Posts Tagged ‘life learning experience’

During my trials and travails as a substitute teacher, the experience that affected me the most was when I was called in to work at the Alternative Learning Center.  Now, some of you may already be reacting, and that would be because you know what such places are.  At the time, I did not.  I thought it might be some progressive school with a different sort of curriculum or paradigm or some such.  How wrong I was.  For those of you who do not know, Alternative Learning Centers are where students are sent when they get in serious trouble.  It is meant to be a step between expulsion and/or juvenile hall.

The kids there were largely a rambunctious lot, and that is my being polite.  I spent my time being as unobtrusive as possible as there was another teacher in the class with me.  It was explained to me that these kids all had a certain amount of days they had to satisfy before going back to regular school.  If they did anything against the rules, they were simply sent home and did not get credit for that day.  I did not offer my opinion on this, just kept my head down and did my own time.

At one point, we gathered two classes into one room to watch a movie.  One student, a male who held as much size as a full grown adult, began to get into it with a teacher.  He eventually threatened her, basically saying she’d better hope he never sees her outside the school.  He was sent home.

One afternoon class was a chance for the kids to mess around on computers.  This was in the early 90’s, so you can only imagine what amazing machines found their way into the ALC.  The kids, though, loved this time.  I had some familiarity with computers, as I had taken quite a few relevant classes in high school and college.  One student had trouble with the software she was running (I don’t even recall what it was), and I was able to solve her problem.  The students seemed to warm up to me then.

It was at that point that a teacher poked her head in the room, and she was shocked to see I was alone with the kids.  She quickly explained to me that there are always supposed to be at least two instructors in every class, especially if one is a substitute.  They finally found someone and sent them in with me, but there had been no trouble.  The kids were transfixed on their computers.

As I was leaving for the day, I was approached by the principal and another teacher.  They offered me a job on the spot.  I was taken aback.  I didn’t even have a teaching certificate, which I pointed out, and they waved off.  Apparently, I was the first substitute at that center to ever make it through the entire day.  I was flattered, but I did not take the offer.

Substitute teaching was a great learning experience for me.  I learned that I don’t want to teach unless it is at the collegiate level.

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There was a time when I considered a career in teaching.  I still am drawn to the idea, and who knows, maybe someday I will.  The issue is that my idea of teaching does not necessarily conform with reality.  I found this out in a very practical way.

When I was freshly graduated from college and unsure what I wanted to do, I looked into educating.  With only a bachelor’s degree, I’d be teaching elementary or secondary.  My dream was (and still is) to teach at the collegiate level, but that was not an option.  I received some amazingly valuable advice when I was told to spend time as a substitute to see if I liked it.

I ended up “teaching” everything from elementary to seniors in high school.  It was an eye-opening experience.  I had surprisingly persistent trouble-makers in one third grade class.  It was clear they were acting out to gain the approval of their classmates, and they were quite adept at not being too difficult.  Still, they kept pushing.  I finally had to threaten the duo with having them spend time in the principal’s office instead of computer lab to get them to shape up.

I had a junior high class where one student immediately jumped up when realizing there would be a substitute, and he began drawing what looked like gang-style graffiti on the chalk board.  I diffused this by calmly walking over and erasing what he had done, and I drew a Chinese-style dragon.  His reaction went from angry to a mixture of perplexed and impressed.  I encouraged him to try to draw what I had.  Also in middle school, I subbed on Halloween one year, and though the district did not celebrate the holiday, I showed up in all black and sporting a necklace made from bones.  One student tried to faze me by asking if I had ever killed anyone.  “Not today,” I replied.

The most advanced students I had were a group of seniors in an AP science course.  The lesson plan was to hand their tests back to them and let them group up and go over the questions they had missed.  They were self-motivated, obviously, and they all but forgot I was there as they hunched over their exams and discussed the questions.  I surprised them by interjecting and helping.  It so happened the test was on genetics, and I had taken a few classes on that very subject when I had been in college.

It felt rewarding working with some of these children, though all of them, no matter their age or discipline, made me earn their respect.  It didn’t always work out that well, but it did work out.  I typically ended most days feeling like I had just tread water.  Still, that is better than being eaten by the piranhas.

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