The note on the teacher's desk read as follows:
Welcome to my class of developmentally challenged kindergartners. You'll find today's lesson plan on the kidney table in the back of the room. Just follow the plan and you'll do fine. Most of the kids don't speak English, but don't worry, my aide Mrs. Gomez will translate for you. One of the kids in the class, Guadalupe, can help, as she is fairly fluent in English as well. I'm at a workshop, so I may be back by the end of the school day to see how things went.
So began my first day as a substitute teacher.
One phrase in the letter immediately grabbed my attention. "Developmentally challenged kindergartners," as I would find out soon enough, basically meant that the little bambinos could speak, poop, drool, cry, pee, fart, and put stuff in their bodies' various orifices. I looked around for Mrs. Gomez the bilingual aide, but she was nowhere to be found. I called the office.
"Uh, yeah, this is the sub in room 3. What time is the aide supposed to be here?"
"Oh, we forgot to tell you, Mrs. Gomez called out sick. You're kinda on your own today."
Beautiful, I thought. Just me and 32 Spanish-speaking five year olds.
I speak zero Spanish, so I was forced to develop a survival strategy. Since I could pretty much tell from the kids' tone of voice if they were asking a question or making a statement, all questions would simply be answered with a "no." What's the worst that could happen? And if it was a statement beginning with the name of another kid, that was probably tattling. In that case, I figured that I’d just confront the accused and make him stop whatever he was doing.
Shockingly, it worked like a charm.
"Senor, gobbletygooko taco emilio blabla gooba macha?" asked Felipe. That's what it sounded like to me, anyway.
Felipe went back to his table, sat down, and continued coloring a panda.
Dr. Spock can stick it, I thought. I’m a child-development genius.
Luisa, an adorable little girl with a mucus-glazed face, approached. "Maria blabati googa frappa enchiladamama guba glinko."
“Maria, you say?” I asked. “Well let’s see what she’s up to, shall we?” I walked over to her table, and wouldn't you know it, Maria was munching away on a blue-violet crayola. I calmly took the crayon away, fetched the Easy-wipes, and helped Maria depurple her face.
"Gracias, Luisa," I said. Luisa smiled, causing another snot-bubble to burst on her upper lip.
I'm a natural at this! I wouldn't be surprised if I'm voted Disney's American Teacher of the Year. I'll write a book about my experiences in the classroom, Bruce Willis will star in the motion picture.
A short while later, I felt a tug on my pant leg. It was Jose. "Maestro, Felipe waca boogity gooba binka caca."
Jose was apparently ratting out Felipe, who was still coloring his panda in a stunning array of non-traditional panda colors. It looked like that poor panda had barfed up three pounds of Skittles. Brimming with new-found confidence, I strutted over to Felipe's table and was immediately bombarded by the unmistakable stench of kiddie-crap along with a “yes, but it’s too late now” understanding of the question Felipe had been asking just a few minutes earlier.
I sent him to the office with a note that read "Please have Felipe call home. He pooped himself." Given the smell Felipe was cultivating, I'm sure the note was unnecessary.
The next hour or so passed without any problems. The kids colored, pasted pictures to match their vocabulary words, and snacked on Teddy Grahams and milk. While they were eating, I read them Green Eggs and Ham, or to be completely accurate, Huevos Verdes con Jamon ("Huevos verdes con jamon? No me gusta, Juan Ramon"). And just when I was actually starting to have a good time with the rugrats, Pablo started crying his eyeballs out.
"MAESTRO! YO GOOBA BLOCA FLABBA JABBA WALLA FRAPA!"
Ya got me there, Pablo, I thought. This was neither a tattle nor a question. Time to enlist the assistance of the allegedly bilingual Guadalupe.
"Guadalupe, come here please."
Guadalupe, the adorable butterball, toddled over. "Do you know what Pablo just said?"
"Chess," said Guadalupe.
"Well, will you please tell me?"
"He say, yo gooba bloca flabba jabba walla frapa."
Thanks, Guadalupe, you've been helpful. "No, Guadalupe, I mean, can you tell me what that means in English."
"Oh, chess, that means he have a crayon in his ear."
I looked in Pablo's ear and damned if Guadalupe hadn't nailed it. There was a broken red crayon way down in there. What was it with these kids and crayons, anyway?
Now, you need to understand that it had already been a long, frustrating, and exhausting day. I wasn't exactly thinking clearly. There was a problem, it needed to be solved, and I was the only one in the room capable of saving the day, or at least capable of retrieving the crayon from Pablo's ear.
And before we continue, I'm going to remind you that for the purposes of this story, you are on MY side.
Obviously, I needed a tool to reach far enough down into Pablo's ear. Through some egregious teacher malpractice, Mrs. Livingston did not have a pair of tweezers anywhere in her desk. What she did have were pipe-cleaners and scotch tape. The metaphorical light bulb clicked on above my addled skull.
First, I deftly fashioned a long hook out of one of the pipe cleaners. And just to make sure I could get the crayon secured, I stuck a tiny ball of scotch tape at the end of the hook.
I knelt down beside Pablo, who was sitting in his chair -- still crying. The rest of the kids, enthralled by the proceedings, gathered round. I rechecked the tape and straightened the pipe cleaner for maximum reach. The kids held their collective breath. As I raised the pipe cleaner to Pablo's ear, a little voice inside my head finally decided to speak up.
"Hey, dumbass, just what do you think you’re doing?"
Upon further review, I realized this was perhaps a bad idea. But I couldn't just leave the crayon in the kid's ear, and I really didn't want to bug the office again, not after the "Felipe and the Pantalones of Doom" incident. It was a puzzler. A bamboozler. A conundrum, even.
"Senor?" said Guadalupe.
"Yes, Guadalupe, what is it?"
"Maybe eef Pablo shake hees head, de crayon comes out."
Hot damn. That's so crazy it just might work. "Hey, Pablo, come here a minute."
Pablo shook his head back and forth as hard as he could. He held it parallel(ish) to the ground and smacked the side of his head a few times.
And God-damn, the crayon popped out and fell to the floor. The children cheered. Pablo gave Guadalupe a high-five. Kids jumped for joy. Luisa gave me a big hug, smearing snot all over the front of my white Pierre Cardin shirt. Fiesta time!
Amidst the whooping and hollering, Mrs. Livingston entered the room. Her workshop had ended a bit early.
"Wow!" she said. "Looks like you had a great day!"
That's right, Mrs. Livingston. Never mind the absent aide, the lodged crayon, Luisa's cavalcade o' mucus and Senor Poopie Pants. Our day was just fantastic.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011