[This is an unedited excerpt from my book in progress, A Crazy Day on the Job As a…, in which many people’s accounts on their craziest days in their occupations are detailed]
Los Angeles Unified School District. Or LAUSD as it’s commonly called.
The acronym conjures up a behemoth of so many things: Bureaucratic misspending, lagging academic performance, risk of pink-slipping teachers.
And, raining termites.
Now hold on, stay with me for a minute.
Jennifer H taught second and third graders, and for a couple of years, fourth and fifth graders, in the beleaguered school district — the second largest in the country — for 18 years. In her fourth year, she and 30 third graders made do with a dilapidated building that hadn’t seen its best days since 1960s. Peeling paint on the walls and window sills greeted teachers and students everyday in this bungalow building that got air conditioning for the first time in 1999. Mildewy odor kept the pupils company as they practiced multiplication table exercises. Uneven ramps with rusty railings helped keep the students in line whenever they file out for recess.
Then, there were the termites. Because things could always get more interesting than 30 sometimes distracted young minds who’d rather talk to their neighbors or do anything else other than writing their book report compositions.
For weeks Jennifer noticed juvenile termites with their light brown wings scurrying about the window sills. At first, there were three to four at a time. And of course they’d leave parting gifts in the corners of the sills — tiny clumps of droppings. Then, she started to notice more of them along the sills and along the baseboards of her classroom. The termites found a place to party in the 40+ year old classroom and they were bringing friends and family.
This September morning of 2004 was school as usual for Jennifer and her third graders. About half hour before 10:00 am recess, they were doing their best with a group exercise on double-digit division problems, trying not to count down the minutes to run out to the playground to escape that dry heat that was lingering from summer. And then one little winged friend dropped in, from the florescent tubular ceiling lights onto 9-year-old Sara’s math sheet, adding an accent front of a number five. Sara screamed and jumped out of her chair. A second later, two more pesky little things dropped — one landed in Matthew’s blond hair, the other on Michael’s shoulder. “Oh my god! Gross!” the boys yelled out. Before Jennifer and other students could ask “What? What’s wrong?” throngs of termites were falling out of the ceiling lights. Dozens upon dozens of the winged insects seemed to also unable to wait for the start of recess, only their recess playground is children’s grassy-smelling or oily scalps and their bony little shoulders.
There are two type of children screams and you can usually tell them apart, especially when you’ve been around them long enough: One is out of sheer joy and glee, like when a kid almost gets tagged in Freeze Tag by the “it” child but they escape because they are a tab bit faster or they pull a psych-you-out body maneuver that saves them in the nick of time.
The other scream is out of sheer panic and you know something is threatening the kids’ safety or grossing them out.
The 30 kids’ scream that morning was of the latter, and more of the gross factor than the safety one. But then again, when termites are literally raining down on you and could imaginably scoot into one of your orifices in seconds before you notice them, I guess it’s also a physical safety issue.
Jennifer found herself wide-eyed ad incredulous witnessing the winged creatures throwing a party from throwing themselves onto the kids’ heads and tables, while she also spatted away a few from her own hair and shoulders. Amid trying to calm down her students, she filed them out of the classroom immediately and escorted them to the campus library while she got the principal and the custodian’s attention.
For three days the classroom was sprayed with some kind of termite killing pesticide (great, so everyone can inhale that too when they return to the room on the fourth day). It was cheap enough and good enough to keep the termites at bay. They never rained down again for the rest of that school year, but now and again, Jennifer and her students would see one or two scurrying along the window sills. “There’s more of us than there are of you,” the insects seemed to mock, reminding them ever so consistently and they could return any day with an army once a new generation of them is birthed and throw themselves a party again kamikaze style from the ceiling.
[more crazy day stories from Jennifer H the teacher will be Roseanney’s book, A Crazy Day on the Job As a…If you would like to be interviewed for this book, please message me]