Monday, September 20, 2010
Little known fact: The absence of lesson plans for the sub is what led to the creation of popular classroom games such as "Silent Ball" and "Head Up, Seven Up".
After getting his keys and folder, the sub wanders around campus looking for the right classroom. Inevitably, this journey ends with the sub confidently entering the room, realizing he's in the wrong place (because there's already a teacher in there) and asking, "I'm sorry, could you tell me where room 215 is?"
He finally finds room 215, writes his name on the white board, and waits for the arrival of 30-35 children who will spend the rest of the day making him completely miserable.
At least, that was my experience in the three years I spent as a substitute teacher.
Here's the thing, though, it provided me with a few great stories, one of which I've entitled "The A Word."
I was subbing for a fifth grade teacher named Mrs. Walton. The morning had gone as well as could be expected, fifteen minutes of math followed by two and a half hours of Head Up, Seven Up. After lunch, two girls in the class, Pauline and Stephanie, came running up to me.
"Hey, Mr. whatever your name is," said Stephanie. That's another thing about being a sub. Write it on the board as many times as you want, unless you're a stand-up comedian or have movie-star looks, kids will never remember your name. I'm neither of those things, so regularly had to settle for "Mr. whatever your name is" or "Yo, teacher dude."
"Yes, Stephanie?" I replied.
"I don't want to be a tattle tale or anything, but Pauline just called me the B word."
Time for a quick lesson on elementary school vocabulary. When a student doesn't want to get in trouble for using profanity, he or she refers to cuss words by their first letter. The F word, for instance, is self-explanatory and needs no elaboration; however, other words are not so clear. For kindergarteners, the S word is "shut up", by second grade it evolves to "stupid". It's not until the middle of fourth grade that it becomes the S word that we all know and love. That would be shit, for the less "street smart" among you. The B word is another one that's pretty universal, so when Stephanie fired her accusation at Pauline, it's safe to say that everyone was on the same page.
"Okay, Pauline," I said. "Why did you call Stephanie the B word? I've known her for a long time, almost four hours now, and I'm sure that she's not a b-, uh, one of those."
Pauline was indignant. "I called her that because Stephanie called me the A word."
This one threw me. The only A word I could think of was the one that sort of rhymes with "hassle", but from what I could tell about Stephanie, that's a word she wouldn't have used. I mean, I could've been wrong, but she didn't strike me as a mean or foul-mouthed kid. So, taking a bit of a risk, I asked for clarification.
"Um, Pauline, what's the A word?" I asked.
Stephanie raised a quizzical eyebrow at Pauline, then looked at me. In grand gesture that would've made any circus ringmaster proud, she extended her arms toward Pauline and shouted, "TA DA!"
Trying, unsuccessfully, to stifle my laughter, I told Stephanie, "Okay, okay. Steph, promise me that you won't ever use the A word at school again?"
"Okay, Mr. whatever your name is," she said. "I won't."
Pauline seemed satisfied.