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. This is the story of my first day. My adventure would last three months.
“They’re not going to call,” I thought.
At 6:28 the phone rang. It was Gina.
“This is going to sound funny – but do you want to sub in gym today?”
I decided I would say yes to every assignment. I wanted to try everything.
“You bet,” I said, not knowing quite what I was in for.
I threw on some sweats and a cute sweatshirt, with some big (fake) diamond earrings and I grabbed my whistle.
I arrived at the elementary office at 8 a.m., as requested. The secretary shoved a folder in my direction. There were kids everywhere in the office and about four teachers waiting to be helped. It was a blur.
“Okay, for your information, bathrooms are down this hall to your right,” the secretary spoke quickly and gestured like a flight attendant.
“There is a teachers’ lounge with pop and a fridge next to it, to your right. If you go down the next hallway, at the end is Mr. B.’s office – the gym doors are brown. Kids arrive in your class at 8:20.”
I really didn’t hear many of the directions.
I finally found Mr. B.’s office after taking the long way around. I walked in to find someone sitting at what appeared to be the teacher’s desk. We both looked shocked to see each other. It was Mr. Peterson, a student teacher. At first this threw me off – I thought I would have time to prepare. But in the end THANK GOD he was there. Thirteen classes of k-6 – I wouldn’t have made it with out him.
What struck me were his patience and his control over the students. He let them get just loud enough and then he snapped them back to attention. I was trying to find the gauge he was using, making mental notes along the way. He really took over the classes, which allowed him to get experience and for me to learn how to do this.
All of the classes were roller skating. We had 25 minutes to get kids in the gym, into skates, skate around and then get out of skates and back to class. Imagine trying that with 27 kindergartners. Exhausting.
When I dove in to this chapter of my life, I was fully prepared to be humbled, to feel stupid and to realize I had a lot to learn. I welcomed the challenge because it was something I really felt passionate about. I wanted to figure out how to run a classroom, how to teach children in ways they would each understand and I wanted to feel so completely out of my element that I was uncomfortable. I don’t remember ever feeling that way before. It was terrifying and exciting at the same time.
It didn’t take long for me to feel stupid.
As the first graders blew through the gym doors and ran their two laps, Mr. Peterson had to go into the hallway to get the skates ready.
I was so used to my other jobs, where I wasn’t responsible for small human beings, that I blurted out, “Do you need help?”
“No.” Mr. Peterson said slowly. “Stay here,” he turned and looked me in the eye. He emphasized slowly, “and watch the kids.”
The helpfulness that helped me in the corporate world would not help me here. This would be a whole new way of thinking.