#WorthRevisit: Library Fun

Yesterday I was the Substitute Librarian, and substitute teaching is always an adventure, especially when you’ll be dealing with little kids.

After my stint in Morning Car Line I headed upstairs to discover that the librarian had filled the bookmark basket with an assortment of holy cards mixed with publishers’ postcards advertising children’s books. The overwhelming majority of the kids chose holy cards for their bookmarks, and there was much comparing of the pictures on those cards.

One first-grader displayed the Pope Benedict card he’d chosen and asked me to pronounce the name under the picture. Since these kids are only 6 or 7 and wouldn’t remember any pope besides Pope Francis, I explained that Pope Benedict was the pope before Pope Francis.

“I have a Pope Francis card!” another little boy bragged, waving a picture of Pope Benedict in the air.

“No, that’s Pope Benedict. Both of these pictures are Pope Benedict.”

“But this one is wearing red! He’s not the same one!”

Image sources: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr – Agência Brasil [1], CC BY 3.0 br, Link and [1]Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

It’s all about the random when you’re teaching. A few years ago, during Catholic Schools Week, I received a lovely packet of homemade cards thanking me for volunteering in the library.  Sentiments included:

“We are all very grateful for you donating your time for the school. You’re a very thoughtful person. As they say in Spanish, gracias!”

“It is a massive responsibility for you to go to the library every single Friday.”

“Every time you come on a Friday it makes me feel happy inside.”

“When you are supporting us we are supporting you.”

“I hope you are proud of yourself!”

“I am thankful because you could be doing something other than helping.”

“You are the greatest book stamper ever!”

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

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Sub Plans

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My “baseball” for a review game my mom invented when I was in middle school. My bag of tricks wouldn’t be complete without it.

I thought I could empty out that tote bag next to my desk at home. It contains a zipper pouch full of stickers, a pad of Post-It notes, a Sharpie, a chalk holder, and a pen. It’s got my “baseball,” two water bottles and some granola bars. There’s also a comb and a hair tie or three.

With that bag, I was ready to hit the ground running and deal with a class of 25 students or less on ninety minutes’ notice.

I am a substitute teacher.

It’s something I’d resisted for years. When I began volunteering in the school library the year Little Brother entered kindergarten, a few teachers asked me why I didn’t sub.

I guess I could have, but I never did. I never wanted to have to walk into somebody else’s classroom with little to no warning and deal with a bunch of kids who were chomping at the bit to take advantage of unsuspecting substitutes, all while wearing uncomfortable shoes.

And then the librarian asked if I would sub for her when needed. That was OK, because I’d volunteered so much in there that I knew exactly what to do and when to do it and where everything was.

Last fall, the school’s substitute-teacher pool was decimated after a couple of teachers were out long-term. I was asked to consider subbing for the classroom teachers.

To my surprise, I found out that I liked it. It’s not a huge school, so I know most of the kids (by face, if not by name.) And they all know me.

There’s a lot on a substitute teacher’s plate. You never know, going in, how detailed the lesson plans are going to be (or if there will be lesson plans at all). You might have to teach subjects you’re ill-prepared for (physics, anyone?) Murphy’s Law will have it that you’ll have at least one Duty (morning dropoff, recess, or bus) and there’s always the chance that your Special will be canceled, which means no bathroom break for you.

What does a substitute teacher do?

  • She reassures the children that their regular teacher is OK and will be back soon.
  • She tries to keep classroom routines and procedures in place.
  • She listens to children who need to tell her how their regular teacher usually does things. Every ten minutes.
  • She puts happy-face stickers in homework notebooks and remembers not to write cursive with students who have not yet made their First Communion.
  • She remembers that the second-grader she met in the library two years ago is hearing-impaired and needs the teacher to face her when speaking–even though there’s nothing in the sub plans to remind her.
  • She figures out, on the fly, how to deal with various other special needs that present themselves without warning in the sub plans:  the kid with a behavior chart, the OCD child who can’t work if she can’t find her pencil case, although there’s a perfectly good pencil on her desk that she could be using, the one who just doesn’t do any work all day long.
  • She muddles her way through fire drills and lockdown drills and shelter-in-place drills.
  • She leaves a journal for the teacher, detailing what work was completed in each class period.
  • And she uses her Teacher Glare liberally with older students whom she’s known since they were in Pre-K, and who should know by now that she doesn’t put up with much.

When I started working at CatholicMom.com last March, I took my name off the sub list. My job affords me a very flexible schedule, but I really can’t be at school on 90 minutes’ notice anymore. I subbed a few times last spring for teachers who had made reservations before I started working at CatholicMom, but that was really it. I went back to my one-morning-per-week library volunteer gig and was happy as a clam to be there.

And then this summer, the librarian asked once again if I could sub for her. She gave me more than two weeks’ notice, so I had plenty of time to make sure that I got things done at work. It was flattering when more than one teacher said, “You’re HERE? You’re subbing???” but I had to remind them that this was an unusual circimstance–and that I’d see them Friday as usual for library.

When I walked in to the school Friday morning and signed my name in the volunteer roster, I heard voices from the office: “She’s here. You can ask her right now.” Uh-oh…I knew what was coming. Sure enough, they needed me to sub one day next week for a middle-school teacher who’s been out for a week already.

It’s just one day, I had plenty of notice, and I knew they wouldn’t ask me if they hadn’t exhausted other alternatives first.

So on Thursday I’ll be picking up that tote bag once again, packing my lunch, and heading to school dressed in my teacher clothes, hoping I don’t have outdoor-recess duty–and packing an extra hair tie in case I do.

Tales from the Substitute: Compassion in Action

I was in the fourth grade today. The teacher had a death in the family and was attending the funeral.

SONY DSCAnd the kids blew me away with their compassion. I was reaching for a tissue at 8:05 AM.

As soon as they walked in (and before I even got a “good morning”) two kids were waving a huge piece of construction paper in my face.

“We’re working on a card! We have to get it done!”

I slowed them down long enough to determine that they had started working on a sympathy card for their teacher. These boys had come up with this idea on their own, and they were bent on getting it finished.

They got busy drawing enough lines inside the card so that every single fourth-grader in the school had a place to sign it–as well as the other fourth-grader teacher and me.

Checking the lesson plan, I figured out a good time for the boys to take the card around the classrooms for signatures.

Many of the students left encouraging messages on the other side of the card, in addition to signing their names.

My plan, before school, was to steal a few moments during religion class to have the students make cards for the teacher. I didn’t need to do that, because the kids took the initiative and had that giant card started first thing in the morning.

I’m sure their teacher felt all the prayers the children sent up today, and I know that when she returns to the classroom her heart will be touched by their very real, very spontaneous, very urgent compassion.

Image source: Wikipedia. Approved for reuse.

Unscheduled

Happening now all over social media:  parents crowing about their children returning to school on Monday.

spiffy penI know that I’m ready for school to start and normal schedules and routines to resume.

What I don’t know is whether I’m going back to school along with the kids.

As far as I know, I’m done. I was asked to be there through Christmas. On December 23, I handed in my keys and told the secretary and my grade-partner teacher where I’d left a binder containing lesson plans, attendance records and grades. I took home my Christmas tree, Nativity scene and chalk holder.

I have no idea whether the teacher whose class I’ve been substitute-teaching will be back on Monday. I guess, due to those health-privacy laws, all kinds of things have to remain secret. And if I had a health issue that kept me from my job, I’d appreciate that privacy.

As Christmas vacation comes to a close, I am left more and more with the feeling that on Monday at 8 AM I’ll be getting a “where are you?” phone call.

My mom, whose decades of experience teaching in Catholic schools give her an opinion I can count on, says that it’s not my place to chase down anyone to find out if I need to be there Monday–but I should make sure to have some school clothes ironed, just in case.

So I guess I’ll clean the leftover candy canes out of my school tote bag and make sure there are plenty of stickers, band-aids and birthday pencils.

Beyond that, I’ll have to settle, right now, for not knowing what Monday will bring. That’s been one benefit of this long-term job. I knew where I’d be each day, and what I’d be doing. For me, that knowledge provides comfort.

I might have a day off on Monday, or I might be called in. I’ll feel better once I know.

Tap Dancing All Day Long

It’s been a loooooooooong day, spent doing what I call “tap dancing” the whole time. That’s when the substitute teacher has to readjust the plans while simultaneously keeping 18 kids in order, teaching a lesson, and making sure no one trashes the bathroom or breaks anything.

I didn’t succeed where those last two were concerned today.

But let’s back up to the beginning.

The schedule was off because we were going to Mass. Little Brother appeared in my classroom after the day’s opening prayer, because his class is my foster homeroom’s Buddy Class and we were going to Mass together at the suggestion of Little Brother’s teacher.

I was all for it, because my foster students are 7, and pretty wiggly, and I thought it would be good if they saw a good example of church behavior. The only thing that worried me was seating, because the classes have set locations in church and doubling my class size (with Buddies) would mean that other classes had to sit farther back. I left that whole thing to Little Brother’s teacher to figure out.

The seventh grade trooped in and we matched them with their buddies and lined everyone up. Their teacher explained to all the kids how Communion would work (since my kids don’t receive yet) and since he had to get to church to set some things up, we headed down the hallway.

Mass went amazingly well. The Buddies helped my class find the right pages in the hymnal. There was no horsing around or whispering. Definitely this was the high point of the day. After Mass we returned to our classroom and got started on the Snack-and-Bathroom Routine. Then I found out that my class wouldn’t be going to gym today.

wawa latteThere went my chance to use the bathroom and heat up the coffee that had gotten cold before I had five sips of it. But I figured I could fit in a quick restroom detour when we went to play rehearsal.

We finished our snack and did our Jesse Tree ornament of the day and moved the Holy Family a little closer to the manger. Then I lined everyone up in the right order (which has changed 4 times this week) and reminded everyone to use “Marshmallow Feet” in the hallway and on the stairs into the cafegymatorium. We exited the classroom silently and practically tiptoed down the hall. I was super proud of the kids, until the principal stopped us and said, “You’re not having rehearsal this morning.”

So we turned around and went back and I had to find something to do for 40 minutes until lunch, because my lesson plan said “Rehearsal.” I decided we’d work on the Snowman Handprint ornaments the kids were making for their parents (the other second-grade teacher got this all going. I’m craft-impaired.)

We were deep into an assembly line of “name on paper, paint on hand, hand on ornament, ornament on paper upside-down, go wash” when a first-grade teacher came in to offer to hold rehearsal in her classroom. I asked if I could send the kids as they finished their messy craft. And that was all fine until a Tiny Tattler informed me that two other girls were trashing the bathroom with the white paint. It was smeared all over the floor and mirrors.

I made the two of them clean their mess up as best they could with Lysol wipes. We all finished the craft, practiced “Joy to the World” in the first-grade room and then headed off to lunch. Late. I retrieved my cold coffee, went upstairs to the faculty room to (finally) use the restroom and nuke the coffee, then returned to my classroom to eat lunch alone because I was upset enough that if anyone had even said “hello” to me, I might have broken into tears right there.

As we were having inside recess due to cold weather, I retrieved my kids after my 20-minute break, and they played for half an hour instead of going outside. We worked for a little while on a timed reading test, then got ready (again) for our 1:15 rehearsal. Then the classroom phone rang; we weren’t going to be able to use the cafegymatorium until 2 PM. A first-grade teacher popped in to suggest that I have the kids all packed to go home, with coats ready, before we went to rehearsal at 2. That sounded good to me, so we got our coats, then since the ornaments were dry, we decorated them with Sharpies.

Everything was going along quite nicely until an ornament rolled off a desk and hit the floor. There were tears and shards of glass everywhere. No, I wasn’t the one crying–it was the little girl whose ornament hadn’t stayed on her desk. I reassured her that she could make a new one first thing Monday and we got on with our day, and then at 1:55 someone poked their head in the door to tell me that, no, we weren’t rehearsing after all.

I grabbed a Christmas storybook out of the teacher’s storybook box and we read a story. Then I took the boxes of inside-recess toys out and let them have some extra playtime. Every last one of us was just DONE at that point.

7 more school days until Christmas.

 

Moved to Tears

The first- and second-grade classes are deep into rehearsals for this year’s Christmas play, a children’s musical with a “true meaning of Christmas theme.”

unplugged ChristmasOne child commented after a rehearsal, “This is a lot like A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Thematically, yes. We don’t have Snoopy, but yes.

There are a few songs they had to learn, plus a few traditional carols. The second-graders do a version of Silent Night complete with hand motions (based on sign language; we learned it from a YouTube video) and it’s impossibly sweet.

We’ve had our funny moments, like yesterday when a first-grade boy walked up to me and confided, “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be a shepherd or a Wise Old Man.”

But today we ran the whole show for the first time. And as the Nativity tableau was complete, the Wise Men crossed in front of the stage area. I reminded them to walk slowly and hold their hands as if they were praying. Then the first Wise Man–the rough-and-tumble football-playing boy who gets that “make me” look on his face when he’s corrected–reached the place where the manger will be.

And, unprompted, he genuflected. The other two Wise Men did the same.

I can’t even stand it. I’m not going to make it through this show without tissues, and I defy any other adult in the room to manage that feat.

 

Shared in the Catholic Bloggers Network Advent Link-Up!

Grace of YES Day

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Good morning, class! Today is Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

It’s Grace of YES Day.

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A few weeks ago, I said “YES” to a long-term substitute-teaching assignment. I’ll be there through Christmas. I’ve gone into more detail on the subject here, but a “YES” to any teaching job is a “YES” to a gratifying, frustrating, entertaining, saddening experience. It’s not just a job; it’s a ministry.

The students and I keep their Regular Teacher in our prayers each day. She is dearly missed and we all hope she will return to good health, and her classroom, as soon as she can.

I pray for my foster-second-graders as I

  • hand out birthday pencils
  • give spelling tests
  • grade spelling tests
  • read chapters from Ramona the Pest
  • encourage reverence during Grace Before Snack
  • redirect children who use the wrong hand to salute the flag
  • line up the class for the bathroom. Again.
  • conduct science experiments involving rocks, water and flimsy plastic containers
  • enforce the “no sharing snacks” rule (we have allergies)
  • invent the “no shaking down other kids for snacks” rule
  • make sure the two Imaginary Students are not disrupting the class

This job saps my energy, creativity, and voice like no other.

And I love it. Even when I have outside lunch duty on 35-degree days and my hair is up because there’s a Head Lice Epidemic on the first floor and, well, I’m not willing to make that sacrifice for the kids…

Little Brother leaves notes on the board for my class before they arrive in the morning and visits us on his way to the nurse for his pre-snack insulin at midmorning. This “YES” has been good for him. I think he likes having me around his school. (He even hugs me in front of my class. Don’t tell him I told you this.)

It’s grace, pure and simple, that is getting me through these challenging days and weeks.

What’s your “YES” and how is grace making it possible? Share on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #graceofyesday

Want to learn more about the Grace of Yes? Read my review of the book here and join the discussion at CatholicMom.com!

Teaching in Someone Else’s Shoes

This past week, I’ve been substituting for one of the second-grade teachers at Little Brother’s school. I’ll probably be there for the next couple of weeks, which is a little terrifying.

Substitute teaching is not just a job. It’s a ministry. And it definitely isn’t babysitting.

Substitute teachers minister to students who are used to the way their Real Teacher does things. Subs try to maintain the usual routines, learning them as they go along and finding out halfway through a task that their Real Teacher does things differently. The kids aren’t being rude or defiant–they’re looking for the comfort of the routine their teacher has so carefully established. In second grade, it’s all about routine. There’s even a procedure for sharpening pencils. I’m a big fan of procedures, but the kids know them and I don’t, so I’m at a disadvantage. This week has been Procedure Boot Camp in the second grade–for me!

Substitute teachers minister to parents who worry that without their child’s Real Teacher, the kids will fall behind or miss out on learning key concepts. We’re not doing busy work here; I’m not babysitting the kids. I am teaching them the next math chapter and helping them practice their spelling words. We worked on the Oxford comma this week (and I even taught them its official name, which was not in the book, but that’s just a bonus you get when your substitute teacher has an M.A. in English Literature.)

Substitute teachers minister to the principal, who wants to make sure that learning is happening, the children are following the routines already in place, and no one’s swinging from the light fixtures or getting hit by cars in the parking lot AKA recess playground (yes, I’ve had to prevent that last from happening.)

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I love this teacher’s custom of a Morning Message. It’s a fun part of their daily routine.

Substitute teachers minister to the Real Teacher, especially when it’s a long-term situation. The sub walks that fine line of making sure the Real Teacher knows that the sub does not want to replace her, but just wants to do the best possible job as an unrehearsed understudy.

The students and I pray for their Real Teacher every day, which is a lovely perk of working at a Catholic school. It’s nice for me to be working, but I don’t want to poach her job. I know she’d rather be in her classroom with her students, and I’m trying to make it as easy for her to be away from them as I possibly can. When she comes back, I want her to just be able to step back into her usual M.O.

We’ve had our challenging moments, like today when I was frustrated because we were assigning next month’s classroom chores, and there was a dispute about whether someone could choose a job he’d already had in September, because “you can’t have the same job 2 months in a row” means, to some children, “you can’t have a job you’ve done before EVER.” I made an executive decision and shut down the dispute fast, and half the kids were not happy. Oh well.

We’ve also had our sweet moments. If someone drops a crayon box, half the class hits the deck to help pick them up–unasked. One child has measured me for a rubber-band bracelet. And yesterday when they were answering some questions from their religion book, they reached one that asked, “Who helps you learn about Jesus?” and a few of the kids asked if I would write my name on the board so they could spell it and fill it in for that answer.

I’m following someone else’s procedures and carrying out someone else’s lesson plans. I’m trying to be fair to my grade-partner teacher who is shouldering extra burdens as she helps me pick my way across an unfamiliar curriculum and grade level. I’m going home each day with tired feet and a tired voice and wearing chalk-dust smears.

I’m teaching in someone else’s shoes. They don’t quite fit me, but for the sake of the kids, the parents, the principal and the Real Teacher, I’m doing my best to make it work.

 

Overheard: The Classroom Edition

I’ve been substitute teaching a lot recently, and sometimes the things the kids say are nothing short of priceless. Here are a few samples I managed to scribble down:

7th-grader, upon hearing that we’d be eating lunch in the classroom because the cafegymatorium was set up for a graduation reception:  “Can we order some ribs?”

scissorsMe: “Tie your shoes.”
3rd-grader: “They came untied yesterday.”

3rd-grader: “This is my folder. It’s blue. It’s my new favorite color.”
Me: “Blue is a great color! What was your favorite color before?”
3rd-grader: “Well, I made something with my buddy…”

Actual 1st-grader-composed spelling sentence: “If you took my pencil, I would tell on you.”

Actual 7th-grade religion test answers:

  • The religious vows:  “chastity, obedience, patience”
  • The religious vows:  “poultry” (others left blank)
  • The theological virtues: “Don’t lip, Don’t cheat, Don’t steal”

Things Teachers Say:

  • “Tie your shoes.” (100 times a day, no matter what the grade)
  • “You don’t close the window by pushing on the glass.”
  • “Stop juggling scissors.”

image credit

Small Success Thursday: Crazy Week Edition

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At CatholicMom.com, we take a moment every Thursday to celebrate those accomplishments that make our week. My schedule has been packed this week, but there are a few things I’m proud to mention.

-1-

I put away the Christmas tree over the weekend.

Seriously.

We have a HUGE artificial tree–probably a good 6 feet in diameter–and it takes up a lot of room. We do not have the box for the tree, as it was given to us by friends who couldn’t fit both a gigantic artificial tree and a Rottweiler in their living room. What we DO have is an enormous chest freezer in our backyard shed. It came with the house, but when we tried to plug the freezer in, we found that it doesn’t work. So the Christmas tree, which divides into three parts, lives in the freezer when it’s not in the living room.

We couldn’t get two of the pieces of the tree apart when we first took it down, and with the snow on the ground for months on end, no one wanted to help drag it into the shed. So it sat on our enclosed back porch–it was too cold to use the porch anyway. Finally this weekend we got the pieces apart and I stowed them in the freezer, where spiders and crickets cannot take up residents in its plastic branches.

And I have my porch back–just in time for the nice weather.

-2-

I survived three days in a row of substitute-teaching for grades 5 through 8. Even though I’ve known most of these kids since they were in the primary grades, they need to test their limits every time, and they always seem surprised that I don’t put up with much.

On Monday it was raining so we couldn’t have recess at lunchtime. Back in the classroom, the kids all gathered around the computer and googled each others’ names, commenting on the pictures that came up. On Tuesday the playground was still wet so they had to stay inside. They asked to use the computer.

“So you can google each others’ names and then laugh about what you see? No. I think you did enough of that yesterday.”

They just looked at me with wide eyes–they didn’t even try to argue back. Then they found a deck of cards and started a game.

WIN.

-3-

9 percent crazySpeaking of kids and using the internet for ridiculous things and online safety in general, I have a Tech Talk up at CatholicMom.com today about that very subject.

And along the same lines, read this article and go change your passwords. That’s at the top of my to-do list for today.

Do you have a Small Success (or three) to share? Visit the link-up at CatholicMom,com!