Friday, January 19, 2007

teaching is not parenting

(Last day of the four-day week of my first substitute teaching stint)

It rained today, and that made it a very difficult day at school.

The day is structured so that the kids have significant blocks of free time after intense periods of work, so that they can recharge and run around a bit after sitting still and thinking so hard. The key part of that is the running around, which they can't do when it's pouring outside.

Importantly, when the kids have recess, the teachers get a break, also. Today the only break I got was the 15 minutes I grabbed to wolf down my lunch. I spent most of the school day in some combination of thirsty, cold, and having to pee. Today should have been a three cups of tea day, but I only managed one. And when you don't get breaks and the kids are in a perpetual state of fluster, it's hard to find a chance to get to the bathroom. Without that time for me to recharge my own batteries, I wasn't able to keep on top of the class as well as I had earlier in the week. At any given time having six kids asking you for something is the type of thing that can make your head explode -- that didn't happen, but there were a few times when so many were asking for something at once that at one point I said "yes" to too many people, and so we had half the class working out in the hall, when usually only 3 groups of 2 or 3 are allowed to go! Whoops.

By the end of the day, I pretty much gave up trying to keep them quiet. On a normal day, when they've finished all their work they can have recess until their bus leaves or their parents come to pick them up. Consequently they're geared to finishing stuff up at the end of the day, and that's what they did today. But 2:30 and no work pending on a rainy day is a bit of a disaster, with the class breaking down into groups wanting to play different games, and the limited classroom real estate threatening to turn into a battleground. They left the room a mess and I was too exhausted to make them stay and clean it up.

I felt pretty down by the time I left, because it ended on such a chaotic note. But in looking back over the week I think it's stupid to be disappointed. We covered all of the material that the teacher had left for them to do, and then some. It seemed something strange happened every day, but there were no major crises.

I'm still trying to figure out the best way to handle the Class Wit and the Class Lawyer types. You know, the kids who are very smart and very quick with the funny quip, and will argue with everything you say six ways till Sunday. I've been struggling with this all week, and I think I know why. With my own kids, I really appreciate their jokes and I respect their reasoning ability. So I'm conditioned to respond positively to this kind of behavior, as long as it's respectful.

However, making a joke at the family dinner, or arguing with me about something one-on-one, are very different from doing these things in the classroom. In the classroom, they're a disruption, and they steal time away from everyone. Obviously the solutions are 1) to cut off any response to the witty remarks immediately and 2) to not engage in any kind of back-and-forth with the lawyer types. Knowing this and being able to do this consistently are unfortunately not the same! Practice will help.

After school it took a conscious effort for me to get out of teacher mode and not get all grouchy when the kids were making jokes at dinner. It's hard to switch it off once I get into that mindset, and Lord knows I don't want to squash the fun out of my kids.

This is going to be very interesting, I can tell. Even today, which was a hard day, was still satisfying. My disappointment comes from wanting to do a better job, and be more effective at keeping the classroom at an even keel. I have to remember that for the most part we were on task, and we were certainly on task enough to finish them all; that's huge. And it's really cool that I was comfortable with all the class materials -- I didn't just say, "Open to page X and start reading," we had actual lessons. I taught. That's totally cool.

In spite of the bad day and hard moments, I'm officially declaring success.

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