"Hey! Hey Senor! Hola! DO... YOU... SPEAK... ENGLISH?!"
It is a running joke in my third-period biology class that I have an extensive vocabulary in Spanish but a terrible accent. The students love hearing me teach in Spanish and beg me to do it. I will occasionally stop in the middle of a lesson and look up Spanish technical words so I can continue; in a lesson on reproduction, I talked about espermios, óvulos, y chromosomas, to the delight of my students. It’s not something I do every day, but every once in a while I’ll treat them to a few minutes of my gringo accent.
My (admittedly limited) understanding of the language is also an asset for parent conferences; most of the parents of our students do not speak English, and translators aren’t always available. At our most recent round of parent conferences, I was feeling especially ballsy, and when our principal dropped off a middle-aged, Spanish-speaking woman at my table, I decided not to wait for a translator. She’d be blown away by how effortlessly I could use subjunctive tense while explaining how bad her son’s GPA was!
Not related, I just know you don't like long blocks of text.
And it was very bad. Her son, Jesus, had failed Math Lab and Writing Lab, which were intended to be remedial courses, had a C- in Algebra I, and a C- in Spanish, which barely seemed possible, given that it was (evidently) his home language.
I tried to soften the blow a bit by talking about how “nice” and “respectful” her son was, which was true, although he was also an enormous space-case with butt-length hair who seemed to be stoned out of his gourd most of the time. He was undeniably talented in music and art, and I commented on this as well; his mother’s surprise at hearing that her stoner, musician son had musical talent triggered a few alarm bells, given that I have barely heard him express interest in anything else, yet I brushed this aside.
At this point, I was feeling eminently pleased with myself for conducting the meeting entirely in Spanish. The woman was hanging on each slightly-mispronounced word, and it was time to really show her what a fantastic human being I was.
“The thing is,” I said, still in my mostly-correct-and-totally-impressive Spanish, “I’m just Jesus’ advisor. You’re the real expert on him and his needs, and I want you to tell me anything I can do to more fully support him.” And yes, ladies and gentlemen, I used the famous para que clause and the present subjunctive tense; the most elusive of all second-semester Spanish skills.
My old nemesis.
She paused at this, slightly puzzled. “Hmm… no, no. Nothing for now.” Gesturing to herself, she added “Do you, um… do you know Barbara?”
At this point, I realized I had skipped introductions entirely. I warmly shook her hand. This was easily the best meeting I had ever conducted.
“There is one thing,” she said. “I’m worried because my daughter just has one more year here, and she’s failing so many classes…”.
Daughter? What daughter? “You mean, Jesus’ sister?”
A look of complete surprise flashed over her face, and then she erupted with laughter. “You mean… you’re not Barbara’s advisor?”
Suddenly, I realized what had happened. I had been talking for 15 minutes to this woman about the wrong kid. We both laughed, because what else could we do? Apparently I had given her quite a scare; her daughter was college-bound and wasn’t failing any classes. She had just assumed that I was using the incorrect gender pronouns the entire time.
The principal had made a simple mistake; there is a female teacher at my school with the female equivalent of my name, and that was Barbara’s real advisor. Why the mother didn’t initially question the fact that the middle-aged woman she was used to talking to had morphed into a young man is beyond me, but I suppose she wanted to be polite.
Word quickly spread to the students that I had conducted a parent meeting with the wrong parent. I did manage to salvage the situation by acting as a translator between the mother and the correct advisor, which swelled my temporarily-deflated pride in my language abilities back to their former oversized levels.