Today I substitute taught at my old elementary school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I got up early, got ready, dropped my son off with my parents so that they could babysit, and took the subway uptown.
I got off the train and started walking uptown towards my old school. Who did I happen to see? Cynthia Nixon! For those of you that don’t know who Cynthia Nixon is, she played Miranda on ‘Sex and the City’. I smiled at her, she smiled back at the fact that I recognized her and we continued on our respective daily journeys.
What a nice start to the day!
I got to the school ten minutes early and it was really busy. I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do and where I was supposed to go, but every time I went to ask the secretary the phone rang or she was accosted by another teacher or student needing her assistance.
Finally, I was handed my schedule for the day. I was placed in a different class each period: 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, respectively.
The first class were 3rd graders. I was told that I should supervise them while they ‘read quietly’. They did neither of those two things. Every other minute I had to remind them that there was no talking and it was quiet reading time. They would comply for a while and then regress into talking. So finally, I bribed them.
“Okay. If you read quietly for ten minutes we can play a game.” I said hopefully.
“Can we play 7up?”
“Sure.” I said exhausted already from shhhing them.
It worked. When the teacher walked in we were playing our reward game of 7up.
She asked immediately “What round is this?”
“This is the first round!” Proclaimed a student
“First and last.” She replied
Uh-oh. I thought, I’m in trouble…I was just trying to desperately to keep these kids happy.
My next stop, 4th grade. When I entered the classroom the teacher did not skip a beat, she was ready to update me on what these kids were supposed to be doing. As soon as she started talking I realized…I knew her! She was my old student teacher from the 5th grade and a good friend of my parents’!
I stopped her mid-sentence.
“Wait, a second. What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Ruth.” She replied.
Then I told her who I was and she screamed with delight. She recognized me immediately.
“I remember when you were in a stroller!” She said in disbelief.
We reminisced for a while and then she realized that she really had to go. She was late for her teacher’s meeting. So I was left with Ruth’s 4th grade class.
How bad could they be? I thought.
They, too, had a reading assignment. They were separated into reading groups. Each group was reading a different book. They had to read a portion of the book, discuss it, and then write their reactions in a reading journal.
Every minute or so, as predicted, I found myself shouting
“You’re supposed to be reading! Not talking.” And they would quiet down for a while and then resume their noise.
Then I heard a few boys yelling at each other at one table. So I went to see what the issue was.
“What’s the problem here?” I asked
“He called me a bastard!” said boy A.
“Did you call him that?” I asked the boy B
“Yes.” Admitted boy B
“That’s not a very nice thing to say. How would you feel if he called you that?” I asked boy B.
“I wouldn’t care!” Proclaimed boy B proudly.
“Well, he seems to care.” I said pointing to boy A. “Tell him you’re sorry.” I instructed boy B.
“I’m sorry.” Said boy B, laughing hysterically.
“It doesn’t sound like you are very sorry.” I said responding to his laughter.
“Okay, okay.” He replied, calming down. “I’m sorry.”
“He means it,” Said boy A “He has a serious face on. It’s okay.”
Next was the 5th grade. After their student teacher taught a Social Studies lesson, I was assigned the task of handing out a workbook for them with questions to complete. I circulated around to each table to make sure they were doing their work.
There was one particular table that didn’t seem to be doing very much work at all.
“Who are you?” one student asked me “Are you a new sub?”
“Yes, I am a sub.”
“Are you new?” She asked again.
“I’ve been around forever.” I joked with her.
“But how come I’ve never seen you before.” She asked.
I changed the subject
“I used to go to this school.” I remarked
“Really, how old are you?” another student asked,
“I’m not going to answer that.” I replied.
“But, Mrs. Foster was my 5th grade teacher.” I told them. Mrs. Foster is still a teacher at this particular school today.
“Wow!” They marveled.
“Okay, okay guys,” interrupted the student teacher. “That’s enough, get back to work.”
Whew! She saved me from a personal inquisition!
I was making my rounds again, attempting to answer questions about 5th grade social studies, when one girl blurted out
“You have a tattoo.”
“What does that have to do with the assignment?” I replied.
“But, did it hurt?” She asked.
“Again,” I replied, “That has nothing to do with Westward Expansion in America.”
The day was quite challenging. These kids are full of surprises and interminable questions. I have to say, that after spending the day with 8-11 year olds. Caring for a one year old seems like a cake walk.