Wednesday, February 8, 2012

tales of a fifth grade surprise

You know that little substitute teaching gig I agreed to? I've logged 16 hours this week alone--silly me! I totally thought it would be a once a week thing TOPS. As of this morning I've worked with grades 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (and, consequently, all 3 of my own children). I've taught division with two digits, conjunctive adverbs (with a bonus lesson on semicolons!), the "dropping rule" in phonics (involving that pesky silent "e"), a couple chapters out of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, passive voice, diagramming compound sentences and supervised book report compositions in the computer lab. (Yes, I know I totally needed semicolons in that last sentence.)


Surprisingly, 5th grade has been a real treat. When I was in college, I deliberately did NOT get certified to teach 6-12 grade English. I feared/dreaded/loathed the very IDEA of middle school kids--what with all their weird hormonal issues and emotions and icky smells. I hated middle school as a middle school kid, I was positive I had no love for them once I grew up. If a teacher got certified to teach a grade level or subject area, a district can assign the to teach it--whether they want to teach it or not, so by only obtaining certification to teach English 9-12, I was guaranteed only high school jobs. I feared a middle school assignment more than I feared not getting a job--and that's saying something.

It was with some hesitation that I agreed to sub in the Parochial School, but I figured with grades PK-8 represented, I had a greater shot at hanging out in grades PK-4.

I've spent the bulk of my time in middle school. And you know what I've discovered? It's a lot of fun.

Maybe it's because it's a Parochial School and the kids wear uniforms (khaki bottoms, blue polo shirts) and the class sizes are small (20 tops) and respect is totally drilled into these kids--but they were quite delightful. Especially 5th grade.

And you know what else? They smelled just fine.

They're energetic, funny, curious, talkative, hard-working and interesting. They help each other. They remind each other. They forget to follow instructions. They're easily distracted. They read a lot. They are happy to try new things. They admire their older classmates and look out for the younger classmates at the school. They love a corny joke and they look sideways at me but don't say a word when I don't make the sign of the cross at prayer time. They accept others with very open hearts.

There's one girl with gorgeous shiny blonde curly hair and hipster glasses who always always always had her nose in a book, oblivious to the world. She's polite and cooperative, but the moment she has a chance, she's got the pages open again. There's another girl with freckles and a huge grin, quick to lavish complements on her peers. I don't sense the back-biting and bullying typical in most middle schools. There's a boy who races through his work so he can have free time--and then when I ask him what he plans to do (instead of distracting his friends with his chatter), he volunteers to help a classmate finish a missed assignment.

I really like helping these kids with their work and easing the lives of teachers who are stressed out with having to miss class--I remember well what a huge blessing a competent sub was when I had to miss school. And because I taught school for 10 years, I inherently know stuff, like classroom management skills and where to look for the vocabulary lists and how to efficiently transition from one activity to the next. It's kind of a bonus that I get paid.

Spill it, reader. What have you tried lately that surprised you?


  1. That sounds awesome. So glad you're enjoying the experience!

  2. I'm surprised that I successfully made pizza. Years ago I swore I would never attempt it again, but Frank has had so much success with it that I did it on my own one night.

  3. I've been trying yoga and enjoying it more than I thought I would.

  4. What a happy post! E is in 5th grade (although she's in a mixed 5th/6th class) and the teachers have had to have several talks about everyone remembering to use deodorant :-) Some days after PE, when I pick her up, I can tell that she certainly forgot that morning!

    I'm really amazed at the breadth of topics you've had to cover --do you get any heads up the day before? I'd need serious brushing-up on long division and grammar!

  5. congrats of the subbing, you sound like you are having a really good time. I am sure the students will enjoy you as well.

  6. I just had my yearly eye exam...instead of my usual vanity-motivated choice to order contact lenses....this time, I ordered a new pair of glasses.
    * : )
    They look swell, and if I want to, I can always order contacts later, since I've already had the exam.

  7. How great your new experience is turning you around on the whole middle school years, and this school sounds like a gem.

  8. I'm a big fan of middle school myself.

    Like Jen, I'm trying yoga and really digging it myself.

  9. I work in a middle school too and its a good time. Right now they actually have issues with students spraying cologne and body spray in the hallways and people having allergies to it. It is sort of an akward age because some of them are my size but then don't act much different than my 4th grade son.

  10. Ok firstly we don't have middle school here we have from kindy to year 6 then you move onto high school which is year 7 to year 12....

    Secondly I remember having substitute teachers when I was at school and they never taught us anything they would just sit there and tell us to amuse ourselves quietly........which sometimes was fine with me and at other times it was annoying.

    Thirdly I am glad you have found teaching middle school children is not such a bad thing.

    Lastly I flunked english and have no idea how to us semicolons unless the spell checker on the computer picks up were they are suppose to go.......

  11. That is so awesome. Such a pleasant surprise.

    It seems to me that kids in parochial school don't have to deal with bullying and such as much because most of the kids grow up together. They are almost like siblings. The classes are small and they've known each other since first grade (or earlier). Plus, it seems that respect really is drilled into them early. I love it. So glad you got to see it and conquered one of your fears. :)

  12. I completely missed the lesson on semicolons.
    I think you're going to have a regular gig at the school.

  13. I smiled when I read this and thought how great it was to have a substitute teacher that actually taught! When I was a kid having a "sub" was a play day. High five to you!

    xo jj

  14. I just finished a market research project for my husband's company. It was a pain and fun at the same time. Glad you're enjoying yourself so much!

  15. I'm surprised that the belt/blanket is progressing. It's exactly the sort of project I am most likely to abandon.


Spill it, reader.