Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"Come on, vámonos.
Everybody let’s go.
Come on, let’s get to it.
I know that we can do it."

- Travel Song in each “Dora the Explorer” episode

Today was not a good day to work because I had too many plans. I had: a parent-teacher conference, to vote in the Democratic Primary to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, to go to the fish store, to drop off compost, bring the kids to Taekwondo, cook dinner, and host an out of town friend who was going to eat and sleep over. Time wise, there was no way to do it all, so I was hoping my husband would get home early and begin cooking or we wouldn’t get eating dinner until 9pm.

But this morning, I received a call to sub Spanish at a school I’ve been to several times, mostly for Montessori. I didn’t know what to expect because which grades get Spanish depends on how the principal allocates the budget. In my children’s school, it had been second to eighth-grades, but other schools only provide it for middle school students. I rifled through my sub bag and found some Spanish worksheets I’d copied from www.enchantedlearning.com. I recommend joining this site, which only costs about $20, if you sub or teach young students.

When I arrived at the school, I signed in and made my way to the middle school. In the room were stacks of papers, folders, and binders on tables, but no plans or schedule to be seen. Without plans, I can manage, but not knowing the schedule is more disconcerting because I don’t know which papers to photocopy if I don’t know the ages of the students.

I rushed to the office to check the mailbox, but there were no plans in the box either. The secretary didn’t receive anything nor did she know of any other teacher who would have her plans. “I just need a schedule and I’ll be fine,” I lied. “She should have a schedule hanging somewhere,” the secretary said.” I raced back to the class and by the door (in the most obvious place) but I had been looking on horizontal surfaces, so I hadn’t noticed it. As soon as I get nervous, I lose reason. It’s a good thing I’m not in charge of landing planes or something really important.

I’d have grades sixth, eighth, and fourth, and then it looked like Montessori students for the afternoon. I had preparation (prep) third period and then lunch at 10:10AM! Who has lunch that early in the morning? I feared having hours of Montessori students at the end of the day was going to cause the rest of the time drag. I also figured I’d wind up eating a whole other meal in the late-afternoon because I’d never make it from 10:10AM until around dinnertime (Which was already going to be late). And if I waited until school ended at 2PM to eat, I’d probably dissolve into tears or lash out from hunger (I don’t know why this happens to women, but not to men). The only other option was to sneak food while I had the four and five-year-olds, but from experience I know it was foolhardy, so I decided against it.

At this point, I had just minutes to make copies, but changed my mind. There were many stacks of papers, so surely one was meant for first period. The small group filed in, and a helpful student explained that they were supposed to have a test, but I couldn’t find it. They were working on equations in Spanish, and the class had already done the only sheet that fit the bill. Acting calm, I went next store, where there were no students, explained the situation, and asked the teacher to watch my class while I made copies. The class ran smoothly, which surprised the secretary when she came to see how I was doing. She said these students were usually difficult, and if they had wanted to be, they could have been because it was clear that I wasn’t prepared when they walked in. I told the secretary that I’d made copies and was all set.

Just before the eighth-graders came in, the phone rang. It was the Spanish teacher, telling me what to do for the day in a thick Spanish accent, so I had a difficult time following the instructions. She asked to speak with two students, who would go over the homework and do flashcards. This class was a little noisier since it was student-run, and it would’ve gone better if I had the answer key to the homework to settle debates. There were three giant binders on her desk that had worksheets, overheads, and answer keys, but it took too long to find what I was looking for. The students finished early, and I gave them my handouts to work on for the rest of class time.

For the afternoon, the Spanish teacher wanted me to read a book peppered with Spanish words, find a CD called “Sing, Dance, Laugh, and Eat Tacos” in order to sing an alphabet song, and go over the alphabet from a sheet. After she fired one instruction after another, I said, “I have papers with Spanish words and animals to color in. If I do some of your plans, may I switch to coloring at some point?” She said that was fine.

Prior to the fourth-graders showing up (just as I finished stuffing my face), the head of all the Spanish department for the district came in to go over an observation with the absent teacher. He asked if I knew Spanish, I replied, “A little.” So little, that I was afraid to say the word for little, poco. Then I said, “I know more Italian.” “That’s too bad. I’m looking for a Spanish teacher in the younger grades, K-5. I’m also looking for a Latin teacher – that’s a really good gig.”

Why, may I ask, does someone walking in the door inviting me to take a History position fail to occur? So far, it’s only happened with Spanish (two times) and Instrumental Music. Is it more likely that an agent will march in at some point, offering me a book contract than an administrator offering me a History teaching position?

For the Montessori crowd, after the music, I read, Oh No, Gotta Go! And yes, it’s just what it sounds like, a kid who had to go to the bathroom, which becomes a zany Spanish-English adventure. After that we colored the pictures of animal opposites that I’d brought. With each class, I spent more time on each task so I didn’t have too many minutes devoted to coloring (Apparently children can color quickly/rapido, dwindling my pile that I had to make last through all three classes).

In the beginning of the second class, the school nurse called because my son felt sick and had a fever. Then I called my daughter’s class to say I’d do an early pick up, and cancelled my after school parent-teacher conference. After that, I called the sub line and took myself off for tomorrow/manana*. Then I checked my messages, and found out that our from out of town friend cancelled her dinner/sleep over plans tonight. In five minutes, all of my plans fell apart, and my schedule became wide open.**

The last class had only five students – all English Language Learners. Twin boys from India just began that day/dio. Then there were two (unrelated) girls from Japan and one boy from Poland. Thinking it folly to have these poor students learn English and Spanish, I went ahead and sang the alphabet and read the book, doing a lot of hand signals in hope that it made some sense.

When I said bano*, one student asked, “What’s a bano*?”

“A bathroom,” I said.

“What’s a bathroom?” he asked.

“Restroom, toilet, where you pee,” a classmate replied.

Each word that I said in Spanish, I also stressed in English, but if they didn’t know either, I doubt it did little good.

When I showed the pictures to color that represented hard and soft, tall and short, big and small, and so forth, I also did hand signals. As he colored, polish boy said, “I eat lobster. I… don’t know,” because he didn’t have the words to communicate what he wanted to say. When their teacher came to pick them up, I said, “Gracias, thank you. Adios, goodbye!”

*I apologize for not knowing how to make the squiggly line over the n for this word.

**More changes in plans: When I got to the school, and my daughter was in tears because it was someone's goodbye party, so I told her I could take the bus. After I picked her up from the bus stop, my husband called to say our friend was eating over after all.


  1. What an interesting day. You will be offered a teaching position that will fit you perfectly.

  2. Though I can't imagine it's still of any use... Try pressing and holding the left ALT button then typing in 164 on the number pad to get an "n" tilde. ñ.

    Lobster? Heheh... Too bad I imagine it made sense in context. I was imagining it as a fallback sentence when faced with a vocabulary lacuna. I once interviewed a Chinese lady who said "ok" at the end of every sentence, at every pause, whenever she hesitated, or wanted to think about the question. There were over 50 OKs in a 2 minute interview. We wound up doing the interview me asking questions in broken Japanese, her answering in Cantonese and us dubbing her afterward with an Australian. : j

    It would have been a lot more fun if she had said I eat lobster every time she said OK. ; j

  3. Alesa, so that's how you get the tilde. Good to know!

    When I subbed at that school, I loved getting the ELL students. They were always so nice - probably because they didn't have the language skills to sass.

    Your story with okay is so funny. It's like the equivalent of "um". It is all you can hear. "I eat lobster" would just take too long to say at the end of each sentence.