To illustrate the variations and mutations of substitute teaching, the differences between Thursday’s kindergarteners and Friday’s fifth graders are huge. One might reasonably expect that the kindergarteners would be tamer than the students who are within weeks of entering middle school. That’s absolutely incorrect.
Thursday’s kids were generally compliant. Two of them, however, required most of my attention for the majority of the day. While their behavior couldn’t be described as criminal or worthy of juvenile hall, they were stubborn, disrespectful, and unpredictable. By the end of the day I was exhausted and almost out of patience.
By comparison, the fifth graders were more fun than I’ve had lately. They were helpful, funny, kind, and absolutely enjoyable. We had no discipline issues and I didn’t have to deliver one syllable of reprimand.
There really is no simple explanation. It’s not about demographics. In the case of the kinder class, these were kids who appeared to come from comfortable, new, and nice homes. The neighborhood for the fifth graders is much more heterogeneous, suggesting that they are potentially less privileged.
The mistake that I obviously made was that of having expectations. By no means would I have predicted that fifth grade would be so rewarding and entertaining. Once their teacher arrived, she was as serious and rigid an educator as I have lately experienced. This may have some connection to their laughter and freestyle that I witnessed.
Ultimately, it’s a lesson for life. You really don’t know what you’re going to get until you get there. I’m just grateful that I have the flexibility and understanding to have handled both situations. Shalom.