Tuesday, April 27, 2010

C'est La Vie

Lane Meyer: “She only speaks French, Roy. She doesn't speak imbecile.”

Lane's mom: "In honor of our special guest, I've created dinner mon dieu — including Frahnch fries ... Frahnch dressing ... and Frahnch bread. And to drink..." (holding up a bottle of Perrier) "Pay-roo!"

- Two separate scenes from the film “Better Off Dead”

Vacation is over. Monday marked the first day back from break. But surely nobody would miss the first day after break, right?

My alarm blared at 5:25 am. It wasn’t always this loud, was it? I’d also taken a week off from dealing with sit-ups, so I got back to work on crunches. The phone rang, but instead of my called I.D. reading “Private Caller”, it had a name. Wrong number? The roofer? No such luck. The regular gatekeeper will be out for the next few weeks, so I’m going to get calls from a substitute gatekeeper. Since she’s a sub, I wonder if I should act up.

When I heard that I’d be teaching French, I wanted to exclaim, “Mon dieu!” because I don’t know French. All I know is a handful of words and phrases. (I’ve used up two phrases for the title and this paragraph, so I’m almost out.) If subbing Spanish is a stretch, I may have just snapped the rubber band. Surely, there’s some algebra class I could teach instead. What were the chances that a teacher would send adequate plans after having a week off? If only I knew how to write the answer zero in French.

The problem is that I have no plans to teach French. I didn’t even know I was on the roster to teach French. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure they ignore my list because that’s how I wound up subbing Instrumental Music before break*.

I grabbed the film “Ratatouille” in English (I know, lame), renewed my subscription to www.enchantedlearning.com in case I needed to print some handouts, and took my iPod and speaker (just in case), and left my house with trepidation.

When I arrived at the office, I the secretary handed me plans. This was the first line to the principal and assistant principal:

“I will be out sick on Monday. These past few weeks of intense exchange work have done me in, the final straw being that incident on Fri. night. Here are my sub plans:”

Oh great. What was this final straw and will I have to deal with this student?

The sub plans were fine. She was clear about having the first three classes read and answer questions out of the textbook and that I’d collect the work at the end of class. Then I went to her room, which wasn’t a classroom, but an office. When I saw the cart filled with stuff on it, it became clear that I would be a roving teacher. I ran back downstairs to the office to find out where the classrooms were located since the plans failed to mention this CRITICAL piece of information.

For the last class, I was supposed to find an animal packet in her office. If I couldn’t find it, I was supposed to find a documentary on Paris. If I couldn’t find that, I was told to go to a website and print a food and shape packet. When I couldn’t find the animal packet, I breathed a sigh of relief when I located the DVD. But I went to the library to print copies of the other packet, just in case. For good measure, I printed animal coloring pages from Enchanted Learning.

The first class was filled with dream seventh-graders, who did their work quietly. One girl raised her hand, so I came over.

“I don’t have a question. Well, I do have a question, but it’s not related to French.”

That’s good because I don’t know French. “What’s the question?”

“You know Home Depot?” I nodded. “Well, why do they have a t at the end if it’s silent? Isn’t it like a waste of a letter?” She began talking faster in case I didn’t take her seriously. “I mean, like wouldn’t it be better for the environment if we didn’t make signs with letters we don’t pronounce?”

“If they dropped the t, they’d seem illiterate,” I said.

“That’s true.”

“Besides, you take French and you’re asking me? They don’t pronounce most of the ends of their words. Etoile is a good example.”

She agreed. (Maybe she's the perfect audience for The Disappearances.)

The eighth grade class I had next was the opposite of the first class. I already knew them from when I first became a sub and taught Science when they were seventh-graders. They were HORRIBLE. Since then, I’d had them in gym, which is preferable over making them sit and do something. Apparently, this class doesn’t like to do anything. While a few kids worked, I walked around nagging the others, who were kind enough to ignore me.

The second eighth-grade class was better, especially when I separated two of the boys. One wound up reading in the hallway instead of doing the assignment, but at least he was quiet. And reading. It turned out that the Science teacher, who was in and out of the classroom (since it was her room), spoke French and was able to help the students more than I could. She said, “I should’ve subbed French today and you could’ve taught Biology instead.” I agreed.

Next came fifth-grade. Guess what? The DVD case was EMPTY. So, I gave them the packet and told them they could color if they finished early. Fifth-graders love to color, so they buzzed through the packet to get the chance to color sea creatures, insects, birds, and other animals.

While they worked, I spied a row of dioramas on a shelf. “They got to do dioramas!” I exclaimed. (No, really, I exclaimed.) The teacher told me it was an American colony project. I eyed the cardboard boxes and their contents with envy. I want to be teaching Social Studies and doing fun projects. I remember having the students create journals for colonial women, toolboxes for occupations of colonial men, Native American posters, Explorer reports, and Bill of Rights pictures. Sigh…

The day ended, so I bid the school adieu.

* Instrumental Music fun:



  1. 'I will be out sick on Monday. These past few weeks of intense exchange work have done me in, the final straw being that incident on Fri. night. Here are my sub plans:'

    That's the first line of a short story right there, though!

  2. Another day, another chapter and you survived to tell the tale.

    Nice of the French teacher to give a heads up about being unable to teach on first day back from holidays. Knowing she would be 'done in.' So very French!

  3. Yep! That sounds like the perfect day of substitute teaching. I don't know how you subs do it. You are a lot tougher than the classroom teachers! :-)

  4. awww theresa -- hang in there, love! some days, some situations are just poopier than others.

    the important thing is that YOU are awesome despite everything else.

    i have this pinned up on my wall at work:

    "PEACE. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."

    i think it's so true. i try to remember it every day.



  5. Wow. I had no idea how hectic being a substitute teacher was! I think you're very brave!

  6. This was a really fun post. I love the exchange between you and the seventh grader. More environment-friendly... I never even thought of it that way. Hahaha!

    Thanks for sharing your sub journeys. I find them fascinating!

  7. I love your sub posts. Mom's a retired teacher/librarian.

    Oh the stories, oh the stories.

    - Eric

  8. Hi

    Quelle disastre!! :-)

    Did you ever discover what the "Friday incident" was about?

    Because I think it will explain why that teacher's instructions were the way they were...!!

    I do like the "depot" question! There are so many english words that do not pronounce phonetically and their origins always intrigue me!

    At secondary school (14/15 years old) we had a french exchange programme. This really sweet girl was assigned to me and my little girl gang and we think we scared her a little because our french was so terrible and spoken so badly that all she did was stare in disbelief and horror and incomprehension.

    She was re-assigned to another group later.

    Anyway! I hope you never ever have to teach that horrible eight grade class!

    And I'm so glad to read that colouring in stuff is still very popular.

    Take care

  9. Hampshireflyer, that would make the beginning of a good short story! I should start writing short stories, which would be longer than blogs but shorter than novels.

    Ann, she is actually French, so I think you're right!

    Shannon, thanks, but I don't know if that's true. I was able to let those 8th-graders slack. I'd have to be tougher if had them everyday.

  10. Tahereh, I like that quote. I'll have to tape it to my forehead since I don't have an office. It's true that I need to stay calm in the midst of subbing chaos.

    Lani, thanks. That's why I put "Saga" in the title. It's a saga!

    B. Miller, I'm glad you're enjoying the sub journeys. What will I write about this summer?

  11. My husband was a roving teacher with a cart for three years and he HATED it. I guess with music, it limits the amount of instruments you can bring.

    I took french for three years and all I can say is "chairlift" Telesiege. How's that?

  12. Eric, anyone who's taught has plenty of stories. Maybe she should blog about it.

    Old Kitty, you're not going to believe this after what you wrote, but the Friday incident was actually about an exchange program, which I assume she ran. I don't know if the problem was the Friday before break or the Friday during break. I assume during break or she really milked it, after having a week to recover.

    I speak mangled Italian, but I'm always afraid to try it to my 3rd-floor Italian neighbor. Speaking Italian did come in handy in Paris and Serbia a couple of years ago. If only I got to sub Italian...

    Aubrie, I feel for roving teachers. The Social Studies teacher at one of the schools is a roving teacher because they're out of space. I used a cart when I subbed her class.

    You must know more than chairlift!

  13. Aw, back to it. At least you had a somewhat mellow day back. I give you props for always being super prepared in case the teacher isn't prepared at all (good call!).

    Maybe tomorrow they'll put you somewhere where you actually speak the language! Or maybe they're realizing that you are just good at everything.

  14. "Since she’s a sub, I wonder if I should act up." HAHA this cracked me up. :D

    Gosh, I hate assignments where I have to move from room to room with a darn cart. And you weren't given the room numbers at first? Sheesh! I'm sorry about that. Sounds like you managed okay without knowing much French, though. :)

  15. Tiffany, I made up for my mellow day with seven hours of kindergarten today. And I'm at the high school for Spanish tomorrow. I don't even know which language to make an exclamation in. I'll pick Yiddish. Oh vey!

    Shelley, this room number problem wasn't as big of a fiasco as it was when I subbed music before break. See the instrumental music link in this post if you missed it.

  16. Once when I arrived to sub for a teacher -- on her desk, instead of the day's lesson plans, was a yellow legal pad with one bold word scrawled on it in Sharpie : SURVIVE.

    No kidding. Luckily, I found her notes of the day before, and I was able to pull together a lesson. With the freedom of her one word, I was able to wing it and have the students leaning forward into an engaging discussion of manifest destiny and how it applies to the current war then going on.

    You handled yourself like a champion, Theresa.

    I have a small favor, cyber hat in hand. Could you stroll over to my entry in the Melissa Marr short story contest? If you submit a story, send me the link, and I'll warp-speed over there, and vote for you. Promise. {Not a bribe. I know you would only submit a quality story.}
    May your next sub not be a day in THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Roland

    And as for tomorrow, how about French, "Oh, merde."

    May The Father take your hand when the going gets rough, Roland


  17. I took French for a semester in college and all I can say in French is "Je ne parle pas francais".

    I'm still new to this blog, so I don't know if anyone's suggested this before, but maybe you could write a substitute teacher's memoir. I enjoy reading your posts and I bet you could put them into a book.

  18. Roland, "SURVIVE"? Geez. Good for you that you turned it into, "I get to make my own lesson plans." It sounds like they were good plans too.

    I already gave you a vote after I read your post.

    Neurotic Workaholic, you're the third commenter who didn't pick up much French! It must be much harder than Spanish and Italian.

    I've thought about writing a memoir, but I need to show how I've grown and have an ending. If someone wanted to offer me an advance to write one, THAT would be an ending!

  19. Oh my, that day could be an episode on a sitcom. So funny. It sounds like a sub is also a juggler. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  20. This was a great post. So fun. You really do have the best stories. :)

  21. I took two years of French in highschool, but I wasn't a very good student. I do recall Je oubliee (I forgot) and Je ne sais pas--I don't know. I have no idea if I just spelled any of that right.

    Social studies is a lot more fun!

  22. Julie, I feel like I'm in a sitcom. Thanks for visiting my blog too.

    Sarahjayne, I'm glad you like my stories. Tomorrow's post will be about seven hours of kindergartners sans coffee.

    Mary, you're another person who can't recall any French!

    I love Social Studies too. But in over a year of subbing, I think I've only had about for gigs. Inexplicably, I sub gym at least four times each month.

  23. I know a few French words! Omelette, souffle, bidet, sacre bleu! That's about it at the moment since I can't remember the lyrics (and certainly can't spell them) to Lady Marmalade. :) Glad it worked out okay despite the difficulties. Your social studies projects sound really fun!

  24. Oh, I love that movie & anything with John Cusack in it!!

  25. Theresa, How does someone plan their illness, does she have a crystal ball, mais non?
    Well done for surviving, I loved the quotes at the top.
    Short stories a great idea for you.
    She could at least have left you a bottle of vin de rouge to recover with.

  26. Surfie, I know those words too! I'll add quiche to your list.

    Planning for Social Studies was fun. I used to enjoy Word Study, the occasional poetry class, and running a reading group too.

    Terresa, me too. For some reason, I love this movie from the 1980s, even though it's so goofy. I think it's the second time I've quoted from it.

    Brigid,mais non? Nice! I think I had a class of vin de rouge that evening.

  27. Dioramas take me back...yes, it would be exciting to be able to assign fun projects like this to your own students. I am hoping for positive developments for you.

  28. Hi Theresa,
    I tried to send you an email but the link kept sending me to the wrong place so I'm just posting this here and hope you get it! The reason I wanted to email you is just to thank you for the shout-out you gave my book, Hooked, on the VirginWriter's blog. I really appreciate it and am delighted that it helped you in your own writing. I've become a follower on your blog (very interesting!) and wanted to invite you to visit mine at: http://www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

    Best of luck with your own writing!

    Blue skies,
    Les Edgerton

  29. Paul, I used to spend more time on the dioramas than the book reports. Probably why they're out of fashion. Thanks.

    Les, thank you for commenting and following my blog. I've recommended your book on a number of blog posts.

    I don't know what happened with my e-mail. In case you need it again, it's tmilstein at gmail dot com

  30. I sure give you alot a credit going in to teach subjects that are quite challanging to say the least. I for one am not that brave.
    Take care.

  31. Interesting day! At least you lived to tell the tale, n'est-ce pas?

  32. Choices, some say brave, others say stupid! The gatekeeper said I'd get more work the more subjects I put down.

    Karen Walker, thanks for visiting my blog and for the compliments.

    Talli, I had to look that up. Yes, it is so!