Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Closing the Floodgates

“If you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never gain their respect and esteem.” – Abraham Lincoln

I received my call the previous evening to substitute at my usual school these days. I feel like subbing has trends – I get comfortable in one school for several days or several weeks, but then I stop getting assigned to them just as another school seems to choose me. I thought perhaps this sixth-grade job was going to be difficult because there was no subject provided, hinting at a self-contained classroom, which might mean that the students were behavioral problems.

These thoughts stayed with me as I turned in last night. As the morning hour approached, I had a nightmare that I was teaching a large class that was so bad, there were four teachers helping keep the students calm (And I forgot to bring my shoes). Just when I seemed to have everything under control (magically wearing shoes again), the building began to come undone, and I knew it was about to collapse, but before I could help the students escape, I woke up. Then I chastised myself by getting rattled by a potential job, which I hadn’t done since those early weeks when I began subbing. Little did I know that my dream was actually foreshadowing what was about to occur.

I began my morning routine without a hitch, but as I was starting to wash my face, the recently flushed toilet began to spew water onto the floor (Thankfully, from the tank). Knowing I’d better get someone more likely to stop the flow than me, I raced to the bedroom, flipped the lamp switch, and screeched, “Hurry!” to my husband. I explained the pipe had opened, so he rushed to stop it, while I grabbed towels from the linen closet. He stopped the water quite quickly, but some piece cracked (see how unqualified I am to fix the toilet), so around 6:20AM, my husband drove to Home Depot, which is now my favorite store because they opened at 6:00AM.

Getting ready in haste, I knew that a tight day had just become tighter, and I tried not to think that if my husband couldn’t fix the toilet, I’d have to cancel the job to wait for a plumber. Right after school, I had my daughter’s parent-teacher conference, then I was taking my kids to the doctor for their seasonal and H1N1 flu shots, and right from there we would head to Taekwondo. My poor kids wouldn’t be home until 7:00PM. When my son woke up, he had to pee in the shower, but my kids rallied, and helped more than usual with their breakfast routine.

The flat iron skimmed my hair, barely flattening it into submission. Then my husband was back about 6:50AM, and had the toilet fixed in about ten minutes. With five-minutes to spare, I kissed everyone, packed the Taekwondo bags, snacks, and games in the car for later, and drove to work.

It turned out the class was the same group of students I’d had for first period Spanish the week before. I recalled that they had a bad reputation, but behaved well for me, but I also knew that not every kid is required to take Spanish, depending on education plans, so that means I didn’t have the whole class. The sixth-grade teacher was there, explaining that she had two meetings today, and would return to teach Math last period. She warned me that the most difficult time would be the reading/writing block, which required a lot of different types of work and focus.

First period, I brought the students to the same Spanish classroom I’d been in the previous Tuesday. The teacher was delighted to see me, and was thrilled with the job I’d done – especially with the small children. “I’ve subbed Montessori quite a few times,” I explained. Then she said that she’d asked woman in charge of the sub line to put me in her classroom three days next week (which would be all the days until Christmas Eve), unless the school planned to use the building sub. I told her I’d be happy to do it. Who knows? As I've said before, the sub line works in mysterious ways.

After Spanish, the students went to PE, and when they returned with an aide, she said that two students were complaining of injuries, but not to let them go the nurse. That was about the worst situation this woman could’ve put me in. Both boys howled about their injuries – one being more obnoxious than the other. I warned them that they couldn’t talk to me like that. Then I realized that the first boy did have a cut on his knee, though I didn’t know if the one who'd said he’d hurt his elbow was really injured. The problem was that the aide had a knee-jerk reaction because these students had bad reputations, but now that she’d made that proclamation and they’d already given made a hard time, I couldn’t cave in so easily.

I had a split second to decide or this issue would plague me for the entire period, if not the rest of the day. In fact, these students could get others to turn against me, opening the floodgates to a myriad of discipline problems. (As you’re reading this, if you’re not a substitute teacher, aren’t you glad that you’re not a substitute teacher?) Deciding to I compromise, I said, “If you complete the three definitions and stop being disrespectful, I’ll let you go to the nurse.”

For a good chunk of time, the rest of reading group went smoothly, until all groups were back in the room to listen to a recording of the book, Esperanza Rising.” Those same boys, plus two others weren’t that into it, so they worked their hardest to be as distracting as possible. But I once again used my awesome powers of persuasion to get them quiet, threatening to stop the tape and read aloud instead, and also offering to give a play-by-play of events to their teacher at the end of the day, but promising if they behaved from then on, my memory might fade).

After lunch, I brought the students to Science class next store. Two of the children were just as disrespectful to this teacher, though he was good at having them sit on a “Take a Break” chair, and if that didn’t work, he brought took them out of the room to talk. After fifteen-minutes, the class ran pretty well. During last period Math, when the regular teacher returned, I noticed that the two problem boys had their rulers taken away by a teacher who came in to provide academic support. They behaved the best for their regular teacher, but they were no angels. In fact, when I mentioned a few of the difficulties, it was clear that they were trying for her as well.

Some classes are challenging, and they only vary in degree, depending on the teacher before them. It is my goal to be one of those teachers that get the best from the worst behaved students. I will keep refining my steadfastness in expectations, hoping it will go a long way towards garnering respect.

I wonder if I did a word wall after today’s post, if it would list “toilet”.


  1. This may be a silly question but isn't there a local cut-off valve on the pipe feeding your tank?

    "aren’t you glad that you’re not a substitute teacher?" Certainly am... Or any kind of teacher of small children.

    I don't have the guts for that job. ; p

  2. Sheila, yep, I'm lucky since I am not.

    @ Alesa, I don't have the guts for the job these days either.