Thursday, October 11, 2007


This week I played substitute teacher for a fifth grade science class. It was my first foray into the world of substituting, but hopefully not my last.

For many years of my life I believed I wanted to be some sort of educator. Some sculptor of young minds. I toyed with the idea of being a youth minister, a college professor, or a high school teacher.

Instead I became a corporate, working schlub. I’m not really complaining about that as I’ve made some good money, gained a lot of experience, and had a lot of fun. I’ve been doing that for so long I kind of gave up the idea of being a teacher.

Truth is, I don’t really know how to relate to young people anymore. I’m not an old koot who sits around talking about the kids today and how we did things “back in my day.” I just realize that I have my own life and interest, and those things are not shared with the youngsters.

So it is kind of strange that I am now finding myself as a substitute teacher.

I got the call early Monday morning. The teacher was stuck in Taiwan due to the typhoon and I was needed to substitute Monday through Wednesday. I arrived a little while later with no more information. I walked into the administrator’s office, was given some lesson plans the teacher had e-mailed over, a key to the office and was shoved in the general direction of the class.

That’s it. No instructions on discipline or class times or anything really. Here’s your key and your lessons, now go teach.

I arrived a few minutes before the kids and quickly looked over the plans. Homeroom is first. They come in for twenty minutes in the morning then scatter off to their first class. I was instructed to talk to them about typhoons.

The kids came in, loud and rambunxious. Immediately there was a chorus of “where’s Mr. Homestead?” Quickly though they settled down and took their seats. I explained where there teacher was and we started talking about typhoons. For the most part the class was really good. They were attentive and quiet and they all wanted to talk.

That first twenty minutes went by quickly and I was relieved that it went so well.

The bell rang and the kids got their stuff and lined up at the door. I sat at my desk and looked over the notes for what I was supposed to do next. I had no idea what was next, actually. I assumed a class would come in, but I didn’t know when and I didn’t know for how long.

Lost in those thoughts my kids got really quiet. Then there were whispered arguments. Finally someone piped up “are we dismissed?’

Oh, I guess I’m supposed to dismiss them. And so I did.

A few minutes later a new boy popped his head inside the classroom and asked if they could come in. Once I said yes, the whole lot of them came bustling in. I guess I’m not only supposed to dismiss class, but give the new ones permission to come in.

We were supposed to discuss different study techniques and they best ways to prepare for an exam. My notes were pretty well laid out, and so it was easy to follow. Again, these kids were mostly good. They were a little more involved with each other, and a couple of times I had to ask some of them to be quiet, but mostly they were attentive and wanted to talk.

One boy seemed intent on bragging. When I asked him where he usually studied, his answer came out “in front of my 27” widescreen LCD television.” Later when I asked when he studied he said something like “after watching a really funny movie, and playing a really violent video game.” Everything he said seemed designed to show how much cool stuff he had.

Later he mentioned that his parents lived in Canada and he was staying with his grandparents. Suddenly this made sense. I suspect his grandparents didn’t have the slightest idea how to control him, and his kept sending him expensive gifts because they felt guilty for shipping him to China.

Mostly though, the kids were good.

Another class ended and this time I dismissed them and invited the new bunch to come in. This class too was good, and I was getting the hang of maintaining control while encouraging everyone to talk.

It was after this second period that my wife came to visit. She also pointed out where the schedule was. Finally I had some idea of who was coming in and when.

The rest of my classes went really well. Fifth grade seems amazingly well behaved. There was only one other problem child, and he wasn’t that bad. Mainly he just wouldn’t pay any attention to either his classmates or me. He doodled, he did other homework, he chatted with his neighbors.

These are the kids I have no idea how to handle. Most kids realize that when they are talking they aren’t supposed to and thus a little talking too quiets them up. Most kids recognize an authority figure. This kid was either oblivious or didn’t care. I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to shake him hard. Mainly I left him a lone unless he got disruptive to the rest of the class. Then I’d ask him to be quiet, and he would. For about two minutes.

For day two I was to give them an assignment. They were to divide up into groups and prepare part of the chapter for a presentation. This was to help prepare them for the exam next week.

That was easy. I split them up, gave the instructions and then simply made sure they kept the noise levels down.

There were no problems at all in any class.

Wednesday was tougher. They had to give the presentations and I had to grade them. I don’t know how to grade. I don’t know what is a reasonable presentation for a fifth grader. I was lenient.

I have to admit I’m a little sad today not being in class. It was an exhausting, irritating experience in many ways. Sometimes I wanted to scream, storm out, and set fire to the bunch. Most of the time though they were a joy to talk to and laugh with and get to know.

Three days isn’t a very long time but I think I connected with some of those kids and that’s pretty special.


Sorry Jamison I cannot comment on the shanghai blog either. I can only comment on my midnightcafe blog.

The kids are mostly made up of employees from the company that built the school. It is an international company and thus the kids are very international. They have an english track and a chinese track. I taught at the english track so all of the kids spoke english. A lot of them are Chinese Americans, some of just regular Americans and a few come from other countries but have learned English in one way or another.


Jamison said...

Your first few paragraphs sum up my wifes thoughts.. and many of mine...I am sick of working for computers.

Are the kids in your class chineese? Or what? Sorry, I know you can't comment... I will comment this on your shanghai and let you answer it there (Assuming your double posted)

Ryan F. said...

I will comment and also let you post. Same question, I assume they speak English. I'm sure these kids are much more well behaved than american kids. American kids have straight up become punks. Probably much easier to sub over there than over here. Glad you enjoyed the experience.