April 07, 2009
At 10 this morning I found myself on the amphitheater stage I hadn't sat on since my high school graduation.
The man who went before me talked about running a successful real estate empire and the woman after me talked about writing for Elle magazine and starting a fashion website with 100,000 subscribers in a little more than 2 years. Also present: an MTV producer, a restaurateur, an inventor.
What, exactly, was I doing at career day?
Actually, I had a lot of fun. After our intros we split up into groups to meet with the seniors. I told them about blogging, new and old media, and my occasional freelance writing. I talked about grad school and 19th century balconies. They were full of questions. One asked me about how reporters can better hold financial institutions accountable and I mangled an answer about staying proactive and trying to stay on top of sources. And then I admitted total ignorance. I cover asking and personal finance, not fiscal policy!
When I explained what my blog is about, someone asked what I asked for today.
"Nothing yet. What do you guys think I should do?"
"You should ask Madame if you could teach her French class. I have it last period."
"Perfect! I will!"
I spotted Madame Thornton-Schilling at lunch. I'd really wanted to catch up with her, since she's one of those amazing teachers who stay with you through the decades. She was so clear, so smart, that she made grammar seem like a game. And her passions were contagious -- everything from the Loire Castles to pronouns to Francophone literature to giraffes were fascinating in her classroom. She made me dream about Paris from when I was 14 until I finally set foot there, years later.
"If you're ever looking for a substitute, or want a day off, like today, count me in!" I told her.
"No, really! Can I come and talk to your class today? Something about balconies, or literature, or, I don't know!"
"I do have freshmen immediately after lunch. I have an idea! We could play a trick on them."
Ahh, Madame! Always up to her shenanigans.
"You go in and pretend you're my substitute for the day. Just talk at them very quickly, write some sentences using the past conditional on the board and start drilling them. We're doing the present conditional now, so they'll be confused. Then I'll come in and say 'Surprise!' "
Scaring freshmen into appreciating their teacher? Love it.
At 12:50, I barged into the classroom.
"Bonjour!" I chimed.
Some saluted me. Some kept talking.
"Attention!" I barked. "Bonjour, la classe!"
"Bonjour," they replied and faced forward, suddenly alert.
"Madame is not available today so I'll be her substitute. Now pay attention," I began, in gunfire fast French.
I walked to the board and wrote this sentence:
"Si j'etais la prof, je vous donnerais un examen." (If I was the teacher, I'd give you an exam.)
"Non!" I heard someone groan behind me.
Then I wrote, "Si j'avais ete la prof en 1998, je vous aure donne des bonbons." (If I was the teacher in 1998, I would have given you candies.)
"What tense is this?" I asked sharply, pointing to the whole sentence. "Is this correct?"
(Answer: Not correct - you misspelled aurais!)
They were shell shocked.
Basically, I was doing everything you should not do in a classroom. Scare the students. Alienate them. Yell, "Attention!" Don't introduce yourself. Be vague and confusing. Talk too fast. Then talk faster. Stand with your back to them. Mention the word "test" when their teacher is missing.
Everything was just peeeeerfect, that is. I was ready to give Madame the secret signal. She walzed back in with a huge smile, hugged me, and we explained it was une blague, a little joke!
"She's a grad student now, and has taught French in college," she explained. Some of their eyes widened.
"Madame was such an amazing teacher that she got me hooked on French for the rest of my life," I said, speaking much more slowly.
They suddenly relaxed, giggled, I hugged her again and left.
Quelle journee! What a day.
Gained: got to pay a twisted tribute of sorts to an amazing, amazing teacher.
If anyone from Career Day is reading this, I hope you'll take a look around and come back soon. Keep in touch! And remember... you have nothing to lose by asking.
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