When I Was Usted

When I look back at it, I’ll likely remember my third year of teaching as the year I realized that I was “Usted”. “Usted” is (as Mrs. Rose must have told us around 7th grade) the 2nd person formal. You use it when talking to people you respect. Your boss or parents are “Usted”. Your friends and siblings are “Tù”.


Somewhere near the end of Year 3, Luis (not his real name) and I end up bickering with each other. Luis has his headphones on, which I don’t allow in class (on the reasoning that it distracts him from his group and sends the message that he doesn’t want to work with others). We talk/debate this several times. Finally, in what is not my finest moment (but, to be honest, not my worst, either), I pull on Luis’ headphones. The headphones come out, but the plug doesn’t.


Luis fumes for the rest of class. I lock the headphones part of the headphones in my cabinet.

I see Luis later at the end of the day (he doesn’t return to pick up the headphones, but then again, neither would I). We both talk cautiously, then part ways.

“Have a good weekend,” I say in English.

Usted tambìen,” he replies.


Se pasò, Mister, se pasò.”

This could be any of the kiddos. Se pasò is a reflexive verb, which translates loosely to “you overstepped your boundaries”. Except with Usted (formal), not  (informal). I usually hear it when confiscating phones or headphones.


Felishaa has a question. Ideally, I have her talk to her group. They work it out together and the question gets resolved.

Frequently, this is not the case. I’ve taught Felishaa for 2 years and she has the mathematics anxiety that feels very real in some of my classes (despite knowing more English than most of the students).

Eventually, we talk about the work to the point that I feel like she should be ready to talk to her group.

“So, talk to your group,” I say, getting ready to walk away.

Hàgalo, Usted,” she gestures. “You do it, Mister.” She gestures as she might to one of her classmates, but her choice of words indicates otherwise.


Oscar doesn’t care much for homework, but he’ll sometimes do it (if there’s a lady friend involved). (I am sure that is an inappropriate statement on many levels. But…)

I’m sitting at a table near tutoring after school when he approaches.

Usted se equivocò,” he says plaintively.

“Oh?” I ask.

Se equivocò,” he insists (and I swear, for some reason, that he is swaying back and forth as he says it).

“OK, maybe,” I say. I am definitely not above making mistakes.

He points to a Ken Ken on the back of the homework.

“OK, let’s try it,” I say. I pull out a pencil and start working (In an ideal world, I probably would have made Oscar do it with my help, but I didn’t. Maybe I had somewhere to be?).

Se equivocò,” Oscar keeps insisting. I keep working.

As it turns out, the Ken Ken is not wrong (I pulled it from the internet. The internet is rarely wrong. At least not with Ken Ken). There’s a non-intuitive part where the order for subtraction doesn’t matter for Ken Kens. I might not have made that clear to Oscar.

“See? It worked out,” I say.

Me hubiera dicho,” he replies. You could have told me. And he walks back to his table to work.


Usted is not a new term to me, but its usage still fascinates me. Despite having been surrounded by it for 2 years, I’ve only really begun to understand when and how it’s used in the last year. And as usual, it really only goes to show me that, even when my kiddos are driving me crazy (to be fair, probably because I’m driving them crazy), they are still respectful.

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