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A Chance to
Teach and Learn

A day spent split between assignments in an elementary school gave me the chance to teach two fourth grade classes, observe some quality teaching, and work with students individually. Included: Insight into a substitute teacher's day.

My fourth day substitute teaching was a little fractured, but it gave me the chance to watch some quality teaching and find out what it's like to work one-on-one with students.

My confidence was unusually high this time, maybe because my previous three days of subbing made me feel like a veteran, and after all, I reasoned, how horrible could my judgment be, anyway?

I was assigned to a different elementary school this month, to cover a fourth grade class in the afternoon and with an assignment to-be-named later in the morning.

A staff member decided a kindergarten class could use some helping hands, so she sent me to Mrs. C's class. My first experience with full-day kindergarten in December had been a little overwhelming (See Keeping Busy in Kindergarten.) When I walked into Mrs. C's class, I could tell I was with a pro, and it was a good chance to make like a sponge and soak it all in.


Mrs. C asked me to work with two boys and two girls in the hallway and help them with letter recognition. I asked the kids to find a letter, and they picked out the snowman head with the lower-case letter and matched it with the snowman bottom with the upper case letter until we had an alphabet of snowmen.

Education World In The Classroom

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending one day a month as a substitute teacher in one of the Middletown (Connecticut) Public Schools' elementary or middle schools. She is learning and writing about the daily challenges substitute -- and permanent -- teachers face.

Some knew more letters than others, and their friends were happy to chime in to help them.

After than, I returned to the room and listened to the morning routine while cutting out mittens for a coloring project.

Good kindergarten teachers, I'm learning, have eyes and ears in the backs of their heads. As one girl exited the bathroom, Mrs. C barely moved, but said, "I didn't hear the flush."

The children read from their journals about winter, reviewed the date, the year, the day of the week, and the weather. One girl said that winter made her think of spiders. Mrs. C noted that a spider had come into the room the other day. Why did she suppose the spider came inside? Because recess was over, according to the young author.

Mrs. C added that she had shown the spider the way out, "so he could be with his buddies."

To help the youngsters "get the wiggles out," as Mrs. C put it, they sang a song about ten melting snowmen, counting backwards from ten and "melting" to the ground.


Then I took Ken, one of the children with whom I had worked in the hallway, to the resource room and discovered his paraprofessional was absent. So I supervised him as he traced the numbers one, two and three and traced and tried to write his name. Ken also counted red, blue, green, and yellow bears. He had a tendency to confuse numbers and letters.

Ken told me he was allowed to play a computer game, but I was not sure I should authorize that, I said I did not know how to start it up.

Back in the room, I listened to part of a story about a girl who had trouble fitting in with other kids and wanted to have friends. Mrs. C asked the class to think about what the girl might do to let the other children know her feelings were hurt and that she wanted to play with them. She told the children she would finish reading the story later.

Mrs. C asked me to help Ken and Sarah, another girl I had worked with in the hall, set up books about the letter W. I wrote a capital and lower case W on a board and the first words they needed to copy into their books and illustrate, which were witch and wagon.

Then it was off to lunch, before heading to fourth grade. While finishing the entre du jour in the faculty room, I met Mr. J, the teacher for whom I would be subbing. The music teacher, who also was eating lunch, told me Mr. J's class was really nice, which was good to hear.


I got to the room a little early so I could watch how Mr. J handled the class. He delayed his departure, seeming reluctant to leave. Mr. J's class went off for a lesson with another teacher, and he started a science lesson on motion with another fourth grade class that came in. My job was to show a video on friction, discuss the high points with the class, and then repeat the lesson with Mr. J's class when the students returned. I took notes during the film, and told the kids to take notes as well.

The example in the film of rubbing a leather thong against a stick to start a fire drew some giggles.

After getting some answers to my basic questions about friction -- what it is and what it causes -- it was edging toward the time when I thought the other teacher was coming to pick up her class and return mine, and restlessness was growing. I sent two boys to the back of the room for calling out, a punishment that seemed new to them.

To fill in the extra minutes, the kids asked to play a state identification game, and I simplified the rules. After a few rounds of that, I asked one girl to explain to me how they usually played. Two students stood in front of a map, I called out a state name and the first one to point to the correct state won and chose another student to play. Things were getting a little noisy and I was starting to fear I got my signals crossed, so I sent a messenger back to his class to ask what I should do, but he returned to say the other class was in the hall.

After Mr. J's class got settled, I reviewed motion and played the friction tape again, but now I was prepared with questions. I noted and praised the youngsters who were dutifully taking notes.

My second friction lesson went more smoothly, and when that was finished, I told the students to complete their morning work. I offered a math ditto to those were done, and for anyone who ploughed through the front and back of that, I handed out a word search I had brought along.

One of these days I'll learn the secret to a smooth dismissal. As quitting time closed in, bathroom and drink requests began escalating and I just can't seem to get everyone ready to leave without pleas to listen to directions, excess noise, and loitering. Gridlock in front of the cubbies after I called the first row of students to get their belongings forced me to shoo some youngsters back to their seats, although several read silently or worked on puzzles as I had requested until walkers and buses were called.

I left the school feeling not quite as confident as when I arrived, but hoping that I took some of the poise and skills of the experienced teachers with me.


Keeping in Touch

One of the people who has been following my adventures in subbing is Jim Politis, president of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance.

Politis liked the idea of a series about a sub's point of view, and calls me periodically to see how I'm holding up and offer some feedback.

A former high school teacher, Politis, who lives in Maryland, now subs several days a week, mostly in secondary schools.

When he was a full-time teacher, he made a point to leave detailed lesson plans and request certain substitutes he could count on, Politis told Education World. "I could give them more responsibility and it was a better day for the kids."

Now he really appreciates it when teachers leave plenty to do and treat subs with respect. "I've walked into rooms where there literally is nothing, and that's frustrating," Politis said. "Then there's a fellow who leaves instructions addressed to 'Dear Guest Teacher.'"

Politis added it is unusual for a teacher to leave him no lesson plans -- that might only occur once or twice a year. Skimpy lesson plans greet him more often.

And for that he has a solution. "If a teacher doesn't prepare well, I don't sub for him or her again."