Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Fifth-Grades

“You’d be


how many ways

I change on Different



Last Wednesday wound up being a decent job (After Music mayhem**). At least, as decent as it gets when one is a daily sub. Last spring, I’d worked for this teacher once or twice. Her plans were clear and thorough, her students were pretty good, and since I’d just left my fifth-grade assistant position, I was comfortable with the material. The teacher had been so impressed with how the class had run, that she requested me another day.

Near the end of the year, I stopped getting called to work at the school, which perplexed me. Each job had gone smoothly, and I knew that the assistant principal had been happy with my performance in that class, and in other classes at that school. But she’s an easy woman to cross, as I knew from teaching her daughter in the fifth-grade the year before (A whole other saga). This mother had a reputation for torturing teachers. In fact, the first time I subbed at her school, I tried to hide my identity, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me with straight hair. She didn’t (whew), but later she saw my name on the sign in sheet (Oh, yeah).

Whatever the reason, I was called back so the teacher could grade assessments. She didn’t have all the papers ready, but she stayed to explain everything in detail. Her class was wonderful, and we went from subject to subject with only mild reminding not to talk needed. And that was just for a few students. Yes, aspiring substitute teachers, there are a lot of jobs out there that go well, and are even pleasant. Even though the only prep I had was first period, and it was actually spent prepping, I wasn’t exhausted by day’s end.

This school is portfolio learning based, so the students spent a couple of hours working on a cell unit. They read packets, completed a crossword puzzle, and began drawing, labeling, and coloring a cell. The Social Studies unit was spent at the computer lab, perusing a Cuneiform website, and answering questions. During quiet reading, they quietly read. A volunteer who’s considering becoming a teacher, came in to teach math. I spent the day supporting the students as they worked, and was able to direct them to their cell projects or math homework if they finished their class work early.

Fast forward to this week. Tuesday morning, I received another call to sub the fifth-grade. There’s a twist - it was for my son’s classroom. I was glad I didn’t know about the job the previous evening, so I didn’t have long to dwell about whether or not it would be weird.

When my son awoke, I told him the news. His voice got a lift. “Really?” After we arrived at the school, he accompanied me to the classroom, giving me a few details about the routine. His teacher was in the room, getting plans ready for me before she went to another floor to grade district assessments. She didn’t write anything down, but explained everything in detail. She had two prep periods, and there would be reading buddies during Reader’s Workshop, so it seemed like it would be an easy day. Would it?

The teacher said that the kindergarteners were learning about moods, and so I’d read a book to the kids, and then the buddies would do some follow up project or read together. Fresh on my mind from my two “Book Arsenal” posts, I brought up, Today I Feel Silly and, One of Those Days. She hadn’t heard of either of them, but wrote down the titles and said she’d speak with the kindergarten assistant and the librarian.

When the fifth-graders came in, they seemed curious that I’d be their teacher. The new ones didn’t know me, so during morning meeting one of them said, “Are you really his mom?” I replied, “I can take his picture out of my wallet to prove it.” They were a good group, mostly focused. When one or two students would get off task, I’d remind them to get back to work. I used my authoritative voice, stance, and face, so they knew I meant business. They were good enough that I could help a student without worrying that the others would take advantage.

There’s one student who often got in trouble, so when he got too silly, I said, “Remember what happened the last time you had a sub? You don’t want to miss another week of school.” Two weeks before, the building substitute was in charge of the class. This boy thought it would be funny to steal her $300 cell phone, and got a friend to play along. They both received out of school suspension.

I have to admit (and am not surprised) that my son had a hard time focusing. During Writing Workshop, I had to remind him to stay focused several times, eventually moving him to a separate seat (His teachers have complained about this since kindergarten). He had a harder time during Math, but by then, they all wanted a break. I said to him, “At least at school, when I nag you I get paid.” All of the students thought that was funny.

When it was time for reading buddies, the assistant came without a book. It was one of those, “I thought you had it,” moments.

I ran to the library. The librarian said, “Oh, I couldn’t the Curtis book. You’re welcome to look for it. If it’s not there, check section 363.”

Not there. “Do you have, My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss?” Ooo, that’s a good one about moods. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

“No. I don’t have that either.”

I spied, The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle, which was very much how I was feeling. I grabbed it, and ran to class. I introduced it by saying, “This is about a chameleon that isn’t happy with himself.” That’s a mood, right?

A few fifth-graders said they wished I were their teacher, which is ridiculous since I wished I had my son’s teacher when I was their age. I think it was just a nice change of pace for them, and a sign that the gig was successful. My son had a smile all day, and proudly repeated that the students liked me.

When I’m blessed with an organized teacher and a group of nice students, being a substitute teacher has some measure of stability. Until next time…

“But it all turns all right,

you see.

And I go back to being me.”*

-My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

** In case you missed the Music class post:


  1. Hi

    This is a lovely read. I'm so glad subbing for your son's class went better than well and your son is so proud of you.

    And quick thinking there in the library!

    Take care

  2. Thanks, Old Kitty. Today's sub job didn't go as well. I'll post the details tomorrow!

  3. we had a bunch of subs and full time teachers who had kids in our class or school. it was all good until the kids started knocking on the door asking for lunch money or something.

    that was always the worst and the kids would get teased for running to mommy

  4. I'm glad to hear your fifth grade experience was better than mine! It gives me hope for next time I see 5th grade on the schedule.

  5. Lora, that's sounds like it was a crazy scene.
    The 3rd-grade teacher at my kids' school has children at the school. That must be weird for her, especially when the youngest used to get clingy.

    Tiffany, I hope you have better luck next time too.

  6. Sounds like a good day, can't wait to see what tomorrows blog brings us. Is today's title the clue?

  7. Today's post was a tale of two fifth-grades, so that only worked for today. Tomorrow's post will probably have the word "special" in the title.