Month: November 2016
Dylan and I have been gone for four days – yet another college road tour – and just got back. I missed my Monday blog because I forgot that it was Monday.
Now I beg your forgiveness that I must, along with the rest of the country, go and sit in front of the TV on Election Night, in a panic that our country is at death’s door.
More later, I’m sure.
As a substitute for a first grade class this week, one of my assignments was to read, Duck for President.
Perhaps it’s not been all that noticeable, but this year is a Presidential election.
So my assignment was to talk a little about the upcoming election – without asserting any opinions – and then read the book, and talk about the things Duck did when he was running for President.
Duck for President is a very simplistic view of what happens. There’s some campaigning, but no mention of what that means, and Duck rides in some parades and kisses some babies. Otherwise, Duck doesn’t do much – although he still gets elected. At the end, he quits because it’s too much work, and goes back to the farm from whence he came.
So I pulled out the book and sat on my rocker in front of 18 first graders, who were seated on the carpet in front of me.
“Raise your hand,” I said, “if you have ever heard the name, ‘Hillary Clinton.'”
Every hand in the room went up.
“She’s running for President!” one girl blurted.
“She is indeed,” I said. “Okay, now raise your hand,” I said. “if you have ever heard the name, ‘Donald Trump.'”
Again, every hand went up. But this time, the room exploded. There was an uproar of little voices.
“He’s going to be President,” a boy said.
“Nuh-uh,” said another one. “He’s a jerk!”
“He’s not a jerk!”
“Uh-huh he is, because I saw him. He said some bad stuff and he’s really a jerk!”
“He doesn’t like people with black skin,” whispered a girl.
“Who has black skin?” said another one.
“You do!” the first girl said. “And me too!” Both girls had dark hair, but their skin wasn’t very dark.
“Donald Trump doesn’t like people with black skin and he doesn’t like people who speak Spanish,” said another girl.
At least eight of the kids in the room spoke Spanish.
There was a collective gasp.
This all happened in the course of twelve seconds. As a teacher, I had to say nothing about either candidate, remain impartial, and let the kids know the really good news.
“Who knows how old you have to be to vote?” I yelled above the din.
The class hushed. One lone boy raised his hand practically to the ceiling. “18!” he almost screamed.
“That’s right,” I said. “And the Presidential election happens every four years, so you will be able to vote in just three more elections!”
The class was very excited. “We can?” one girl squealed, while a boy yelled, “We can vote when we are 18!”
They took a moment to stop arguing, and to recognize their personal power.
Because really, that’s what an election is all about.
“And this,” I said, waving the book, “is a story about a duck who wants to be President.” And I started reading.
But as I read, the words of a classroom full of six-year-olds echoed in my ears.
They sounded just like all the adults in the country.
Recently, there’s been some controversy on a local email list about an article that appeared in The Washington Post.
The article discusses the impact that teacher absences and long-term substitutes have on students’ education. The headline reads: 1 in 4 U.S. teachers are chronically absent, missing more than 10 days of school.
While I decided to steer clear of jumping into the middle of the online discussion, I have been thinking about what’s been said.
Teachers, who already have little-to-no life outside of work, are upset because parents assume that they are all taking off of work to party. As a substitute teacher myself, I know that there are very few teachers who leave the classroom for reasons other than work-related issues – meetings and trainings and the like.
I know a lot of teachers. Maybe there are slackers in the bunch, but for the most part, our teachers are the hardest working people I have ever met. (Spend ONE DAY substitute teaching and see if you can decide anything else.)
However, I also found one teacher who disappeared for a week-long vacation without leaving so much as a lesson plan for her substitutes – and instead claimed that she was “sick” for a week.
That is probably who the article is about.
Still, the parents have good points: substitute teachers are not really substitutes for permanent teachers. They are stand-ins, for the most part, who can do their very best to keep the class on task and covering curriculum. But parents are concerned that the substitutes – many of whom are not even certified teachers – aren’t able to teach the curriculum, and/or aren’t able to actually educate the class.
I was watching a Dr. Phil rerun the other day. A homeschooling parent said, “Saying children are learning in school is like throwing marshmallows at their heads and saying you’re feeding them.”
I like it.
I don’t agree – but I understand. Teaching isn’t something that can be done by just anyone. Really teaching needs to have strong, personal investment by an adult who is willing to really teach.
Many teachers lecture, discipline, babysit and distribute worksheets – then grade those worksheets and call it “teaching.” That kind of teaching is, indeed, like throwing marshmallows at their heads. There’s far, far too much of this kind of behavior in the public schools.
But there are many teachers who give their heart and soul to the job, and create a learning environment where kids can actually thrive. These are the teachers who spend days planning their assignments, perfecting their lessons based on what happens in class, talking to kids every day about their needs, talking to parents and other staff, and figuring out how to make sure every student in the class can succeed.
Those are the teachers everyone loves.
Those are also the teachers who never take off any time for themselves, who barely take a moment to notice their own birthdays, and who love their students almost as much as they love their own kids.
Everyone wants those teachers.
I won’t go on a rant about how and why so few of those teachers exist. I just want to note that those teachers do exist. And they deserve way more credit than anyone will ever give them.
Meanwhile, I’m just happy that sometimes they go to meetings and allow me the privilege of seeing what a good classroom is all about. As a substitute, I benefit enormously from those teachers.
And I strive to be like those teachers, so that, even as a substitute, I can be the best kind of teacher, too.