|Photos by: An elementary school student
The staffs at pretty much all of the schools I worked in were very nice and eager to help. The front desk staffs in our county are all extremely nice and made the days go smoothly. They welcomed me with a smile and often some humor. The principals were also very nice, although I generally didn't have too much interaction with them unless I had a very challenging student. I found the sweetest people to be the Special Education teachers. They left very detailed plans and those I saw in person were very clued-in to how I was feeling and what I needed for the day. They have some of the toughest jobs in the county, and they do them very well.
There were also a few random things that made me smile. Schools welcomed substitute teachers in, and when it was teacher appreciation week or holiday time, we had free food for lunch. (Much better than the cafeteria food, I must say!) I also received artwork from students, many of whom I had just met. They were willing to share what they had made and even made me personalized portraits. (So cute!) Elementary school students were quick to accept a new person. They would often run up to me, hug me, and say "I love you," after I had only been in their class for a short time. The world can learn a lot from young children about acceptance of new people.
I learned a lot about the educational system this year. It was something I really didn't know that much about, except for my own experiences growing up and hearing about it from my youth ministry students. It was very interesting to observe and be a part of the education of students at all grade levels, including Special Education classes. It gave me a better idea of how schools and individual classrooms work. I also learned a lot about discipline and managing a class. Some from simply trying things and a lot from asking teachers and other subs what works for them. I feel like I improved a lot in this area and I've been able to use this knowledge with my own kids. For example, many of our schools use a clip chart for discipline. They start in the middle of the chart and move their paper clip up or down depending on their actions. Up leads to a reward at the top, down leads to a disciplinary action at the bottom. This has really helped with my own kids and I found it invaluable in the classroom as well.
I learned once again that I love to teach! On the occasions where I was able to teach a lesson (vs. watching the class while they did a computer assignment or packet), I really enjoyed it. I had several favorite days of teaching this year. One was the day I got to sub for middle school English. We read an interesting story together, discussed it, and then they were to create their own ending. With my love of English and experience from various writing retreats, I jumped in and asked some leading questions. I loved seeing their answers and their creativity with the new endings.
My other favorite lesson this year was the time I got to teach the Bible in public school. "How?" you might ask... I was teaching middle school social studies and we had a lesson that day on Old Testament history and Moses. I just could not believe it when I read through the lesson plan. I was very excited. I have a graduate degree in Biblical studies, so I felt it such a privilege to share this lesson with the students and to use my knowledge to inspire them to learn this part of Christian history. I knew that God had chosen me that day for that lesson. Just another reason I love looking back at his plans unfolding in my life.
Another lesson I enjoyed that ended up really helping a student was one on communication and conflict management. This was a health class lesson for middle schoolers. I presented the material and added my own nuggets of wisdom. I was fascinated by their responses and how much they felt that violent reactions were the best way to deal with conflict. I learned just as much from my students that day as they learned from me. I also loved to throw in a life lesson or two each day so that I was adding my own nugget to the day's lesson.
After this health lesson, a girl came up to me and told me that she was being bullied by a group of girls at the school in a particular situation. I listened, took her very seriously, and helped to connect her with the school counselor. I was honored that she trusted me enough to share this situation with me. If I subbed the whole year just to help this one person, then it was all worth it. Teachers are invaluable as mentors for students. Listening, caring and pointing students in the right direction is what can make the difference in a life.
The students I remember most will be the ones who remembered me from week to week and shouted, "Hey, Mrs. Laska!" or said "You were the best substitute ever!" I also loved it when students simply said "Have a nice day" when they left the classroom. These polite responses showed me their character and their parent's good teaching at home. I would encourage all parents and friends of students to teach them to respect their substitute teachers through politeness, kindness and following the rules when a sub is present. Ironically, I had to teach this lesson to my own son this year. He thrives on routine, so the few days he did misbehave at school were on days he had a substitute teacher. This really upset me, but I took it as an opportunity to teach him about respect for new teachers.
Although being a sub was often challenging, there were many positive things about it, and I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time teaching and learning from my students.
In the last part of this series, I will write about a lesson I did not expect to teach--active shooter training. Coming soon...