Brilliance on the Fly
Today I was a first grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign during the afternoon. I was certain I’d blogged about this class before but when I couldn’t find anything, I had to go back and look at my calendar. It turns out the last time I taught in this class was six months ago (October 8). I didn’t start writing this blog until the 14th, which is why they haven’t made it into here yet. This was my second time subbing for this particular teacher, but my third time in the class, because the two Reading Recovery teachers split their duties–one teaches the class in the morning and does RR in the afternoon, the other does RR in the morning and teaches the afternoon.
The class has a lot of wonderful, intelligent, sweet kids in it, and I would have loved to go back sooner, but my schedule was such that when the teachers needed a sub, I was already assigned elsewhere. I was excited to be back with them and was shocked to realise I still knew most of their names. It only took me a few minutes to recall all of them. Go me, right?!
So one of the things I have noticed as a substitute is that some teachers have a habit of giving extremely detailed lesson plans that outline the entire day down to the minute. These plans often expect far more content to be taught than is possible, but it makes sure that the subs don’t run into awkward periods of not knowing what to do. Other teachers provide extremely bare-bones plans that assume that a five-minute activity will take the entire class period. (A high school student I know in Elgin, Illinois, regularly experiences this and complains to me all the time that her teachers don’t leave better plans.) The plans today were fairly well balanced in the middle, but some of the activities leaned toward the over-estimated the time required side.
Of course, I didn’t let this bother me. If nothing else, this entire week has been one of me acting quickly on my feet and keeping things moving. This is why I get paid the big bucks, right? (I wish!) The first assignment for the day was for the students to do a handwriting worksheet (remember, these are first graders). Some of them got done right away and wanted to know what to do next. I wasn’t about to have them start on the next assignment and quickly find myself with 20 boys and girls each doing something different, so I thought quickly and said, “All right, here’s what I want you to do: turn the paper to the backside and write a note to [your teacher] telling her what you did today. You can also draw her a picture.” Soon I had everyone doing this (the plans had expected the handwriting to take 15 minutes, and just everyone was done in under 10). I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Instead of writing a few words about lunch or recess, the students wrote about reading independently, reading to a partner, writing stories, and learning about outer space. Several also asked their teacher if she was feeling well and told her how much they love having her teach first grade. I should have snapped a picture of some of them but that didn’t occur to me until I got home.
Still, it was a great way to not just fill the time, but to fill it with a worthwhile activity. The students were able to practice handwriting, spelling, letter-writing, and communication rather than just colouring or, worse, having nothing to do and wandering around the room bugging other students. Instead, the students were busily engaged in meaningful work as they applied things they have been learning all year long. It was both awesome and a great way to wrap up the week!