April 1, 2008

Anecdotes

A Week in the Life of a First Year Teacher

by Tracy Taylor


MONDAY: Slinging Turds

Do teachers really have to put up with this crap?

No pun intended.

Today, while the kids were packing up to leave, Demarcus rushed up to me. "Teacher! Teacher, I have to tell you something. I have to show you something."

With his sticky little hand, he grabbed two of my fingers and led me to a classmate's desk. "Jorge has been slinging turds all over the place!" Demarcus pointed towards the floor.

Slinging turds?

I followed his gaze and, sure enough, there were several Milk-Dud sized brown balls scattered under Jorge's desk.

I stifled the urge to puke and laugh at the same time.

What was I supposed to do? I ignored the feces, thanked Demarcus for his keen observation, and herded my students safely onto the Reading Rug. We began to read a book and the kids appeared to be blissfully ignorant of the stench that was filling up the classroom. Jorge sat in the middle of the group, dreamily sucking on his thumb as he listened to the story. When the dismissal bell rang, I quickly ushered them all out the door and locked it behind them.

I hate to admit it, but I think Gaby stepped on one of the turds.

Isn't that some type of biohazard? I had a classroom full of kids and a pile of poop sitting on the floor. Nothing in the blood-borne pathogens video said anything about human feces!

Why didn't I apply for a quiet... clean... office job?

Welcome to elementary school. Teachers really should get paid more.

TUESDAY: A Higher Standard

The District told us that "teachers are held to a higher standard in society" and that we need to be on our best behavior in public. I'm young and I'm human, but I try to follow The District's advice.

Last Saturday night I met my girlfriend for a drink. Patti is a bit of a pool shark, so we went to a dive bar with a couple billiard tables. Patti was on a roll and kept winning, so we ended up staying late into the night… and early into the morning. I drank my share of cheap bottled beer and enjoyed the atmosphere.

Around 2:00 am, Patti was winning her final game of pool against an arrogant pair of guys who had been talking a lot of trash. I was glad to see that she would beat them and that we would finally get to head home.

When Patti sank the eight ball into a corner pocket to win the game, I did a celebratory dance. I held my beer high in the air and screamed something like, "Wooohooooooo! Whooo! Yeeaaaaaaaa!" I think I spilled a little of my beer onto a man standing behind me, but I did not care. I was partying!

As I screamed and danced, I heard a voice from behind: "Ms. Teacher?"

Teacher.

This stopped me dead in my tracks. Why was someone calling me teacher at 2:00 am in a bar on the wrong side of the river? I turned around to find myself face to face with Mr. Villagomez, one of my student's fathers.

He smiled and shook my hand.

Oh my god! I was so stunned; I didn't even stop to wonder what he was doing in a dive bar in the middle of the night.

To make things worse, Mr. Villagomez was with his uncle and his sister, both of whom also have children enrolled in my school. He introduced me as "Linda's teacher" to each of his family members.

I did my best to smooth down my disheveled hair and pin closed my cleavage-revealing shirt. Mustering up as much teacher grace as one can possess in a bar after midnight, I smiled and told my student's family how nice it was to meet them. Graciously, not one of them acted like the dive bar was a strange place to meet.

WEDNESDAY: Pee on the Seat & Rumors

Someone keeps peeing all over the toilet seat in the faculty bathroom. I know it is Esther, or at least that she is one of the guilty parties, because twice now I have gone to use the restroom right after her. There is no doubt. Esther is in the restroom, I am waiting outside for my turn, she comes out, I go in, and there is pee all over the seat.

It makes me think of the bathrooms they have at Six Flags. It reminds me of the kind of restroom behavior you would expect at a gas station. I just don't understand why Esther, an alleged Southern belle, would treat our faculty bathroom in this way. It is a nice bathroom, with flowers and a little table for magazines. Only a handful of women from our hall use this bathroom. Don't they teach you at charm school that it is extremely rude to pee all over the toilet seat?

I may have only caught Esther twice, but several times I have found the toilet seat covered with pee. It grosses me out. I either try to clean it off myself, or I go to another restroom.

Today I got fed up. Once again, I found the toilet covered in pee. This time, I decided to take action. After visiting an alternate restroom, I went back to my classroom and made a sign.

Ladies, please have some class.
Do not urinate on the toilet seat,
and if you must -
please clean up after yourself!

This sign is now posted on the inside of the bathroom door. I backed it on bright yellow paper and laminated it. The sign hangs at eye-level with anyone seated on the toilet.

***

On another note, I've noticed that I am growing increasingly popular with the student body. Not just my students, but all of the students in the school appear to have taken a special liking to me. They all know my name. "Hi, Teacher! Hey, Teacher!" Kid after kid has been greeting me in the hallway. I figured that word of my niceness had finally caught wind.

Today I learned the true root of my newfound popularity. I was walking down the first grade hallway when I saw two boys fighting over the water fountain. They were hitting and shoving each other, arguing about whom was allowed to get water next. I walked up behind them and let out a simple, "Ahem."

In unison, they turned around and stared wide-eyed at me.

"It's her," one of the boys whispered. They had stopped arguing and were clutching each other, terrified.

First graders take everything way too seriously, so I did my best to not freak them out.

"Boys," I smiled, "You should not fight over the water fountain. Sharing is a very important life skill. You need to take turns drinking water."

"Yes, ma'am," they quickly agreed, but remained frozen in place, staring at me.

"Well, go ahead," I said, motioning toward the water fountain. "One after the other. Get some water."

The boys still didn't move. Their baby eyes barely blinked as they stared at me.

First graders are strange little people.

Perplexed, I stared back.

Finally one of them spoke. "Are you going to tell him?"

"Am I going to tell who?"

"The Undertaker."

"What?" These first graders were starting to creep me out. "What are you talking about?"

One of the boys bravely responded, "We know all about it, Teacher. My brother in fifth grade told us your secret."

My secret?

"What did your brother tell you?"

In hushed voices, the boys told me about a rumor that has been spreading through the school. Apparently a group of fifth grade boys have been telling other students that I grew up next door to a professional wrestler named The Undertaker. He is on a famous wrestling show called SmackDown! and is very popular with the boys in our school.

According to the rumor, I am close friends with my old neighbor, The Undertaker. If I catch any students misbehaving, I report their name to the professional wrestler. The Undertaker then finds this student and "body-slams them until they want to puke their guts out." Students are now terrified to cross me, for fear of the wrath of The Undertaker.

As the first graders recounted the tale, their faces were animated with awe. When they had finished, they asked, "Is it true? Do you know The Undertaker?"

I hesitated for a moment and then became very serious. I looked up and down the hall, to make sure no one was listening. "Yes," I whispered, "It's true."

The boys both gasped.

I looked at them sternly, then said, "Now get some water!"

They jumped and then like little soldiers, the first graders obediently lined up at the water fountain. One after the other they took turns drinking the water.

I laughed the whole way back to my classroom.

THURSDAY: Picture Day

Today was picture day at school. I had completely forgotten about it, but was reminded when I saw that every student in my class had dressed up. The rich kids were squeaky clean; the boys looked like they had used a squeegee to plaster their hair down into two separate parts, and the girls resembled little brides with all the white lace on their dresses. The less fortunate kids had also done their best to dress in style; the boys had tucked their T-shirts into their pants and put on belts, and the girls had worn skirts and done their hair in special styles. There was an air of elegance in the classroom today. The kids did their best to live up to the outfits that they wore.

Our time for pictures was right after lunch, and up until then, the day had run seamlessly. As I herded my students onto the stage and lined them up, I enjoyed watching them primp for the big moment. Picture Guy handed out little combs, the girls smoothed down their skirts and practiced smiling, and the boys tried out their most suave facial expressions. Josh bragged to his classmates about how his cowboy-style shirt had snap buttons, rather than the button-hole kind.

One by one, they went through the line. Smile! Flash! Smile! Flash! An utterly flawless experience, until, of course, Josh sat down on the stool. Picture Guy told Josh to smile. Josh smiled. Picture Guy lifted his hand to snap the photo, and with perfect timing, Josh ripped open his snap-button cowboy shirt. Underneath, he was wearing an extremely inappropriate, adult-content shirt, featuring a picture of a woman leaning over in a very short skirt to reveal a lot more than her long legs and ass-cheeks.

Josh revealed his smut shirt about a fraction of a second before the camera's flash went off. I heard Picture Guy mutter, "Holy shit." Horrified and embarrassed, I ran to Josh and buttoned him up, hoping to cover him before any other students could see what he was wearing. Needless to say, I sent Josh directly to the principal's office. After Picture Guy recovered from shock, he tried to reassure me. "Don't worry, Miss, it's a head shot. Only thing in the picture will be above the shoulders."

After picture time, seven different students came up to me to ask about, "that lady on Josh's T-shirt."

FRIDAY: Response to Sign & A Modest Proposal

The following email was sent to the entire school faculty today. It's from The Intimidator, a nickname I've given to the assistant principal for being such an overbearing bully.

"The sign from the West Hall bathroom was removed by me. If whoever posted it would like to see me about a more appropriate way to handle the situation, please feel free to do so."

When I first read this, I felt embarrassed like a shamed child. I actually considered going to The Intimidator's office to apologize. These feelings quickly vanished. The bottom line is this: There has not been one drop of pee on that toilet seat since I put the sign up a week ago. I'm glad I put it there.

The Intimidator must also be guilty of peeing on the toilet seat.

***

The worst part of my day came right before dismissal. I was reading a story to my students on the Reading Rug when Linda's father, Mr. Villagomez, walked into the room. He motioned for me to speak with him privately, so I asked Hannah, one of the better readers, to continue reading the story.

Oh God, please don't tell my coworkers that you saw me at that bar.

I met Mr. Villagomez by the door, where he greeted me with a big hug. This felt awkward; a parent has never touched me before.

Mr. Villagomez appeared nervous. Confused, I asked him if he had come to pick up Linda.

"No." Mr. Villagomez, who spoke with a thick Mexican accent, shook his head. "Well… yes! Si. Yes, I will take Linda home, but before that…" His voice trailed off and I started to feel a little worried. The man hesitated a minute and then continued, "It was really great to see you at the bar the other night and... I was wondering if I could take you on a date sometime."

A date? God, no!

I unclenched my teeth and forced a smile. "Uh. Ummm. Gosh!" When I'm nervous or uncomfortable I fall into Leave-It-To-Beaver mode and sputter a lot of words like gosh and gee-wiz. "Gee, Mr. Villagomez…"

"Call me Juan." He winked.

Is this guy fucking kidding me?

I could feel my face turning beet red. "Juan, I'm flattered, but…"

"No buts, just say yes. I know how to treat a lady." He winked again.

Gross.

"I have a boyfriend."

Mr. Villagomez smiled arrogantly, "A boyfriend?" Amused, he continued, "You don't need no boyfriend. You need a man that is good to his lady."

I looked Mr. Villagomez up and down. At about 5 feet 5 inches, he stood an inch shorter than me. His dark hair was greased back on the sides and spiked on the top. He was wearing a blue silk shirt and several gold chains around his neck. Clearly this man thought he was suave.

"Look, sir, I am really flattered, but I can't date the parents of my students. It's a school rule," I lied. "I could lose my job."

Mr. Villagomez stepped closer to me. I could feel his breath on my face. He smelled like Doritos and heavy cologne. He put his hand on my shoulder, "No worries. I can be discreet."

I slapped his hand away and stepped back.

Discreet? What am I, some kind of hooker?

I glared at him. "No."

He tried to say something else, but I cut him off, then called Linda over to protect me. "Linda! Time to go. Grab your backpack."

I went to my desk and pretended to be distracted by a stack of papers.

What a stinky creep.

I ignored Mr. Villagomez and his daughter as they left my classroom. That jerk. I hope he got the message.

Thank God it's Friday.


Tracy Taylor is 28 years old and teaches reading at an elementary school in South Carolina. Inspired by the hilarious encounters with her students and the frustrating relationships with her administration, she was prompted to write The Cupcake Laws, a novel accounting for all of her unforgettable experiences as a first year teacher. "A Week in the Life of a Teacher" is an excerpt from The Cupcake Laws. In addition to her novel, she has written a memoir and two children’s books. Tracy can be contacted via e-mail.