chock full! Even the waiting is a form of doing something, my hat's off to you!

  8. VKT, thank you. This is the second job in a week where they really didn't need to call a sub. Maybe it's contractual or something.

    Shannon, this "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants life" I lead is why I'm tired even after a relatively easy day. Or maybe I'm tired because I got up at 5:25 am. Hard to tell.

    Choices, writing time is definitely a bonus. And I didn't have any behavior problems to deal with, so double-bonus!

    Sheila, my daughter sure is a bright-side kind of girl. I don't know where she came from!

  9. Brigid, if I were staying in Ireland longer, I'd cook for you. But really, my husband better than me.

    That is weird about "math" singular and "maths" for plural. Here, it's all the same.

    I know that father's attitude is why his daughter still can't read. Where does he expect her to go in life? Too many parents worry about self-esteem over learning. Or maybe he's been in denial over how bad it is. I'm sure they tell him the test scores over and over.

    Chris, I hope it is too. This is the second time in a week I'm not sure if I'm getting paid the whole day.

    Joanne, you're right, the waiting does feel like work because it's so full of wondering what's coming.

  10. Wow. The food in your house sounds amazing. I'm glad you had a great weekend and that today was fairly easy. You deserve that. :)

  11. Awwww what a precious comment from your child!!

    You really can't beat the crystal clarity of a child's logic!! Wonderful!

    I'm so sorry for that other little girl though - the one who couldn't read so has behavioural issues. And only because no-one wants to argue with the dad?!?! Oh dear. Poor child.

    And what a long day for you!! Glad you had a History class!! That teacher with the "street lingo" is just scary. What's that about?

    I'm just glad you had such a wonderful weekend of all things gastronomy - well you deserve it so why not?! Good for you and Happy Mother's day.

    GOOD LUCK with The Disappearnces editing!!!

    Take care

  12. Your husband sounds like an incredible cook!! I'm glad you enjoyed your weekend. You deserved to be pampered!

  13. I can't believe that father wouldn't let his daughter be placed in a special class so that she could learn to read, just because he thought it was "retarded". That is very sad and all it does is punish the daughter when the dad is the one who's wrong. I'm glad that she was finally put in a special program.

  14. Sarahjayne, I did have a nice weekend. Good food is one of the best and easiest ways to keep me happy.

    Old Kitty, the teacher made good points and connections, I just didn't agree with some of his comments. There was another one that made me think whoa! but I forge it now. Must've blocked it out!

    I'm sure people have advocated strongly on that girl's behalf but teachers and schools can't make parents sign the form for the program. I remember this tightrope walk with several fifth-grade students' parents.

    KarenG, it was nice not to have to do any cooking yesterday. I hope you had a nice day too.

    Neurotic Workaholic, too bad the girl is going to be in another town, away from friends. And I think it's a private school, so now he has to pay for it when he could've gotten her more support all these years for free.

  15. Sounds like a lovely weekend, overeating and all. : j

    Your description of the system is baffling, on many levels...

    But then, if my experience living through and working in the french system is anything to go by, you'd be out of a job in France. When teachers don't feel like coming/can't come in, the kids either leave or go to study hall...
    So in some schools a week winds up to be half the what it should be.

    There's really nothing for me to say except hope, however ineffectually, that somehow you get a permanent history teaching position. But I could easily say that at the end of most of your posts. : þ
    I still hope for it though.

  16. Okay, so I read your entire post but the whole time I was thinking, "Mmmm, jicama slaw. Me wantee!"

  17. lesa, my high school didn't have sub either. We had the period off or in rare instances, study hall.

    I hope for a permanent history position too. Or a book contract so I can focus on writing.

    Rebecca, the slaw came out really good. It also had mango, tomatoes, red onion, vinegar and salt.

  18. That story about the girl not being able to read breaks my heart. I really hope she gets the helps she needs at the new place. The school system should be put to shame for this type of situation. Really.

    Your child's view of things is so nice, isn't it? :)

  19. Okay, the food report made my mouth water!

    As far as what goes on school-wise, I agree, it's messed up.

    Hope you had a great day regardless - and never fight a child's logic ;)

  20. I like the discussion in the History class - interesting stuff - although I'm not impressed with the teacher's language. Not appropriate under any circumstances.

    Glad you had such a great weekend!

  21. When students cancel their flute lessons, I get paid to do nothing and although it is frustrating sometimes, your daughter is right! I need to take her advice.

    I'll look at your pages tomorrow :)

    I can't wait to hear about this conference you're going to.

  22. Tiffany, I don't know how this girl fell through the cracks. For all I know, she may not have been here that many years. I detected an accent. And with students going in and out of Cambridge, she could've been in Boston or somewhere else before her. I hadn't met her in my sub travels before today.

    Jaydee, many situations were "messed up" today! Overall, it wasn't too bad of a day.

    Jemi, this teacher tried to hard to speak their language and I think he kept crossing the line.

    Aubrie, I agree. We should listen to my daughter more often.

    I'm planning to take copious notes at the conference because I'm hoping to do a guest post on another blog.

  23. Oh that poor girl! I sure hope she gets the help she needs.

    I'd rather have too much to do than too little - that makes for a very loooong day. I don't know how you're able to adjust to so many different demands on you all the time when you sub - you're awesome!

  24. Your Magna Carta poster made me LOL.

    So sad about the girl who can't read. Thank you for taking the time to work one-on-one with her today. You personally put a chink in the wall of illiteracy that's between so many Americans and personal success. This is one of the million reasons why teachers (subs or otherwise) are awesome.

  25. Your husband sounds like a FABULOUS cook! I'm so jealous!

  26. My husband could take some lessons from your husband in the Mother's Day celebration department. What a culinary tribute!

  27. Its really sad that the girl cannot read. I am glad you were able to help her. You're an awesome Substitute teacher...:)
    You're daughter is right. Getting paid for not doing much is great!

    Have a good day...:)

  28. Susan, thanks! Yes, doing little is weird. As long as I get paid, it's nice, but I just kept thinking about all I could get accomplished if I weren't there.

    B. Miller, you're the first one to comment on the poster. I'm such a history geek, so it keeps making me laugh too.

    I'm sure this girl gets a lot of one-on-one, but I wonder how much time she gets with reading recovery teachers.

    Sarah, it's great that someone else likes to take over cooking.

  29. Roxy, I'm always surprised about how much everyone is willing to do for me for Mother's Day. My daughter was upset I did laundry, but I explained it was more of a Mother's Day if I didn't have the mountain waiting for me on Monday.

    Mr. Stupid, thanks for the compliment. I figured you'd like my daughter's philosophy!

  30. What a wonderful weekend of culinary delights! It all sounds delicious. Very jealous your husband has such a wonderful cooking repertoire.

    Your daughter will soon learn that not having much to do can be as exhausting as having too much to do. Glad you were able to fit in some editing! :)

  31. Ann, you're right. I was so tired last night and I berated myself because how can I complain of being tired after working that little?

    But I'm off today. Hooray!

    I am lucky about my husband's cooking.

  32. Love the poster.

    Can't quite get over the 'shut your cakehole' comments from the teacher ... there is a fine line between understanding the lingo and sounding very uncool when trying to use it.

    Very entertaining blog .. I am glad I clicked the 'follow' button :)

  33. Clutterbug, the teacher said a couple inappropriate lines, but I had no way to write them down so I lost them. He did such a good teaching job, but he had a temper. It was too bad.

    I'm glad you clicked the "follow" button too!