"You teach best what you need to learn." --Richard Bach
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had two great days of subbing at my favorite school. I subbed in a 2nd grade classroom, one that I have subbed for several times this school year. Whenever I sub, I always learn about myself as a teacher. However, I feel like I have grown the most with this class simply from all the time I have spent with them. I have enjoyed being with the students and getting to know each of them. I have also seen them change in many ways during the school year. As they have changed throughout the school year, I have had a variety pack of sub days with them. Those days have varied so much that they might as well be packaged and branded with the Heinz 57 label.
But these two days I'm referring to were different than all the others and a complete 180 from the last day I subbed for them. They weren't just good they were great.
With this 2nd grade class I have found myself disappointed at times-- either in myself or with them. Though they are just kids, very young kids, I know that I have high expectations for them (as I do for all students!). The biggest frustration has been when the morning goes smoothly and then it "falls apart" in the afternoons. The afternoon issues are fairly common when subbing and really it is understandable: the kids have had lunch and have more energy. For some reason though, it has bothered me the most with this class. I have tried various approaches to minimize the behavior problems (like putting heads down at certain points, using reward tickets for a drawing later in the day, talking with them etc....), but they have only helped a little bit.
After subbing for these kiddos, I always come home thinking of how to make future days more successful. It finally hit me not too long ago that it wasn't always their fault for the breakdown in the afternoon-- I needed to change something within me. When I reflect, I do think of ways that I could do better but this was a much deeper thought process than other times.
I finally concluded that I needed to change my expectations. In changing my expectations, I didn't lower them but decided to approach the day differently. For example, I decided that I would treat the morning and afternoon as two distinct times. That way I wouldn't feel like the whole day was bad if the afternoon had a few rough patches. Further, I gave myself permission to be understanding in students' afternoon behavior. Yes, students will be more talkative and need more kinesthetic activities at that time of the day. I decided to change my whole thought process from, "They were SO good in the morning and now look at them-- they ruined the entire afternoon!" to "They were so focused and good at working quietly in the morning. This is the afternoon and they need to get their work done but they also need to have opportunities to talk with their peers." Boy, this change made a big difference in how I felt about teaching that class! I had positive attitude all day and didn't worry when they arrived back from lunch recess. This thought process gave a plan and options for teaching math and other subjects in the afternoon- for example, I made sure to adjust the activities to give them time to interact with their peers.
Another change came from the knowledge I have gained about these second graders over the course of the year. Without consciously recognizing it until now-- I have learned so much about the culture of the class. I have learned about their interests, their learning styles, and how they all work together. One of the biggest things I have learned is that this class loves to share about their lives. I think this is also a big part of their developmental stage too, "Early-elementary children are wrapped up in themselves" (Purdue website). In knowing this, I made plenty of time for sharing. I sort of used it as a reward for them but also as a way for them to express themselves. They really enjoyed getting time to share, I know it made the days much better.
In addition, I was even more firm in making sure that students stick with the classroom procedures. I always make sure that students are quiet before going into the hallway, but I was even more particular this time. I made sure they were totally ready before going to another location. I think reminding them of the procedures helped quite a bit.
Lastly, I added in a little reward system as a way to compliment certain students. I learned about this idea from my friend Andrea and decided to try it out. She tells the students at the beginning of the day that she will be looking for "Super Students." At the end of the day the students get to choose a prize to go along with their compliment(s). Basically, it's for students who are consistent in following directions, doing their work, helping out etc... Generally this is what I looked for when choosing the students but I also did it a little differently the second day. On the second day I chose two students who I felt needed encouragement and who did manage to get some work done (they have learning disabilities too). With that said, I chose four total students (2 boys and 2 girls) and jotted down 2-3 reasons on a little square of paper as to why I picked them. I would read off my reasons to why I noticed them, gave them the compliment paper, and let them choose a prize. This took place at the end of the day so it was a nice conclusion. This also allowed for a quieter/more efficient transition into getting ready to go home. Anyway- students really enjoyed this, liked picking out a prize (of course!) and even clapped for each other. Thank you Andrea for this awesome idea!! (two exclamation points for you.. hehe ;-) )
All these four changes drastically improved my two days with these sweet kids. I loved leaving on a positive note and giving some students room to have fun. These two days have greatly changed my outlook on subbing and I will continue to look for ways to improve my teaching. I also have to remind myself that while these were two good days and these changes helped- sometimes things just happen. But that's why schooling and teaching isn't about perfection... it is about the process- that wonderful experience of learning and growing.
P.S. I will write more about the topic of subbing in the future- I must note, though, I have had many other fabulous days of teaching but I wanted to highlight these two because of my personal changes and how they affected this class. :)