with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 09 2011

My Journey to the Math Office

I just found this while looking through reeeeealllllly old emails–it’s from an email to my then-boyfriend, from my sophomore year of high school.  It’s written absolutely horrifically, but, then, I’ve gotten a LOT smarter since then, so I’m not really ashamed to post it.  Because, well, it’s hilarious (and 100% true).  I thought some teachers might enjoy reading it!

When I walked into Latin class on Monday morning after break, I was thrilled to see my favorite substitute, who was my Latin teacher in freshman year, sitting in my teacher’s seat.   “You have no idea how happy I am to see you this morning,” I told him as I set my backpack on my desk and opened my routine-for-the-morning Diet Coke can.

“I’m always happy to see you, Aea107,” he said, and smiled as other students filtered into the classroom.

As we settled and prepared to do nothing for the period, he told us our teacher had left him some page numbers and activities we were supposed to complete in our books.   Naturally, only about five students had their books with them, and our regular teacher, constantly frustrated with her students for never bringing their books to class, had hidden the extra ones to entice us to bring ours more often.   Rolling his eyes, the substitute asked me to run to the math office and Xerox the pages out of his book.  He explained that he wasn’t technically allowed to leave the classroom because he wasn’t the teacher.

I knew immediately that he was sending me on a dangerous mission.   The math office had a surprising reputation as a hazardous place.  Teachers who frequented that office were easily excitable and incredibly loud, constantly shouting about things ranging from coffeemakers to pregnancy while students were trying to study in the surrounding rooms.  I had a feeling that the Monday morning after Christmas break probably wasn’t a good day to be there.  “Are they going to yell at me?” I asked him.

“Here, I’ll write you pass,” he said, and scribbled some words onto a yellow index card.   “Now go.”

As I set off to complete my task, a feeling of foreboding settled in my stomach.   My feet slapped on the clean tile slowly as I dawdled, but eventually I pushed open the brown door into the office.  Inside, several teachers were standing around the brown tables set up for the delinquents who have to retake tests because they stayed home on testing days.   I slowly walked over to the far end of the room, where the door to the Xerox room was open and a woman was standing in it, copying pages from a history textbook.

I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, shuffling my feet and eying the signs all around me, which said things like, “NO STUDENTS ALLOWED TO USE XEROX MACHINE EVER”.

Finally, a teacher whose name I didn’t know walked up to me and pointed at the Latin book I clutched to my chest.   “Do you need some copies for Latin?” she asked me.

“Yes!” I said, relief flowing through me.  “Yes.”

She nodded.  “Okay.   I’ll do it for you; I’m up next.”  She gestured behind her, and I realized the other teachers standing and sitting around the room were all waiting in line to make their copies.

“Okay.  Thank yo—” I started to say, but I was interrupted by a loud grumble from the other side of the room.

She and I turned to see one of the tallest most intimidating teachers in the school, Mr. Almond* standing with his hands on his hips.  “Excuse me,” he said.  “But students aren’t allowed to use the Xerox machines.”

Uh oh.  I shuffled my feet and looked to my advocate.   “Yeah,” she replied slowly, “which is why I’m doing it for her.”

“Yeah, you’re allowing her to break the rules,” he said, stepping forward.   “And I don’t appreciate it.”

By now all of the others waiting in line were paying attention.   “It’s for a substitute,” I explained.

“Yeah, it’s for a substitute,” Ms. Advocate repeated.   “I’m just trying to help this student out.  I always copy things for my substitutes.”

“So the teacher in charge should have made the copies,” Mr. Almond replied, waving his hands as though our excuse was a fly pestering him.

“I don’t think she had advance notice she wouldn’t be at school,” I said.

“Well, the substitute should have gotten here early to do it!”

Mr. Almond was almost bellowing now.  I looked across the room to Mr. Cashew, my ninth grade honors US history teacher.   “Yeah,” Mr. Cashew nodded.  “Substitutes are supposed to get here at 7:10!  Come on!”  He caught my eye and winked, which sent butterflies through my stomach, as he is widely regarded as the most handsome teacher in the school, and possibly in the whole state of Maryland.  “This is unacceptable.”  He stifled a laugh and went back to his banana yogurt.

“Can I have a word with you?” Ms. Advocate said to Mr. Almond.  “Over here?”

They stepped into the corner and exchanged violent whispers for a few minutes.   When they were finished, she started to leave the room and turned to me.  “I’ll be right back.  You stay here.”

“Okay…” I whispered.

“Sit down,” Mr. Cashew offered, and I chose the seat across from him.

“It’s a little tense in here this morning,” I said, and he laughed appreciatively.   “You have no idea,” he whispered, before returning to his yogurt.

To his right sat my old honors chemistry teacher, who looked both annoyed and amused.   “We’re just trying to get people to read the signs,” he told me, gesturing to the posted flyers around the Xerox room.  “See that one?  It says ‘COPYING LIMITED TO FIVE MINUTES WHEN PEOPLE ARE WAITING’.  How long do you think the teacher who’s copying has been in there?”

I nodded.  “I understand,” I whispered as Mr. Almond walked over and glared at me.

“Listen, we’re all waiting for this machine,” he informed me.  “The way this line is, I might as well go downstairs and use the main copier!”  He said this as though I was supposed to recoil in horror at the thought of using the main copier.

When I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the door opened again and the head of the language department, Ms. Peanut, bustled in.   She recognized my Latin book and me immediately.  “What are YOU doing here?” she asked.

Thinking she would protect me, I launched into my story.

When I was finished, she sighed for about twenty minutes and stamped her foot.   “NO.  Every student is supposed to have a book.”

“Yeah, but I guess they don’t all have them,” I said.

“Your teacher didn’t give you books in the beginning of the year?”

“Well, she did, but not everyone brings theirs.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.  I have mine,” I said, feeling the need to defend myself.

“This is ridiculous,” Ms. Peanut said.  I rather agreed.  “You march back to your Latin class and you tell the substitute that if they don’t have their books, they can get a zero on this assignment!”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, shrugging.  Mr. Cashew threw me one more wink before staring into his yogurt as he tried not to laugh, and Mr. Almond nodded his head appreciatively.  “I’m so sorry,” I mumbled as I scurried out the door, letting sarcasm taint my words.  “So very sorry.”

I nearly sprinted back to my Latin class, where the students and substitute looked up hopefully.

“How’d it go?” asked the substitute, eyeing my Xerox-less hands.

“I hate you,” I replied as I took my seat.

He laughed.  “I know you do.”  After I told him the story, he sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “Well, it’s a great introduction to the new year, after all,” he said.  “And a real reminder of what Whitman teachers are like.  They’re all assholes.”  As he said this, the class laughed.
My adventure was almost worth it just to hear those words escape an adult’s lips, but I will never return to the math office again if I can help it.

One Response

  1. wingofmadness

    *wiping laughter induced tears from eyes*

    So true!! High school hasn’t changed in the 35 years since I was there! Brava!

    Go out and make some changes! Best of luck to you and all your compatriots on this great venture.

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