Despite the fact that today, Sunday, I am spending doing as little as possible (besides relaxing, that is), I’m usually quite a thrill seeker. I find myself getting bored with life when everyday is “same old story, same old song and dance”. Perhaps that was the underlying reason for my submitting my application to the Wake County Public School System for substitute
teaching. Or, perhaps it was because I actually think kids are pretty cool, I want them to learn more, and I found the extra side cash appealing. The first substitute teaching job I signed up for was actually on accident. In a 10pm bleary-eyed frenzy, I had just downloaded an app on my phone that would send me an email when there are teaching jobs available; this way, I avoid the 6:22AM phone call from the Aesop system which sends out the proclamation for the morning and upcoming jobs. I was trying to navigate my way through the app when a job popped up for the next day. It was a half a day and I just so happened to have the day off from work, so I clicked “Accept”. “Congratulations! You are now assigned to job #34348938083,” my screen declared. It was, much to my surprise, as easy as that! In fact, I have to be ultra-careful every time I check my phone to make sure I don’t swipe a stray pinkie and end up at the School of Hard Knocks for a weeklong assignment.
I slept lightly that night, anticipating a blog-worthy story, wondering if I was ready to face 25 voracious 4th graders, and looking forward to making new friends with whom I could play hopscotch or matchbox cars with.
I arrived with ample time, pulled into the parking lot fearlessly, found my way to the office, received the lesson plans for the day and scurried my way up the bathroom, which I knew I would be using for likely the last time in several hours. One of the many reasons I would not make a great full-time teacher, I don’t have the bladder for it. Or the guts, for that matter.
The lesson plans were extremely detailed and laid out step-by-step instructions. This teacher was obviously well-prepared and had high expectations for her students. At 1:07, on the dot, I was to pick up the class from lunch. I meandered downstairs into the cafeteria where I had to duck to avoid oncoming food being thrown across the room, and dodge a sludge of blue jello being slam-dunked into the garbage can I foolishly chose to stand close to. I was greeted by Nisseem, Tyrese, Suzette, Oscar, Dahlia, Michelle, and many others, and instantly walked into blur of questions, at least two questions per child, which in case your 4th grade math is not up to par, that’s a total of 50 questions.
“Who are you?” “Are you our substitute?” “Have I gotten any points yet?” “Are we done?” “Are you going to call the Mudcats to get in line next?” “Do you like Jello?” “Are you going to read to us when we get upstairs?”
I told them I would answer all of their questions once we got to the classroom and dismissed their tables one by one into a quiet….well….it was supposed to be quiet…..line. At least five times during being lined up, kids would escape the line to come ask me if they had any “reminders”. These reminders are when I write their name down and they accrue bad points against them. The teacher asked me to give them any that I needed to as she works up a total for each child for each week.
On our way from the cafeteria to the classroom, the kids are allowed to use the bathrooms. They have two “bathroom monitors” which ensure that only four children go to the bathroom at one time. This is their only opportunity to go between Science and until after PE is finished. After everyone had gone, we walked up the stairs, with several mandatory pit stops to ensure everyone in the group was with us, and up to the classroom. Once inside, I felt calmer, and at the same time, petrified. I started to feel self-conscious like the unsure 10-year old, I once was. Will they like me? What if they think Im too mean? What if they tie me up and start waging WW III in the classroom? Did that kid just give me a dirty look? I wonder if he’s talking about me with his friends….
I got over myself and began following the instructions the teacher wrote down for the lesson. Much of what I was telling them to do was met with protests and loudly announcing “We already DID that! We want to read! Can you read to us!?” I navigated my way through several challenging moments, and then we got to the interesting part of the lesson, Chemical and Physical Weathering. You know, like when rocks get sanded down by a river and become nice, smooth stones. Or when large pieces of rock break into smaller, more manageable stones thanks to acid rainfall or water erosion? That’s weathering. We had all of five minutes to spend on that before it was time for the kids to pack up their stuff, make the room neat, and get in line again. I was still facing a barrage of questions at every turn, and one boy burst into tears thinking I had written his name down on my reminders list. Little did these children know, I’m not quick to give out points –brownie or otherwise. After quelling the boy’s fears about his pending doom, and making sure everyone else was still in good spirits, I managed to drop them off with the PE teacher without incident. Then I got to go “relax”; time I used to write my notes to the teacher telling her what a great class she had and how smoothly things went, and how little time we had to complete the lesson.
I don’t know how teachers do it! Half their day seems to be transporting kids to and from bathrooms, lunch, and then getting them ready for the transitions by lining them up, quieting them, and telling them they’ll get in trouble if they’re not quiet! When does the learning happen?!
I never went to school for fourth grade, so I had no idea that it was run with such pristine regiment. I know routine serves kids best, and so I was quite impressed by how the routine was so defined and timely.
This experience had me reminiscing and missing school, the easy path to success, if only you study and follow the clearly laid guidelines, the daily routine that leaves you feeling safe and comforted, and the plethora of friends to meet. Not to mention, I love learning and I love school; it is to me, one of the best feelings in the world when you’re mind is simultaneously open and BLOWN in coming to new realizations and acquiring new facts. I only hope that kids today get to feel this, of how amazing the learning process can be.
I know they are looking to change a lot of things about our educational system as we know it, I think that’s absolutely fantastic and I hope it further challenges children to really latch onto and grasp topics that interest them.
And maybe my next subbing opportunity will result in a better story….