This is a snapshot in time and my idea of a humourous look at a teaching experience. It doesn’t reflect what the classroom teachers or regular substitutes do. They are “on” almost all day and deal with numerous individuals, some easy, some difficult. They make dozens of decisions an hour ranging from how to present a particular concept to whether to call on the quiet boy at the back. They have to decide whether behavior needs modifying or if the action is a blip in the normal way a student reacts. This is mean to be funny, not reality.
I am supervising final exams in one of my local high school gymnasiums. There are three of us keeping the unruly lot in order. Since I'm a substitute teacher, I am likely to be last to be asked a question. I check the time. The exam started at 9:05 and students are given two hours to write. It could be a long morning.
Do you know how quiet it is in a gym when the floor is covered for protection from outside shoes, there is no talking and any cell phones have to be left at the supervisor's station? It is cold in the gym but I can walk around. At first I use my most determined expression- the one that says, "Don't try any funny stuff with me in charge. I've seen it all."
I scan the gym and all I see are heads bent in concentration. No one looks like a rebel; they look like serious students. The odd person drinks from a water bottle or turns to his calculator. I am getting bored and this is five minutes into the exam.
I walk purposefully to the other end of the gym and stand there, imagining that I am, perhaps, a member of the SS and try to demonstrate that discipline. I walk back to the other end of the gym. It's harder than you think to look alert and stand straight when no one is watching, when everyone is intent on their own tasks. I lean against the gym wall my left leg crossed in a relaxed way over the right. I imagine maybe I'm Lili Marlene, the lily of the lamplight. (By the way the exams are chemistry and biology finals.Why am I channeling unrelated WW11 stuff?) If I dared I'd purse my lips in a sultry expression. I walk to the end of the gym again and check the time: 9:15.
The next hour passes in a similar fashion. I leap to help a student with a simple question. I continue to walk and look alert when really I'm having an out-of-body experience.
By 10:15 some of the exams are coming in and there are a couple more questions. Then one of the regular teachers rushes in to see if I can take her place in another room where the Math Diploma Exam is being written. She is going to pick up her young son from the elementary school where he is ralphing all over.
This is a break! I grab a quick cup of coffee and go up the stairs to the Math Exam. As quietly as I can I step into the room, letting the door close behind me with stealth. OMG. It is so hot and quiet in this room. It is worse than the gym. There's nowhere to walk and since this is a provincial exam, the students are even more serious. The end time for the exam is 12:14. I almost nod off when I finally sit down. Some tests have been handed in but many students use every last second. 12:14 and the all exams have to be handed in. The other supervisor and I take them to the office where they are secured. It is lunch time.
And that is why they pay me the big bucks.
I look for Mercedes everywhere. Downstairs, in the yard, out on walks. When I do find her, she lies prone on the bed, popping sushi and bonbons into her mouth. She isn’t dressed and her hair could use a brush.
“Where have you been?” I demand, not my best approach.
“Here and there.”
Mercedes doesn’t look as though she regrets her decision to keep a low, very low profile.
“You’re supposed to help me,” I say. “In fact, I depend on you.”
More sushi. Mercedes chews before answering.
“That is your problem, not mine. You haven’t been doing much to help yourself or to inspire me.”
“What do you mean?” I feel defensive.
“Did you ever sit down to the computer and give me a chance?”
“I did. There was that day I took out the marketing binder. I even edited a story.”
Mercedes waves a dismissive hand. The look on her face is scornful.
“What was there in that to inspire me? Seeing that old story and feeling embarrassed that you ever sent it out? The idea wasn’t bad but the execution. Maybe that’s the right word. You killed my good idea.”
I take a defensive step backward.
“That’s so unfair,” I say. “I was inexperienced and I thought it was my best.”
Mercedes snorts. I wish she wasn’t so direct in her expressions. There is truth in what she says but there are different ways of saying it.
“It was so cold last week. I just wanted to hibernate.” The excuse runs out of my mouth before I can stop it.
“That’s a good time to hunker down and give me a chance,” says Mercedes. “What did you do?”
“I did that marketing.”
“Three submissions,” says Mercedes.
I ignore her.
“I wrote a couple of book reviews for my blog. The one edit was major and it takes time to find markets. Reading is a kind of professional development.”
“I suppose watching tv is professional development.” Mercedes examines the last bonbon before she puts it into her mouth.
“Television and reading are escapes,” says Mercedes.
“Not always. I read On Writing by Stephen King. It’s one of the best writing books there is.”
“Humphhhh, how many times have you read that particular book?”
“Three or maybe four,” I say. “And Stephen King reads all the time.”
“He also writes all the time,” Mercedes points out. “As I recall he wrote when he was drunk and stoned. So what is your excuse?”
“But I need your help…” My voice sounds whiny in my own ears.
“And I need yours,” says Mercedes. “Do you think it’s easy coming up with ideas? Even when you’re making one of your feeble efforts, it isn’t easy. When I do come up with a good idea, you don’t get at it. You procrastinate and think about it and overthink and before you know it, you’re watching tv. Honest to God, I am just tired of you. And I’m tired of this entire relationship. I think I need to move on.”
“OMG! Mercedes. Don’t do that. I can change. I promise. I will sit down to the computer every day. I’ll do it first thing in the morning. Didn’t I come to talk to you first thing this morning? I can do it. I know I can. Plllleeeeasse…give me one more chance.”
Mercedes stretches and gives me a look that lets me know she’s heard it all before. Then I see a flash of sympathy in her eyes. She finishes her sushi.
“One more chance,” she says. “But this is it and I’m serious. If you don’t change, I’m done and out of here. Now leave me alone. I have things to think about.”
“Thank you, Mercedes. Thank you.” I am too profuse with my gratitude but I can’t help it. I will change. I can.
I go down the hall to my office and lift the lid on my laptop.
It's January 8th, 2017, and here on the prairies we're starting the New Year with some old timey weather. It's cold. There has been ice and snow on the roads, fog in the air, and generally dreary weather. Not to complain too much. There hasn't been a mass shooting at an airport in Canada, a terrorist attack, or any other major event. There have been highway fatalities and a murder-suicide in Nova Scotia. PTSD continues to claim its victims. Donald Trump takes over as President of our closest neighbour and trading partner. That's frightening. Especially for those people who thought he might become more "presidential" once he won. So far it's gone to terrifying.
But enough of that. If you watch and read news, then you already know as much or more than I do. On a personal level, New Years Eve was a good celebration. We hosted a poker party for friends and then on the 2nd had a family supper at our son's. 2017 is here and it feels a lot like 2016. Fingers crossed for some positive world news and that my friends and family continue to prosper.
And resolutions? Nope, I didn't make any this year. Most of my resolutions go no where. The one startling success I can report is 42 years old. Forty-two years ago, on New Year's Eve, I quit smoking. That was a resolution worth keeping.
A belated Happy New Year to all and if you made resolutions, good for you. Recognizing a problem is always the first step to solving it.
I've been married a long time and often write about everyday events.