@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
It was in my sophomore year of high school when I had Señor B for Spanish class. I was quite thrilled about this class — not because I liked Spanish, because I hated it. Because I was bad at it. This would be the year I took the Spanish regents and then I would never have to take a Spanish class again (this proved not to be true, as I would have to take Spanish again in college).
Despite having crippling anxiety about getting called on in Spanish class because Spanish was such a foreign language to me, I was still confident I’d pass the regents. Sure, I could neither speak nor understand the language, but my memory was good enough that I could memorize enough to recognize words and match them up rather than understand what they meant.
In retrospect, I wish I had been more ambitious to learn the language. After all, my best friend was Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish fluently. I visited Puerto Rico with her a few times. Also, I worked in a restaurant where many of my co-workers spoke Spanish. So, with very little effort, I could have practiced with these people daily, and very likely, I could have picked up the language. But I just had little interest.
Back to Señor B. Possibly the best part of the that class were two of my best friends were in the class: Tom and Jimmy. Jimmy was worse than me at Spanish, and often tried to cheat off me (a horrible idea). Tom was better at Spanish than me, so I tried to cheat off him. Everyone in that class cheated off of each other. I’m not saying that makes it right, but not only was it easy to cheat in that class, I think Señor B purposely turned his back on us cheating because he wanted us all to do well on tests; because it made him look better if we did well.
But I digress. On the first day of Spanish class with Señor B, he pulled out two hand puppets. He then continued to teach the class with the puppets, who spoke to each other in Spanish. He called on us with the puppets and spoke to us with the puppets as if he wasn’t there at all. This resulted in some chuckles throughout the class, though I think we were more stunned and creeped out than amused. Also, most of us didn’t know what the fuck he was saying in Spanish. Also, also, we were Sophomores. We weren’t seven years old.
Things only got worse from there. He personally gave us all “Spanish” names (this is very common in Spanish classes for reasons I have never understood). He didn’t know our real names, only our given Spanish names. So when he called on us, it would take several tries for us to answer because we didn’t know who he was talking to. Señor B continued to teach us with the puppets. I’ll admit, it did become increasingly more entertaining. If a teacher is failing to teach a class alone, it’s kind of sad. If a teacher is failing to teach a class using puppets, it’s kind of hilarious.
Señor B had multiple puppets. Like a goddamn Sesame Street episode, we would joke before class about which puppet would teach us Spanish today. At first, I sat next to Tom. While usually a quiet student, it was impossible not to mock a teacher who perpetually uses puppets for his lessons. So Tom and I would mock and giggle. At some point, one of Señor B’s puppets separated us, and he put me next to Jimmy. Unbeknownst to Señor B (or his puppets), Jimmy and I were even closer friends, and Jimmy was prankster and one of the funniest people I knew. It was a bad call on his part and a good call for me and Jimmy. Jimmy and I actually burst into laughter when he seated us next to each other, and the other kids in the class did too. It was like a reward. Our note passing would be endless. This class just got better.
While you would think a high school Spanish teacher who uses puppets isn’t bad enough, Señor B was absent more than he was present. He frequently took trips to Argentina where, allegedly, his mom was very sick. It sucks being a substitute teacher, especially in high school. I always felt bad for substitute teachers because high school kids can really be assholes. I was actually one of the few students who not only did the work assigned when teachers were out, but if possible, I tried to help the substitute teacher on how our actual teachers would run the classroom. This was not the case for Señor B’s class. Because first of all, most of the subs knew less Spanish than we did. Also, we did almost nothing when Señor B was there besides watch a puppet show we didn’t understand. Also, when Señor B returned from his frequent absence, he never checked the work we were supposed to do when he was out. So what was the point? Actually, when substitute teachers were in, we would all tell the substitute teacher the tales of Señor B’s puppets, and the substitute teacher would at first think we were all fucking with him/her. Unless it was a frequent substitute teacher that knew some of us. Having some substitute teachers who liked and trusted me, I would assure them, we were not making this shit up.
But there was a big problem: we were supposed to be preparing for a Spanish regents and we had learned nothing. I talked to some of my friends in other Spanish classes and when they were on chapter 13 of our text books, we were half way through the semester and still wrapping up chapter 2. We were making no progress. The good student in me started to worry. Señor B and his puppets were doing us no favors. We were fucked.
At some point near the end of the year, the Spanish department realized this. I believe he was originally fired because he took off so frequently. I don’t think any of the students ratted on him. It was probably one of the subs. Probably one (or more) of the subs reported the stories that we told them. One day, instead of a regular sub, the head of the Spanish department came in to sub our class, and then she realized: We. Had. Learned. Nothing.
It was mere weeks before finals and regents. And so, the head of the Spanish department became our teacher. This is when we knew we were all fucked. If the department head was our new teacher, that was not a good sign. Even the kids who were good at Spanish didn’t know the shit we were supposed to be learning. And those who struggled with Spanish, like Jimmy and myself, were completely lost.
But this was not our fault. It was a blunder on the Spanish department and the school and they knew it. And we knew it too. If we were fucked, then so were they for ignoring Señor B’s lack of teaching skills. They knew he brought in puppets for lessons. They knew he took off every other week. There were no lack of red flags. The department was lazy. There is something you should know about the West Islip School District. It is highly regarded as being one of the best public school districts. Real estate was coveted in our town because of this reason. Also, taxes were stupidly high for this reason as well. Young families wanted their kids to attend our schools. Apparently, this reputation was more important than our actual educations.
*Side story: Another Spanish teacher took off two months because she had “breast cancer.” Anyway, it turned out she didn’t actually have cancer. She lied so she could travel, which makes her a particular kind of terrible person. A couple years after she was fired, she was actually on the news and got arrested for something, I believe theft.
They tried to give us a crash course of what was supposed to be a years worth of Spanish material. They didn’t even really try to teach us as much as they basically tried to give us the answers for the regents. When we took our finals, we never got our tests back, just our grades. They graded us on a curve and we all did well, which was impossible. We also all did well on our Spanish regents, which was also impossible. Am I saying that the Spanish department cheated on our behalf to cover up their fuck up? Yes. Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.
Anyways, I guess it ended up working in our favor. We had a year of a bullshit class, and then the department cheated for us so we didn’t have to. The moral of this story? Our school system is fucked. And always will be. Because appearances are more important than reality. And that’s just the reality of it.