Monday, April 19, 2010

345 Days In - High School

To keep our lovely new 1940’s roof over our heads, I have been doing some supply teaching - or Substitute as they call it here.

On my first day subbing, I rouse myself at some ungodly hour like 6am, collect pre-made sandwiches, and head out into the day.

On my way from the car-park, hampered by the kind of exhaustion that only comes from a previously unemployed person now having got up for work, I ask a student the way to the main office.

Properly engaging with my surroundings for the first time, everything comes into focus, and I find myself on the set of Grease.

(This is not literal, you understand...)

American High Schools, well Californian High Schools, have a student head count of about 2500 students, for four years (or grades) of school. This compares to an average of about 800-1000 or so in the UK, for 5or 7 years. The campus is huge, and swarming with teenagers.

But not only are you so greatly outnumbered, but the students wear their own clothes and basically act like adults.

I am the kind of person who is used to going into bars and being IDd (even more so now I live here), and the older I get the more acceptable that is to me. But put me in a room full of made-up, dressed as they wish, confident kids and there is no way you are going to know who the teacher is.

That is, of course, until I speak.

Excitement flutters around the room: “oh my gosh, I love your accent”, “can you say my name?”, “where are you from?”

And I have hardly begun my “Hello, My name is… and I am from…” speech, when a noise from what seems to be speakers, comes from the wall:

“Good morning students, please stand for the Pledge”.

It is at this point - when the students stand, turn and place their right hand on their heart - that I realise I am standing right underneath the American Flag.

If I didn’t look young and stupid already, the quick duck and dodge out of the way must have done it.

The Pledge of Allegiance is followed by droll announcements and encouraging words from students and teachers, and this is neatly capped off by some Rn’B; not my imagined xylophone chime rung by Principal McGee and Blanch in the aforementioned film.

This unique experience has not, unfortunately, been restricted to one day at one school - I perpetually forget that I will be interrupted by some person or other at some point in one lesson, and I have an amazing knack for finding the flag and planting myself beneath it.

Embarrassing episodes aside, I like to think that I am drumming a little bit of good-old-fashioned British standards into these kids.

Blank stares, barely registering confusion, respond to my “sorry I’m late, Miss”, as the students lollops in ten minutes after the bell, and that is if they even realise I am talking to them. Pleases and Thank-yous are all but extinct and I have been told numerous times that a student “has to go to his locker”.

But this is teaching in Orange County, and the students are almost too laid back for their own good. In-fact I think they enjoy fitting into their own stereotype; perfecting the blond side-sweep of hair, and describing pictures of a battle scene as “awesome”. One class handed in a rather high percentage of self-written poems about, yes, surfing.

The more I return to schools, and with a little help from my unique voice, I am remembered, and with that remembrance comes stuttered politeness. And though I still miss the netted skirts and leather jackets it is not too bad a way to pay the rent.

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