Friday, February 5, 2010

Substituteteacherwoman* Teaches Art

“If I had an enemy then my enemy is gonna try

To come kill me ‘cause I’m his enemy.”

- Adams, William; Ferguson, Stacy; Gomez, Jaime; Harris, Keith; Pineda, Allan. Song, "One Tribe” Black Eyed Peas

Yesterday’s job was to teach Art at one of my regular schools. This would be my second time teaching the subject, and the first one** at another school didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked. I decided to bring my Bose and iPod in case I had older students, so I could bribe them that if they did their work we’d listen to music.

When I reached the classroom, everything was clean and organized, the plans were easy to find, clear, and all materials I needed were labeled on one table. Then I checked the schedule: two kindergartens, a second-grade class, a break and lunch, two first-grade classes, and a sixth-grade class. That seemed manageable.

After showing the kindergarteners pictures of birds from four books, they had to draw their own bird on a page that had some tree branches and leaves, and stated on the bottom, “A group of explorers found a rare bird deep in the jungle. They sent back this drawing of the bird sitting in a tree.” The classes went well. Most kids drew woodpeckers, bluebirds, toucans, flamingos, hummingbirds, and the mysterious “rainbow bird”.

The assignment for the first and second-grades sounded like it would be great fun, since the kids had to create their own superhero. The students got excited brainstorming superpowers and how they’d take down the bad guys. But after giving the introduction, I realized that the students couldn’t actually read the sheet. The vocabulary was too hard, and then they kept asking me how to spell every word, even spider, super, and fly. Those three classes were exhausting because they needed so much explanation and attention. First, they had to provide “Personal Information”:


Secret Identity

(I got asked about that a zillion times, although I had said it was their superhero name.)

What is your extraordinary power or ability?

(They didn’t understand this either. Did “extraordinary” throw them off?)

Is there an enhancement of on of your 5 senses? If so, which one(s)?

(I think “enhancement” confused them because even my notes on the five senses on the board didn’t help.)

Do you need any special or advanced equipment?

(Once I explained what it meant, most chose a car or a jetpack, even if their power was to fly.)

How did you acquire your superpowers/what is your story of origin?

(Acquire? Origin?)

Where is your headquarters of base of operations? What does it look like?

(I used the bat cave as an example, but I was mostly met with, “Huh?”)

Do you have a sidekick? If so, who is it?

(Sixty times: “What’s a sidekick?”)

Do you have any enemies? Who are they?

(Now I thought this was the easiest next to name, but I got, “What’s ‘enemies’?”)

Tweaking the vocabulary for the younger set or using this in older grades would’ve made all the difference. The four boxes at the bottom for “Costume Features” wasn’t any easier for them:

How do you conceal your identity? What type of mask do you wear?

What is the symbol the represents who you are and what you do?

Are any parts of your costume functional? What are they?

What does your costume look like? What color(s) are in your costume?

After all of that, they could draw a big picture of themselves in their costumes on the back of the paper. Very few students go to that point.

Despite the glitches, I enjoyed the children. A kindergartener drew me a picture of a robot. At least I think it’s a robot. And a first-grader who had narrow blacked stubs for teeth and needed even more help that most of the other students, seemed to take a liking to me, even staying with me when he didn’t have a question.

This made up for the one girl who told a friend, who then tattled in front of the whole class that I was called “ugly”. I’m sure she said that because her regular teacher wasn’t there. And the teacher is a young, pretty Asian female who I think wears a size 0 and is awfully nice. In comparison, I’m an old, mean cow. I used the moment as a teaching lesson not to comment on appearance or people’s pictures unless it was to say something positive. The tattler raised her hand. “My mother said, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, then you should keep your mouth shut.’”

When one of the middle school teachers saw me, he came into the classroom and said, “I’m going to be out all next week. Is it okay if I request you?” I said, “Sure,” and gave him my name, trying not to think about going to visit my father this weekend, and the fact that I’ll return to an unclean house without food or ironed shirts, and then have a week of work with some difficult classes ahead of me. On the upside, this teacher has witnessed a few of my groups on the boisterous side, so it’s nice that he thinks I’m competent enough to run his schedule.

Sixth-graders had to draw a shoe, which meant taking off one of their shoes. I DO NOT recommend doing this during last period. Try it first period, when the shoes smell fresher.

At the end of the day, when I was cleaning up, I spied some old Thanksgiving handouts. Since their were multiples of each picture, I decided to take one of each, in case I needed them. Then I hesitated. If I wanted to teach older students, who would never do a project like this, was I resigning myself to having this horrid job in the fall? I took them anyway, and told myself that my daughter could color and hang them around the house for Thanksgiving next year, and that it wasn’t a sign of defeat. I have to have hope that by then things will change for the better.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

- Barack Obama

* These posts are the origin of my superhero name:

** Here’s the post about my first Art class job:


  1. Old, mean cow? Never! You really are Super Substitute Teacher Woman. And this post proves it!

  2. Thanks, Jackee. Maybe I'll make my own emblem "SSTW" and get a cape.

  3. Hi

    I sort of understand why long words like "enhancement" and "extraordinary" would be abit confusing for the children but then it's weird that they didn't know what "enemies" meant? I'd like to think that it's because they're all friends and only know friends!

    What a horrid tattler child and friend tho!

    You are so Super Teacher Woman.

    Take care

  4. Old Kitty, I think it was just the fact that many haven't been reading very long that seeing "enemies" on the page looked funny. It probably doesn't come up in those easy readers! Thanks for the compliment.

  5. I think maybe the superhero and shoe assignments should have been switched! That's an awful lot of character development for a first grade class to do, especially when the vocabulary is so advanced. It would be interesting to see how the 6th graders handled it. I'm hoping to be have my own art class one day. I'll have to keep these in mind!

  6. Aw, at least you have a good spin on the day. This is exactly why I have such a hard time subbing for the lower grades--they need so much attention in order to do almost everything! But it seems like you have the personality to do it. Isn't it tiring?!

    I laughed when I read the part about resigning yourself to this "horrid job". I think about that, too. I refuse to allow myself to think of subbing as something permanent! It's a good job, but temporary. (Right? ... Right!)

    Keep your head up! Your own classroom isn't far away.

  7. Surfie, I think you're right, especially since the sixth-graders had done the assignment before, though I'm sure they were wearing different shoes. I specifically added all the details for the assignments in case anyone wants to try them out. They could even be done in a regular class of young students in a pinch.

    Tiffany, the thing is, I force the personality. I've picked up tricks to keep them interested, like going through the bird books and telling a story about wild turkeys in my dad's yard in Maine and having all the kids tap on the tables to pretend that they're woodpeckers. When I sub younger kids, I feel like I borrow a personae that isn't me.


    And yes, for both of us this is TEMPORARY!

  8. Ha! Who ever thought having tweens take their shoes off was a good idea! The visual - and the odiferous - images are cracking me up!

  9. Rebecca, the upside of the shoe project not being a kindergarten project was that I didn't have to tie all their laces afterwards.

  10. Note to self... Never ask 5 year olds to write about their SuperHero Alter-Ego.
    One- because I would have to give definitions of all above words and,
    Two- because I just can't handle being around 20-something Batmans, Supermans and Spidermans.
    Why? Because it would be too depressing to see so many kids without any real imaginations.
    Tween feet--- one word... Ick!

  11. Dawn, your comment made me laugh. There were A LOT of Batmans, Supermans, Spidermans, and several Supergirls. At least some children made up their own superheroes. Two girls were "Flowergirl", a couple of boys were "Icy" and a few had names I didn't understand.

  12. Do you ever F with these kids? LIke have them make prank phone calls on your cell to your ex and say hi daddy? Or would that get you fired.

  13. MODG, I think I'd be fired. Besides, my last ex is from over twenty-years ago. I'd have to track down his number first.

  14. I enjoy reading your blog. I confess I am in awe of what you do, since the thought of substitute teaching utterly terrifies me. Obviously good humor is key to the repertoire, which you clearly have.

  15. "Sixth-graders had to draw a shoe, which meant taking off one of their shoes. I DO NOT recommend doing this during last period."

    Oh that made me laugh!

  16. Thank you, Lynda. I agree that it takes a certain type of person to teach. While I find standing up in front of students no big deal, I didn't start off that way. And other types of public speaking stress me.

    Tattytiara, thanks!