Kids are like dogs, they can smell fear: A tale of 1 (assistant) teacher & 2 Substitute lessons

Substitute teacherPart 1:

So a couple of Wednesdays ago I was sitting in the department office, trying to coax the school laptop into loading internet pages. Suddenly, a textbook is in my face. “Anjalee, what we need you to do with them is a listening exercise then questions on page 6.” Huh? “Yep, that should be enough work. Here is the CD for the listening, those are the questions, it’s 5A”. Umm what? “Miss W should be joining you for the first lesson…I need to find Miss W first to tell her.”
Okay…looks like I am now a substitute teacher.

I went to find 5A whilst Miss W was being tracked down. I arrive at the classroom and peer through the windows: argh! About 25 10 year olds are doing whatever they want. The boys are play-fighting, the girls are jumping all over the classroom, they’re writing on the whiteboard and there is lots of noise. Arghhhhh. Okay keep calm, keep cool, you’re the teacher.
I walk in and use my serious, teacher voice on all those who are misbehaving; this ensures silence for perhaps 30 seconds as they wonder who I am.
I was still anxiously waiting for a real teacher to turn up to help me, but as the kids started getting rowdy again I knew I had to find something to hold their attention. And what better than my own favourite subject? Me! 😉 Luckily 5th Grade kids are still at that age where they are actually interested in school and the teacher that is in front of them. I did an introduction after which they asked me questions and thankfully as this was coming to a close Miss W turned up. We had a little powwow to discuss what work they needed to do: she didn’t know and had just been sent here and I was still confused and flustered. But onto Page 6 in the textbook and we are discussing water. Miss W asks them to write 3 everyday uses for water, why is it necessary in our lives? I choose the students to read out their answers, which they love! Schoolchildren at this age are so enthusiastic 🙂

Then the bell rings. Miss W has to go to her own English class.

Another qualified teacher should be joining me soon to help. In the meantime I tell the kids to turn the page and we’re going to listen to a story.

“But we’ve already done this!” Okay, we’re going to do it a second time.
“No! We’ve already done it like 10 times!” Okay, what about the exercise on the next page? “Done it!”
(In my head: Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I have no other work for them to do!!!)
Right, well in that case you’re going to use the words there to make up 5 sentences of your own.

I wrote the task up on the board.

“But Miss, is it one new word per sentence?”
“Miss, what’s the title?”
“Miss, which page of my copybook should I write on?”
“Miss…” “Miss…” “Miss…” “Miss…”

As I was getting them all settled down and sorted the other teacher arrived, pulled out her laptop, sat down in one corner and proceeded to do some work of her own I suppose. And it was all fine and great, for about 10 minutes, because after that, the more hard-working students had finished the work and were looking for something else to do. Something that I did not have.

I’ll cut this story short. As I was brainstorming something else for them to do I was being followed by several students who wanted me to check their finished work, I was also trying to stop some boys from play-fighting and throwing a ball around in the classroom as well as actually helping some kids who were struggling. I set some more writing work to do. No one liked that. I then made the mistake of relaxing a bit as I thought the lesson ended then, it didn’t, I still had 10 minutes to go. The noise level grew and grew until I finally got them all back in their seats and awarded a merit to this one girl who had worked so hard and quietly throughout the whole lesson. They were silent as I gave them my little speech saying that they all should have worked so hard. Thankfully at that moment my prayers were answered: THE BELL RANG. They all ran outside like little monkeys, the actual teacher swanned out the room calmly and I was in dire need of some chocolate.

I finished that lesson actually feeling quite good about it. It wasn’t perfect obviously, but I am only an assistant and have had no teacher training. Besides, I probably wouldn’t have to do it again anytime soon.


Part 2:

A couple of weeks later I’m working at the Junior School and I’m meant to cover a lesson from 10:55 – 12/12:15 with 3rd Grade. So they’re about 8 years old. 8 years old! I’m terrified, kids are so perceptive, I know they can tell when someone isn’t sure what to do and they know just how to get at you. It didn’t help that when I confessed my fears to another English teacher she said to me “Ah yes, when I first came to this school I had to cover a 3rd Grade class, it was terrible.” Terrible! I don’t have any training! I don’t know what to do with kids! Despite these thoughts, I told myself, no, it will fine, you know these kids, they like you, you like them, this will be fine.

So after break my lovely little kiddies line up to be taken up to class. I’ve never done this before so I’m just copying what the other teachers do. Except there’s already been a problem at the end of the boys’ line: someone is crying. Luckily the headmistress steps in to take care of this and discuss the problem with a few of the other boys.

I take them up. “Okay everyone, it’s silent reading time, please take out your English books.” Silent being the operative word here. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in Chile it’s that people here LOVE to talk, not sure if there has ever been silence in a Chilean classroom. I walk around trying to get them to stop talking when I notice something strange: one boy’s books appears to be English on the outside, but the words are Spanish! I confiscate his hidden Spanish book. His name goes on the board for the teacher to see. Another Spanish book is found! Another confiscation.
“But Miss! That’s not fair! Everyone is doing it! Look at Ignacia!”

Whilst I’m trying to sort this out, the 4 boys who were held back come bursting through the door. I extended silent reading time, perhaps knowing in my heart that this would be the best part of the class. After, with all the books put away I set them on their next task: to write 6 sentences about their family using the format and vocabulary already written on the board.
I had 30 children to control; 30 children who knew that I couldn’t control them. Not even 5 minutes into the task I had 4 more names on the board, 1 boy crying because the girl next to him said he had 3 brothers when he actually only has 2 and I was moving tables all over the room in an effort to stop children speaking to their friends! But a classroom is only so big and the chatterbox just found him/herself closer to a different friend. At the same time there are voices all around me shouting “Miss, I cut my finger.”, “Miss, I need the bathroom”, “Miss, I need a pencil”, “Miss, he stole my eraser”, “Miss, you’re not supposed to let anyone go to the bathroom”, “Miss, I don’t have my copybook”, “Miss, Juan is annoying me”, “Miss, how do you say this in English?”, “Miss, I’ve finished”.

They were all finishing at different times, so I went and explained the next piece of work individually, but most children are not very patient so I ended up being followed by a little line of “Miss, miss, miss, miss!” They were all so loud that Miss Goody-two-shoes was offering me advice on how to take back control: I should shout “Attention, attention” And then they all reply “Yes, yes, yes” and pay attention.
Works for the other teachers, didn’t work for me. They replied and then went back to their conversations. As some students moved onto the third task I still had other kids who hadn’t even written 3 sentences! 12pm came, I got them to settle down by saying their teacher would be back soon. It worked for a couple of minutes. Luckily, it was lunchtime at 12:15, but those 15 minutes were so chaotic! Trying to stop the boys from throwing things around, getting the girls to turn around and focus on their work, finding the students who had finished to give them the 2nd/3rd worksheets, shouting “Attention, attention” so many times.

At 12:15 I got them to line up and very noisily took them down to the canteen whereupon the dinner ladies told me that lunch wasn’t for another 15 minutes. WHAT. There I was, outside the canteen, next to the playground, with 30 hyper kids. The boys were play-fighting again and making lots of noise, the girls were asking if they could go play early and I was having a breakdown. The canteen ladies were having a good laugh though.
I panicked for a few minutes; worried that the headmistress would hear the noise and come out and fire me. Miss Goody-two-shoes told me about a box of activities they had upstairs. Okay fine, everyone back upstairs! “But, whyyyyy?” (NB. I’m taking advice from an 8 year old).
I look in the box; they’re all new unopened games! I can’t let them loose with these! As I’m deliberating over this they queue up to get a game, everyone wants Bingo and suddenly there’s a huge crush and I have pile of 5/6 boys on the floor! They’re all fine thankfully and I glance out the door to see it is now lunchtime. I take them back down to the canteen just as their teacher turns up and I feel like collapsing in a big pile of stress. (And I really need a strong drink, something not to be found in a Junior school).

In conclusion, I have even more respect for teachers than I did before and they deserve to be paid A LOT more for what they do. They are all incredible people!


2 thoughts on “Kids are like dogs, they can smell fear: A tale of 1 (assistant) teacher & 2 Substitute lessons

  1. this sounds so impossibly hard! but i can still imagine you doing a good job.

    also, “1 boy crying because the girl next to him said he had 3 brothers when he actually only has 2” is hilarious

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