Entering my eighteenth year of substitute teaching (with several breaks at full-time employment), it’s extremely simple to come up with those lessons that are crucially important to learn. Listen to your students. Provide life lessons as well as those contained in the curriculum. Ask for both sides of a story before accusing or punishing students involved in a dispute.

Something a bit more difficult is learning what not to do. Some of these are obvious, others not so much. The first is telling a group of children on the playground not to run. You may as well ask them to stop breathing or blinking their eyes. Walking is never a desirable option when running achieves the same outcome in half the time.

Second is not to waste your time requesting that students stop screaming (also on the playground). Try as I may, I can’t determine where the impulse to scream originates. But I’m beginning to believe that it’s contagious – once one student begins to scream, you can easily hear four or five or twenty more.

Another piece of advice is not to ask students to keep track of their clothing or other possessions. Recently I witnessed a child repeatedly removing his shoes and leaving them anywhere. It was personally amusing to notice that his socks didn’t match. Another student proceeded to drag a perfectly good jacket throughout the entire playground. Maybe he knows that he will outgrow it in a few minutes and it really won’t matter at all.

Another profound waste of time is to instruct students to look only at their own papers. This doesn’t mean that all kids are cheaters; it simply means that they all want to perform well on tests or other activities. If they believe that a neighbor’s work is superior in any way, there is little chance that they won’t sneak a peek.

Finally (and sadly), I never anticipate that a class of younger students (kinder, 1st and 2nd) will listen to instructions and get them right on my first attempt. Yesterday I had a class of 1st graders who were completing an activity on vowels followed by “r” and I must have issued the instructions eighteen times (there were 18 kids in the class). Who wants to listen to the teacher? Isn’t what my neighbor is doing more important than vowels? And so, I patiently repeat and repeat.

No-one ever suggested that the job was going to be easy. But as I continue to understand the lessons I must learn, frustration quickly dissipates. Shalom.



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