A “temporary” building with two classrooms, P301, on the inside, was a faded green mint color — like saltwater taffy gone stale, having been left in a carnival candy sack too long.
But I had windows, a big white board, carpet and neat tables and chairs lined up perfectly. On high, the air conditioning unit blasted air that could cut any perennial’s life short. Was this real? I didn’t have any of these items in my US classroom.
In the little climate controlled temporary, I felt a certain calm even on the first day as a new exchange teacher. Of course this was mixed with a free-flowing anxiety. I didn’t know a thing about Australian students or Year 8s, for that matter, but really, how hard could it be? Plus, if I totally bombed, I could definitely milk my accent for the first week of school, at least.
The bell, actually more of a foghorn that sounded like it was alerting a mackerel fleet about soupy, coastal New England conditions, blew. I smoothed my dress, checked for anything hanging from my nose or wedged in my teeth and waited.
As the kids entered the classroom, I made eye contact with a few of them and said, “hello”. But most of the students barreled past me and two boys jumped a table to take their seats. Backpacks were flung onto the floor, often spilling the contents, feet went up on the tables, mouths kept moving and there was no indication of this stopping any time soon.
Standing up as straight as my spine could manage and clearing my throat, I basically, bellowed, “Hello, class. I’m Mrs. Glaser, and I will be your teacher.”
Slowly the activity ceased as the students realized that not only was this a new teacher, but a Yank teacher.
“Are you from America?” one of the boys who hopped over the table asked.
“Yes, I am. I’m on an exchange program, so Mr. Taylor is teaching my classes in the United States and I’m teaching his, or rather – you guys.” I looked at the leapfrogger.
“Could you please introduce yourself to me?” Before I could get a name or any names, every student had his or her hand up. While raising their hands, they all shouted out questions at the same time.
“Do you know Miley Cyrus?”
“No, I don’t”
“Do you know 50 Cent?”
“No. Okay, hold on, hold on everybody. I will answer your questions in a minute, but I need to take attendance first.”
“Have you see Lindsay Lohan pissed at the clubs, Miss?”
“No. But, it does seem like she is a bit of a mess.”
“She’s a slut and she’s always off her face,” the leapfrogger was going to be a regular contributor it appeared.
“What is that — off face?” I asked.
“She’s always drunk and shags everyone she sees.”
“Lovely,” I decided not to pursue that one. “Now let’s focus, people!” I took the roll sheet and scanned the names. Ianna Baker? Are you here?
“Do you all live in mansions, Miss?” asked a girl who wore a faded and dingy uniform way too big for her petite frame.
“Are you Ianna?”
“No Miss, she’s over there,” the girl answered as she pointed to the only person I now knew by name.
“Does Mackas deliver?” Ianna asked as I checked off her name on the roll.
“McDonalds, Miss, you know it’s what you guys eat all the time and why you’re so fat.” The class stared at me with what was clearly “wow…you’re pretty lame for an American” look. They were definitely over me already.
A small boy with a long layer of fringe hiding half of his face, the kind of kid who looks like instant bully fodder piped up,
“Yeah, and you tell your kids that babies come from the stork and we tell our kids babies come from the bed or the back seat of the car.” He laughed and then high-fived his mates sitting next to him.
The volume rose as my composure plummeted. Deep down, I knew control was slipping away from me.
Then, one girl stood up and towered over the other kids. In her tight uniform that was cinched in the back with a hair tie to give her amble breasts a lift, she looked like she came straight from a Britney Spears “naughty schoolgirl” video audition.
As she put her hands on her hips, her dress rose dangerously up her bum. Hormones paralyzed and prevented the boys from saying anything, and silent shock from the other girls quieted the place down.
“Shut up, Ethan! Let her finish.” She then turned around and with her hands on her hips still, surely giving Ethan and the boys a show, she asked. “Do you know ANYONE famous, Miss?”
She was such a presence and since she had restored whatever order there may have been to begin with, I felt compelled to answer her.
“Well, no, but I did meet a rock star once.”
“Who? Who? WHO?? Tell us!” Finally, I had everybody’s attention.
“Well, I don’t think you guys will know who this is.”
“Ah c’mon! Tell us, Miss!”
“John Cougar Mellencamp.” I didn’t need to rely on the Britney Spears extra anymore for order because my answer had evoked complete silence.
“Who? John Melon who??”
“John Cougar Mellencamp although he goes by just John Mellencamp these days. Have you guys ever heard the song ‘Jack and Diane?’
Unfortunately, I continued, “You know… Here’s a little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland…” I snapped my fingers along with my off-key rendition.
“Miss, you shouldn’t sing,” Ethan stated sincerely.
“Okay..yes, you’re right. Well anyway, I met him in South Carolina and he was very famous when I was in high school.”
“When was that Miss? Were dinosaurs around then?” Ethan held court again as laughter erupted.
“Ha ha ha, Seriously. GUYS, we need to get started with class. I would like to tell you the class rules and my expectations.”
One more hand raised in the air. Again, it was the leapfrogged. Sitting in the back, he had put his feet up on the table. “Yes.” I stated as I tried to give the “evil eye” as a hint to him to sit properly.
“Do you have a gun, Miss?” He remained motionless, feet still on the table, crossed even.
“No, I’ve actually never even held a gun. And, I’m sorry I don’t know your name yet, but could you please put your feet down.”
“Name’s Mitchell.” He slowly lifted his legs off the table one at a time while he let them thud on the ground.
“Then, have you ever been shot at?” He asked looking skeptical of my American citizenship.
“No, I haven’t. Believe it or not, Mitchell, not every place in the United States is a drive-by shooting zone.”
“Have you ever had kids bring guns to the school? Has there ever been a psycho shooter?
“Well, we did have a tragic school shooting at a school that my high school often competes against in sports.”
The kids perked up.
“And we did have a lock down scare this last semester.” I was getting an audience back. “A convict had escaped from the nearby prison, so we locked the rooms and turned the lights off and no one could leave or come in our classrooms.
This happened for about 45 minutes. And then we learned that it was a false alarm.”
“Aw, that must have sucked — Too bad it wasn’t real.”
The first 30 minutes passed much like this and I still didn’t know any names except for Ianna, Ethan, Mitchell and I found out that the Brittany Spears extra was Taylor.
“I’M GOING TO TAKE ROLL NOW and I’D LIKE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE.”
Finally, the fog horn blasted. I jumped a bit and hoped the kids wouldn’t notice. They didn’t since they were too busy bolting out of the classroom. Two girls who carried their books close to their chests like 1950s school girls looked over and said, “See you tomorrow, Mrs. Glaser.”
After lunch and recess, I had a new class and fragile hope that it would go better than the last class. I rushed through the roll and then asked the students if they knew what “literature” was, one kid looked up from his lap, where I’m sure he had a cell phone cradled, and said:
“Is it reading, Miss?”
“Yes, Ben, it is. Excellent!” I was encouraged. “Tell me, please what one of your favorite books is.”
“Don’t read, Miss, unless it’s titty magazines.” Sporting a huge grin, he turned to his buddies and of course that response derailed class instantly. It was going to be a long year.