As a retired school teacher who retired for health reasons, I have a limit to how much I can teach. As I substitute, mostly for teachers who planned on being out for in-service training or special educational meetings, I can usually only do two jobs a week. That limits the number of kids you have contact with, especially the more gifted and talented sorts of kids. But that doesn’t really matter much. As a regular classroom teacher I always focused more on making connections with kids, especially the challenging ones. My two jobs this week consisted of sixth grade Science all day on Tuesday, and seventh grade AVID classes on Thursday.
Sixth graders are the rabid squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey-house. They are the ones who jump around the most, scream at each other the most, and swing from the light fixtures the most. And if you think of it as being only metaphorically true, you don’t really know much about sixth graders and modern education.
But the coach I was subbing for is very good at discipline. He gave them an article on the organ systems of the human body and told them to to use the annotation marks on his close-reading poster. Now, you and I both know that coaches don’t really walk sixth graders through note-taking and reading-comprehension drills regularly. There’s a reason coaches are more likely to teach Science, History, or even Math before taking on English or Language Arts teaching assignments.
So, I did a quick-teach using the two-page article on how to circle key words, underline main idea sentences, and how to do a SWBS (Somebody-Wanted-But-So Charts) analysis to summarize the article. They, of course, did not do that before in science class, or even in English that they could remember. I basically simplified his fifty-minute busy-work assignment into a simple twenty-minute reading assignment that would take the slow readers longer. So, I had to occupy the smart, quick, and evil kids with something else while I helped the stragglers finish. I drew a cartoon rabbit, a cartoon duck, and a Disney-esque Goofy on the white board, challenging them to copy it.
I got to work one-on-one with several slow readers. Xavier, a hyper, mouthy kid who had dyslexia was tickled pink to learn he could pick out and put together key words and main ideas. He was unable to write the summary, but he annotated correctly, possibly for the first time ever. And that was a break-through for him. I subbed with him in other classes where he was one of the awfullest chandelier swingers, so that connection made a huge difference for him for at least fifty minutes of his school life. Malik the Mouth who never does anything but insult the others, and gives somebody else’s name to the sub when he gets in trouble, actually kept his bargain with me from the last time he was baby-sat by me. He stayed in his seat and kept working all period. The only time I had to make him give me his name was at the end of class so I could leave a good-job note for the coach after class ended. I actually like those sorts of kids who other subs routinely blow up at and send out of class. Xavier and Malik (possibly not their actual names) are both a hoot to teach. And they help add to my list of funny classroom anecdotes when they lose control and get in trouble with me. I always try to turn those into teachable moments.
But when the coach came in at the end of his smartest class, saw everybody was done, and saw cartoons on his board, he got mad at them. I had to take the blame for them and explain why they were not simply blowing the assignment off and playing around. Coaches don’t usually understand that classroom learning can be fun.
Thursday I was subbing for AVID classes again. These are special classes where at-risk kids are put in college-prep courses and treated like gifted kids. The program is misused as a warehouse for failing discipline-problem kids by this school district. But the Field Middle School has their act together for this program. The kids were working with college-level education students as tutors, and had to fill out self-examination forms that evaluated how they were doing in working with their tutors.
These are well-trained, smart, and seriously funny kids. Xochitl (an Aztec name pronounced ZOACHIE for a Hispanic girl that I have suprisingly encountered more than once in Texas) was a giftred complainer and procrastinator who was too lazy to lift a pencil, yet did the actual work in a few short minutes when she finally got around to it. She had time to tell the kids at her table, one of the tutors, and me about a time when she knocked the head off of a cucaracha (a cockroach who speaks Spanish) and tried to wait for an entire day for it to finally die so she could pick it up and flush it. The thing is, a cockroach only needs its head to eat with and see with. It is perfectly fine otherwise until it starves to death or gets eaten by a rat. So, when she went to pick it up with salad tongs, it was still alive and wiggly. She pantomimed how she threw the thing across the kitchen in surprise, and when it landed in the sink, she nailed it with the garbage disposal. This girl is a gifted story-teller. She had us all laughing. And her school grades were all A’s and B’s.
I admit it. I love kids like that. They are the best things about teaching. And whether they are Aaargh! Sixth Graders! or Uggh! Seventh graders! (the chimpanzees of the middle-school monkey-house) I actually love them. (But PLEASE don’t tell them that!)