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

Expectations

Today I was a “floater sub” at Robeson Elementary. I spent the morning with a 3rd grade classroom, and the afternoon with 5th graders. It was not a particularly great day. It wasn’t my worst day ever, either, but there were definitely moments when I found myself wondering why it is that I actually like my job.

I love teaching. It is my passion and my life. I don’t like having to lecture students on things like sitting in their seats, raising their hands, and doing their work. I don’t enjoy lecturing my students on being quiet in the hallways. I really hate when I have to stop a lesson to point out that telling a fellow student to “close your big fat black lips” is disgusting and despicable, and absolutely unacceptable at all times and in all places. I had to do all of these things today.

The things is, I like having to lecture about anything, really. I believe that the best learning comes through discussion and exploration. But my students today refused all attempts at rational discussion. Some of you may be thinking, “But Alex, these are kids. Aren’t you expecting a bit much of them?” My response is a resounding NO. I have seen students younger than these do amazing things. I once spent a week teaching 2nd graders and we had a week of amazing discussions throughout each day. Discussions about math, science, social studies, literature, and behaviour. So if 2nd graders can do it, I know that 3rd graders and 5th graders can do it too.

My students in the morning were actually very well behaved most of the morning. With the exception of four of them, the class was on task, working hard, and participating as expected. But everything fell apart on the way to PE. The class this afternoon started off well, but quickly fell into anarchy. I don’t even know what happened, or why. It just did. I managed to pull them back together and ready for a social studies lesson on the experiences of Ruby Bridges, and we managed to have a discussion for about 7 1/2  minutes. Then it all fell apart. So I threw in the towel and had them do the reading by themselves. No discussion. No sharing ideas. No fun. Also no recess.

Expectations are a funny thing. I believe what Jaime Escalante is attributed with saying in the movie Stand and Deliver: “Students will rise to the level of expectation that we have for them.” I hope that I keep high expectations. I think that I err when I don’t respond immediately to any failure to meet those expectations. I keep hoping that if I give the students chances to correct their behaviour, they will. What I need to start doing is be more forceful in handing out immediate consequences. It will slow the pace of the instruction but, then, the chronic poor behaviour leads to a halt in instruction, anyway. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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