How to say No!

The last time I subbed for Chicago Public Schools I was sent to an annex where I was in charge of 30 Spanish speaking first graders. I don't speak any Spanish. Their teacher had fainted the day before and been carted off in an ambulance. No one had told these kids about her condition and I certainly didn't know anything nor did I speak Spanish. There were no sub plans, no instructions, nothing except an overly helpful child named Angel who reminded me of that kid in the famous picture holding bottles of wine. I think it was taken in Italy where kids drink wine in their baby bottles. Anyway, Angel gave me tons of information as the only English speaker, most of it inaccurate and we stumbled through the day with tons of crying, lap sitting (kids in mine), thumb sucking and other teachers occasionally pointing out I had done something wrong not to mention illegal. All in all I exited after eight hours determined not toreturn. Of course they called the next day and for days afterwards. Evidently the fainting teacher had not recovered. "The children loved you," the principal finally said. "Please come back." 

This morning I received a phone call around 9am from a desperate sounding man who asked me if I was Mary. Hmm. I am never Mary however I was christened Mary Ellen and that is what my ID says. Except the ones that say Mary E or Molly. Anyway, I answered in the affirmative and he asked me to sub. "There are four teachers out," he said. "If you hurry you can have the fifth grade." The fifth grade? I remember the fifth grade. I was in England and our school was ruled by a tyrannical bully. I was furtive, miserable, angry and cheeky. I didn't want the fifth grade. However, we need money and having fled my sort of lucrative nightmare position in Abu Dhabi to return to Chicago and write, coach students in essays for college and other things, proofread and edit, maybe I had to do this. I thought for a moment, "No," I said.

I love flattery. I remember every single nice thing a reviewer has said about my books and in the case of one interview a writer who described me as "slender and athletic." That was a long time ago. Still, I doubt those grieving, non-bilingual children loved me. In fact, I'm pretty sure Angel had told them I was "Crazy" because he kept using the word "loco" and pointing at me as I tried to locate their lunch money. Anyway, I felt briefly guilty and then decided to go to Abu Dhabi to teach in a public High School an experience that made every other bad job pale in comparison. It was a teaching sweatshop complete with an administration that spoke half the time in Arabic despite their insistence the school was English-speaking and all the time in threat, intimidation and idiocy. So now I'm home and determined to resist the call of terrible jobs and persist in my mission to cultivate a clientele of parents desperate to get their children into competitive colleges. Also, to finally give myself the time and place to write my novels. I doubt Virginia Woolf ever had to tolerate a boy like Angel lying to her. On the other hand Willa Cather rode a pony all over North Dakota teaching ungrateful children how to read and write. Still, I'm glad I didn't "get" the fifth graders.


Popular Posts