Last week, due to the number of overnight field trips taking place (science camp and 8th grade graduation trip), I wound up subbing with third, fourth, and seventh graders. At a small rural school, it’s sometimes hard to hire substitute teachers, and it’s also hard to be the substitute teacher at our school, particularly when it’s close to the end of the year and the students are restless. I willingly agreed, and even thought myself prepared.
All the students had research to do on their countries that they will be presenting for International Night this coming Thursday. Third and fourth graders had France; seventh had Egypt.
My plans? The seventh graders were going to mummify oranges and potatoes, design and paint their own life-size sarcophagus, and write book reports on Egyptian topics. Third and fourth grades were going to build a 3-foot Eiffel Tower out of paper, look up facts on French topics, make their own pointillist paintings, and make French Meringue cookies without an electric mixer.
Do you find it hard to believe that nothing went as planned?
First of all, everything took either twice as long or half as short as I’d planned for. So I was either walking around helping students speed things up, or coming up with new activities on the spot (“Let’s play Musical Chairs to this French Jazz CD I brought in and you can tell me what you think of French music!”).
I also had problems cleaning out orange pulp, several egg white spills, meringue that never stiffened, and – my personal favorite – an ant invasion which resulted in a student pointing at me every hour or so and loudly saying, “Miss! There’s an ant on your neck!”
Then there was my Eiffel Tower – the paper stacks I had intended to use lost their balance about half-way up, and the students were much, MUCH messier with the paint than I’d anticipated, so we ran out of color.
Do you find it hard to believe that nothing went as planned, but everything was completed nonetheless?
The Egyptian sarcophagi, while not authentically Egyptian, conveyed a sense of identity for each student who made one:
The success of the sarcophagi counterbalanced the disastrous French Meringue cookies. Fortunately, I had some premade cookie dough I had just bought (for other purposes, but c’est la vie), and the students all made their own M&M cookies as we laughingly talked about how NOT to make French Meringue cookies.
As it turns out, musical chairs to French jazz is pretty fun, and everyone – yes, everyone – got their reports and fact finding done, even if they weren’t all in the form I’d imagined (i.e., the picture of the guillotine said “Chanel” on it?).
With regards to the Eiffel Tower, we gathered extra paint from other classrooms, and replaced the stacked paper with boxes. The experience turned into a class discussion in problem solving, and this was our end result:
If there are two words that lend well to the experience of being a teacher, it’s “be flexible.” While it’s important to be organized and have lessons planned, it’s equally important to know how to go with the flow and break from a lesson plan when something is not working as you’d expected.
While there may be no education courses in going with the flow, there are plenty of improvisational acting classes. You might consider enrolling in one and pleasantly finding out how it gives your teaching abilities a boost. Improvisational acting requires getting up and performing in front of groups of people, creating lines and scenes on the spot to a given topic, and reacting appropriately to the other people in the scene with you.
Is teaching so different? Besides, you gotta love a discipline where the mantra is “the show must go on.”