This is the story of what happened the very first day I had a sub. Which means the following adventure was related to me by my principal.
It was sometime in October. Because I had been hired so late, I had to do about 40 hours of trainings on the weekends the first several weeks of school in Sacramento, two hours away. These trainings were essential for brand new teachers who needed to get familiar fast with entire shelves full of curricular materials, but they were exhausting. Many, many first-year teachers had to do these weekend trainings on top of the seventy hours per week they were already pulling as first-year teachers or the fifty hours per week you’d pull if you were experienced but new to your grade level. My language arts coach Naomi told me I should take a personal day once the trainings were complete, so I sweated out some overly detailed sub plans and slept all day Tuesday.
When I came back on Wednesday morning there were 17 names on the board, but I had sort of expected that. I had a pretty active group (euphemistically speaking) and I hadn’t found my authority yet, so of course they weren’t going to behave for the sub. They hadn’t even made up their minds whether they were going to listen to me yet. But then Lidia, my boss, asked me to step into her office after school.
I never, ever got sent out of class the whole time I was growing up, except for the time I threw up all over my desk, my jacket, Glenys Rodeback’s shoes, and the sheaf of spelling tests I had just collected in 4th grade. So I still had all this principal’s office anxiety stored up, ripening since kindergarten. I don’t know if I’ll ever not freak out when I get called to the principal’s office. This was made even worse by the fact that she pushed the door shut as soon as I sat down.
The people who built that school in the thirties knew what they were doing; the main office at our site was around the corner from the boys’ bathroom. If Lidia’s office door was open and there was skullduggery going on in the boys’ room, she could be there in about four seconds. While I was face-down in my pillow and my sub was wondering why there were suddenly only 14 kids in the classroom, Lidia heard the unmistakable sounds of several boys behaving badly. Recognizing the voices of three of my students, she made the executive decision to walk in and see what the hell was going on.
Boys’ bathrooms have urinals. Urinals have urinal deodorizer blocks, also called urinal cakes, or urinal mints, or (my husband tells me) hockey pucks. A urinal deodorizor block, for all you girls out there, is a thing that sits in the bottom of the urinal trough to deal with the odor, because boys don’t always flush. Urinal cakes don’t sterilize anything or deodorize the pee; they evaporate long-chain esters into the air to block up your nasal receptors. These nasty inventions look sort of like a big bar of crumbly soap, and sort of like a giant chewy Sweet Tart. According to Wikipedia, the most common scent is cherry.
My champion instigator, Aidan, was in there, along with his disciple Noryb. Aidan dropped the evidence as soon as the law arrived, but there wasn’t much of the piss biscuit left to drop, because it was all over both of them. Shirts. Pants. Arms. Faces.
(I should note that at this point in the narrative Lidia and I were both hysterical. I was wiping tears from my eyes and she was in full-on standup mode. We were bonding.)
A small movement in the corner of the bathroom, and Lidia turned to see Matata. He had been standing very still in the (until then realistic) hope that she wouldn’t see him, but he had made the critical path error of attempting to edge toward the door while Lidia was still in the discovery phase. He wouldn’t have made it very far in any case, because he had a nickel-sized chunk of urinal deodorizer block smooshed onto his forehead.
Now, if you were Lidia, would you waste time asking, “WHAT THE CRAP JUST HAPPENED?” Do you think you’d get the same story out of all three of them? So we never really found out whose idea it was to try the peepee bonbon, but my money’s on Aidan. Nothing – nothing grossed him out, and he had a thing for seriously misbehaving in the bathroom. A lot of really super-damaged kids do.
We had a variety of hand-sanitizer products on hand, and because it was the beginning of the year there were extra uniform shirts laying around. Lidia found some extra-long gloves in the custodian’s office, made the three cherry-scented miscreants take sponge baths in her office using Purell wipes, bagged up their clothes, gave them fresh uniform shirts to wear, made three phone calls and suspended them for the rest of the day. Then she had to find the custodian.
I love teaching, and I love schools. I never want to be a principal.
So after I wiped my eyes and staggered out of her office, I ran into the three custodians in the hallway. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a professor when I was getting my credential was this: The custodian is your best friend. Never fall out of their good graces. I told them that the three kids who destroyed the bathroom yesterday were mine, apologized again and again, and made a mental note to pick up a box of donuts on the way in the next morning. They had all seen much worse, and told me not to worry about it, kids come up with incredibly gross ways to avoid class. I began to ask, “What would possess a kid to pick up a urinal cake-”
In one voice, the three custodians cut me off: “Don’t call it cake.”