Monday, September 6, 2010

Nana Remembers Why Retirement is a Good Idea

I had three days at home this week in between vacation trips. On Friday I substituted at the high school for half a day. All of the class sizes are huge this year because budget cuts have reduced the number of teachers and, of course, our enrollment is up. The teacher had left a very well written and organized lesson plan and had made the copies of the worksheets he wanted completed. Since this was my first substitute teaching assignment since school started, I was grateful to have a detailed lesson plan.

The class was language arts for second language learners. The students are at various stages of English language development, but all of them speak at least a little English. I took attendance and several times I had to remind them to quiet down so I could hear. They were a chatty group...which, while it is a really a good characteristic for a group that you want to learn English, is frustrating when you're trying to take roll.

Students were sitting at four large tables with 7 to 10 students at each table. The broad theme of the lesson was the circles of influence that have shaped each of us. We read a poem and discussed its meaning. The author painted a picture in words of his past that made him the person he is today. The example poem by George Ella started as "I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride." Students were then asked to write their own poem. It was fairly easy for a native English speaker, harder for a second language learner. They were writing stuff like:
I am soccer and basketball. I am a son and a brother. I am...fill in any special interest, you get the idea.

There were several touching "poems" that spoke of dead or divorced parents or specific challenges that the students had faced. I am always surprised that students share so much of their personal pain in classroom assignments. But, most of them were filled with run of the mill descriptions of typical American or Mexican-American childhood.

Getting them to start writing was a challenge. Half the class amused themselves by asking to go to the bathroom. "Please Mrs. I really have to go" pleaded one boy. The class had just come from a 45 minute lunch break and the teacher left directions that no one should be excused. I finally gave in and let a girl go because "It's a girl emergency, Mrs."  Yeah, she knows how to play her cards.

I circled the room prodding kids to get started and suggesting topics that might have been a part of their childhoods that impacted who they are today. "What did you play with when you were little? What did you watch on TV? Do you go to church? How do you celebrate holidays?"

Pulling teeth...I was pulling teeth and every time I needed to talk to the class I had a long time to wait for them to stop the chatter. One table was especially resistant to working. While I continued to try to get them to write, a student at the table told me that his name was "Pito." The rest of the kids giggled.
"It's true, Mrs. My name is Pito. They call me Pito" and the rest of the group smothered their laughter and one kid said "He calls himself Pito." Giggles all around...

I knew enough not to repeat the name. "My name is Pito. You can google it" he said. So I called his bluff.

The Urban Dictionary gives several definitions...none of them appropriate for a classroom. It's either a rolled cigarette such as a marijuana joint, slang for penis in Mexico and/or someone with a very low IQ. It is usually used in place of someones first name to be made into an insult referring to them.

What I wanted to say was "I don't need this bulls**t.  Shut-up and get to work."   But, being a former school administrator, I know that they frown on that kind of language in the classroom. Well, the kids use it, but teachers really shouldn't.

...and that is when Nana remembered why retirement was a good idea.   I really don't need this bulls**t!


  1. Oh boy. The longed-for days of the substitute teacher in place of the Real Teacher. Almost like a vacation day!

  2. Ah, yes. Lucky you, retired!

    Are you posting this blog from a cruise ship?

  3. Yeah! You've paid your dues, already. Enjoy.

  4. What a great story this is. You made me laugh out loud - and even more grateful I'm not in the classroom this year.

  5. While your post made me smile with remembrance of the same lines I've heard so many times before, it also made me remember why I retired also!

  6. It's funny, though, to reminisce. I was never a teacher but I hike every Thursday with several retired ones who also sub now and then, and I get an earful, like this one. I'm retired from editing, but I notice I can't help but continue, even though I don't get paid. Reading a book that has errors in it drives me crazy!


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