We Know English Good Enough: Final Peaks, Valleys and Deuces to an American Classroom

written December 7, 2012


In more buoyant spirits.  Walking out to my car at 6:40 am, throwing my trusty substitute teacher’s satchel in the back, and departing the slowly awakening St. Louis for Illinois with NPR accompaniment, is, I dare to say, becoming a welcome routine.

I am an English teacher today, one of my more preferable roles.  Waiting for the first bell to ring, a box of books behind Ms. Biondi’s desk caught my eye.  We the Living, of all novels, was resting on top dozens of Anthems.  I suddenly had a rush of warm memories of privately discovering the long and rich tale while a sophomore at Western Illinois in 1999.  I should read that again.

Confidence in my first hour freshman class, at least, has fomented a mellowing in me.  I let two girls set out for some coffees from the library’s new caffeine stop before the morning announcements.  Honestly, I’m pretty liberal when it comes to passes.

Hall passes are still made of small slips of paper-chips have not been implanted yet.  All the same, there is now no escaping technology in this world.  While I am no luddite, the cellphone and ipod intrusion into the classroom grates at my educational core.  Beginning the first hour, two students (at least) had tell-tale white cords dangled from their ears as I began to lesson.

“I would love to be listening to the Black Keys right now,” I say in the direction of the music lovers. (“Oh, I love them too!”  someone airily agreed), “or Mumford and Sons” (“They’re great!” affirmed another fellow fan in the back), “or a little While Album. But I can’t.  So if you have ear buds in, kindly remove them.”

One girl must have had her volume way up.   “I’m asking you, Erika,” I hinted while sitting on the front of my desk, glancing quickly at the roster.  “How do you know my name, bein’ a sub?” she wondered aloud.  Yet by the end of the hour we were able to comfortably reach Boo Radley and Scout, sitting on a porch.

Second hour was, in short, a mess.  It started slowly, with too many avenues for evasion and escape.  They were supposed to be silently reading, yet moderate talking overruled Mrs. Gadell.  While this scene played out I fingered my frustration on my weakness while a regular teacher remains in the room.  There had to be order, direction and consequences.  Going over a simple verb assignment was maddening—how do I ask for answers from blank pages?  In the end I read off the correct usages as they copied it down.  A few could not muster the strength to take their sheets out.  I am dizzy.

Third hour went much more smoothly!  A pattern?  I had them read in quiet solitude until half past, myself getting a few pages into Ayn Rand’s Soviet epic.  Transitioning, I set clear expectations, allowing for ten minutes to work on verbs, then we would go over them.  Perhaps the best part was the moment or two I settled into a student’s desk and answered questions around me.  It was not without it curriculum debate, a male student positing, “So, why do we need to keep learning this if English is already our language?”  We quickly and efficiently went over the same exercise that had been a massive slog.

“Good bye Mr. Carlson,” intoned a departing girl.

“Dueces,” said Ashby in farewell.

May sent warm text wishes as well during the morning: “Thinking of you, my dearest.  Hoping incuriosity refuses to abound today, and dreaming of our Christmas weekend!”  More good news arrived in the form of a confirmed Monday subbing gig (one already equipped with a do-all student teacher–bonus!).

I have been traveling rooms during the afternoons, and as I wait in the hallway I often reread a Shakespearian sonnet that has become a favorite.  That it is Sonnet XXIX makes it worthy of a birthday card message.  Sixth hour was pleasant.  One more to go.

Half of the 6th hour Zoo successfully lobbied Mrs. Gadell to leave for the library.  It was quieter at least, and at 2:09 there was a hush that came over the room.  It was jarring enough that I looked to the clock and wondered how long it would last.  I have highlighted my despondency and this class, but I haven’t said much about their ability.  While this might not be true for all, three high school juniors engaged in a contest of how to correctly spell “met.”  In fits and starts I pulled them through the verb packet.


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