An bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leithreas ma se do thoile, a mhuinteoir.
This impenetrable phrase (plus several accent marks my computer failed to produce) means “May I please have permission to go to the bathroom, teacher?” in Irish. Like all Irish schoolchildren, Sean and his classmates were required to recite this phrase properly and in full each time they wanted to use the restroom. If students couldn’t remember the whole phrase, they were made to sit at their desks in lock-kneed agony until either recess came or an Irish language epiphany hit – whichever happened first.
Unless one speaks Irish, this phrase is unpronounceable. Sean wrote it out for me on a piece of paper, complete with a pronunciation key below each word in parentheses. I stuck the paper on my refrigerator and toss out the phrase from time to time, only to be hooted at for my pronunciation mistakes. This, from a man who pronounces “death” and “debt” the exact same way.
My young students, apart from randomly yelping “Oh my god!,” and aping the phrases I repeat for them over and over, do not speak English. At all. Some of the staff members have taught them to raise their hand and shout, “Toilet!” when they want to use the restroom. With the younger ones, it’d just be an uphill battle to teach them a more polite version of a potty request since they always confuse “how are you?” and “how old are you?” Honestly, I don’t even care that much – a classroom with one less student is a quieter classroom and the sooner that can be accomplished, the better. My older students – namely, my bratty 13 year-olds – could do with some more discipline but teaching them manners usually takes a back burner to restraining myself from flinging something sharp at them.
Last week, Hitomi and Rina amused themselves by scrawling my name on their worksheet, next to kanji I couldn’t read and several mounds of steaming poo. I punished them by keeping them after class and, when they left, showed the confiscated worksheet to the principal. She, ever-fretful about loss of business, merely said, “So bad,” and therefore, was about as useful as a stack of bricks. Alone as usual in my struggle with the consistently disrespectful 13 year-olds, I brought the paper home. Something told me I ought to keep it – either as a badge of duty or evidence, should the staff ever back me up in my weekly complaints about the 13 year-olds. I stuck the paper on my refrigerator, next to Sean’s Irish lesson.
Next class, Rina raised her hand. “Toilet!” she bellowed, scraping her chair back as she did so, full of expectation that shouting would magically earn her the right to relieve herself.
“Sit down,” I said, pointing my white board marker at her. I began to write with a deliberate, calculated slowness.
May I please go to the bathroom, beautiful teacher?
“Ehhhh!” screeched Rina, who could only read a couple of words in the phrase.
“Let’s try it together!” I said cheerfully. “May … may I …. may I please … no, no, try again. Please. La la la. Please. May … I
… please … “
“Ehhhh!” Rina shrieked.
I have benefited from Sean’s Irish childhood. And perhaps added a little something extra to Rina’s English education.