Once again, the universe has given me some sort of cheap ticket to one of the most raw and intensive storytelling retreats ever created. It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s not for most people, I imagine. Its sense of adventure lives in the uniqueness and unpredictability of every day, every hour. It’s challenging and scary, particularly for an introvert who needs to know nearly everything in advance, thinks about germs too much, and only likes to be touched a maximum of five times per day – preferably on the hand, which can be easily sanitized.
Its name is substitute teaching.
I’ve learned that sixth graders respond with the same amount of respect that you show them, but that they can also smell your fear. Respect and fear can coexist, but they are not interchangeable.
I’ve learned that keeping a trash can near the teacher’s desk is a subtle comfort item for me, in case my anxious disposition doesn’t agree with my brain’s plan for the day.
I’ve learned that if you stand up in front of the classroom, looking moderately put together and adult-ish and tell the students that you are their teacher for the day, they will believe you. I imagine it helps if you believe it yourself, but it seems to work either way.
I’ve learned that if a boy takes off his shoe and you think to yourself, “no way is he going to throw the shoe,” that you should always expect him to throw the shoe.
I’ve learned that I have always taken for granted that learning and processing comes easily to me (and that I’m even more fortunate to have loved school) because it simply does not come easily to every child.
I’ve learned that most of this game is improv and there is no legitimate way to prepare or anticipate what each day may bring.
I’ve learned that these days are a great lesson for life: my job is to show up and do my best to support whatever environment I’m thrown into. The day is going to go how it’s going to go with or without my consent or my attempt to control it and it’s better for everyone involved if I sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride. (And a sense of humor is a mandatory prerequisite for survival here).
I’ve learned that every child has a gift. Some kids are gifted in the classroom, some are gifted on an athletic field, others in the music room. It takes a lot of work, patience, diligence, and grace to help children find their gifts so that they can share them. It’s a worthwhile endeavor.
I’ve learned that it’s really exciting when you spend several hours trying to get a student to understand his assignment and then at the end of the day, he thanks you.
I’ve learned that there is at least one know-it-all (usually somewhere in the front) in every class and if you get stuck or unsure, going to this kid is your golden ticket. He/She will tell you exactly how their teacher does it, in tremendous detail, and will often offer to “show you”. MY GOD, ALWAYS LET THEM SHOW YOU. It’s basically fool proof – you’re getting the child to do a small part of your job for you and making him/her feel empowered at the very same time. Literally everyone wins, except for the Know-Some-Of-It in the second row that is angry and jealous towards know-it-all number one and probably always will be. But you’re only there for a day, you can’t be expected to solve all their problems.
I’ve learned that teachers are superheroes (along with the parents who have to deal with each of the tiny, nose picking miracles when they go home for the day). Teachers of special education classes (and those parents) are extra special superheroes that should be allowed to cut everyone else in the line at Costco for the rest of eternity.