Monday, August 4, 2014

My Only Elementary School Job

Today was my first day "subbing" in an elementary school. I put subbing in quotes because there was a student teacher there, and so I was an assistant at best. And I learned a lot, both as an observer of students and teachers. I also learned that I can handle an elementary classroom.

A while back, I tried to volunteer and get familiar with elementary school earlier by stopping in the most convenient school and introducing myself. I said I'd like to get comfortable in an elementary setting again before diving into a full day of wrangling tiny kids. It's the all-day schedule of the same kids and at least four different subjects vs the middle school model of different kids but the same subject.  The principal and receptionists took my name and seemed pleasant, but the next morning, the principal called me in a panic because they were short on substitutes and she wanted me to fill an all-day position right away. That is not at all what I had in mind, but she just needed a body in the room and didn't care about whether my day went well or my stress level was high. Of course I could've managed it, but not easily. I wouldn't have felt confident, and that most likely would've shown to kids. Anyway, administrators see subs as warm bodies that help keep things a bit safer. So, I said I couldn't do it, and they haven't called me since.

But yesterday, I took the job knowing that it'd be an assistant-type of situation. The student teacher was skilled in some areas, but she still had some learning to do. I let her take the lead and offered support and to lead parts if she wanted. She asked me to head up the activity for Friendship Day on exhibiting friendly behaviors. We talked about what friendly behaviors looked like and how the way you treat people is a huge part of who you are. We made a list of behaviors that we'd want to see, and we played games to practice. My hooks were that I was a middle school teacher and knew about how things were for the "big kids" and what kinds of problems they had. Also, that I had taught many of their siblings. They listened exceedingly well, partly for the above reasons and partly because I was a new, positive face.

What I learned regarding classroom set up was that there definitely needs to be spaces for kids to take breaks from a group, recalibrate and figure out their needs independently. They could be reminded to go there or figure it out on their own. I liked the way that groups were set so that supplies were available for all, and everyone was responsible for checking that they had enough supplies. I liked the way that some of the activities were done on the floor so that the students had a change in positions. Sitting all day is bad for everyone. I liked that there was a class called "acceleration", which was a leveled literacy type of class where each class had a different project or theme. They were all "accelerating" at their own pace.

I learned a little something from the fact that the student teacher was pretty negative. She had multiple confrontations with one or two kids, and didn't have the tools to deal with them well. They pushed her buttons and she let them. The rest of the class suffered. It made me realize that I'm actually pretty good at avoiding power struggles and dealing with problems under the radar. She was all about letting them know who was boss, but I don't think they needed her to. And of course, the more she power-tripped and floundered, the less she achieved her goal.

Overall, elementary school was a good experience for me, and I should've done it more. What was I worried about?  Thirty-five needy children squirming all over the room? Teaching multiple subjects in a day? Not having a decent break? Oh, yes, those things. But even with those elements, it was fun, and I got a ggreat perspective on where my students were just a few years ago.