Friday, January 22, 2010

No help at all.

Yesterday I subbed for an art teacher in an urban district. This is not particularly distinct from my typical gig. The only thing was that I had never worked in this school before. And I've only really said this once before (well, only about one school), but I doubt I will again.

The kids were pretty out of contol, and while I'd be tempted to say that these were bad kids, I know they are not. Whenever another teacher stepped in the room, the class would instantly fall quiet. It is these sort of situations that really drive me nuts, because as I try to get the class to quite down, the 'good kids' come up to me, one by one, pat me on the arm and tell me something that I might try to do which gets them to settle down. "You could push that talk button over there to get someone to come to the room;" five minutes into my first class? Riiiight. "You could say they won't have Fun Friday." "You could clap your hands." It becomes as much of a task to get the "helpful" ones to sit down and be quiet as the chatty disruptive kids. During my second to last class, a room of first graders (who were filled with the typical contaigious-need to go to the bathroom and "I can't do it"s and the gamut of issues little kids typically have) a little girl came in, probably about 3rd or 4th grade. She told me she was the art helper, and as much as I wanted to just send her on her way, I figured she might be of some use shushing the first graders, so I let her stay.

The unfortunate thing about substitute teaching is that many kids rely heavily on routine, and if the teacher has not indicated something on the sub plans, it will not be part of the routine. All day the kids had been asking for these little slips of paper (a lot of elementary schools are doing this lately - a 'caught being good' reward system in which the papers can be traded in for school store items or perhaps can be placed in a drawing for a bigger prize). I don't award these things when students ask for them, and I especially don't award these things when I haven't been able to stop yelling. This little girl, my art helper, starts insisting that we hand out these little peices of paper. My first instinct is to fight her on it, and then I just let her go. As that class leaves, I inform the teacher of who was good, who was terribly misbehaved (they're going to lose recess for an entire week) and who had a million crisises (uncontrollable itching followed by crying because she can't draw a square concluded with a papercut which might as well have been the loss of a digit from the way she whined). I thank the little girl in a manner in which I hoped would imply, "thank you...your work here is done" but she told me that the regular teacher usually lets her stay for two classes, and she wanted to stay. So I said she could, and immediately regretted my decision as the next class of fifth graders came in. She, as kids had earlier, suggested I call someone to come in and yell at the kids (right at the beginning of class). As I explained about how they were supposed to draw things and why, she started pointing to the teacher sample on the board (as if I needed any more to encourage the kids to say "that doesn't look like that one!!") and just generally mimicked me, which some people might find cute, but I really didn't appreciate it. As the students got to work, she decided to continue her role as task master, and went around yelling at the other kids in the class. Kids who are bigger than her. Kids who are older than her.

And if you think they respected her authority, you haven't hung around kids much. Not only did they freak out about her telling them what to do (even if I said that I had asked her to do so --- a little fib to support her), they threw things at her and one boy even asked her if she was pregnant (admittedly, she has a potbelly, but nearly half of all little girls do. Plus, I have a potbelly and I'm not pregnant...nor do I ever appreciate that question). Soon, I was fielding more complaints from her about the abuse she was suffering from the older kids than I was from any of the students in the room about the abuse they've suffered from each other. She asked for a piece of paper, so she could try the assignment also. "Great," I thought, "maybe this will keep her busy and out of their (and my) hair." Within 5 minutes she had finished the assignment and hung it up on the board. Several minutes later she was complaining that kids were picking on her. "Why'd you hang your work up?" I asked. "You allow people to share their opinions with you when you put yourself out there, and their opinions aren't always nice."

Sometimes those opinions are downright cruel. Sometimes those opinions are riddled with typos.

After this class left, one little girl stayed around. It almost seemed like she was putting up the chairs for me, except that they were already up, and she was just sort of flipping them over, and back over again. I needed to vent about what just happened, so I explained to her about the little art helper and why I thought her classmates hadn't respected that little girl's, ehem, authority. This girl, the one flipping the chairs, started telling me about her brother in the middle school. I'm sure I've met him. She told me all about how he beat someone up, punched him until his eye was almost falling out. He beat this kid up because that kid had hit his girlfriend. I guess I understand. "Well, I certainly wouldn't mess with *you*!" I told this little girl teasingly, "your brother would totally beat me up!"

"Nah, I'd do it myself," she responded. She then proceeded to tell me about the fights that she had been in. This bright-eyed little girl with french braided pigtails and a warm smile. My goodness. "I grew up in the Bronx." You did? I mean, you're like....what, nine? You grew up there?

I tried to explain to her why fighting is a really bad idea in school, and on the street you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

But then I remembered that you still have to answer to an authority figure on the street, and told her to avoid doing that because she doesn't want to be put in custody, or in jail when she's old enough. "My mom has been in jail three times."

Sometimes it's really sad when you find the answer to your questions.

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