Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jaws and Claws and Junk

“Linus: What's wrong, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: I just got terrible news. The teacher says we're going on a field trip to an art museum; and I have to get an A on my report or I'll fail the whole course.”*

I wound up working in the same classroom two days in a row, but it didn't start off as a two-day gig. The first call came late enough that I had already dressed in casual clothes, and imagining all the productivity ahead of me: banking, cleaning, cooking, critiquing a manuscript, and editing my manuscript based on another writer’s critique.

When I picked up, I heard, “Hello, Theresa. Can you still work today?”

Instead of answering, “Do I have to?” I grudgingly answered, “Yes.”

She said, “I’ll let them know that you’ll be there as close to 7:40 as possible.” Oh good, breathing room.

It was at the Inclusion School; in the same classroom I’ve been in a couple of times**, but for a different teacher. After Monday’s PE assignment gone wrong and the previous Friday’s Math job gone clueless, I decided working with two or three other teachers was just what I needed. Let someone else run the show.

The day was ordinary, so there’s not much to report, which I consider a success, even if it endangers the blog. It is called “Substitute Teacher’s Saga” after all. I graded papers, helped students with their work, and wound up spending a lot of my time with the same student who had impulse control issues. Several kids were coughing, so he kept blurting, “Cough on me! I want to be sick!” He went so far as to run his hands across the floor, in an attempt to pick up some germs. His attention seeking knows no bounds.

The difficult girl was the same, a problem periodically, and then falling asleep in the later morning. In fact, each time I’ve been in the room she’s been resistant to participate in morning meeting and has to “take a break”. This day was no different, with her having a showdown with the student intern. Nobody won.

Later, I brought it up. “I see she’s still having a tough time with the morning transition.”

“I don’t know what to do. I count to five, and she stays there. So I can to five again, but she can’t make a decision about what to do.” (Sounds like permissive parenting.)

“Why don’t you give her a job to do at the rug just before everyone is called over? This way she’ll feel special, and she’ll already be there when it’s time for meeting.”

“That’s a great idea. I’m going to try it.”

I was glad I had a decent suggestion, but was bummed that I wouldn’t be there to see if it worked. Later that day, the special education teacher phoned the lead teacher, who thought she’d still be too sick to come the next day. The intern stared at me almost hungrily, and I suspected I’d be back the next day, even though it meant I’d have to go on a field trip. I’ve chaperoned plenty of field trips, but never as a substitute teacher, and with an Inclusion class, I imagined some potential mishaps.

At 5:57am the next day, I received the call to sub again in the same class. It was chilly and snowy, and we were to walk to the bus, and from the bus at Harvard Square to Harvard Natural History Museum. But once I was at the school for fifteen minutes, Mr. Lack of Impulse Control wasn’t on his bus. (Did he actually make himself sick with his antics?) And the autistic child, who had been doing well (but I didn’t know how he’d behave on a field trip) didn’t come in either. Six teachers for eighteen students seemed more than manageable.

It was time for morning meeting. The intern asked that girl to put a smiley face on the morning message board. Then she sat on the rug as the other students joined her, and was fine. She didn’t refuse to come over. And she didn’t stand like a statue instead of participating in the greeting. Best of all, she didn’t wind up in the “Take a break” chair.

The field trip was one of the easiest I’ve ever been on. With that many teachers, and only two of students periodically displaying erratic behavior, it went off without a hitch. The presentation of “Jaws and Claws” was about predator and prey. The students got to pet a: turtle, frog, and starfish, plus touch shark and frog jaws, along with a clamshell.

Afterwards, we led the students around the stuffed animals areas, which are not the cute and cuddly stuffed animals you can buy in the store. They were once alive, then preserved, and stuffed (“taxidermied”). The animals look just like they did in the wild, except they now have glass eyes and plaster tongues and gums. The museum’s handout is apologetic. “At that time, the best way to study animals was to bring them to a museum. … the large-class collection of specimens is generally a thing of the past.” Preserved for you right here.

I’ve been through these exhibits plenty of times with my children and fifth-grade classes. Not once have the students ever noticed that some certain parts of the anatomy have been left intact. This day, two eight-year-old girls giggled over a well-endowed camel (I’m not exactly sure how he compares with other camels), they told a few friends, who told a few friends. Soon, all classmates were running from animal to animal to check for junk. (Why didn’t the hunters trap, kill and stuff only females?) When particularly interesting privates were found (like on the giraffe), they called their friends over so everyone had a chance to gawk.

If their parents ask what they learned, I fear the answers.

“Sally: don't know why we have to go on field trips. Why can't we stay in school? Why should we bother the outside world? I think field trips were invented by school custodians to get us out of there so they can clean it! Do you know what going on a field trip means? It means we ride about 10,000 miles on a bus and we all get sick!”*

*- “There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown” 1973 (TV)

**Here are the previous posts from this classroom:


  1. I bet it feels good to find a way to reach a student who normally has issues that have defied "treatment". And such an easy solution! That field trip sounds interesting. I can't imagine I'd have even noticed the "junk" on an animal at that age, much less had that kind of reaction. I think the teachers should have them write a little essay about the trip just to see what they say! :)

  2. Surfie, the poor intern is inexperienced, but I don't know why the other three teachers in the room didn't think of that or something similar.

    Too bad I won't be there for the follow up about the museum. Hopefully that won't be what they remember about it!

  3. I was totally that kid who found the "junk" and then spread the word.

  4. Rebecca, you would've fit in with this class!

  5. Hi

    Well done you for finding a solution to help that poor girl. I hope the boy with the lack of impulse control didn't get himself sick (he missed the school trip)?

    Oh but I laughed out loud when I got to the well endowed stuffed camel bit. That was just so funny!

    Take care

  6. I'm with you--after a few days of rough classes, I like to pick up a class I don't have to "run the show" with either.

  7. Old Kitty, I don't know why the boy missed school, but the previous afternoon he was complaining of not feeling well. The intern said he always acts like that, but maybe this time it was true.

    Tiffany, I wish I could pick my assignments to choose when I need a break from responsibility. I get the call, and I can only decline five jobs in one school year before I'm off the sub list.

  8. Wow! That's crazy. Ours is online, so it's first come first serve and if you give it up, someone else will pick it up. Your system sounds so harsh!

  9. Tiffany, yes, it leaves it that you can't work in another district if you don't get work some days. Cambridge also even out the sub jobs, so even if teachers are requesting me, I'm not given all the gigs if other subs would get fewer hours.