Thursday, June 6, 2013

Substitute Teaching: Elementary, Mr. Broom

I substituted for an elementary teacher for the first time last week. I was originally slated to take a 4th grade class all day, but ended up having them in the morning, then a 5th grade class in the afternoon. The teachers had left detailed lesson plans, which helped immensely. I think my greatest apprehension regarding teaching grade school kids had been the prospect of being in a classroom with 30 kids, not knowing what to do to keep them occupied.

I liked my 4th grade class. There were some trouble makers, of course, but by and large it went well. One of the more memorable moments was when Ellie, a little blonde girl, asked me, "Are you married yet?" Mark kidded me about that, being hit on by a 10-year-old girl.

One of my biggest challenges so far in virtually all of my classes has been how to maintain discipline. I don't like nor do I want to yell at the kids. As I've written about before, that's one of the biggest complaints kids have about substitutes: they yell and "aren't nice." So I tried my best to be nice, believing the kids would respond to it.

Apparently, however, at least a couple of teachers thought I wasn't being strict enough. When I took the class to the computer lab, an aide from another class dressed down a couple of my boys quite sharply. As she walked back to her seat, she told me, "Their behavior is unacceptable. They're testing you and you have to respond forcefully." She then made a comment about what a difficult class they are.

Later, when I was walking them back to class, and some of them were a little rambunctious,  I got a very dirty look from a scarecrow of a woman walking the other way. Sometimes, I have felt a bit like Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) in "The Bells of St. Mary's" when he tells the kids on his first day there that they can have the rest of the day off, only to be roundly scolded by the Mother Superior for such a flagrant breach of discipline. 

Nevertheless, I try to be respectful of the children, and I think they respond to this. There was one particularly troublesome boy in my 4th grade class whom some of the other kids told me had been a perpetual troublemaker. He was living up to his reputation. But the thing is, I could tell that he is very intelligent. So when he was disturbing the class in the computer lab, I walked up to him, leaned over and quietly told him, "Look, I know you're very intelligent, so why don't you show me what you are capable of doing on your project in the next 15 minutes." He went to work.

I guess I did ok. When I left the class that day after the regular teacher had returned to the classroom, several of the kids - including Mr. Troublemaker - put their hands up as I walked by to give me a high five. Cool. It's nice to be liked.

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