Saturday, August 31, 2013

Facts of Life

One day, I may write a book to forever remember the things that happen while I am substitute teaching. The working title: Go Easy on the Sub. While I realize that's a pretty small niche of people, I'm hoping to also attract Navy personnel and people who like sandwiches. I'll have a strong opening so that even those in the military are captivated.

It's a little challenging to write about my experiences with fill-in-teaching because I want to protect the privacy of kids who don't belong to me. My own children have no choice in the matter because I feed them, bathe them and generally provide for their well-being. It's a trade off. I raise them and they, in turn, give me good writing material. As far as these other kids go, though, I don't really want my blog getting hauled into court as evidence in some libel suit. Also, I don't want to get fired. I've never lost a job before and if I can survive the Summer from Hell without getting fired, I can survive substitute teaching. Fact.

I've experienced some really hilarious things in my short six months as An Undisclosed District employee. I've heard the funniest things come out of the mouths of kindergartners. I've had an entire class refer to me as Mrs. Pumpkin because I made the mistake of saying, "My name is Mrs. Doozleberry* but that's a little hard to remember so you can call me Mrs. D** if you want to. Actually, you can call me whatever you want. I'll even answer to Hey You." They were cute five-year-olds. I never really saw the Pumpkin thing coming. But it is what it is and now, sometimes, I tell classes that they can call me Mrs. Doozleberry or Mrs. D or Mrs. Pumpkin. It breaks the ice and lets them know that I'm not one of those subs--the kind I seemed to have for all of my formative years. The awful, old and outdated kind.

There have been words of encouragement and affirmation. There was the time that my teacher-friend told me the third grade class I'd subbed for said I was, "The best book reader of all time." And to think, my kids get that for free every night. Those boys don't know how good they have it. I've decided to lead with that from now on.

"What do you do?" someone will ask.

"Well," I'll reply. "For starters, I'm the best book reader of all time."

There have been frustrating times of lesson plans written in a dead language and next to impossible to decipher if not left with the proper code. I've powered through. I've had the teacher sitting in the room, watching my every move, because she decided she really needed to come in and do reading groups even though she needed the rest of the day off. See, some teachers don't understand that I actually know how to take a baggie book out, have a student read it, and then replace it with a new book.

But nothing--NOTHING--was quite as remarkable as what happened to me yesterday. But let me go all the way back to Monday.

I headed in to the school nearly a week ago and, as I walked, I heard students shouting things like, "Yes! First day of school! Wahoo!" I was immediately alarmed. Subbing. For first graders. On the first day of school? This sounded like a complicated recipe for nothing short of disaster. As it turned out, I was there to fill in for a teacher who'd lost her father the day before. It wasn't a big deal. They didn't actually start until Tuesday and I only had 15 minute interviews with all the students. I showed them their restroom, their spot to line up, their homework assignment. It was painless. I told most of the parents that I would probably be back for a portion of the week.

Their teacher managed to be with them on Tuesday and Wednesday. She left me detailed lesson plans for Thursday and Friday. We made it through Thursday with no major problems. Her form of disciplinary action is a yellow card on their desk that says, "Substitute." There's a little poem written on the card about expected behavior. She told me to punch a hole in the card if the student was taking too long to finish, had behavioral issues or was disrespectful. For great behavior, they could earn stickers.

On Thursday I punched three holes and gave out three stickers. Because, you know, I like to live a life of balance.

One student earned a punch for always delaying the class--despite my many efforts to get him to stay on task.

Another kid had to be asked multiple times to stop talking. Finally, during the second half of the day, when the entire class was quiet and focused on me, he shouted, "THIS IS BORING! I HATE DOING THIS! IT'S BORING!" I'd had it with constantly telling this child to be quiet and the blatant disrespect earned him a quick hole punch. We'd already reviewed what it meant to be respectful and how we stay on task. I explained to the class that shouting out our feelings of boredom was unacceptable. Later, another student chose to voice her opinion about being bored. She also received a hole punch. What I found odd was that it wasn't even close to the most boring thing we'd done that day. It was actually kind of fun. It was nearing the end of the day. They were tired. I have a first grader and I get it. But I have to follow the instruction left for me by their teacher. These hole punches are not the end of the world, by any means, and I counted the day a success.

Yesterday, I walked out the door with a smile on my face, ready to start the day. I was met by a line of happy first graders. Suddenly, a woman was quickly walking toward me. She got right up beside me. I don't have much of a space bubble, ask anyone who knows me. I'll hug anything. But this woman was IN THE BUBBLE, Y'ALL. She immediately told me who's mother she was.

"My child said he got his card punched yesterday. I need to know exactly what happened," she demanded.

Now remember, the bell has rung. I'm there to collect twenty students and take them to class. It's not actually the time for this conversation to be happening. I explained the nature of the cards to this woman. I informed her of the kind of behavior that can earn a punch.

"Right," she said, clearly dismissive. Clearly not hearing me but, rather, giving me the opportunity to speak while she formed her next sentence. I know this tactic because, when I'm being a real gem, it's what I find myself doing when I'm having a disagreement with my husband. "So, now he has to stay in at recess because you've decided to punish him for that?"

"No," I said, smiling. Attempting to defuse the bomb. "I'm not punishing him at all. It's just my way to communicate any issues with the teacher."

"So, because he speaks his mind, he's going to get in trouble when his teacher gets back. That's unacceptable," she was becoming more and more agitated by the second.

"Okay..." I began. It became apparent to me, after I replayed the entire conversation in my head, that I used the word okay way too many times. The problem was, I was so caught off guard, so surprised, that logical thinking was severely lacking. "Well, the rest of the class was quiet. I was instructing. He said it very loudly so it was a distraction--"

"Right. Listen. I'm an educator. Not only do I work with elementary schoolers, I work in special education...."

I thought to myself, "Apparently now she's sharing her resume with me as an intimidation tactic. A 'Clearly I have a higher education level than you do, therefore I must be right.' kind of move."

"...and I would never discipline a child in such a way. My child is entitled to share his feelings. He was bored. He should be able to express that freely. It's not his fault you're boring."

Oh. Wow. Did she really just argue that her child should be able to share his feelings regardless of situation and without consequence? Because being raised with this kind of garbage for instruction is going to get him approximately no where in life. AND I AM NOT BORING! Don't choke her. Maintain smile. Keep smiling. Wait...too much smiling. Stop smiling, you're about to start laughing. Fix this ridiculous situation. Keep talking quietly to counter her anger. 

"Okay," I said...again. "It's just that it was very disrupti--"

"Disruptive. I don't really think so. What happened is that he expressed his feelings and your pride got hurt so you took it out on him. Right?"

"No, my pride wasn't hurt at all," I said quietly, kindly, even, which took all the years of my theatrical training to accomplish.

"Yes. It was. Your pride was hurt because you're boring."

Thanks for telling me how I feel but my pride isn't going to be wounded because some kid thinks that the lesson plans his teacher left for me to do are boring. Lady, your kid is SIX. I hate to break it to you but he's not actually capable of destroying my pride.

"Well--" I tried to say something.

"Like I said, I'm an educator. This is not acceptable. I'm not satisfied with your response..."

Because you haven't given me a moment to respond.

"...So I'll be bringing this up with the teacher. And I'll be taking it to the principal. I don't expect to see you back here."

What exactly do you think is going to happen? Do you think they're going to cart me off to the slammer and you'll get to come testify at my trial?

"Okay, I understand," I said. Except, really, I didn't. It was like talking to an irrational eight-year-old in a grown woman's body. I have my own first grader. I know that they can be disruptive, disrespectful and strong-willed. The first grader is NOT always right. Even if I disagree with the choice a teacher makes, I realize that she is with my child (and twentysomething other kids) ALL DAY LONG. You can bet that, in the same situation, if I strongly disagreed with her, I would have said, "I don't agree with the course of action you took but I respect your position as his teacher and I'll talk to my child about not doing it again." Because my child needs to learn that we don't always agree but we do always treat authority with respect.

I marched that first grade class into their room. I was boiling with rage. As I began to teach I prayed silently that God would help me not to blame the child for the sins of the mother. He's six. He processes and reacts to situations with all the experience of six years. His adult mother doesn't have the same excuse. Not so incredibly, the child had a fantastic day. I called him back to the teacher's desk and quietly explained that getting a hole punch didn't mean I didn't like him or that we had any kind of problem with each other. We fist bumped. They exploded into fireworks. He smiled. He didn't talk out of turn. He didn't blurt out disrespectful things. I'm no genius and I don't actually have an education degree, but it seems to me, the hole punch worked.

During recess I told a couple teachers so that they would be aware of the situation if the regular teacher asked. "What does she expect to happen?" one of the teachers questioned.

"I guess she wants to get me fired from this school," I replied.

"Well, that's not going to happen," one of them said. "We really like you."

I left the regular teacher a detailed note chronicling the situation and I found the principal during lunch.

"Did a mom come in to visit you this morning?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

"Oh, well, she will," I warned.

Without asking a single question to gain perspective on the situation, he said, "How far did she fly when you hit her?"

I laughed and said, "I didn't. I just wanted to." Then I proceeded to fill him in. He affirmed that I had followed the teacher's instruction, that I acted completely within the boundaries of a student/substitute relationship, and that he, too, liked me and wanted me to return to the school.

So, it would seem, the mother just wanted to threaten me. She wanted to let me know that she's an educator and I'm just a stupid substitute. She knows how to handle children and I, apparently, don't. She knew nothing of the high schoolers I taught--as their regular teacher. She knew not of the two small children I raise. She had no idea of my own resume. She, it would seem, was the one who wanted to try to hurt my pride. She was unsuccessful.

It would also seem that, contrary to what she believes, we don't always get away with it when we speak our minds. Whether we are six or thirty-six. As a friend of mine said, "She needs to have her card punched."

**Not the initial I gave them

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