In the fall of 2009, the company I worked for closed unexpectedly. My mentor and friend, Merrie Sue Holtan, told me that I could become licensed to substitute teach in Minnesota. Having always wanted to be in the classroom, I applied and found a district that needed me. I subbed for 15 days before I took on full-time hours at two writing jobs.
My first day subbing in kindergarten was a rude awakening. It’s night and day compared to subbing in any other grade, even first grade. In first grade students understand how to line up, how to sit in a circle, how to listen to the teacher. (Granted, they don’t always choose to do those things, but they’ve been exposed to those ideas for a year and a half at that point).
It was painful to go back for a second day of kindergarten, but it was a different class so I thought I would give it a try. Nope. Same thing.
“Okay,” I thought. “I will give myself three days at each grade level before I decide I won’t go back.”
Welcome to day three. The classroom teacher was in school for training. She told me early that morning that hers was a “needy” group. I didn’t know exactly what that meant.
I dove right in. I didn’t have a choice.
The students did not handle circle time well. There was hitting, poking and pinching. I almost made the special helper cry because I was about to move on to another topic but he informed me that he wasn’t done talking about his dog. I smoothed that one over. I couldn’t have tears before 8:45 in the morning.
An art project that involved cutting and glue was something I looked forward to, until I realized just how much work it would be. Wow. I admire teachers for what they do every day.
Then came the most terrifying time of the morning. Bathroom break. It’s terrifying because of the unknown variables. In the classroom, the chaos is contained. In the hallways and bathrooms, all bets are off. To top it off, this kindergarten classroom was located in the 4-6 wing due to space issues. Screaming kindergarteners are more common in the K-2 area, not in upper elementary. Another challenge. I had to remind myself to breathe.
We lined up at the door. We had a ten-minute discussion about why we walk down the hallway and why we need to be quiet. I thought it would be okay.
Then, I made my mistake.
Instead of staying at the front of the line and walking down the hall backwards, I made a dire mistake. I held the door open and let the students pass. That may be nice in the corporate world, but kindergarten was a whole different game.
They ran – all of them – screaming their heads off down the hallway. I wish I could say I am exaggerating. Sadly, it really was that bad. I got a dirty look from a fourth grade teacher. I think I stopped breathing.
I finally got down to the bathrooms and I just wanted them to move along as quickly as possible. But these are tiny little people who are not in a hurry. It felt like we were in the hallway forever.
That’s when three boys came running out of the bathroom, arguing and yelling.
“Teacher, teacher!” They pulled at my sweater. “Max peed on John!”
Max gave a disgusted look, rolled his eyes and said, “No I didn’t!” He paused. “I peed on Levi!”
We had to get back to the classroom.
The bathroom shenanigans continued in the afternoon. At rest time the room was dark while students relaxed on the floor, watching a video. The teacher’s notes instructed me to send two students at a time to use the bathroom. It seemed to work fine.
Later that day a little boy and a little girl were laughing as I walked by. I crouched down as they were playing and asked what they were up to.
The little boy laughed, “I peed in the girls’ bathroom!”
They both giggled.
It took few more questions but they finally told me it happened during rest time bathroom break, on a dare.
That was day three. I graduated myself from kindergarten and I’ve never looked back.