The article seemed innocent enough. The title? "The Secret Life of a Tiger" or something vaguely mysterious. The content? Tiger facts. What could go wrong? (In retrospect, everything. That's why this story is so funny. You'll see.)
A normal teacher would read the article, take notes, make a worksheet, plan a field trip to India, do some fundraising involving red pens and "You Did It!" stickers, and then begin teaching after meditating on the entire process for at least a week. I, however, decided to wing it.
The article started simply enough. It was enthrallingly guilt-trippy. . . "Did you know tigers are endangered? It's probably your fault. Atone!" (this is not a direct quote, but I hope the feeling is clear) "Tigers only eat meat. They aren't good with spinach. But humans have killed all their meat sources. Great job, humans." "Tigers have paws the size of baseball mitts. They could hit you and injure you badly, if they only had a chance against your gun and superior intellect." I felt like Shirley was both learning and enjoying herself. The perfect combo.
And then came the tricky part. "Tigers mark their territory by lifting up their tails, backing up close to a tree, planting their feet firmly, and spraying their pungent urine." (quote may have been exaggerated for comedic reasons.) How was I, a mere teacher, going to explain this to my innocent, eight-year-old ESL student?
Like an idiot.
"Um, ok," I started meekly. "Do you have any questions about these words?"
"What's urine?" Shirley asked. I knew she would go straight for the gold!
"Well. . . urine is not a, uh, nice word. But I need to tell you about it," I responded, stalling so as to steel myself mentally. "OK, so, when you, uh, go to the bathroom (gesture to bathroom mime-style) and sit down and relax, yellow water comes out. This is waste. It's from our kidneys, which are organs. Organs are a team that work together in our bodies. It's urine," I answered. I knew immediately that I had used way too much detail. (I inherited that trait from my dad.) I didn't need to go into kidney functionality, but it seemed so pertinent, you know?
"Oh, you mean pee," she said, without showing any hint of embarrassment.
"Yes. Pee. I, um, didn't realize you knew that word. Urine is pee. A tiger's urine is very stinky, but not to humans. Only to other tigers. They have good noses and they like to sniff trees. They think it's fun. And they like to spray trees with urine, too! This is so they can mark their territory. With pee. . . Any other questions?"
"Nope," she replied.
Another student's life changed. Mission accomplished.