My mom was visiting this week and we got to reminiscing. A math teacher herself, we always have a lot to chat about. Today we were laughing about my first day as a “real” teacher. Well maybe not a real teacher – I was reminded enough that first day that I was not, in fact, the real teacher. But it was my first day as a substitute – a paid gig. I was excited and nervous, but mainly excited. In for the day in a grade four class in my hometown of New Waterford, Nova Scotia. Grade 4’s were scary. Younger than my comfort zone and probably super attached to their “real” teacher and their routines. I was going to mess it up. I was going to mess it up huge.
I was shown a bright, beautiful classroom with rows of tiny furniture. Excited. That’s how I felt. This is what I wanted: my own class to decorate and organize and breathe life into. Then I found the sub plan. It was a book. I could feel my pulse start to race…back to nervous. There was no time to read any of this. I saw the schedule, a list of spelling words, found a novel, and some math questions. We would be fine? We would be fine. I took a few deep breaths and practiced my opening introduction and reviewed my expectations out loud to the empty desks. A throat cleared. A teacher from the neighboring room was there to show me where to collect my students from the line up outside. She grinned as I turned a deep purple. “You’ll do fine,” she reassured me.
The day was a roller coaster of ups and downs. I used the wrong colour star stickers on the spelling chart and “ruined the whole thing” according to a little blond girl with curls. A few minutes before recess I tried to get the kiddos into their outside clothes and out to the playground only to discover that they needed easily five times the minutes I allotted to get ready. The bell rang to come in as we were making our way out. “Substitutes!” one little boy sighed rolling his eyes. Hilarious. I decided to take them out anyway and we had the playground to ourselves. “Best recess eva!” a few said. Back inside, the students couldn’t agree on where the teacher left off in their read aloud book so I read one that I had brought, Socks for Supper by Jack Kent. We talked for a long time about the story and drew pictures until lunch time. Just when I thought I was winning them over the same know-it-all girl told me, “You were supposed to take us to the bathroom 15 minutes ago to wash our hands!” Yikes. Tough crowd.
The afternoon was better. The kids had music and gym and I went along with them as part of the class. They thought that was hilarious and awesome. I thought they were hilarious and awesome so of course I wanted to hang out with them. “You’re better as a student”, one of the kids said. I decided to take that as a compliment. The last class of the day was math. That seemed odd to me. I probably had that wrong. No – that was the schedule. A closer look revealed that the end of every day was math. Interesting. I told the kids that the best part of the day had finally arrived – math! They groaned. Some even looked nervous. Wow. Weren’t these kids too young to have an opinion (never mind a negative one) about math? Apparently not. I powered through. I decided to ignore the lesson plan of drilling times tables and played a math game, had them guess my “Mystery Number” and then write as many questions as they could that had an answer of 5. We ended the day on a high note. Lots of sharing, happy faces, relaxed postures. “You are better at math than the other things”, my biggest critic relented.
Learning from my earlier recess debacle I had those kids packed up and ready for the bus in record time. As they filed past me one quiet little girl shoved a note in my hands. It read, “Thank you for teaching me. You make my work easier. Too bad you weren’t the realy teacher. From Sarah”.
Yup – a pretty perfect day.