Yesterday I had an assignment that I was actually really looking forward to. It was to a school that I used to sub at frequently (as in "used to" - like twelve years ago). I was pleased when I walked into the office and the secretary actually recognized me, HOWEVER, that was quickly followed up with a "I'm so glad it's you...because that is a very difficult class". (That might not have been her wording, I'm "PC'ing" it a bit). Following that exchange, the principal walked by and quickly said nearly the same thing. Hmmmm, third grade, how bad can they be?
Well, I think it's telling when you walk into a classroom and see three rows of desks all set up nicely and then on the outskirts of the classroom you see 6 "island desks" each spaced apart from everyone else and each other. I'll label these "special students" (all boys) as D, S, M, H, Y, and R. Not a good sign.
The lesson plans were clear and easy to read, with lots of post it notes set aside for special scenarios - (If M causes any problems, send him to...., Y will be spending recess with you, R is on a special behavioral IEP so send him immediately to.... if there are any issues). This isn't a good sign either. As an added bonus, there was a major music production about to happen so there were notes on groups of kids that would be pulled to practice. OK, a little confusing, but no biggie.
I was ready to teach yesterday. Looking forward to it, in fact. I'd spent the week with too much time on my hands and I felt the need to feel productive. So, as the kids started entering the classroom I was on my game - making friends, rising to the challenge. Quickly, though, I was warned that I would have a hard time making it through the day and would NOT like the kids. Hmmm, definitely not a good sign.
Despite all this, I started off friendly and enthusiastic. I set up a deal where it was ME vs. CLASS in terms of points earned - if they had more than me by the end of the day then they got a treat (Smartie). I showed pics of Sydney being silly laying upside down and explained how I was a twin married to a twin to peak their interest. And, then we got down to business...so far, so good. However, things begin to get a little messy in following the lesson plan when the music teacher arrived and monopolized half of my class at a time for the next 85 minutes. Kind of hard to give a spelling test to only a chunk of kids at a time (not knowing when the others would return). After recess, it became a battle with the health screener....(who did not really understand English) who told me she'd be taking half the class for maybe 10 minutes. That turned into an hour. If I knew it was going to be an hour, I could have adjusted, but at any moment thinking the kids would return, well, let's just say that a class that really demands structure had a lot of time to just "draw and silent read".
After lunch those "island kids" really began to show their true colors. "D" was always upset with someone, reporting who had said what mean thing to him about 6 times through the day, "S" was openly belligerent with me during the spelling test, mouthing off, "M" was a loose cannon - who fortunately seemed to have a decent enough connection with me that it was ok, but in reality he spent the first half of the day doing an elaborate comic strip involving tanks and gunfire. "H" spent more time out of his seat than in it - to which drove me CRAZY and had me raising my voice by the end of the day to have him glue his back end to his chair. "Y" was actually on very good behavior through the day - however he was the one kid who didn't have the packet he was supposed to work on and instead thought reading a noise making toddler book about "Aladdin" was a good substitute. And, finally, "R" was the behavioral IEP kiddo. He's the kind of kid that I could end up being fearful of as he gets older. We established a good connection because of the Duck gear we were both wearing, and I really only had him in my class for a couple of hours through the day, but he was incapable of sitting without making noise, and he seemed to delight in finding any fault in my speech pattern to fixate and making fun of. He also needed one on one help (demanding it) to get anything accomplished. I found myself catering to him in a way I would never dream of for other students....scary.
And, oh yeah, there were 22 other kids as well in the classroom. And, not to be gender biased, that also included two girls who would also not sit in their seat - who snuck around and drew pictures instead of taking tests....
I did identify the twelve or so kids in my note to the teacher that were helpful. I always feel sorry for those kids because they deserve credit in staying thoughtful when the kids around them are ruining things.
The really sad thing about the day occurred after they left, though. That was when I corrected their math tests and spelling tests - and discovered only about 4 of the kids of the entire class were able to pass either test. The average score on the spelling test (involving words such as: babies, cared, carried, hurried, wrapped....etc.) was 4 out of 12. Ouch. The classroom was filled with books on teaching, extra activities, supplemental stuff, and creative approaches. I can't imagine the teacher is lazy or does not know her stuff. But, I have to wonder how she feels each day, walking into that class wondering what she did wrong to end up with this group. It's clear the whole school knows that the group is challenging (the principal came in at the beginning of the day to give them a warning - fortunately that was during the more positive "honeymoon period" with them).
Soooo, what a day. Thank God, I didn't get a headache. I wasn't defeated by the end - so, technically, they didn't win. But, I'll have to think seriously before taking that assignment again (on the off chance I'm invited back). I may have won this battle, but I can't claim the confidence that they wouldn't take the win next time!