Today was my third day as a substitute teacher. My first two days were spent sharing the hallways of High Desert Middle School with my daughter. It was an amazingly fulfilling experience. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs – but much ✨ magic, and a great energy.
The first day I spent time in a special education classroom, and also filled in a few periods in an ESL class. It was an interesting juxtaposition of classes, including one that was my first tough crowd. My primary classroom for the day was across the hallway from Kaydee’s locker… I’d get to look out and see my daughter in her “world” with friends. I had known all these years that Becky had something special by teaching at the school with the girls – but last Friday I got to feel it myself for the first time. Magic.
Monday I took a job back at High Desert, but this time for a sixth grade math class. No plans greeted me on that morning, but using some clues in the class, and ample help from the team we dialed in the lesson for the day. I debuted my “Magic Box” mini-game/side-quest, and it was a smashing success. I even had one kid come up after class and say I “was the best substitute ever.” – I reckon it was just the candy speaking as I handed out goodies to all who played the “Magic Box” math game.
Again I was fortunate enough to have my daughter come in and say hi between classes with her friends. I’m so grateful she still thinks I’m somewhat cool, and is apparently stoked and proud her old man is working at the school. I truly feel like I’m living a dream – helping out teachers and our schools, and getting to watch my little girl grow before my eyes into this awesome person.
The following day the teacher sent me a text thanking me for the prior day and asking if I could sub later this month! I was beyond stoked to be asked back to a classroom that I had such a fun time with.
And today. Today I taught third grade. I recently said how impressed I was with Becky. Well today, I got to walk a few laps in her shoes, and now I’m amazed.
I have been waking up before five, without an alarm because I’m so excited to see the jobs that are available for the day. Today I saw the opening for a 3rd grade class at an elementary school, along with a few other middle school openings. I had already begun to find a comfort zone at High Desert, and I hesitated before clicking the button to accept the job. But after gathering some courage – I clicked the button and started to think of ideas for the class.
I’m realizing substitute teaching is much like being the person late to a conversation at a party. The rest of the group has a groove, a routine – it is a family with rituals and shared nuance. The sub, an alien creature that appears in the middle of the conversation, trying to guess the punch lines, and tell you what you should talk about next. So here I was, the new odd creature in the room, in a new-to-me school, on a new adventure.
To help prepare me for this wild new sub-life Becky has been sharing classroom wisdoms with me the past few weeks. Slipping me little tid-bits of advice to help me get me more comfortable in the classroom. One of her lessons was about how the energy and noise level in the room behaves in a wave-like fashion. “When it gets really loud, take a breath and wait a few seconds. The noise will wane a bit, and you won’t have to talk as loud…” Becky shared.
And today, I felt that wave, I rode it – and wow it can be tiring!
A room full of eight and nine year old humans is a lively animal. Even during those scant moments of stillness and quiet – the children in the classroom create a palatable hum in the room. A low-level buzz like from a hive, ready to erupt at any moment.
And those little bees come at you with all sorts of things. Random stories. “Hey did you see I got my haircut?!”. Hands waving in the air, which I assume was her wanting to join in the conversation, but alas the hand signal for the restroom was in use.
The user manual for these subtleties has yet to be collected by yours truly. And today was a menagerie of lessons.
I thought I was fielding the bathroom request queue well when another young student asked me about a “Brain Break”. I suppressed a dad joke response of something along the lines that don’t we all need one of those, I instead replied “A break? We haven’t even started to learn yet.”
The daily life of a third grade teacher is that of a master context switcher. Tuning into endless streams of consciousness of blossoming minds around you. Parades of classroom visitors, whisking kids off to small groups, coordinating grade-level art project efforts. Kids saying they aren’t feeling well, and all the while scrubbing surfaces to try and keep the rest as healthy as possible.
I texted Becky about halfway through the day: “I now understand why you are often tired on Friday nights.”
But as demanding as it may be, I still believe the delight of spending time in the classroom makes it all worthwhile. My snowman dad jokes were greeted by laughter with the class today… and I had the full attention of the class this afternoon for ten glorious minutes while I read Walter the Farting Dog with sound effects being supplied by a helper and a stuffed toy version of Walter.
I feel like I’m back at Rainbow Glacier Camp in Haines, Alaska – Skippy, the camp counselor, just having fun with the campers.
We all remember great teachers from our youth, and also the ones that didn’t mesh well with us. I don’t think many people ever recall a substitute teacher. But if I made one of those kids have a bit more fun today, possibly encouraged them to try a bit harder on a task – and maybe, just maybe they bring up one of those snowman jokes at home… well I think I’ve done a good job.