Against the advice of my retired friends, I’ve started substitute teaching a bit — a very little bit. I recently turned down a two-day job for someone I adore. Between you and me, it just sounded like too much of a commitment for a person as retired as I.
One of the reasons I decided to return to the trenches is that I’m concerned that I’ve become so immersed in Geezerhood that I’ve lost all connection to the world of the young. Reality hit home not long ago when it was rudely pointed out to me that Justin Bieber is no longer a darling little boy, but a budding gangsta’ wanna-be, grabbing his “man” parts in concert. OMG, I am sooo stuck in the aughts.
Consequently, I’ll be spending some quality time in the classroom catching up on pop culture, and molding the minds of our youth. And you and I both know how much kids love substitutes! I’ve got the drop on this bunch though — I’m working at my old school, and I can still use the legitimate argument that they’d better behave themselves because I know their mothers’ phone numbers!
You’ve got to love kids. They are so uncensored — especially the little ones. Often funny, always innocent, and sometimes terribly humbling, their conversation cuts to the chase. I wish I’d recorded the more interesting moments of my teaching career for posterity, but alas, I did not.
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One incident I do remember occurred when I was a youthful 40-something. I did the stay-at-home mom thing, and spent time volunteering in my son’s kindergarten class. On one particular day, I worked with a small group of 4- and 5-year-olds. We sat, cozied together on a rug in a corner of the room, and I read them a story — probably something along the lines of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear.”
I used my most impressive, expressive voices, and they sat with rapt attention. We recited together, and we paused and discussed. Several children told about adventures they’d had with various animals, i.e. “Socks had her kittens on my Mom and Dad’s new comforter ”; “There was a skunk under the floor of my bedroom ”; “My chihuahua, Ralph, dug under the backyard fence and ”
Well, most of them were happy stories.
We read on for a few minutes, until the little guy next to me raised his hand. I paused and nodded toward him. He gazed up at me and said in his big boy voice, “You’ve got those things on your face like witches do.” Of course every head in the group, if not the class, turned to gaze in my direction.
I dipped into my frequently tapped mother/teacher tolerance reservoir and calmly replied, “No sweetness, those are called moles. They’re not warts.” I was tempted to use my well-rehearsed Snow White wicked-witch voice, but I decided not to scare the pants off the little guy.
I left the class that day with my confidence marginally intact. I admit, I have reflected upon the incident once or twice over the last 25 years, but really, I barely even noticed the comment.
I should have called them beauty marks.
It might have been October.
I should have used my witch voice!
Blows to the ego notwithstanding, I absolutely love this story that a first-grade teacher friend told me on the golf course the other day. She recently gave her class a writing assignment. and the topic was an “essay” about happiness. My friend sat the kids on the rug and brainstormed some ideas they could use in their stories. She answered questions. And more questions — and more questions — and finally she sent them back to their desks to write.
They worked busily for a time — which, in first grade means for about a minute and a half — and then one little girl raised her hand. The teacher motioned for her to come up to her desk, and this is a reasonable facsimile of their conversation:
Teacher: “How can I help you, honey?”
First-grader: “I need to know how to spell penis.”
Teacher: Long, thoughtful pause. “Oh? Tell me a little bit about your story.”
The little one smiled.
First-r: “No, I want it to be a surprise. I just need to know how to spell penis.”
Teacher: GIANT PAUSE. “OK, let’s go see what you’ve written so far.”
So kid and teacher walked back to the child’s desk. The little girl sat down and pointed to her paper. “See! Right here! I’ve started. This is where I need penis. I’ve got the ‘Haa-’ part — I just need to add the ‘penis’ and that’ll make happiness!”
During my sub gigs, I’ll be on the lookout for some memorable moments. But, just as a precaution, I think I’ll steer clear of any discussion of how happy I am in retirement.