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Things Are Looking Up For This Substitute Teacher

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THINGS ARE LOOKING UP FOR THIS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

It’s only fair that I should share my good news with you, after all the angst I’ve dumped since beginning my new adventure as a substitute teacher. Today I found my sweet spot — with the five-year-olds.

The initial shock & trauma brought on by six days of “teaching” a rambunctious first and second grade class lessened after a week of recovery. I read several books on classroom management in the interim. I then subbed for a few days with a different class of the same age group, and I could tell I was learning some of the tricks of the trade. We saw a play in DC and watched a dance recital, so there were perks, but I still came away feeling that I had been pummeled and crushed and mangled and tossed in the dumpster each afternoon.

I spent one dreadful day administering math tests to fifth graders which made me feel cruel as I watched my fellow non-math compatriots wriggle and sigh and twirl their hair and bounce their legs and stare into space and flunk the test. I knew exactly how they felt. I’ve been there. Heck, if I hadn’t spent the night before practicing fraction equations, I couldn’t have passed it either.

Returning to the Fray

So it was with great trepidation that I returned to school for the first of three days with a dozen kindergartners. I was still wondering if I had misconstrued various spiritual “promptings” regarding this new direction.

I began to put into practice advice from my newly acquired Substitute Teacher Handbook (thanks, R!) such as, “A ratio of one negative to eight positive interactions is recommended.” My time spent poring over the list of “101 Ways to Say ‘Good Job!’” was well worth it. (Though I had to laugh at “Out of sight!” Has anyone said that since 1969?)

I also immediately identified the kid who was going to be trouble (it’s in the eyes and the dimples) and recruited him to be my “special helper.”

Surprisingly, this technique worked like a charm: “The most effective strategy for keeping students on-task is for the teacher to walk around the classroom in a random pattern.” I’m actually pretty good at wandering aimlessly, so this successful “strategy” came easily.

Perhaps it’s not going to be rocket science.

A Full Heart

I touch the kids a lot, pat their heads, rub their shoulders, high-five their little hands. And it turns out it’s OK to smile at kindergartners, whereas smiling at second graders is a major show of weakness and is asking for trouble.

I have a photo of the moment I knew I was in the right place. My little people filed outside for recess and burst onto the playground, only to be stopped in their tracks by the most fascinating and astounding thing they had ever encountered! A major event!

The jungle gym, swing set and sandbox sat empty as the whole class gathered in wonderment around . . . a dead worm being eaten by ants. I joined their circle.

After recess I read them a book called Ten Things You Can Do to Help the Earth and we talked about worms and mice and compost and strawberries. During our afternoon “Meeting for Worship” (it’s a Quaker school), we pondered the question: “Why do I love nature?”

My heart is full tonight. 

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/was-this-teaching-thing-all-a-mistake/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/the-continuing-adventures-of-a-new-substitute-teacher/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/end-of-chapter-one-substitute-teacher/

 

 

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End of Chapter One: Substitute Teacher

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END OF CHAPTER ONE: SUBSTITUTE TEACHER 

My first stint as a substitute teacher — with absolutely no training, mind you — ended as painfully as it began.

Fortunately, nobody got physically hurt. But after a week of wrestling (sometimes literally) with a gaggle of rowdy second grade boys who were testing every limit they could find, something had to give.

My back was the first to go, then my weak ankle, and finally my patience. Consequently, I started my fateful last day with an apology to a little girl I had screamed at the day before. I explained to the whole class that I had never been a teacher before and they were my very first class.

“So I’m trying something new, and we are all doing our best, right?” I concluded.

“But you have kids, don’t you?” asked the precocious little girl to whom I had apologized. I told her I did not. This seemed to shock them all into silence as they reflected on their discovery that not all grown-ups are parents. What on earth are big people for if they aren’t parents?

My purposeful vulnerability and honesty — a big risk — seemed to help. Everyone calmed down and paid more attention to my directions. We got on famously for about ninety minutes. We were all excited about going to watch the sixth-grade class doing a dress rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast.

This break in the routine meant I did not have to teach math (yes, I even have math anxiety about addition and subtraction), and I thought it would be a treat for the children.

The Saint and the Beasts

I did not realize what “a break in the routine” means for kids this age. It is not a good thing. I learned the importance of routine when my Mom had dementia, and the same rules apparently apply to kids, especially those struggling with behavioral and emotional problems.

When we got back from the play, one of the boys raced to the classroom, pushed in the button on the door knob, and slammed the door. We were all locked out in the hall. Mortifying substitute-teacher moment. The children thought this was a major crisis and got all riled up, but the head of the lower school came to our rescue, unlocked the door and calmed them down.

She also told the class they were lucky I was a saint.

The rest of the day was a test of my sainthood as the kids got increasingly loud and aggressive. Several boys got in trouble for fighting on the playground at recess, and the “take a break” corners were full all afternoon. Then, as we prepared for dismissal, two boys strapped their backpacks to their bellies and began charging into each other like bulls, careening around the room and endangering the other kids who were obediently sitting in our “closing circle” on the floor.

I did not yell this time. I merely took both boys by the shoulders, escorted them to the door and told them to go to the front office and tell them why they had been banished.

Another student told me that those boys “are not known for doing what they’re told,” so I looked down the hall and saw that they had been collared by the woman who had dubbed me a saint. I guess her patience was thin, too. She suspended both boys.

I was devastated.

Who suspends a second grader?? This could scar them for life!! They were already struggling! They would end up in jail or drug addicts or worse!! What had I done??

I knew the teacher I was replacing would be unhappy. She loves those kids. And so did I, as it turned out. 

Perspective

I came home feeling like a total failure.

“I almost made it,” I wailed to my neighbor J, relating how I had sent the kids to the front office a mere ten minutes before the end of my six-day adventure.

“No, you *did* make it,” she said. “The boys are the ones who almost made it.”

“But I got them suspended!”

“No,” J said again. “They got themselves suspended.”

Oh. Right.

Last night, I dug out my books on codependency, a mindset which among other things causes you to think that you know what’s best for everyone else and that you can “save” everyone and are responsible for doing so.

“My God, I’m completely codependent with second-grade boys,” I said to a friend. “I just felt so powerless to help them.”

“You did help them,” she said. “You kept them safe, and you taught them that there are consequences for their actions. You gave them time to think.”

Thank the Lord that I have time to think, too.

I need some distance and perspective. And if I’m going to teach, I need some much stronger emotional boundaries.

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