The Maddest Libs

When I came back from New Zealand at the end of March, I knew I didn’t start my TIP summer teaching job until the beginning of June. So now what? Two free months. Not enough time to get a real job, too much time to do nothing. What to do with two awkward months?

As it turns out, the answer is: serve awkward people.

Yes: for the past three weeks, I’ve been employed as a substitute teacher for the St. Paul School District. Just like this season of Girls‘s Hannah Horvath, but at various schools and sans all the boundary-crossings (I hope).

And yes, least to say, it is weird.

Grown-up ladies and gentlemen, I want you to apologize for all your past transgressions. For o, the wrongs we wreak on our substitutes. And I am her, now, your replacement teacher. I am that person who you tried to confuse by yelling the wrong name at roll-call time, that person who looked around wildly for the right Esau or Kenneth and found nobody, only laughter. I am that person who needed to call in the principal to get you to simmer down after recess, when honest to God how did forty minutes of playground-running not do it, and why are you throwing crayons. I am that person whose outfit you whispered about. I am Ms. Ferenczi.

I’ve really gotten around.

I am listed as a sub for all levels, despite how inadequately my BA in English has prepared me for this. I’ve been a TA for highly autistic boys, a preschool attendant, the English teacher at a Montessori high school. At some, the teachers seem beaten and dead-eyed, the students manic and chipper; at others, people form orderly lines and eye rule-breakers with disdain.

I never know what I’m going to get til I’m there, but by now I’ve learned that there will be at least a few things in common about every experience.

For one, I will never know where to park.

For another, each time I walk in, one student will go, “HEY, WHO THIS?” and stare me in the eye. For a third, each student, across all of St. Paul eats the same breakfast: a plastic bag filled with a gross-looking icy orange juice, a cardboard-y muffin, a neon apple, and some inexplicable crackers. Each student seems resigned to this fact.

Also, each classroom will inevitably contain 3 disruptive students, all delightful one-on-one but horrible in concert.

One is just kind of a miscreant. For instance, I will catch said student going through the other students’ bags, and when I call him out on it, he will say, “But these are my friends’ bags!” and keep doing it.) One obviously has some kind of attention-deficit disorder, one that leads him or her to blurt out nonsense phrases during even the quietest lectures. And the third is dead set on getting the blurty one to shut up. The third is convinced that he/she can accomplish this by yelling, “SHUT UP, BLURTY ONE! YOU’RE TOO LOUD!” at every opportunity.

I’ve accepted the fact of these students’ existence, and the fact that these three students will inevitably occupy 50% of my attention, leaving the other 50% of it for the remaining 20/23 of the class (we did fractions today, can you tell?) who are, by and large, lovely and quiet people.

But what I have not accepted is a fad, a very current one, a very horrible one, prevalent only among said disruptive students….

…A fad for yelling, “DEEZ NUTS!!!!” at every opportunity.

What is it from? Google thinks: this Vine. I don’t know how it spread so rapidly, like a kudzu vine. All of the students can’t have seen the video. Likely they have acquired it through osmosis from the rest of the school district. Maybe another substitute teacher has gone rogue and informed them. Who knows?

I don’t care. I only want it gone.

Today I was at the sweetest creative arts magnet school, teaching fifth grade. All the walls had adorable chalk self-portraits paired with nonfiction essays. There was a ballet studio and a drama room. A visiting artist had come to help them prepare banners for the eco-themed festival. By and large, it was way cute.

And then, post-visiting artist, we were filling out a Mad Lib to help them remember parts of speech.

You can probably guess where this is going.

I said, “A noun.” And there was silence. And then the little boy in the corner ventured, “…. Deez nuts?”

At first I tried to ignore it. And then, two nouns down, I heard it again. Louder and louder.

“Oh, our teacher doesn’t like us to say that…” whispered the brown-nosey girl in the front. (There’s always one of those too. (Me, basically.))

So I flung the Mad Lib down on the table. “Ugh!” I said. “I am so sick of this phrase. You know, everyone trots it out all over the school district. Everyone thinks they’re being original, and they really aren’t. They’re just yelling a stupid thing over and over and they aren’t even being clever.”

I thought they’d be impressed by how daring it was, how Hilary-Swank in Freedom-Writers-like, how subversive. To talk about DEEZ NUTS! In class! My gosh, what a cool substitute we have! Surely we don’t need to yell it anymore!

Invigorated, I stared them all down. They stared back.

And, piece said, I picked up the Mad Lib.

“Okay,” I said, “I need a… a noun that’s a body part!”

There was a collective pause, and then we all lost our shit, or at least I did, anyway, and how unprofessional is that?

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