Pretty tired this week, as I get used to a heavier schedule of subbing–this week in middle school as usual but also a bit of time with kindergarteners, second graders and fourth graders on a “float”day. With kindergarteners I told and illustrated a story about a spider who built a web in my car and caught two flies. The little boy who had arrived just a few days before and spoke only Chinese copied the drawing in his story book and and then the sentence written below it–perfectly. Later whispered something in my ear in Chinese. The other children wanted to convince me he couldn’t do this, couldn’t understand that, and I had to correct them, saying that they he would soon, just look at what he’d accomplished in the little time he’d been in the country. We reviewed colors, numbers, alphabet sounds–I wished I’d brought my ukelele. Later I led a round of pogo count-jumping with extra energetic boys, believing as I do that generally that’s more helpful than trying to get them to sit back down and be quiet. They didn’t want to stop until recess.
I think of my hour with second graders with a shudder, and am so relieved it was a one time job–there were kids poking other kids and making them cry, a kid doing a hip wiggly dance to entertain everyone while I was trying to explain an activity, lots of hands-on math games with no instructions and lots of small parts that got all mixed up and spread around, boys who got on the rolling cart of the computer maintenance guy and wanted to ride out of the room on it, and waves of children who couldn’t wait for their question or comment or story to be told and were blurting and mobbing me as I tried to get things rolling, others walking around visiting, causing trouble, everything so noisy, and I not knowing the signals and rituals for quiet down, sit down. No chance to get a handle on any kids’ names, since they were supposed to be rotating to different activities, and couldn’t keep their teams straight so eventually there was a table with eight kids and another with two. And a backdrop of cooperative kids ready to play the games and listen to the story and keep their hands to themselves, but could they get what they needed in the chaos? No, and I felt sorry for them. I asked the paraeducator to help get the kids to their right places, and she used the good old riot act, same one with which the regular teacher left us. Recess was a blessing, as they ran joyfully with the gusts of wind whipping up and around the soccer field and across the playground. Rumor was among the teachers that the wind was playing havoc with the kids’ spirits, winding them up to no end. Then it was back inside to try to get them to copy down words in their agendas until their teacher returned from her meeting, with frowns and stern words.
This week I also encountered middle school boys who had personally made jam and relish–the relish maker sure his recipe would be a prize winner. I asked seventh and eighth graders if they thought Google’s motives for getting internet access to remote areas of the globe by means of helium balloons was motivated purely by altruism (the only reason that was mentioned in the article they were reading), described ways to get to college without graduating from high school, read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and tried to avoid a teacher’s request that I line up a class by height, thinking it might be hurtful but finding out later it was for the purpose of arrangement in a choir. I saw a teacher show her class how to do a certain math problem, leave it illustrated on the board, and then hand me a stack of math assessments to give them as a test, with the exact question on it that she had shown them. Corruption or subversion, I don’t know.
My daughter said a curious thing after I went on a bit about how I really wanted to treat my time with students as important, that I didn’t want them to get the impression that because they had a sub it would be nothing much today. How I wanted to teach real lessons, facilitate real learning, and not just monitor study hall or games like Heads Up Seven Up. She said with conviction, “Mom, you care! You should teach; you should be a teacher, and not just a sub. Subs don’t care!” I said, Really? And she told me it was true, that most subs were just there, just got through the day, maybe had fun or were entertaining or nice, but their purpose was not education. Her words have been ringing in my ears the last few days. Don’t care? It’s true that I have heard numerous times in my brief encounters with other subs that they had come out of retirement because they were bored, so I suppose in a way my daughter was right. Still, maybe it’s a problem of low expectations that the system has of us, perhaps out of not wanting to impose unreasonable ones. Yes, we are told what we do is appreciated, but no one alludes to any real educational contribution, and there seems to be a sense of surprise when a sub can teach, or touch a heart, or bring something really valuable into the experiences of students. Or even bring a sense of refreshment, a different perspective about the children themselves, about the topics of study, the methods of work, or the atmosphere of a classroom. There’s mainly the hope that the work gets done somehow, and the kids behave.
I’m going to try out a more “regular” job next week, teaching high school biology for someone who’s out on sickness or injury, not sure how many weeks. It will be a good opportunity to get more familiar with high school work and expectations, high school professional atmosphere, see if I fit there. And, as they say, “get my foot in the door.” I’m glad to have the opportunity, but I have mixed feelings about committing to anything long term, if that opportunity comes up. Still, I might love it, and would consider it, providing I can sharpen up my biology knowledge and work it in with my present home responsibilities. Will I miss my middle schoolers? Will I enjoy the change to less emotional/intuitive work, more intellectual/organizational stuff? And will I be able to find the right shoes?