A birthday present for my wonderful friend Shireheart. She and I have both had to deal with this sort of situation since school started and she requested that I make light of the situation. Happy birthday, my friend!
Some of the following questions are based off real events. Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.
I was halfway up the second flight of stairs when I realized that I didn't have to rush. With that fact in mind, I leaned against the wall of the hallway in order to catch my breath. Since I usually had to bolt to school after work on Thursdays, I should be used to darting across a parking lot and up three flights of stairs. However, I'd been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome after a nasty bout of flu two years ago and seemed to find myself constantly low on energy.
Ah, well, a little fatigue was worth the class I attended on Thursday evenings. The Art of the English Language was considered to be one of the best English courses offered at my college and as an aspiring English major, I had jumped at the chance to take it.
True, it was only the third week of the semester, but already I'd caught my professor's eye as one of the best students in the class. Of course, considering most of my classmates, that honor hadn't been hard to attain.
Sufficiently recovered, I started back up the stairs. Class didn't start for ten more minutes, but I wanted to be early enough today After all, it was rare for a college course to have a substitute teacher and such a distinguished one at that.
"Before you leave, I have an important announcement!" All around me, my classmates paused in their packing up to stare up at Professor Tendral.
"Next week, I won't be here, as I have to go upstate to attend a conference."
"So, no class?" some one called out.
"Actually, you will have class. My brother helped me find some one who would be more than happy to teach you for one night."
"Is that allowed? I thought you're just supposed to cancel if you can't teach."
Professor Tendral winced. Or at least, I think he did. I know I did after hearing Mindy's question in her rather whiny voice.
"I can assure you, Mindy, that the college approves. And I think you'll find yourselves in for a treat with the substitute I've found.
Now, coming to my classroom door, I only hoped knew what he was getting into. Otherwise, he'd be in for a very trying three hours.
Stepping into my classroom, I met the eyes of my substitute professor and offered him a shy smile. Considering that he was a seven-foot-tall elegantly dressed grasshopper, I think I made a pretty good first impression.
"Hello there," he greeted me in a cultured voice. "And who might you be?"
"Well, I might be anyone. However, my name is Riley Andrews." Mr. Grasshopper chuckled, as I'd had a feeling he would.
"Well played, Miss Andrews. Hopefully your classmates will be as witty as you."
"Thanks," I replied, taking my seat and setting out my homework and notebook on my desk. Oh, boy.
By this point, many of my chatting classmates had trickled in, many of them clutching cups of coffee, bottles of soda, or greasy-looking food from the cafeteria. While nothing anyone had looked appetizing, the sight of food made me aware that I hadn't eaten since morning. Oh well, I could last three hours without eating and Dad was bringing me home a deli sandwich tonight. I'd much rather have a sandwich than… whatever it was the boy behind me was eating.
"Good evening, students." Everyone stopped talking, turning their attention to Mr. Grasshopper. He polished his monocle a few times on his sleeve before placing it back into his right eye. "As you know, your professor could not be here tonight and asked me to substitute for this fine class."
What exactly did Professor Tendral tell him to get him to teach? I wondered.
"Let us attend to the first order of business, shall we?" Mr. Grasshopper picked up a small notebook from the professor's desk. "When I call your name, please respond accordingly." He paused to read the first name, then smiled in my direction.
"Miss Andrews, I know that you are in attendance. Kyle Bennings?"
Well, it was hard to screw up role call, although I saw Mr. Grasshopper frown slightly in Mindy's direction. Then again, she had mumbled the word "here" around a rather large mouthful of turkey wrap.
"Right then. I have read the syllabus of this class and reviewed the notes your professor left for me. As of now, you are covering the grammatical side of the English language, is that correct?"
We all nodded. I myself had a feeling that, three more weeks into the semester, we would still be covering basic grammar.
"Yes, your professor wishes for me to cover the seven basic parts of speech tonight. Could someone name them for me please?"
I raised my hand. Might as well spare him the headache early on.
"Nouns, pronouns verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions are the seven basic parts of speech."
"Well done, Miss Andrews. And, may I add, very eloquently stated." It was a good thing Mr. Grasshopper was looking at me; otherwise he'd have seen several people looking confused at the words he'd chosen to praise me with.
"Now, I'm sure that, being college students, you are all familiar with this sort of basic grammar, but I'm sure no one would object to us brushing up on it. After all, you all learned the parts of speech when you were much younger, I'm sure."
Turning to the whiteboard, Mr. Grasshopper picked up a marker and wrote 'The eagle is flying majestically.'
"A simple sentence, I know. I promise we'll move on to more complicated exercises in a few moments.
I doubt it.
"Miss Redly, would you please identify the subject of that sentence?" Mindy, who had been reaching for the next half of her wrap, blinked at and stared at the board.
"Uhhhhhhh." Mr. Grasshopper frowned.
"The subject, please, Miss Redly. The noun."
"Miss Redly, do you know what a noun is?"
"You don't know what a noun is?" Mr. Grasshopper sounded stunned.
"I see." Mr. Grasshopper's tone had become a tad cold. "Kindly pay more attention to me and less to your food, Miss Redly."
Mindy pouted, but said nothing. Mindy was a notorious eater and once Mr. Grasshopper stopped paying attention to her, she'd start eating again, as she did in all of her classes.
"Are the rest of you familiar with the concept of a noun? Please raise your hands if you are."
Nearly everyone else raised their hands, if only to remain inconspicuous. Mr. Grasshopper, however, was not fooled.
"Mr. Farmoth, will you please identify the subject of the sentence?" Kenny Farmoth, who had been fingering his ipod, stared at the board and replied,
"Uhh, the eagle?" Mr. Grasshopper gave a relived sigh.
"Correct, Mr. Farmoth. The word 'eagle' is indeed the subject of the sentence." Mr. Grasshopper's eyes scanned the class and settled on a girl who was tapping at her cell phone. "Would you elaborate as to why the eagle is the subject of the sentence, Miss Daniels?"
The girl (I think her name was Kristi) looked up from her phone and answered,
"It's a thing."
"Yes, that is correct. As you all should know, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. In short, any word that can be pluralized. For example, if we were to pluralize the word 'eagle,' it would become what, Mr. Douglas?"
"Correct. Now, let's try this again, shall we?"
Erasing the first sentence, Mr. Grasshopper wrote 'The young boy ran' in its place.
"A good way to find the subject of the sentence is to look for an article; words such as 'the' or 'a.' Articles are noun markers; they indicate that a noun is soon to follow. Keeping that in mind, what is the subject of this simple sentence, Miss Redly?"
"Uhhh, young boy?"
"Which word, young or boy?" Mindy paused, then answered,
"Young!" Mr. Grasshopper frowned and Mindy immediately got defensive.
"But you said nouns came after articles! 'Young' comes after 'the'!" she protested. Mr. Grasshopper gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.
"Miss Andrews, please tell the class what the subject is, what the word 'young' is and explain why."
"The subject of the sentence is 'boy,' as it is a noun. The word 'young' is an adjective and it modifies the word 'boy.'"
"Thank you, Miss Andrews, you are quite correct."
"This is kinda confusing," Mindy maintained.
"Yeah. I mean, like you said, nouns are supposed to come after articles, so you can't expect us not to get confused when you put an adjective there first."
"I am confused," Mr. Grasshopper answered the girl who had spoken up. "I am confused as to how college students- many of who, as I've been told, are English Majors- find basic grammar so difficult."
"Well, this sort of stuff is hard."
"I'll have you know, Miss Nelson, that my seven-year-old son is in the second grade and is currently learning the exact same principles as you are now. I will also have you know that he can identify parts of speech with little difficulty."
Apparently, being outdone by a second-grader was enough to render the whiners temporarily mute, something our substitute professor took advantage of.
"Perhaps we should move on to verbs and verb conjugation. First of all, what is the definition of a verb? Yes, Mr. Greeton?"
"A word that describes an action."
"You are correct. A verb describes an action and can be conjugated into the present tense, the past tense, and the future tense. Let's do a little verb exercise; I will give you a verb and I'd like you to conjugate it for me. For example, today I run, tomorrow I will run, yesterday I ran. Miss Andrews, would you please start us off? Your word is 'decide.'
"Today I decide, tomorrow I will decide, yesterday I decided."
"Well done. Miss Redly, look lively now. Your word is 'work.'
"Um, today I work, tomorrow I will work, and, um, yesterday I worked?" Mindy spoke slowly, as though she were unsure of herself.
"Yes, Miss Redly, you are correct." Mr. Grasshopper sounded relieved.
"Indeed. Miss Nelson, your word is 'forbid.'"
"Okay. Um, today I forbid…" She trailed off a bit, before resuming with, "Tomorrow I will forbid."
"Almost done. Yesterday I what, Miss Nelson?"
"Yesterday I forbidded!"
"I… beg your pardon?"
"Yesterday I forbidded," my classmate repeated, sounding proud of herself.
"No, that is quite incorrect."
"Whaaaa?" Several of the people echoed.
"Miss Andrews," Mr. Grasshopper said, walking to my desk and standing beside me. "Will you conjugate the word 'forbid' into the past tense?" He didn't sound happy.
"The past tense of forbid is forbade."
"What? No it isn't!"
"I can assure you, Miss Nelson, that your classmate is correct. Forbade is the answer."
"That doesn't sound right, though!"
Says who? I almost asked, but managed to keep my mouth shut.
"I promise you that, to anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language, the word 'forbidded' sounds far worse."
"Who the heck even says 'forbade' anymore?" Mindy blurted out. "I've never heard anyone say that before."
"Whether or not you are familiar with the word 'forbade' does not alter the fact that it is the past tense of the word 'forbid.'"
"Yeah, well, if we've never heard the word, how do you expect us to know that?" the boy behind me asked.
"I expected you to have a greater grasp on your native tongue. My goodness, do honestly mean to tell me that you've never learned how to conjugate words such as 'forbid' or 'mean?'"
"Isn't mean an adjective?"
"It can function as an adjective, yes. However, when used in a sentence such as 'I mean you no harm,' the word 'mean' becomes a verb. Please tell me you know that the past tense of mean is not 'meaned,' Miss Nelson."
"I know that."
"I am glad to hear that," Mr. Grasshopper replied dryly. "Now we-"
"Hey, do we get a break soon?" one of the boys called out.
"Uh, well, since it's a three hour class, we usually get a break."
"I see. Miss Andrews, at what time does your professor give you a brief reprise?"
"Like now." Mr. Grasshopper held up an upper hand in Kristi's direction.
"I was addressing Miss Andrews. You were saying, my dear?" he added kindly.
"Well, Professor Tendral usually gives us a ten minute break around 6:45 or so."
"I see. Hmmm, it's about 6:40 now. In five minutes, I'll give you some time to… compose yourselves for the second half of the class."
Walking back to the board, Mr. Grasshopper wrote a new sentence: 'I wish you would stop leaving the door open.'
"I will point to a word and when I call on you, tell me what the word is. Miss Redly, you are first." Mr. Grasshopper indicated the word 'wish.'
"Um, is it a …verb?"
"Are you guessing?"
"Ummm, is it-"
"Never mind. Verb is the correct answer. Mr. Farmoth, what part of speech is the word 'open?'"
"Uhhh, is it a verb?"
"Not in this sentence. Does anyone besides Miss Andrews know the answer?" I saw Mr. Grasshopper glance in my direction before looking around the room."
"Well, it's not a noun."
"Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Sanders. Could you please tell the class what the word is and not what it isn't?"
"Uh, I dunno."
"Clearly. Miss Andrews, would you please?"
"It's an adjective; the word is modifying the word 'door.'"
"Thank you, Miss Andrews. Perhaps you'd like to identify this word." He pointed to the word 'would' and I smiled, remembering last week's lesson.
"'Would' is part of a verb phrase. The entire verb phrase is 'would stop.'"
"Well done. Well done indeed, Miss Andrews." The sheer relief in Mr. Grasshopper's voice earned him a few glares, but he ignored them in favor of polishing his monocle once more.
"I have a question!"
"Yes, Miss Nelson?"
"Wouldn't it be 'I wish you would stop leaving the door opened' instead of 'open?'"
"No, Miss Nelson. Because open is functioning as an adjective-"
"Wait, can you go over the difference between 'open' and 'opened?' I mean, is 'opened even a word, 'cause I use it all the time!"
Mr. Grasshopper was silent, staring at the girl in shock. Taking a deep breath, he managed to say through a tightly clenched jaw,
"Take your break, everyone. I expect you back here in precisely ten minutes."
Nearly everyone jumped up and ran for the door. Most would probably text or call their friends and others would run back to the cafeteria for more food and socializing. I stayed in my seat, preferring to rest after five hours of retail work.
"Do tell, Miss Andrews, how do you sustain yourself in this class?" Mr. Grasshopper walked over to the desk next to mine and leaned against it.
"You know, I'm not sure."
"My word, I still can't believe half of the statements I've heard so far. How did these students get accepted into the English Major program in the first place?"
"No idea. Although I think the worst part is that about half the people in the class are going for double Majors in Education."
"Oh, Heaven forbid." Mr. Grasshopper sounded genially pained and I guessed he was thinking of his little boy and the kind of teachers he'd encounter in the course of his education.
"I wouldn't worry. At the rate they're going, they won't graduate anytime soon, let alone get hired."
"The silver lining persists, at least." Mr. Grasshopper was silent for a moment, tapping the fingers of a lower hand on the desk. "Thankfully, your knowledge of English is excellent, Miss Andrews."
"Thanks. Professor Tendral says he's going to give me special assignments to do just so I don't go completely out of my mind."
"I daresay you deserve it. I'm sure- Miss Andrews, are you alright?"
"Hmm? Oh, sorry, I'm fine. I'm just a little tired. I came here from work at the Supermarket in the next town over."
"I see. Have you class or work tomorrow?"
"No class. I work in the evening."
"Ah. Take care, then, to get plenty of sleep tonight and don't overexert yourself. You look a little pale and I shouldn't want you getting sick."
"You are most welcome. And now, back to the task of educating those who should be somewhat educated."
Sure enough, everyone was trudging back into the classroom, quite a few with a fresh supply of cafeteria food to kick my stomach back into -give-me-food-now mode.
Almost done. I thought.
"Welcome back, all. We have roughly an hour or so before class ends, so let us begin again. Now, who can tell me the difference between adjectives and adverbs?"
"Wait, aren't we still talking about verbs?"
"I promise you, adjectives and adverbs correlate to nouns and verbs."
"This is confusing." Mr. Grasshopper ignored the statement and turned to me.
"Once again, Miss Andrews, kindly enlighten your classmates."
"Adjectives modify nouns; they're used for description. Adverbs modify verbs; they describe how or when an action is occurring."
"How do you know that?" Mindy demanded.
"The chapter we were supposed to read for homework."
"And now, class, I hope you realize that not doing your assignments leads to a poor performance in class," Mr. Grasshopper stated.
"I started to read it, but, like, I didn't understand it. I mean, like, I was, like-"
"Thank you, Miss Meadows, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't foul your language so."
"The word "like" is used to compare one thing to another, not as a replacement for a verb or a pause in a sentence."
"It's, like, a habit."
"One you ought to break, if you expect to be taken seriously."
"Um, my high school teachers spoke like this."
"I should have guessed. Regardless, please attempt to speak properly in this class."
"I am speaking properly."
"Yeah, we talk like this all the time."
"And we don't use words like forbade."
"I still think that sounds wrong."
"Enough!" Our insect professor was clearly at his wits' end. "I am trying to educate you in an area you all seem to be sorely lacking in and I would appreciate it if you at least tried to learn tonight!"
"Why do we gotta learn this, though? It's not like some one's gonna walk up to us on the street and be like, 'I'll give you a million bucks if you can tell me what the subject of a sentence is.'"
"I can assure you that stranger things have happened. Please understand that being able to speak properly means having an idea of how language works. If you know the grammar of a language, you can master it. Mastering a language is how you learn to communicate; communication is a necessity, especially if you hope to get hired by companies or schools."
"Yeah, but, it's like-"
"Need I remind you all that you chose to take this course of your own free will?"
"Uh, I need this course to graduate," some one called from the back of the room.
"Is that so? Then perhaps you'd like to identify each part of speech in this sentence?" Mr. Grasshopper pointed at the sentence that still remained on the whiteboard, a reminder of the unfinished assignment before our break.
"Um, 'I' is a noun, 'wish' is a verb, 'you' is a noun-"
"The word 'you' is not a noun. It is a what, Miss Andrews?"
"It's a pronoun."
"Yes. A pronoun takes the place of a proper noun like a name or title."
"Oh." The substitute turned from the board to survey us all.
"Out of curiosity, how many of you did your homework for this week. Be honest now; I'll check if I have to!"
I raised my hand, along with five others. Most of the class half raised a hand and mumbled "sort of" before lowering them.
"I see. Perhaps it would be best if I ensured you'd learn something here and now. Please open your grammar workbooks and do exercises 3 to 8, please."
A collective groan rose from the class.
"But we only do one or two a week!"
"That's, like, two or three weeks of homework!"
"Indeed it is. Consider this an opportunity to get ahead in your studies. And I'll inform your professor that I believe that any student who does their assignment poorly should re-do it the following week."
"Awwww, that's stupid!"
"You're just a sub! You can't do that!"
"I can and I will, Miss Nelson. If you are displeased, then you are free to go. But be warned, if you leave, I shall make a note that you did not complete today's lesson and thus won't receive full credit for your attendance."
To my utmost surprise, no one left. Then again, considering that more than half the class was already in danger of flunking, they probably wanted all the credit they could get. Honestly, staying in class was the first smart thing most people had done all night.
Naturally, I finished my assignment in about fifteen minutes and spent the rest of the class reading while everyone else worked and Mr. Grasshopper wrote out a long report to Professor Tendral. A lot of students threw him dirty looks, but he didn't seem to notice.
At 8:00, Mr. Grasshopper stood up and addressed us. "You are dismissed. I thank you for allowing me to teach you and I hope that you will pit a lot more effort into your school work from here on out. Yes, what is it, Miss Redly?"
"Uh, the book says that there's a difference between it's with an apostrophe and one with out it. How do you know when to use the apostrophe?" Mr. Grasshopper rubbed at his forehead, looking thoroughly worn out.
"If there is ownership of the subject, the apostrophe is needed."
"Never mind. The word 'it's' with an apostrophe is a contraction, like 'can't' or 'won't.' 'It's' is short for 'it is.'"
"Any other questions?" Silence. "Very well then. Good evening, everyone."
I stood up and packed my things, waiting for the crowd to leave before I did. Before I departed, I turned to my substitute.
"Good night. It was nice meeting you." He smiled at me.
"Likewise, I enjoyed your company this evening, Miss Andrews. You are an excellent student. Thank you for helping me through this ordeal."
"Have you a way to get home?"
"Yes. My dad's picking me up."
"Very well. Have a good night."
As I left, I wondered if Mr. Grasshopper would volunteer to substitute for my class again. He seemed to want nothing more than clever and interesting people to talk to.
Thus, he probably would never want to set foot in a college classroom ever again.