After 14 years of teaching, not a whole lot surprises me anymore. We are ready to handle most anything a student or a parent or a colleague or an administrator hands (or throws at) us. But sometimes…well I thought I had seen it all. I thought I was prepared. I had not expected this one.
On the first day of school, the students filed into the classroom and found their seats using the nametags attached to their desks. This year, I have two sets of students with the same name – two boys named Sergio and two girls named Veronica*. When they were seated, I took attendance and confirmed everyone’s name being sure to check my double-ups. “You’re Veronica Rodriguez?” I asked the one closest to me. She nodded. “And you’re Veronica Fuentes?” The little girl in the back of the room also agreed. After double checking on the Sergios as well, we were good to go!
The other day while taking attendance, I found Veronica Fuentes absent. I marked up the attendance sheet and sent it in, ready to start the day. About an hour later, the phone rang. It was the attendance office asking if I was sure Veronica F. was absent because she had a Mary* Rodriguez absent. I told her that I had two Veronicas and no Marys and that Veronica R. was at school while Veronica F. was not. She thanked me, and I went back to work.
Not 30 minutes later, the attendance office called back again asking if I was sure it was Vanessa F. who was absent. The office had called home to check on the reason for the absence and mom said she brought Veronica to school that morning. I put the phone down and went to the other Veronica to, again, check her name. “Are you Veronica Rodriguez, sweetie, or Veronica Fuentes?” She, again, told me Rodriguez. After explaining that to the office, she thanked me and hung up the phone.
Twenty minutes after, the principal walked in the classroom and apologized for interrupting. She quietly told me that Veronica Fuentes’ mom was in panic because the babysitter swore she dropped her off at school. The principal went to the remaining Veronica and asked her if her last name was Rodriguez or Fuentes. Again, she answered Rodriguez. At that point, the principal asked the class if anyone had seen Veronica Fuentes at school that day. A few hands went up and those kids said they played with her during morning recess. I told the principal she had not been in line when the school day began. She thanked me and left on hot pursuit, both our anxiety levels on the rise.
At that point, it was time for recess. The kids were lined up and led out to the playground. On the way out, the yard supervisors, assistant principal, and other support staff were going from room to room looking for Veronica Fuentes. The AP asked me about the situation and I again told her that there were two Veronica’s enrolled and pointed out the one who was in school that day. “Polka dots!” she said with urgency, “Would they both be wearing polka dots?” Apparently, she had gotten word from a student in another class who had also played with Veronica Fuentes that morning and she was wearing black and white polka dots. Well, Veronica Rodriguez was ALSO wearing black and white polka dots. But, when asked, AGAIN, Veronica said she was a Rodriguez, not a Fuentes. The assistant principal took her up to the office anyways, hoping to figure it all out.
I called up to the office after dropping off the kids to check in. The office staff had pulled up both girls on the computer, checked the pictures, and realized that the Veronica in attendance WAS Fuentes and the Veronica who was absent was Rodriguez. Stunned, I hung up the phone and left to pick up the kids on the yard. Had I just been bamboozled by two six-year-old girls?
When they came back in the classroom, I pulled Veronica FUENTES to the side to discuss the situation with her. When I told her Rodriguez was not her last name, she smiled, nodded, and said, “OK.” As she walked to her seat I thought, “These girls don’t know their last names.” I got her situated with new materials containing her real last name and continued with the rest of day.
The following day, the other Veronica returned to school and when I discussed the situation with her she responded, “She said she was Rodriguez so…” and shrugged.
Now that it’s over, my colleagues and I have had a good laugh about it. The funniest part about the whole thing is when the principal asked if anyone had seen or played with her that morning about five students nodded and raised their hands, but none of them noticed she was sitting, RIGHT THERE, in front of them.
I’ve never, until this year, had a student who didn’t know his/her last name. They don’t always know how to write it, but after two years or more of previous schooling that has never been an issue before. During the drama that morning, we were doing a math activity using the kids’ birthdays and only a handful knew the month and day they were born and only one knew the year they were born. There’s something about not knowing this basic information that is quite telling about the population of students in my class this year. Although, it has made for a good story!
*First names have been changed a bit.