When I said the class could work in groups a smile stretched across his face. He looked as if I had just told him we were taking a trip to Universal. He grabbed his backpack and darted over to two other boys.
I slipped on my dress clothes including heels and drove four miles to the middle school that’s invited me to speak as an author for the past two years. This time I went in disguise, not as K.D. Rausin, but as Mrs. Rausin substitute teacher. Too many quiet days working on my novel can make me long for the energy of young voices even if those voices are saying, “Yeah! We have a sub!”
My time teaching is coming to an end. One more week and then my mornings will be spent editing my YA (Young Adult) novel, getting it ready for an editor’s eye.
How lucky was I to get to read Mystic to 6th graders for the past seven weeks? Little did I know how much stress it would cause. Every time one of the students asked, “Are we reading Mystic today?” I would hold my breath and hope for a positive response. So far so good. I haven’t received any sighs or jeers. Perhaps they’re savvy enough not to hurt my feelings.
I will miss all the, “Hi, Ms. Rausin’s” and even the hugs. I’m more of a: this is my personal space please keep clear type of person but the students have slowly broken through the bubble.
I will miss their laughter and their stories. Their one liners that make me chuckle. I will even miss the chaos of having three students excitedly talk to me at the same time. This was quite a shock after spending months alone in my office hearing only the voices of my characters in my head and the sweet songs of the birds outside my window.
I won’t miss the 4:45 am alarm. Nope. Not at all.
I discovered keeping track of papers and grades for over 120 students can be challenging. My elementary school training along with the mom in me had a need to seek out every student who didn’t complete an assignment and ask why. I soon learned that you can tell a middle school student eight times that a paper is due and hear eight different excuses with promises to turn in it next class. Lucky for me, I discovered early on the phrase that less conscientious students use to protect themselves. “I turned it in to you.” I know my own kids have uttered those words in the past. Hmmm. Now, from the teacher’s point of view, I see it’s a clever tactic to get out of an assignment. I will admit there was a bit of joy on my part when my answer to that statement was “I never collected the assignment. It should be in your folder.” Parents, if your kids say the teacher collected and lost their work it may not be completely accurate information.
I won’t miss trying to keep 6th graders silent in line on our walk to and from lunch. Yes, I’ve been known to bribe them with candy in order to keep my own sanity. Bribe… positive instead of negative reinforcement–A necessary rule because other classes are in session but It’s a tug- of-war that tempts students to find every other way to make noise other than talk. My solution…candy. I’m open to other ideas.
I will miss their questions. Their questions about books, writing, Mystic, life, why the neighbor handed them a flyer saying they’re going to hell when they knocked on the door trick-or-treating… Really? That was a question I never anticipated. Who does that to a child?
1. The value of five minutes. To a teacher five minutes can seem like an eternity. They can eat their lunch or get 20 more grades into Pinnacle.
2. Teaching means you are teaching everything! You’re not just responsible for academics. You’re a leader responsible for every young soul that looks to you for guidance. That’s a HUGE, EXHAUSTING responsibility, one that deserves a lot more pay for what they do.
3. Teachers have many meetings especially with parents. As a sub and a writer with an extremely sensitive soul, I didn’t have to attend any meetings. Thank goodness. I know my skin is not as thick as most teachers. Parents please be kind.
4. Teachers need each other. No one can really understand the job until you’ve done the job. You must put yourself in a teacher’s shoes to know what they go through in a week-a month-a year.
5. Teachers hold tremendous importance in our society. Sometimes they are the only role model/voice for children without proper care at home. They are the nurturers of our future generations and they need and deserve our support.
“Dad needs to show an incredible amount of respect and humor and friendship toward his mate so the kids understand their parents are sexy, they’re fun, they do things together, they’re best friends. Kids learn by example. If I respect Mom, they’re going to respect Mom.” Tim Allen
“When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.” Dalai Lama
I remember when I was in school the feeling we all got when we knew our teacher was out and we had a sub. Usually word would spread in the hallways before class. Having a substitute teacher meant a relaxed free period. Oh, I remember!
Now, I am the sub. It seems I have a knack for choosing careers with the least amount of respect in our society. First, I was a struggling actress. Then a stay at home mom. Next, a teacher. Finally, a writer and part-time substitute teacher. For my entire life every time I was asked the question, “What do you do?” I almost felt as if I had to apologize for not being a doctor, lawyer, or successful business woman. Perhaps a part of me thought I needed a society approved title to get others to respect me. But is that true respect and wasn’t I disrespecting myself for even thinking such thoughts?
I watched the movie Patch Adams a few nights ago. I had forgotten how good it is. Patch Adams challenges the notion that doctors should demand respect simply because of their title. He implores his fellow medical students to see the humanity in patients and to show compassion for their patients. This got me thinking…
What do we teach our children about respect? Do parents and teachers simply demand it because of their title? Do parents and teachers always deserve it? What makes us respect another?
Respect in the classroom
The bell rings. I stand at the door and hear the whispers. “We have a sub! Yeah!” Sometimes if they have had me before I’ll hear their opinions of me. Luckily, I usually hear “Oh, she’s nice. Or my favorite “Hi, Mrs. Rausin!”
Faced with a room full of hormonal pre-teens and teens excited about their freedom I sometimes have a moment of panic when the noise level gets too much for my ears to take. I have two choices at this point. I can scream or I can calmly wait. Blinking the lights, clapping a rhythm, raising my hand, that works for teachers who have set the procedures in their class but not usually for someone who hasn’t earned the respect of students. From what I’m told by kids and my son many subs scream and run the room as if everyone is in detention. From the substitutes point of view I understand why. They’re afraid. In order to gain control they demand respect. Demand! They may get it for the hour of class but once the kids walk out the door it’s gone. And then there’s always the few (one or two in every class) that have a innate disrespect for authority they don’t deem worthy and they will act out to show the sub that no matter how much they demand respect it won’t be given until it’s earned. I call those students, future leaders. The emphasis on future.
In asking the question what makes us respect another, it helps me to understand how to be a better substitute teacher. I must earn respect and not demand it. How is it earned? Well, I look at the people I respect and ask why. There’s a principal that I greatly admire because I see his caring for the students and teachers and his love for his school. He’s in the hallways and classrooms talking to the students. He visits the teachers at lunch. He gives personal tours to parents wanting to see his campus. He listens to everyone. The elementary kids hug him the middle school students shake his hand. I have known him for over eight years and have watched him turn his school into an incredible award winning academy for the arts that now has a waiting list. When I first met him as a parent touring the school I walked away knowing it was the right place for my children because of his caring and compassion. Sure, the school was nice but at the time I was a teacher and I knew the importance of a good principal–the leader that sets the tone. He was not pretentious or demanding of respect because of his PHD or position. Had he been, I would have sought another school. I knew that if a principal cared this much it would show through and he’d earn the respect of the students, teachers, and parents. “The bond that links your true family is not of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” Richard David Bach. There’s a lot of joy in his school.
I respect those who I feel truly care about me. I respect those who listen to me. I respect those who are kind to me. I don’t respect those who demand I show respect simply because of their title when they haven’t earned it. I respect those that see the big picture– the humanity in all of us. When I go into a classroom I remember this. Screaming may snap everyone to attention but it doesn’t last. If I can walk into a room and somehow make the students sense that I care about them, because I do, I will gain their respect. Usually those that pick up on it the quickest are the ones that shout to their peers to quiet down thus making my job much easier. Walking into a classroom and instantly making students understand you care can be difficult, however, I am grateful to be there and the more I let that gratefulness shine through the easier it is.
The best teachers are the ones who care. They never demand respect, they are given it in bucket loads because their students know they are loved not for their performance or loyalty but for who they are. Make someone feel as though they are cared for, make someone feel as though your love for them is unconditional, listen to them, encourage them, and let them know that you’re there should they need you–that’s the love that earns respect.