The Substitute Teacher Series: Lessons I Learned In Kindergarten

So, you may wonder, how does one add a speck of adventure to one’s life and still maintain the illusion of retired bliss? Answer: you decide to give substitute teaching a whirl.

As noted in a previous blog entry, I applied at three separate school corporations, anticipating a rather sparse supply of requests from just one. The application process for one corporation was completed on Wednesday, by Thursday I had gotten my first call to fill in for a teacher on Friday.

My first job: kindergarteners. How utterly sweet.

Mrs. Bailey*, the teacher I was subbing for, needed to be home with her own two children, who were both sick. A very dedicated teacher indeed, she was there when I arrived at 7:30 am, to get me started on a positive note. Little did I know, that by the end of the day, I would need all the positive notes I could gather.

Mrs. Bailey went over the itinerary and timeline with me, gave me the inside scoop on helpful students, and students with particular needs, then she left me to fend for myself.

Thank God, I had done my homework by googling “Substitute Teaching” to find videos and blogs from those with experience. Good advice included greeting students at the door as they come in. What they don’t tell you is that, at the kindergarten level, you should anticipate a total classroom meltdown when students arrive and find their irreplaceable teacher replaced by someone they’ve never seen before.

The meltdown starts slowly, as the students trickle in one-by-one, then, builds to a deafening crescendo as the classroom fills with twenty-five 5 and 6-year-olds, asking where Mrs. Bailey is, even though you’ve repeated it ad nauseam since the first student arrived. Yes, I could have waited until everyone was present to tell them altogether, but the mother/grandmother instinct kicks in when you see the furrowed brow of a small child and you can’t help but to try in any way possible, as soon as possible, to ease their concern.

I’m able to quiet them for mere seconds while I tell them one last time why their teacher is absent. I tell them my name is Mrs. Newby, and I will be their teacher for that day. For the rest of the day, by every student, I am called Mrs. Newber. I don’t correct them; it doesn’t seem that important.

More googled advice:

1. Remember as many of the student’s names as possible: Out of 25, I consistently remember 3 names.

2. Use clapping rhythms and sing-songy diddies to get their attention: They mimic you in unison, for as long as you clap or sing. Once you’re done, you’d better start clapping and singing again, or chaos tends to ensue.

3. Never sit down, always walk amongst the students and keep them on task: The result is complete and total exhaustion by the end of the day. Kindergarteners have extremely short attention spans, so keeping them on task is like pinning Jello to the wall, as they say.

Kindergarteners need assistance with everything: Twenty-five of them needing assistance all at once can be overwhelming. This time of year (Fall/Winter), they need help with coats, hats, mittens, keeping their shoes tied … they need assistance with their projects since they haven’t yet mastered the art of using scissors, or glue sticks, or only coloring on their own paper and not their neighbors.

Kindergarteners are easily bored: Five seconds after passing out the crayons, they are bored of coloring. Pass out the glue sticks, they’re bored of gluing. Pass out the scissors, they’re bored of cutting.

Kindergarteners have a lot of energy: You cannot clap, sing, dance, or twirl too much for a kindergartener. A few of them come in twirling and stop only long enough to join in a clapping pattern in unison with the rest of the class, then … back to twirling.

Kindergarteners have mob mentality: If one needs something, they all need it. When one pointed out a barely detectable boo-boo that needed a bandaid, they all needed a bandaid, even for faded boo-boos long forgotten, until the request for a bandaid from a fellow student brought back all the pain and suffering from a month old rug burn or mosquito bite.

Kindergarteners cry a lot: To a kindergartener, everything is a crisis and a reason to shed copious tears: “Mrs. Newber, I want to color my clouds green, but Shonda says clouds are white and won’t give me the green pen [tears].”
“Mrs. Newber, is it snack time? My tummy hurts because it needs a snack NOW [tears].”

Kindergarteners tattle: “Mrs. Newber, Joseph poked me with his finger, right here (teary-eyed & in obvious pain and distress, points to shoulder).”
“Mrs. Newber, Dylan said he’s going to be line leader. He’s not supposed to be line leader.”
“Mrs. Newber, Marcy is not in her seat.”
Me: “Are you tattling?” Student: “But … but … !!!”

Kindergarteners are competitive: Each student’s name is printed on a clothespin, which is clipped to a behavior ladder on the wall. The clothespin moves up or down in accordance to the behavior of the student whose name is on the clothespin. Every child, whether they’ve earned it or not, wants to know if they can move their clip up on the behavior chart, and every good deed is reported as worthy of moving up the ladder.

On my first day, I learned that, although substitute teaching is not for the faint of heart or the depleted of energy, it is extremely rewarding. I learned that even kindergarten teachers are not paid nearly what they’re worth. I learned that kindergarteners sense distress and are extremely compassionate; they want to give you a lot of hugs. I learned that there is still a lot to learn, even from, actually, especially from, the very young.

*This story is true, but all names have been changed.

This is a first draft with no editing; my apologies for any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.

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