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

Third Grade

Interviews VI, VII and VIII

I don’t know why I didn’t blog about my interview on Wednesday, nor do I know why I have put off blogging about today’s interview, but I guess I should do it to keep my running record of my professional life going. Because this is a bit over 1,400 words, I’m going to put a break in here, just to keep my home screen from being overwhelmed by this post.




Today I was a 3rd grade teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. Today was a very rough day. Of the sixteen students in the class, four of them were awesome, eight of them were less-than desirable, and four of them were quite terrible. Or, rather, their behaviour was, respectively, awesome, less-than desirable, and quite terrible. I do not believe any child is bad. It is the behaviour that is bad.

Anyway, during the course of the day, I struggled with a lot of behavioural problems. During lunch, and after school, I was able to express concerns with my colleagues. I was appreciative of their support and encouragement. I also received encouragement from some of the students who were behaving admirably well.

What I find interesting about all of this, it never occurred to me that it would be a good idea to turn to my blog to vent about my students. It is one thing to say I had a rough day. It is an entirely different matter to turn to the internet and use profane, disrespectful, and hateful language in describing my students, my job, my employers, and pretty much everyone in the world. Venting is healthy, but it needs to be done in the appropriate setting. It is totally cool for me to vent to my colleagues and to my wife. But I will never use my very public blog to vent to the world.

Besides, I love my job. Even on the rough days. “For it must needs be that there be opposition in all things…” If all of my days were wonderful, I would become complacent and lackadaisical in my work. So here’s to hoping for a better tomorrow!

Making It Up As I Go

Today I was a 3rd grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign. I was a bit hesitant to accept the assignment based on my last experience at Kenwood in 2009. The class I had worked with then was among one of the worst classes I have ever seen. It was bad enough that I requested not to be assigned there again. Those students were in first grade, which meant that my students today would, possibly, be products of that year. However, ISAT testing is going on this week, so I am planning on fewer assignments than usual, so I took the opportunity.

I am glad I did, because the students today were awesome! They were a lot of fun, they worked hard, and the followed all the directions that were given today. This was particularly impressive because the teacher for whom I was subbing had no plans for the day. She had left on Friday with the possible beginnings of strep throat, and apparently decided to not come in today around 4:30 am. I arrived in the classroom and saw nothing indicating any kind of plans for the day. So I went to one of my neighbouring teachers and sought out her assistance. She gave me a brief outline for the day, provided some ISAT practice work, and set me on my way.

Days like today remind me that I am, indeed, a fully qualified and certified educator. I was able to make things up as I went without giving any indication that I really had no clue what I was doing. (Well, okay, I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know what I would be doing from one moment to the next). I was pleased at how well everything went, I and I was pleased at how well the students were willing to do what was asked of them. I have no doubts that they will do quite well during the tests this week. And who knows, maybe I’ll be there again!

Overheard in the Teachers’ Lounge…

Today I was a 3rd grade teacher at Lincoln Trails Elementary School in Mahomet. The class was really awesome and lots of fun. I managed to teach a lesson on writing a cursive i, which was kind of scary, since I haven’t used cursive since about 5th grade. Fortunately, I was able to handle it, and I used my bad handwriting as an example of what not to do (without admitting that it was my typical cursive handwriting). Yeah, I’m just that good.

I also had the distinct pleasure of subbing for a teacher with whom I went to high school. Apparently she doesn’t remember me, which doesn’t bother me too much, since she was a grade ahead of me and I graduated almost a decade ago, but as soon as someone told me her maiden name, I was like, “Whoa! I know her! And her husband! Crazy!” This tidbit of information was something I learned in the teachers’ lounge.

(And yes, I know that there are teachers who have some bizarre dislike of the term “lounge”. As a matter of fact, the room at Lincoln Trails is officially called the “Teachers’ Workroom”, but I decided to use the somewhat more familiar term.)

For those who have never spent time in one of these rooms, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Teachers talk about really strange things. Surprisingly, there is very little discussion about teaching. In fact, it seems like teaching is a taboo subject, unless it is in relation to the crazies who have taken over the bodies of normally well-behaved students. As an example, here are some of the things that were overheard today…

“I’m reading over a paper my son has due by the end of school today, and boy, am I glad to know that he can B.S. as well as I could when I was in high school!”

“It is amazing how quietly girls can throw up. I have boys, and when the puke, they’re all like, ‘RRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAUUUGGGGHHH!!!!!'”

“I told her to throw up in the trash can, but the can was full, so the puke splattered all over the place. And it wasn’t like she could run across the room to the other trash can, so she just kept going, and it got all over the floor. Then the custodian was busy, so I figured, ‘Hey, I’ve worked as a lifeguard–I’ve cleaned up all sorts of stuff!’ So I put on the rubber gloves and cleaned it all up. At the next staff meeting, I got an award for going above and beyond!”

“Oh, yeah, if a kid threw up in my room, I’d take them outside until the custodian could clean it up. No way I’m going to touch that!”

“I am so glad that my husband works second shift, because now when I get home, he’s at work, and then when he comes home, I’m already asleep, so he doesn’t try to… you know… very often. I’m over 30 years old! I don’t need that very much!”

“Well, you know, with this economy…”

Bodily functions definitely seem to be a dominant topic. Also, videos of grandchildren, discussions about kids moving out, and talk about how long before retirement are common. Of course, there are also the teachers who come in, eat, and leave, all without saying a word.

This is all very different when there are treats, though. Then there are discussions about calories and weight loss plans, all while the men and women in the school are fighting over the last brownie. Fun times!


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.

When All the Tricks in the Bag Fail

Yesterday morning I had an assignment to teach for a third grade teacher at Robeson Elementary School. I have known this teacher since I began working as a substitute, and have been looking forward to being in her class. As an aside, I have spent more time teaching at Robeson than at every other school in this district combined. The teachers, administrators, support staff, and students all know me–most of them by name. So it is always a joy to go into a new classroom.

Unfortunately, I have been suffering from the side-effects of my first-ever flu vaccine last week, which means that, among other things, I am losing my voice. I am drinking lots of herbal infusions (also known as herbal teas, despite the lack of actual tea), pounding down the acetaminophen at healthy doses, and trying to speak with a soft, even voice. As a teacher, this can be difficult. As a substitute, it is nigh-impossible. Nevertheless, substitutes don’t get sick days, so away to school I went, scratchy voice and all.

The class was very noisy, and several students seemed to have a distinct lack of respect for substitute teachers in general, and me specifically. One of them even stated that because I am a substitute, she doesn’t need to listen to me. * sigh * Fortunately for me, this class has an incredibly competent student teacher who has been with the class from the beginning of the year. So she was really the one leading the class, and I was there as support. It was rough-going, but not a terrible day.

Yesterday evening, an assignment for this same teacher came up for this afternoon. So I accepted it, hoping that my second visit to the class would be better. I was wrong.

The majority of the students ignored every direction I gave, wandered around the classroom, yelled at their classmates, and generally disrespected each other and me. Even after I revoked their afternoon recess and their movie that they were going to watch, they continued to show a great deal of disrespect. I realised that I had lost this class. I let their teacher know that, at least this year, it would probably be best if I didn’t come back. She sighed, expressed her disappointment, but agreed, pointing out that her class has a hard time with substitute.

I left feeling dejected. I’ve only ever had two other classes that I have had to resign from teaching. One was a fourth grade class that drove the teacher to retirement. During the second day I taught there, students threw wet paper towels at me and tried to ruin school property. The other class as a first grade class that refused to do any of the work that their teacher had left for them. I got home, expressed how bad the day had gone to my wonderfully supportive wife, and then I found my silver lining. My lesson learned from this class. It came from a recent address given by one of the leaders of my church. I don’t want to get too caught up with the spiritual aspects of the talk, but, by applying his address to my role as a teacher, I have learned this valuable nugget of truth:

When it comes to classroom management, students have the control, not the teachers. The teachers invite, entice, and encourage, but the students must actively seek to manage themselves. It is only when all of the students have each decided to behave correctly that the class can be truly managed and led toward the great truths that are to be discovered through learning and teaching. If the students don’t want to control themselves, then no amount of commanding, coercing, or compelling will do any good. Students must invite self-control into their lives. My job as a teacher is to show my students why self-mastery is to be desired over instant gratification. As a substitute teacher, I am given approximately 5 minutes to accomplish this. If, after five minutes, there is still doubt, then the students will probably choose instant gratification over self-mastery. It is definitely something to think about as I continue to learn and grow as an educator.