Monday, December 17, 2012

School, Pts. II-III

Plans to sum up my first days actually teaching were kind of ruined by the terrible news in Newtown Friday.

But I want to remember.

I opted late on Monday, Dec. 10 to be a teacher's aide again at the same place I went that day. They had some teacher openings but my plan all along was to learn the ropes a bit from the sidelines and then dip my toe in the water when I felt ready.

Last Tuesday morning I went to check in to the school office. Ms. I, who more or less runs things, greeted me as I came in.

"You've been promoted!"
I think I said something witty, like "Huh?"
"You're teaching first grade."
"Unless you don't want to..."

How can you say no, right? Ready or not, here we go.

I had spent some time the day before in the class I would inherit. And I had seen that teacher's name as one who needed a sub. I had passed.

No luck. I was now a teacher.

The reason I hadn't opted in, other than not feeling fully prepared for the job, was that Ms. C's class had a hardcase in it. Granted, these were first-graders, but two of the kids were challenges, and a third also had struck me as someone who I didn't have the requisite experience to manage.

No matter. It was time to man up.


The classroom has a grad student assistant, a young woman who is earning her Master's in Education at Lesley. She's two years away from the degree. While in my mind, she was infinitely more qualified to lead the class, she instead would hold my hand through the process. Ms. R was invaluable that day.

I had met her the day before; she arrived at the office a couple of minutes after I did. Once the situation was determined, we headed upstairs to the classroom.

There, we had a detailed lesson plan left by Ms. C. Ms. R and I game-planned the day, and I expressed my worries.

And then it began. And it didn't take long for an issue to arise. Two of the challenging-case boys almost immediately had a spat. One had drawn a "book" but both boys wanted to possess it. It quickly degenerated into a tug of war and I didn't solve it. Ms. R stepped in and got it under control. So already I felt like I had underperformed.

Fortunately that got better. The class began and soon they were working on assignments. But within an hour, the same two boys had another issue.

This time, I did much better. I called them both to an impromptu "conflict resolution court" at a back table.

OK, boys, we're going to figure out what the problem is. I want each of you to tell me what happened, and then we're going to sort this out. E, you go first.

E: I want A to go first.

OK. A, tell me your side of the story.

A began to explain and within moments, E interrupted. I cut him off.

E, you wanted A to go first. He's telling his side of the story. You have to wait and then you can tell your side. (i.e., Pipe Down.)

A finished. Then E told his side. It was of course a non-issue and by the time we got to the end of it, it seemed as if both of them had run out of steam.

But the important takeaways to me were that I was fair, they both got over it, and best of all, the class got to function without these two being distractions.

I'd have challenges with these two throughout the day. Not knowing exactly their backgrounds, it seems clear to me that there are problems beyond the classroom. I felt the same way after observing them Monday.

As the day proceeded, I felt like I had some success with A. I think we started to build a little relationship and I was thrilled by that. He didn't cause many problems the rest of the day.

E was work all day. He's clearly a bright kid but hasn't mastered the structure of the classroom environment. Both boys seem to crave attention, but E has some anger that worries me. At one point in the day, a girl in the class tripped and was crying on the floor. As I approached her, E did too, and raised his foot as if to stomp her.

I was mortified and wanted to push him away. I did raise my voice. The incident troubles me. Is this kid OK? What's causing him to act out so frequently?


Overall I felt like I did not crack down as hard as I should have. Although after lunch, I had to raise my voice a bit and try and command some order.

I had some wins and some losses. I made so many mistakes doing things that Ms. C (I would learn) wouldn't have allowed.

A couple of kids were just angels. One boy and one girl particularly worked hard and the boy seemed intent on helping me. I actually appreciated it; he told me a lot about class processes!

But the bottom line is teaching kids this young is a lot harder than you'd think. Definitely a "herding cats" kind of vibe at times.


Friday I decided to be an aide at the middle school. I wanted to see how I meshed in a different age group. The middle school has grades 5-8.

Once again, I got promoted. Entering the office expecting to be an aide, I found scrambling administrators (some who would wind up teaching classes themselves) trying to plug four substitutes into various vacancies.

I became a 6th-grade Language Arts/Social Studies teacher.

I loved it.

In LA we had a fun writing project where the kids chose random numbers from 1-10 for a character, a setting, a time and a situation. Then they were given a sheet that plugged in those values and assigned to craft a story.

Writing? Yeah, I can help here.

It turned out to be enormous fun. Some of the kids wrote really good things, others struggled. I reminded them that there was no way to fail this exercise as long as they included the elements.

For SS they read a bit about the Mayans and then answered questions. It was fun. Naturally I asked if they'd heard about the Mayan prophecies and most had. And there was a girl in the class named Maya, so I advised them that if the world ended, they could blame her. Much merriment.

At the end of the day, I walked out with a big smile on my face. I really like this world.

Of course, then I turned my phone on and started getting updates about Newtown.

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