The Substitute

Sometimes I have to fill in for my English co-teachers who are ill or must attend to more pressing concerns. When this happens, the whole dynamic of the classroom changes. What are usually nice, focused, attentive children, become at the blink of an eye deceitful, mischievous, rebellious hooligans.

It truly reminds me of my fondest Looney Tunes Cartoon with the Sheepdog and the Wolf. The premise is they are normally friends on good terms. This can be seen as they walk to the field of sheep together. They ‘clock in’ to work, then immediately become bitter enemies. The wolf trying to steal the sheep and the Sheepdog trying to watch the sheep and stop the wolf from taking them. As in all Looney Tunes there ensues mayhem and imaginative death scenes. But then the lunch whistle blows and the two adversaries break to eat together. Afterwards the battling continues until time to go home and they walk towards home together to rest for another day.

In the halls, the kids still view and treat me as a rock star. I have to keep moving or else a massive hallway hug will result blocking traffic in both directions. And in class, when there is another teacher present, they are still benign.

Today I did a solo lesson for one of my favorite classes. The class who played instruments and sang for us on a previous day, and wrote words and symbols of love and affection on the board, yeah, that one. All started out well, I took the opportunity to learn all their names. But after, it was like herding cats.

Now I don’t blame myself for this debacle. I have confidence in my classroom management skills. But the scenario was doomed from the start. There are NO discipline measures in place. The students behave for the other teachers simply out of pure fear. This would not suffice for a teacher in a classroom in the States with a weak classroom management plan because the teachers here also don’t have a well defined non physical violence procedure and the students know it. They know not to push a teacher too far because they don’t know if the teacher is of the mind to smack them in the face with the wood stick they usually use to bang on desks. Or instead of yelling at them at chart breaking levels of volume from the front of the room, they decide to close the few feet of distance between teacher and student and dislodge their ear from the socket. I know I wouldn’t want to risk it. Teachers in the States do not have that option in their arsenal. I guess I could resort to such methods….. but alas, its just not my style. And the kids know it.

They all have a routine that simply wears down even the most stoic teacher. They get super excited about answering a question (even if they don’t know the answer) to the point of 1. Raising their hands like the rooms on fire and you MUST call on them, 2. Shouting out ‘MAS, MAS!’ (TEACHER, TEACHER!) and 3. Stand up and slowly approach the front of the room to encircle you (if you are too stunned to react fast enough. Lord knows what would happen if that ever happens.  Game over, I suppose). They do this over and over and over again. They learn it in the lower grades, I guess and just never stop. Or the older kids initiate the little ones into the Order on the playground in the Fall term by teaching them the ancient rites and rituals of their inherent roles.

And then they pick and cheat and talk and fall out of desks. How do you handle that with only “Sit Down!” in your Georgian discipline vocabulary?

But the bell finally rings. And I am exalted back to my status as the school’s resident god.

My first piece of fan mail

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One response to “The Substitute

  1. Corporal punishment was alive and well when I was a student in a small high school in South Carolina in the early 1960s. The history teacher (We only had one.) used a wide leather strap without warning and to great effect.

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