Thursday, March 11, 2010

Little Steps - Big Steps

“Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Oh, this would so much easier if I wasn’t color-blind!”

- Donkey, from the film “Shrek”

I must’ve been tired this morning because while I drove to my sub job, I had to keep reminding myself of where I was going. I passed by the high school, made my way to Harvard Square’s roundabout, and reached the fork. Right or left? One day last week was right, but today - left. Then I reached an intersection. Left or straight? A few weeks ago it was left, but today - straight.

The job was to teach Spanish, in a classroom where I’ve taught several times*. The plans: to show a Spanish cartoon to all of the classes. When I saw the DVD, my heart dropped because it was the SAME movie I’d showed half of the classes in December. I didn’t bring any supporting materials because I’d already used them up the first time I taught these groups in December, when the teacher left me without plans. I knew they wouldn’t accept doing the same handouts.

Because I wasn’t sure which classes had seen the film and I didn’t think it would hold their interest, I decided to have a Plan B. (Luckily, it turned out that none of the groups I taught had seen the DVD in December.) Knowing I’d made mountains of copies for this teacher in December, I found a Spanish color-in-flowers and crossword handout. It was for third-graders, but experience has taught me that even seventh-graders like doing what younger kids do. Just because they act big (and often, obnoxious), doesn’t make them big.

According to the plans, the eighth-graders were going on a field trip, so I had first period off. Except that seventh-graders started filing in because they have first period. I offered them the option of drawing, coloring, or just paying attention to the movie. Everyone chose coloring or drawing. Some handed them in, while others asked to keep the papers. After two girls were done, they asked if they could play with the plastic food. No joke. So I let them, but when the boys tried to get silly with the girls, I actually had to say, “If you have a food fight, I have to take the plastic food away.”

The seventh-graders left, so I was going to have a big break, except that the eighth-graders showed up. Apparently, they weren’t leaving for twenty-minutes. I gave them the same offer of drawing and coloring. This time, all the boys wanted to draw, while all the girls wanted to color.

The next students were a big group of fifth-graders who talked and colored during the movie (In all fairness, the movie was completely in Spanish). A couple of girls liked coloring so much that I had to dig up another two-sided page – this time with butterflies and a rainbow.

After lunch, Montessori four and five-year-olds came, so the three-year-olds could rest/engage in a battle to nap. One boy needed his own assistant. Except for blurting out, he seemed like most of the kids his age, until he spit.

First I heard the noise. Then I heard the accusation, “He spit!”

I came over to investigate. “Where did he spit?”

The girl pointed to a dollop of saliva. “On the floor.”

“I kneeled by the boy (avoiding the spit). “You’re not allowed to spit. You need to take a break”

He refused to move, so I took his coloring page for a minute, and then asked if he would be able to refrain from spitting. He agreed that, yes, he would be able to refrain from spitting.

After I handed him back his paper, the woman in charge of him came over to ask me what happened, so I relayed the spitting episode. She whispered, “He has a problem with saliva. He makes too much or something. He stopped spitting on other people, which is a BIG STEP. He also stopped kicking people, which is another BIG STEP.”

I’ve been coughing up phlegm all day, but have refrained from spitting anywhere, so I felt proud, but I didn’t mention that. I was glad that the boy kept from spitting for the rest of class, even when another girl accused him of being “children”.

She continued, “You’re children until you’re eleven or sixteen.”

“I am not children!” he insisted.

I intervened. “But you’re a child. You’re all children.” Oh, forget it.

The last class of little people went even smoother - without even one incident of spitting.

I wonder about kids like him. Why does he make too much saliva, and why on earth does he need to spit it out? After pressure from adults to reign in his behavior, will he act like the “normal” children in his class? Or will he adopt new, and increasingly disturbing behaviors, with each one being repressed by adults like the game “Whack-a-Mole”? Sadly, I think it’s more likely to be the latter. When I’ve dealt with older students who have behavioral issues, their kindergarten teachers often relay horror stories of these students’ younger selves. Hopefully, he keeps taking BIG STEPS.


Yesterday, I forgot to mention that my previous post “Book Arsenal I” appeared on “The Bus Stop: Stedi” website for substitute teachers. The link is on the right. “Book Arsenal II” will post on 03/17. I’ve just written a “Book Arsenal III”, which I’ll post here in a few days.

* These are other instances of teaching Spanish at this school:

**Here’s my Book Arsenal Post on this substitute teacher site:


  1. Hi

    Oh good grief! The spitting boy... that's like, whoa, red flag - definitely issues going on here that need to be addressed.! I mean why not teach him how to spit (if it's a medical issue and can't be helped) - like in a tissue to be disposed of properly! But if it's a behavioural thing..

    "I'm not children". I do like that! It's so innocent in its own way!

    I like how the kids took to drawing and colouring! That's just really sweet apart from playing silly with the plastic food!

    And poor you. Still with your cold!

    Take care

  2. Old Kitty, my feeling is that one can always swallow extra saliva instead of using it as a weapon. Pregnant women have more spit (don't ask), yet from what I can tell, they're not spitting (Drooling on the pillow is another matter).

    The cold is nearly gone, but now I think I have a stomach virus. All of these kids are carrying too many germs!

  3. Oh darn it, I was hoping you would get another 4 hour writing shift today!

  4. Theresa,

    This post cracked me up. "I’ve been coughing up phlegm all day, but have refrained from spitting anywhere, so I felt proud, but I didn’t mention that." Too funny gf....thanks for the laugh. I am learning so much about the world of substituting from your blog. Whew!

  5. Well, I guess spitting isn't as bad as kicking wonder how these kids are going to interact in the adult world when they grow up??

    It must be hard to drive to different locations all the time! I'd always get lost and forget which one I was going to. Thank goodness I've had the same jobs for years.

  6. Karen G, I wanted another four hours too! Maybe tomorrow, but probably not since it's a Friday. Teachers tend to take off on Fridays.

    VKT, it wasn't hard to make the comparison! Aren't you glad that you never subbed?!

    Aubrie, I guess kicks are worse than spitting, but less gross.

    Usually I'm fine with the driving, but today it got to me. My inner-writer wanted to stay home.

  7. You're getting some really good stuff for your writing with all these sub jobs. "You're children until you're eleven or sixteen" and "I an not children!" Those are some funny lines. I'll be hoping you get a day off to write tomorrow!

  8. Everytime I read your teaching-related posts, I am always in awe of how you just roll with it!

    And yes, great material for your writing!

  9. Susan, after all this time, I still can't believe what they say. I follow the "Look at My Happy Rainbow" blog, and everyday one of his kindergarten students says something funny.

    Tallli, after all these years, I guess I do roll with it. Once, I saw a student stab another in the head with a pencil during recess, so after that, everything else has been pretty tame.

  10. She continued, “You’re children until you’re eleven or sixteen.”

    “I am not children!” he insisted.

    I'm still laughing. What a hilarious exchange.

  11. Empty Refrigerator, it was like she knew that she was still "children", but couldn't quite figure out when she would no longer be "children". She was on the right track with guesses in the double-digits.

  12. Hi Theresa, Very entertaining post, I have to say of all things kids (or adults) do, spitting is the worst. But you handled it, cool as a cucumber as usual,
    Was thinking your four categories would make a great book title for you,
    'Teacher, Writer, Domestic and Miscellaneous'
    describes my life without the teacher bit. Have a great weekend.

  13. Thanks, Brigid. If the kid had spit on me instead of the floor, I may not have been so cool about it.

    I like your blog's name "Sort of Witty". Just as I struggle with the term "aspriring" for writer, "domestic" sounds funny for the home parts, but it seemed the best way to categorize it.

  14. Hi Theresa, I laughed from the beginning to the end of your post. I often have those doubts about where I am going, unlike you though I am always going to the same place so what does that tell you.

    A spitting boy! Not pretty. You did well though. Hope you got back on writing schedule today. A

  15. Hey there!
    Okay- I am a pediatric nurse who deals with special needs kids all the time... and I have seen a lot of stuff... from all parts of the body, but saliva...EWWW! It's vomitricious!

    And I wanted to let you know you won my MONDAY GIVEAWAY!!! Contact me so I can get this sent out to you!

  16. Ann, I hear you. Sometimes I forget where I'm going when it's the same places too.

    Sadly, no writing schedule today. MATH!

    Dawn, vomitricious! I'm using that the next time there's something related to spit, or worse, vomit.

    I can't believe I won the Monday giveaway! You can't see me jumping up and down. I'll be right over!

  17. "...experience has taught me that even seventh-graders like doing what younger kids do. Just because they act big (and often, obnoxious), doesn’t make them big."

    So true! I love your observations in the classroom; I definitely relate.

  18. Shelley, it's funny that they even look older (especially the girls), but are really still so young.