The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk

Today I was a 5th grade teacher at Dr. Howard Elementary. I love teaching fifth grade! I love the curriculum, I love the way I can interact with the students, I love the way they want to know, know, know, know, know. Fifth graders have a thirst for knowledge that doesn’t seem to be present in any of the other primary grades. Middle school students and high schoolers also have a thirst for knowledge, but I am not as keen on teaching those grades as I am the intermediate/upper primary ones.

Students in 5th grade are also learning how to interact with one another. They are just entering the wonderful world of pre-adolescence, and they want to be liked. This makes for very interesting times, particularly as a substitute teacher. Sometimes students try to be liked by their peers by acting up and trying to get a laugh out of their classmates. I recently saw a poster in a different classroom that said something along the lines of “Class Clowns: Laugh, and the class laughs with you. But you spend detention alone.” Now, I’m not saying that all class clowns are trouble-makers. In fact, I find humour to be indispensable as a tool for managing a class and breaking up the tedium of the day. But there is a time and place for everything. And that is part of what these young students are trying to learn.

I remind myself of this every time I enter a fifth grade classroom, and today was no different. Except that instead of one class clown, I had 9. Out of a class of 17. (Yes, the classes at this particular school really are that small.) So it was a bit of a challenge for me. I try to ignore the class clowns as much as possible, and encourage their classmates to ignore their antics as well, because they do what they do for attention, and if they don’t get attention, they will generally stop. But when more than half the class is acting up, it can sometimes feel like it would be easier to single-handedly keep two dozen rubber duckies underwater than to effectively manage this class.

My first solution was to allow as much group work as possible. I have often found that when students work together, they are able to socialise as they talk and therefore don’t feel the need to yell out in class. This worked really well throughout the morning, but by afternoon, things were starting to get out of hand. Even after having everyone return to their seats, and even with an aide in the room, the students seemed determine to not follow directions. This made it extremely difficult for me to help those who were struggling with their assignments. Fortunately, I was able to get things under control just before the regular classroom teacher returned to the room. She immediately laid down the law and the class quickly got back in line.

Ah, the anticipated joy of having my own classroom! When I have students who already respect me and want to follow directions, because they have me there every day, instead of just once every now and then! Yet I still love substituting, as well! I love the challenge of walking into a room and having to win the class over in  just a few minutes. I love being able to work with students and have a positive impact, even if I am just there for a few minutes. I love being able to share my lucky coin with students all over the district, and watch as they figure out where I got the coin. And I love being able to tell a teacher that I succeeded in teaching their students, even if they did seem to want to just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk all day long. That is why I continue to come back: because I love teaching.

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