May 25, 2017

Ask me anything

One of the ways I fill my time as a freelance writer and lover of children is by substitute teaching. When my client load is low or my need to be surrounded by sticky little hands  and whiny voices is untapped, I accept opportunities to substitute teach.

I jest a little. I thrive on being around children and feed off their energy and curiosity. My imagination runs wild as I glimpse faces from the past. There is a little boy who could be a dead ringer for my now 19 year old daughter's second grade best friend. There is another little boy who could be my little nephew. I see these faces and smile thinking of young friends I adored from a different time and place.

Inevitably, at the end of the day, we've done all our work and there is time, usually only about 5-10 minutes, because I'm pretty good at sticking to and following the schedule. That 5-10 minutes can seem endless if you aren't ready for it.

Additionally, as a substitute teacher, you don't even know their regular routine or where the teacher keeps the "bag o' tricks" for those down times. It's okay. John Berryman once wrote a quote that has become a lifetime mantra, "Ever to confess you're bored is to confess to no inner resources."

That quote reminds me to dig deep. When I encounter that dead zone of what the heck do I do now, I fall back on a game called "Ask Me Anything". The students must raise their hands and they are allowed to ask me anything they want. Because I teach elementary school, I'm not too concerned that I won't have an answer, or at least be able to make them laugh if I don't.

Typical questions include:

  • Do you have kids? (yes)
  • How many? (2)
  • Girls or boys? (both girls)
  • Do you have a dog? (yes)
  • What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (vanilla)
  • How old are you? (50)
  • Where do babies come from? (their parents)

So it goes. "Ask Me Anything" usually fills the rest of the time and keeps the kids engaged.

Sometimes, however, I get a monkey wrench, typically with the follow-up question.

Isn't it rude that someone asked your age? (No, I invited the question).
How do the parents get the babies? (That's a question for a scientist).
What if they didn't have vanilla ice cream? (I'd probably order coffee with chocolate chips)
Do you like cats? (the hardest one of all, because I don't usually, but meet exceptions on a regular basis).

The ask me anything game is sort of indulgent for me as well because I get to assuage my ego that "I know everything". Then came the time the game got the best of me. As we were filing to leave for the day, a young girl with a twinkle in her eye asked me, "Do you teach all the subjects?" (yes). She smirked and said, "Well that means you teach science, so you can tell us how the parents get the babies."

Just then the bell rung and the bedlam of getting the bus ensued.

I learned the meaning of saved by the bell.

But in the spirit of the game, I now invite my readers... "Ask Me Anything".
I might even answer.



March 20, 2017

First Day of School/Spring

It is only apropos that I find myself composing today's post on the first day of Spring. I have filled so many of my days with obligations that I hadn't been able to accept many substitute teaching jobs. In fact, the last time I was called and could accept was back in September.

But last night, around 9 PM, my phone rang and I was asked if I could teach today. I hesitated for a moment, as I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch, but I also knew that my friend would understand and we could reschedule. I was giddy as I said yes, I would be there, knowing that I would spend my day with a roomful of young people.

I am not sure how I can describe how much I love being in schools. I suppose you could call me a teacher groupie. I haven't gone through the work to be one, but I cannot really picture myself doing anything else. While I do not have a teaching degree, instead I fill my days with ways to be around young people. I am a confirmation sponsor at my church, I volunteer teach for Junior Achievement, and I coach speech and debate for a local high school. Oh, and I also babysit for my neighbors 2 mornings/week.

In other words, if there is anyone in the world who loves being around young people, it is me. Heck my own college daughter said in a quiz about how well she knows her mom, that my favorite thing is to talk with young people.

So today, knowing I was subbing all day, I sprung out of bed at 5:30 AM. My husband was teasing me, said, First day of school? At 50 years old, I blushed and then nodded knowingly, yes, I was going to school for the day.

I am not sure I can appropriately explain how magical a school building is to me. It's just this place of wonder and amazement. I walk in and see so much promise. I'm surrounded with potential. I am enveloped with hope. It is a beautiful thing. Lesson plans, students, notebooks, minds, oh those minds! Such gorgeous vessels waiting to be filled!

I am realistic. I'm a substitute teacher. I'm just a place holder who comes in and imparts a little knowledge that their regular teacher has set in place.  What I do believe though is that a good substitute can bring a new energy and enthusiasm to a classroom -- a fresh face, and different perspective. There was a young man in the front of my classroom today who announced how he was in a bad mood and that I shouldn't expect anything from him.

I looked at him and firmly said, "I expect you to do your work, because a job has nothing to do with your mood." The rest of the classroom piped in and quickly informed me that the regular teacher always makes him do stuff, even when he doesn't want to. I quickly discerned that there was more going on with this student. I think that is what a good sub does -- read the situation and adapt.

By the end of the day, he was smiling and fist bumped him for getting rid of his bad mood. Oh yeah, and he did the work he was supposed to do. I call that a winning day.



January 3, 2017

Here they are, there they go: Week 18 (final installment)

big familyThe holidays got in the way of wrapping up my empty nest series. We were traveling out and folks were traveling in, our kids came home, we hosted a family get-together, we attended several family get-togethers. We need a holiday from our holiday. 

As the dust settles on the holiday season for 2016, I have some time for reflection and offer some realistic observations. The past two weeks were a prospecting mission to foresee what future interactions between adult family members will be like.


What strikes me most profoundly is the complete lack of homogeneity, and yet, we are united by blood. Each member of our family is different and unique and at no time was that more apparent than when we were all gathered in the same space.


We saw cousins that we don't often see, and realized that as the family grows, our time commitments get more thin. We pledged to do better at keeping in touch and crossed our fingers that we make it a priority. 

The greater extrapolation of an empty nest is the realization that we had several generations of families who have all experienced children becoming adults at one time or another. Yet, we still gather and enjoy spending time together. I suspect that is the truest glimpse of the future.  Years ago, my siblings and I left our family nests.  We still congregate with each other when we can and appreciate the family time. 

We hosted mom at our house and realized now it’s our turn to take care of things for her when she’s in our home. We stocked up on her favorite coffee, put extra blankets in the room, set out favorite family photos. We want to make her feel at home with the same graciousness we feel when we visit her home. 


family togethernessThe difference when we visit our childhood home is a built in sense of familiarity. My brother found the spot on the wall that he etched his undying devotion to a grade school crush. We walked around marveling how much smaller it seems today than when we were kids. We were threatened with punishment if we opened a door to a messy room. Though we laughed, we realized that mom's “Board of Education” still stings in our minds if not on our behinds. 

We surrounded ourselves with touchstones to the past, made memories of the present, and looked forward to the future. And that is the note to close this series. I'm looking forward to the future. 





This 18 post series will be expanded upon and compiled into a book. 


Projected availability is July 2017. 

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