At some point in my lifetime, I apparently decided that I wanted to spend my career teaching a World Language to teenagers. I do not remember consciously making this decision, but I’m fairly certain that memory loss is a side effect of the brain damage caused by twelve years and 3,000 repetitions of “What is your name? The ball is red! I go, you go, we go!” all recited in the psychotically happy mime-on-drugs manner unique to foreign language teachers trapped in small spaces with teenagers who, frequently, don’t give a damn.
I generally like to start my day with some wild flailing.
“¡Hola, clase! I wave my arm enthusiastically. “Bienvenidos…” I mimic entering a room happily “¡…a la clase de español!” I jump in between the desks, arms raised like a toddler saying “Ta-da!”
“¡Hola!” I try again, and wave my hand, eyes wide, a creepy smile plastered on my face. “Repitan…‘¡hola!’”
Crickets chirp. Finally, a hand goes up.
“Can I go to the bathroom?”
“¿Al baño?” I rapidly run to the whiteboard and draw a quick outhouse. ”¿Quieres ir al baño?” I add a toilet for embellishment.
“What is that?” The student pauses and stares at my artwork. “I gotta pee. Why did you just draw a log cabin and a coffee cup on the board?”
“No es una tasa de café. Es el baño. Ba-ño. Repite conmigo…
“Dude, Teach, I have no idea what you’re saying, but I’m about to pee myself.”
“Está bien. Llévate el pase al salir.” I hand the kid the hall pass. He stares at me blankly.
“Uh…I’m gonna go, now. ”Merci beau-cop…or whatever.”
I try another tactic.
“Timmy!” I eyeball the next victim. “I am good, Timmy,” I babble in Spanish. “I am good! How are you? How are you, little Timmy?” I point to myself and then to little Timmy. Timmy hesitates.
“Not much!” he finally states confidently.
“No, no, not ‘what’s happening?’” I shake my head, mock disapproving look on my face. “How are you? How are you feeling today?”
“No, not ‘yes.’ How are you? How…” I put up my hands in a questioning gesture, “…are you?” I point to Timmy. “Good?” I smile happily. “Bad?” I make a big frown. “Alright?” I shrug.
“Oh!” Timmy finally gets it. “Me goods!”
I’ll take it.
“And you Little Suzy. I am good today. How are you?” I reduce my gestures only slightly to avoid whacking the kid next to Suzy in the head.
“I have fifteen buttholes.”
“Oh dear! That is not good. I am sorry you have fifteen buttholes, but I think you meant you’re fifteen years old. Repeat after me. Años = years. Anos = anuses. I have fifteen years.”
“Very good! But actually I wan’t asking you your age. I want to know how you are, today. How are you, Little Suzy?”
“No, no, not anos, años.”
“Yes! But not years, how are you?”
“I am buttholes! I am fifteen year-buttholes good!”
I’ll take that, too.
“Alright, class! Let’s practice! Repeat after me!”
“That’s not even the right verb!”
Oh dear. Perhaps getting to conjugations was a bad idea. I call for back-up.
“Why don’t you take little Bobby to the library, and work with him one on one?” I say to my student aide who, by some miracle, is nearly fluent in Spanish. “I think he could use a little extra help.”
They return a half an hour later, glassy-eyed.
“How’d it go?” I ask my aide while Bobby meanders back to his desk.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he stares back, looking as if a tiny piece of his soul has gone missing.
“It. Teaching. We went over it…and over it…and over it, then I quizzed him and…”
“I’m pretty sure he was speaking Farsi.”
Awesome. At least we’ve gotten somewhere.
“How’d it go, Bobby?” I go for the first-hand opinion.
“I is call myself is Bobby.”
Sounds about right.
Then there are the tests.
“Write about a typical day at school,” reads the prompt. I open it to the section reserved for the paragraphs.
“Sr. Garcia is backpack,” states the first one definitively. “Class in four o’clock. Gymnasium.”
Well. I guess that cleared it right up.
And, then, just when I’m about to give up all hope, someone gets it.
“Teach, Teach, I went to Mexico for spring break and no one there spoke English and my parents don’t speak Spanish and I got to translate!” A student gasps breathlessly.
“That’s awesome! Where did you speak Spanish? What did you say?”
“A restaurant! I ordered! And..¡tengo hombre! ¿Cuánto cuesto? ¡Tengo muy dolores!”
I have a man! How much do I cost? I have very pains!
“That’s great!” I pat little Betty on the back. “And what did they say back?”
“They just smiled. Everybody in Mexico is so nice!”
“Indeed, they are.”
Little Betty runs off and I smile, proud to have introduced yet another student to the golden rule of learning a language.
When in doubt, just smile and nod.