In the fall of 2009, the company I worked for closed unexpectedly. My mentor and friend, Merrie Sue Holtan, told me that I could become licensed to substitute teach in Minnesota. Having always wanted to be in the classroom, I applied and found a district that needed me. I subbed for 15 days before I took on full-time hours at two writing jobs.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I arrived at an elementary school I had never been to before. I got to the front office at 7:30 a.m. and was directed to my classroom for the day, it was third grade on the second floor.
I had subbed in elementary gym for two days prior to this, but today would be my very first experience as a classroom teacher. I was excited.
I flipped the lights on in the classroom. The little desks were arranged neatly into four rows. It was quiet. I approached the teacher’s desk and saw a pile of books and a lesson plan had been left for me. I went next door and introduced myself to the first grade teacher in that classroom. We got to talking and I mentioned today would be my first day subbing in the classroom. Her face went white.
“The class you have is a…they are…lively. Please let me know if you need help with anything.”
I should have figured it out at that point, but I did not.
The morning was a little rough. Having never seen these books before, much of the lesson plan directing me to the page numbers was Greek.
As I was flipping through books in a panic, the noise level increase. I looked up, tried a clapping technique I had seen another teacher use, and nothing. No one was even paying attention.
I tried again.
I went to the front of the room and turned the lights out.
“Heads down for three minutes!”
In the quiet and the dark I finally found the page I was looking for in the reading lesson.
A paraprofessional who had been working with a student was about to leave the room. She came over and patted me on the shoulder. She whispered, “It’s almost lunch time.” I let out a huff of breath. I guess I was frustrated.
For lunch, I didn’t join the teachers in the teachers’ lounge. I needed quiet. I pulled up a chair at the kidney shaped table in the back of the room, sat on tiny little chair and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I took some deep breaths, enjoyed the silence and prepared for the afternoon lessons.
I picked the third graders up after recess and lunch and there was a buzz in the atmosphere I could not control. I tried everything: clapping, lights out, threats, and bribery. I was at the end of my rope. The room was starting to spin – I had lost control.
I was able to make it through the math lesson. I looked at the clock, time for music class.
I walked the class down to the music room. I stood in the hall as the class made its way inside. The door closed, but I could hear the yelling of the music teacher. One straggler who had given me trouble all morning threw her hands up and said, “Great. We’re already getting yelled at and I’m not even in there yet.”
I started to figure out that it might be the class and not me.
I prepared the next lesson while the students were in music class. Let me tell you, music class is not long enough.
The students exploded in the room, jumped into their desks and prepared for their spelling lesson. I started handing out papers when I heard a child clucking like a chicken. I turned around and gave him the look. I resumed passing out papers when I heard a “buck, buck, buck, buck.” I heard giggling.
He was in trouble.
Once we made it through spelling we had quiet reading time. It was actually quiet. A miracle. As I was sitting at the teacher’s desk, writing out my sub notes for her, I felt a tap on my arm.
A pair of brown eyes shot to the floor, a little boy’s hands went behind his back and the student started to fidget.
“I just want to tell you that I’m really sorry I was clucking like a chicken earlier. It won’t happen again.”
My shoulders relaxed, my face suppressed a smile and my eyes brimmed with tears. I had to get rid of those fast, so I blinked quickly. I accepted the apology and the little boy went back to reading his book.
At the end of the day, every child was accounted for. They headed out the door and I took a deep breath.
I called my Mom on my drive home.
She said, “Sometimes you have good days teaching – and some days you go home feeling like a wet dishrag.”
Dishrag it is.