The Substitute

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“Madame Penal says that it’s our responsibility to get our backpacks ready before we go to bed.”

“Madame Penal says it’s our responsibility to hang up our coats and put our boots away.”

“Madame Penal  says….”

I love Madame Penal. She’s my daughter’s grade three teacher. It’s not even the end of September and this Wonder Woman has the children beavering away happily at all she asks them to do. By the end of the school year my daughter is a responsible mini-adult.

The next fall I’m thrilled to learn that my son, who is much vaguer than his sister, is in Madame Penal’s grade three class.

“Madame Penal says it’s our responsibility to get our backpacks ready before we go to bed.” He’s dutifully shoving his books and papers into the pack. I cringe at the crumpled pages and try to help, but am told it’s his responsibility. I relent and back off with every confidence that Madame Penal will take care of it.

“Mme. Penal is going to have a baby.”

“Madame Penal is in the hospital. We have a substitute. His name is Monsieur Jean-Gilles. Madame Penal will be back in two weeks.”

“Madame Penal has to stay in the hospital. Monsieur Jean-Gilles is our new teacher.”

We hear a lot about Monsieur Jean-Gilles and it all sounds good. As my sons relates his “new teacher” stories—Monsieur Jean-Gilles said… Monsieur Jean-Gilles played … Monsieur Jean-Gilles read …, I picture a short, slight French Canadian. With a name like Jean-Gilles what else could it be?

It’s meet the teacher night. We find Monsieur Jean-Gilles. He’s not short. He’s tall. He’s not slight. He’s solidly built. He’s not French Canadian. He’s Haitian and he’s black. Not brown. Black. A detail that my son failed to mention. A detail that—happily—my son failed to notice.

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8 comments on “The Substitute

  1. Aw, such a sweet ending. Kids often talk about the very interesting things their teacher says or does. I guess that’s why your son left out describing the mister’s skin colour.

  2. Hi Darlene, I loved this one. Happy Canada Day. I’ll try to pop by for a visit the end of July. Will let you know, Karen Sent from my iPhone

    • Once the kids asked why Caroline’s hair was always curly. Caroline was our friend’s daughter from Mali and she was black. They never noticed her color in all the pictures on our bulletin board.

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