Since I don't have a lot of experience with small children, it's been fascinating (along with humbling and frustrating) to watch them in a classroom. To me, working as an aide alongside expert elementary teachers has taught me a lot about grade and skill level abilities and classroom management. I've seen that primary school students cling to a routine and freak out if it's disrupted. My fourth graders last week, for example, never hesitated to fill me in on what I was doing "wrong" (read different than their normal teacher) throughout the entire day. Emotions fluctuate wildly in elementary classes and in one day it's common to experience laughter, tears, screaming, hugging and yelling. I've also noticed that younger students seem to bond instantly with a guest teacher even though I've only just met them. They crave attention, draw pictures for me and remember my name when I see them again even days later. They notice everything about me and constantly ask questions like, "How old are you?" "Do you have any kids?" "Are you married to our regular teacher?" and on and on.
In the hub of chatter and gossip that is the teachers' lounge, I've had others say to me variations of, "I'd hate to be a substitute teacher - trying to jump in another person's routine and flow is really stressful." And it is. All day every day I make mistakes in front of an extremely critical and vocal audience of K-12 students. I get lost in new buildings. I don't know who people are and I never know which numbers to call. The amount and variety of paperwork (attendance, lunch counts, behavior, grading ahh!!! etc.) for different schools is completely overwhelming and I'm sure that most of the time I get it wrong. I butcher names while calling roll and scramble to remember how to explain algebraic functions like multiplying and dividing with exponents or why Alexander the Great was so great.
In many ways, subbing is a nightmarish job, but it does have its good points. It's never boring; I'm constantly learning new things about class management, public education and child development. I'm getting really good at thinking on my feet, faking confidence and staying calm. My skin is growing thicker as I'm learning not to take things so personally and to be a little more tough and a little less sensitive. I'm getting good at learning names quickly and have become fairly adept at managing all of the new and fancy technology that teachers use on a daily basis. I don't have to take work home, lesson plan or deal with parents and can choose to not accept a job for the following day. But most of all, I have the privilege of having a daily, inside look at what it's really like to be a public school teacher and can honestly say I think it's one of the hardest careers out there. God bless all of you teachers out there; I don't know how you do it!