Stories of A Substitute Teacher

This past year, as both of my kids are in school, I've been substitute teaching. Yes, it's quite the glamour career as portrayed in many a movie and television show. Quite lucrative, too, I might add.

Actually, for the most part, I enjoy it. It enables me to be there for my kids (which was the main reason for going back to subbing at this point--still the desire for a "stay-at-home" parent who can bring in some income). I can pick and choose when and where I want to work. I don't have to bring work home at all. And some days I feel like I made a difference.

When I started out, I put my name in at several of the school districts nearby (well, it wasn't as easy as just "putting my name in"). I learned which school districts and specific schools were more enjoyable to work at, and I found that even though the pay was less, often working as a paraprofessional was worth it rather than having the added stress that comes as a substitute teacher. Plus, I get to work more closely with students.

At this point, I've mainly been working at a school district that is entirely for students with various special needs (which I've found I really enjoy, and it's a good place to work--even if I am now trained in how to handle a situation where a student is biting me or grabbing my hair or choking me) and my kids' school. I've been at my kids' school 8 of the last 10 days in the same class. It's been enjoyable. I know the kids pretty well by now (it's a Montessori class of Kindergartners and 1st Graders--I teach the 1st Graders, though I work some with all the students).

Some of the school districts trained us not to touch a student in any way whatsoever. I understand the rationale behind this, but I don't believe it is healthy. Thankfully, the boys' school isn't like that. Kinders and 1st Graders like to hold hands with teachers when walking through the halls. It provides security. They also like to scoot up close to you while sitting in group circles. I give a pat on the back to affirm a student or a quick hug to console them. And the students clearly desire touch (psychologists have long affirmed it as a need of human beings); they will grab your hand or thrust their arms around you. I'm sure--especially in the very urban setting of our school--that many don't get much touch (at least healthy touch) at home.

Another thing that's often fairly clear is the students who have parents who care about their education. Some parents treat school as a babysitter. Or as the sole responsible party for their child's upbringing. Others are clearly engaged with their children at home (rightly believing that education isn't solely compartmentalized to a school building or school time hours), not pushing their children, but supporting them (including giving boundaries and discipline). It makes a huge difference.

I'm also reminded of how education has changed. When I was in elementary school we had one 15 minute recess in the morning, 30 minutes after lunch, and 15 minutes in the afternoon. We had an afternoon snack of bread-and-butter and milk. When it was someone's birthday, we all made cards for that student (and the birthday child received birthday "spankings" from the teacher).

Today, recesses are rare (and short) at many schools. Lunch is usually the only food during the day (other that before school breakfast). And birthdays get a brief nod. At my boys' school, they get one recess, but it's a fairly lengthy one, right before lunch and often some outdoor playtime at the end of the day every so often. Families are assigned to bring healthy snacks for the students a few times during the year. And birthdays are made special. Often a year-by-year timeline of the student's life is made and brought in by their parents. Each student gives the birthday child a special wish (while dropping a grain of rice or a bean into a piece of fabric which will be tied up and given to them for good dreams as they sleep). I have been able to be a part of these events and appreciate the acknowledgement that more than just the testing facts are needed for a student to learn and thrive.

Tomorrow I'll be back at school with the Kindergarten-1st Grade class. It's been a long week, and there have been plenty of frustrating moments of getting students to do their work or stop misbehaving, but I'm looking forward to being with those kids again. In teaching them, I get to learn a lot, too.

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