Substitute life

So I’ve just finished a day and a half stint substituting in a local first grade classroom. While I’ve worked with the younger grades ever since I semi-retired, this is the first time I’ve done a straight stint with younger than fifth grade students. The experience was inspiring, affirming, and exhausting.

It probably also helps that this was a small town K-12 school rather than a larger school, with a class of nine students. Nine is just about the perfect number for this age group–enough to have a spread in student ability, but not so much as to be overwhelming. The teacher left me lesson plans that were somewhat more than babysitting, with the opportunity to do some actual teaching instead of cruising through worksheets, catching up, or something like that. Additionally, unlike my previous sub stints this year, I was working with reading, writing, and math–all areas of comfort when it comes to teaching (Art is not necessarily a strength, nor is live PE, though I don’t do too badly with the online PE classes). I got to do a little bit of problem-solving in working with students, and I think I might have helped them learn a new concept.

Basically, I had to introduce the associative property of addition transforming 3 number problems into 2 number problems (such as 1 + 2 + 3=6 into 3 + 3=6, 4 + 2=6, and so on). The students had been easing up to it but I ended up starting them out in the concept. The first day was…challenging, to say the least, with even the strongest students struggling with the concept. Tears didn’t flow but they were close.

On the way home, I thought about it, and decided to use manipulatives to help work through the concept. We spent about fifteen minutes and yeehaw! It clicked with most of the class. Seeing the understanding flick on was inspiring and affirming. I am a good teacher, and it wasn’t that hard to figure out–then again, back to the concept of nine students. Plus I had an aide, and we were busy going from student to student as they worked through the understanding of how the process worked. Plus we struggled through a word web for a writing project yesterday–but everything flowed nicely today, and students wrote good stuff.

The other thing? Happy, comfortable first graders have absolutely no filters, especially when first feeling out the new substitute. At this point I am really grateful for my past middle school experience because that means I have no problems being strict, firm, but also unthreatened by kiddos looking for boundaries. That lack of filters means that spotting the attempts to derail the sub were easily spotted and countered. And because these students were used to firm boundaries, when I held firm, they yielded. But I also listened because, after all, the first grade lack of filters allows the savvy sub to figure out who’s pulling your leg and who is honestly telling you about a classroom routine that got left out of the sub notes (no one can get everything down!).

Still, it was fun to listen to the kids as they worked. The whole group started singing while working on a couple of projects–once, the school song, and then, later, Jingle Bells. This was a harmonious group of students as well. Oh, there were dramas, but all the same, they worked well together, they played well together, and it was just plain fun to be around them.

All the same–we are talking about first grade students. OMG. The sheer energy they throw off, plus the energy it takes from the teacher to anticipate and guide that intensity? Exhausting.

It’s a lot easier to run herd on 25 grumpy middle school students, in many ways.

But it was fun–in small doses like this.

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