Hola a Todos,
I have fallen woefully behind on my blog-entering because I’ve been distracted by various holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday. I have also been trying to rent my condo in Chicago (the various images of my potential homelessness dancing in my head), lying in bed and suffering from asthmatic bronchitis, trying to breathe well enough to write more in my blog (see asthmatic bronchitis entry a few words back), collect-calling my banks in the U.S. eight million times to find out where in the universe my credit card was since MasterCard was supposed to send it to me weeks ago (I finally received it last Wednesday). Note to Self: “Never ever ever EVER allow anyone ever to steal your wallet ever EVER again.” I don’t know Martial Arts or how to defend myself in any other way, but you had better believe I will have thought up something good if anybody even thinks about digging their greedy hands into my purse. I will intuit something…somehow, even if it’s merely to heap shame upon the person or partners in crime by scolding them loudly in my mother tongue or in my scary Spanish. I know that sounds violent, but I don’t care: I’m planning to work on that scathing Spanish speech today, since I’m in bed enjoying that asthmatic bronchitis I just wrote about.
Back to my Halloween story…
The Spanish teachers, the students, and the foreign English teachers decorated the school for Halloween: drawing, coloring, painting, cutting out, and hanging decorations. The second-grade Spanish English team teacher let me skip part of class a couple of times to work on the decorations just outside our classroom. I love her attitude: She is very nice and free with me, saying, “Just draw a spider and a spider web however you want.” The third-grade Spanish English team teacher and I spent part of the classroom time coloring and painting her huge drawing of a haunted house accompanied by a zombie, witch, and various creatures. I truly enjoyed helping to draw, color, and paint the decorations.
To prepare for the big day, we English teachers — Spanish, American, and British — held three meetings conducted mostly in Spanish. I understood maybe half of the plans, so after each meeting, I had to confirm what had transpired; however, like everyone else, including the Spanish English teachers, I was still unclear about how the day’s activities were to unfold (unravel is perhaps a better word). All I knew was that I was selected to be the old witch in a story about an old woman who swallows various bugs/animals to kill the previous creature she has swallowed: She first swallows a fly, then a spider to kill the fly…followed by a cat, dog, goat, and cow. Finally, she chows down on a horse, an act that causes her death. We had toy animals to show the kids so that they could connect the animal to its name in English, but our horse was about 1/4 the size of the cat — and the stuffed spider was a huge, scary black animal, much bigger than the horse and cow put together. But I didn’t care about any of this: I was concerned only with two questions that kept popping up, at least in my mind: “How was I selected, without hesitation on anybody’s part, to be the old witch, and why wasn’t anybody else even in the running?”
We had blocked some of the story, but nothing was well-thought-out, so before the program, we were scrambling to block it. I didn’t want to keep bothering the Spanish teachers, so I went with the flow, knowing that they had done these Halloween programs a few times before and everything would somehow magically work out. (I was pretty sure we needed a witch’s potion to get through all of this. I needed some sort of potion.) However, I absolutely detest that unnecessary panic, as it relates to performing before an audience, that panic that so often goes hand in hand with the fact that no one has worked out any of the details. All of that last-minute drama could so easily be avoided, but the Spanish teachers had to return to their classes, and we had no idea who would turn on the projector or the music or do other things while we were up there on stage. Well, it all turned out okay anyway…sort of.
The week before the big day, we four native English speakers helped the students learn a chant. I had memorized it because I wanted to be sure about at least one thing that was going on:
Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat.
I want something good to eat.
Give me something nice and sweet.
Give me candy and an apple, too.
And I won’t play a trick on you.
Of course, we gave the students a typed version of the chant, but I didn’t know how the six-year-olds were to memorize the lyrics if none of the English teachers, including the foreign teachers, kept stumbling through the chant, substituting “we” for “I” and “I want” for “Give me,” but I guess the whole idea was to get the students to say something “holiday”-related in English and perfection didn’t matter much. While in class, I had stood in front of the second graders to lead the chant, and the six-year-old boys would break dance or dance as if they were American rappers, simultaneously bringing their arms down together to cross their forearms at their abdomen. The Spanish English teacher and I smiled at each other. “I will never forget this,” I laughed. Anything music-related causes most of our bundles of joy to move in their chairs or to get up and start dancing unabashedly. They are highly amusing and out of control.
A couple of days before the Halloween program, since one of the American teachers was sick, her Spanish English team teacher asked me to lead her fifth graders in the chant. She left the class to take care of something, and while she was gone, a couple of the kids were trying to have “fun” with me, the foreign teacher! When the Spanish English teacher returned, about 20 minutes later, I specified to her the student who kept interrupting me and volunteering other students to answer my questions. I could have accomplished something during that class, but there are always at least a couple of students who ensure that that doesn’t happen: They need attention so badly that they disrupt the learning for everyone else. I have taught for 10 years, so I know what the score is, but I let her deal with them when she returned to the class. The next day, while I was on the stage, I noticed that the child I had “reported” was staring at me intently, but not maliciously. Just for kicks, I made sure I called on him to participate in one of the games. Who knows what he was plotting, but the few times I have seen him since, he has been nice to me. I might be foreign, but I’m not a pushover.
Since Halloween fell on a Saturday this year, our school celebrated Halloween the Friday before, and although three out of four of us foreign teachers don’t work on Friday, we were expected to participate in the Halloween events. We ended up doing the production six times: 9:50, 10:30, 11:00, 12:00, 3:00, and 3:45.
The storyteller wore a white princess-like dress, a white wig, and white makeup. Her aunt happened to have that dress at home and it fit her perfectly. As the dumpy old witch, I sat on stage wearing a long black dress, black shoes, a witch’s hat, and a big nose. I had packed a backpack under my dress in the stomach area for greater frump effect. The other American teacher and the British teacher wore long black tunics and a wizard hat and mask, respectively, and brought the bugs/animals up to me in order, and I, sitting in profile to the audience, tilted my head back and opened my mouth, ready to swallow them, which they then dropped into a box on the other side of me on stage, hidden from the audience.
Meanwhile, all ready to go was a projector to show a drawing of a stomach, including all of creatures in it labeled in English, a teaching exercise to boot, but no one had switched the projector on, and most of the Spanish English teachers were gone. After I had “eaten” the horse, the last creature, I fell forward to my death, lying face-down on the floor, my soles facing the ceiling, my legs dropping to the floor. Doing that six times that day almost did me in. After we finished our first show, the Spanish English teachers told us that the storyteller needed to slow down so that the students would be able to understand the English. And we decided to make our show more interactive, with the “animal gatherers” starting from the back of the student audience and making their way through the audience, in effect to scare the students with the animals.
After the story, we called on six volunteers to come up on stage to “bob” for apples. This “bobbing for apples” game isn’t the now-disgusting version from our childhoods: the one where everybody sticks their mouth/head into the same water to try to bite an apple. This was the updated, flu-free, much-cleaner-but-not-exactly-sterile version. The Spanish English teachers had strung a wire across the stage a few feet above the kids’ heads and had hung six shoestrings, each about a foot apart, with one end hanging from the wire and the other end tied to the stem of an apple, which was dangling around the kids’ chins. Although one student was a winner, all six students received an apple as a prize.
None of us foreigners was sure about the next item on the agenda. I had assumed that the Spanish English teachers were taking care of the rest of the show, but I was wrong. They wanted us to do more with the students, as we had another 20 minutes to fill. Maybe I had missed this part of the meetings, but then again, the other foreigners were as clueless as I.
One Spanish English teacher advised us foreigners to lead the broom game. We were to pick 20 kids from the audience, and the kids would form a circle on stage, passing the broom around while music played. Whenever the music stopped, whoever was holding the broom was “out.” That worked pretty well and seemed to be interesting both for the participants and audience; however, we felt that the broom was a little dangerous, so we substituted the big, hairy and scary stuffed spider. Two participants remained, a girl and her (I later learned) ex-boyfriend, and the girl won, the prize being an apple. When she was leaving the stage, a group of boys were jeering at her and had even blocked her seat so she couldn’t sit down. Then almost all of the kids were chanting “Queremos!” (“We want”), referring to an apple, but we didn’t have enough for everybody. (Group chanting seems to be a popular sport here.) The Spanish teachers cut them off. After a couple more shows, we teachers had our 11:30 a.m. break in the staff lounge. Although we are always served cookies, fruit, coffee, and tea at these breaks, I had made and brought orange chocolate-almond-kiss cookies, a big hit.
After the break, we held a few more shows, and when the second graders were there, we “actors” had to remove our masks after the show so that they wouldn’t be scared. Still, between shows, a Spanish English teacher carried a crying child over to us. She was scared of us, so the teacher was trying to allay her fears by showing us without masks. I think she finally convinced the girl we really weren’t scary. Then, when we started the last program, for the kindergartners, one of the kids in the front row burst into tears, so a teacher picked him up and left the auditorium. He was just scared: He wasn’t crying at our acting inexperience, although I have had some acting experience, which didn’t matter much here.
After each show, each student received three pieces of candy and a “Happy Halloween!” on their way out. Both before the show and after, the students would yell our names or wave to us, excitedly, which was very cute, as if we were Hollywood movie stars.
So that is Halloween at my school. Remember my list of scary experiences from my previous blog entry? Well, my having been so easily and unhesitatingly selected as the old witch is now #1 on that list, and I can delete the one about my potentially becoming destitute because I have finally rented my condo in Chicago.