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

On Why I Try to Ignore Well-Meaning People

Today I was a 4th grade teacher at Lincoln Trails Elementary School in Mahomet. This marked my first adventure in one of Mahomet’s two grade schools. Unlike many school districts, Mahomet is one of the districts in the area that uses “Learning Centers” as their schools. This means that the Middletown Early Education Center houses all of the kindergarten students in the district. Sangamon Elementary School houses all the students in first and second grade. Lincoln Trails has all the third, fourth, and fifth grade students. This is a similar set-up to what the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district, where I did my student teaching, uses. So I kind of knew what I was getting myself into, and, at the same time, I had never been to this school before, so I had no idea what their curriculum was.

I am glad to say that I did not get totally lost. Well, except for making an extra loop around the hallways of the building when trying to locate the Teachers’ Workroom. But that wasn’t really “getting lost” as it was “taking the scenic route”. The curriculum was pretty straightforward, and I even learned a new game to play to help students practice spelling words. I will have to try it out in another class one of these days.

So, I arrived at the building on time and began to read through the plans for the day. The other 4th grade teachers across the hall from me came in and introduced themselves, and offered to help in any way possible. (Every teacher does this, but I’ve rarely had to go to another teacher to actually get help with anything. Go me, I guess.) After the usual pleasantries, I was given the hushed advice that I always get: “Be careful with this class. They are a really noisy bunch, and you have to keep your thumb on them pretty tight. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile and then keep on going. Oh, and be careful of this girl. She’ll try to avoid doing work, and when you push it, she’ll probably start crying. Don’t be surprised if you have to send her to the office.” And on and on.

I appreciate what these teachers are trying to do. Really, I do. They don’t want me to get blind-sided by crazy students. They want me to be prepared for the worst-case scenario so that I won’t have a complete break-down and run out of the room screaming in the middle of the day. I am grateful for the offers of help and the advice about the school. But I still try to ignore them when they start giving me the “dirt” on the class. And I have a very good reason for doing so.

The students came in this morning and immediately went through their usual morning routine. They made lunch choices, they unpacked their bags and hung up their coats, they sharpened their pencils, and they got their morning work, which they started working on right way. There were the usual greetings to classmates, but nothing unusual. In fact, it kind of threw me for a loop. I am used to the Champaign schools, where students go berserk when they see a substitute. And then I had been prepped by my well-meaning colleagues-for-the-day. None of their dire warnings came true. The students were well-behaved, they all worked diligently throughout the day (including the girl I had been thrice warned about!) and they were very fun. We talked, we joked, we discussed, we learned. We explored new concepts and discussed things that we kind of already knew. I got a girl who was terrified of answering a math question about what 6 multiplied by 6 is to confidently give the answer to what 3 multiplied by 2 with 5 more added equaled. It was awesome!

And so it was that I remembered that those well-meaning people really do mean well, but it doesn’t hurt to mentally disregard their warnings. Sometimes they are right: sometimes the class really is full of little hellions bent on my destruction. But most of the time? Most of the time they will rise to the level of expectation which I have for them. And who knows… Maybe the class is really noisy. I just didn’t see it today. Oh, I should also add that I also saved the day when I captured an enormous centipede alive and let it loose outside. Yeah, I am definitely the coolest substitute teacher ever.

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