Algebra, Oprah, and my latest bathroom epiphany

Considering that today was April Fool’s Day, my first day of substitute teaching in the city could have been bad. Like lube on the doorknob, plastic wrap on the toilet, and “Kick me, I’m a substitute” sign bad. But it wasn’t. Thankfully, April Fool’s didn’t seem to be a prime holiday for these kids. Or perhaps the metal detectors and daily backpack searches discourage such debauchery.

Anyway, as a white girl from the Connecticut suburbs, I was under no delusions that I would blend in here, but that was okay. I am a well-adjusted, diverse culture-loving modern woman, I thought. I don’t just tolerate our differences – I appreciate them. I am even pretty handy when it comes to pronouncing unique names.

I retained this confidence until about halfway through my first period attendance sheet. TYJZAE. Damn. I knew I couldn’t win, so I laid my cards on the table:

“I’m know I’m gonna say this one wrong… Ty-giz-ay?”

“It’s Ty-jay.”

The soft ‘j’ almost has a purrrrrr to it, like Zha Zha (which I would have no chance of pronouncing if it hadn’t been all over TV at some point.) I made it through the rest of the attendance before losing half of the girls to the hallway to “help” another student who “couldn’t open her locker.” Most of them came back.

My second period class was assigned the same algebra worksheet as my first, and yet they soon embroiled themselves in a discussion of whether or not having sex with Oprah Winfrey would result in their own fame. The ringleader of this powwow insisted that it would, on the grounds that if Oprah were to have sex with him, she would tell everyone.

Soon after this discussion died down, a petite girl and a taller boy left the classroom together in what appeared to be an amicable manner, though I could have sworn I heard the boy say he was going to kill the girl. The other students assured me I had nothing to worry about. One minute later, the petite girl walked back into the classroom, slid her six-inch hoop earrings back into her earlobes, sat down, and contined working. The boy followed, hanging his head, and said, “I lost.”

Later, when one of my students came back to the classroom to look for her lost duffel bag, she said to me,

“Watch your stuff – kids are theives.”

At my high school, your wallet was safe in your open backpack in an unguarded classroom. Hell, kids even left their drugs safely in their backpacks.

It was not until a little while later (in the bathroom, where most grand realizations occur) that I realized how out of my element I was. This happened in the bathroom because right as I was on the verge of leaving my private little sanctuary, a cacophony, first of yelling, then of shoe-slapping and locker-slamming, threw me away from the door. My initial reaction was to wait for the mayhem to subside. My initial reaction was to cower.

I came to the understanding today that I am not nearly as comfortable being in the minority as I had thought I would be. I know that I am tolerant and kind, and that I embrace people for who they are, but I found out today that this does not always translate to a feeling of ease amidst the unfamiliar.


Cherishable quote of the day:
“I really didn’t give a lap dance… I mean, it was, but it wasn’t like… You just had to be there.”

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16 comments

  1. It sounds like you’ve braved it! That’s the key, I think, just being willing to give it a shot. Different circumstances are always scary at first, 🙂

    1. That they are. But I gotta say, I prefer different circumstances that involve new and delicious foods rather than new ways to play ‘let’s mess with the sub’. Hence my preference for traveling (or even just eating) over teaching.

  2. It really is intimidating to be in a situation where you’re hyper-conscious of your differences. It’s so awesome that you’re acknowledging it and facing it with an open mind and willingness to try. A friend of mine was in a similar situation – substitute teaching in an unfamiliar school after a long absence from the profession to be at home with her kids while they were babies. Her conclusion was that “kids these days have no respect” and the world is basically going to hell in a hand basket. She quit two weeks in. It was so sad to watch because, even though I know teaching in general is so, so challenging and substitute teaching is even more so, it just felt like she was more willing to dismiss the kids than give them and their unexpected differences a shot. So, I guess what I’m saying in a really long winded way, is go you! Hang in there!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes! After today’s class (different one), I need them.

      I do agree with your friend’s conclusion – kids these days suck, and I don’t want to imagine the world they’ll control someday. (Don’t worry, I know SOME kids don’t suck. Yours probably don’t.) I know a lot of their disrespectful attitudes and self-obsession isn’t all their fault; I mean, they’re kids, and thus the responsibility of adults of some kind, right? But that sure as hell doesn’t make it easier to handle the room full of 12-year-old ASSHATS I had today. Some of them tried to intimidate me and like stare me down. Srsly? You’re 12. That’s what I’ll say next time. Today I just tried not to scream obscenities or cry.

    1. The children are sure fans of ignorance these days! Thankfully I’m just a substitute teacher for the time being; I could NOT deal with this shit from the same kids every day. Even when I get the same crap from different kids, there’s still hope that maybe, just maybe, they will be less crappy.

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