So. In my ravings about being sick I casually mentioned that I’ve learned that supply teaching isn’t always sunshine and roses. My lovelies, it’s time to tell you a story…
As you know, I spent nearly a week rocking a sexy man-voice and death cough. The combination of the two left me with a raspy whisper of a voice that rendered me incapable of speaking loudly or raising my voice at all as the strain would send me into a violent round of barking (aka: the death cough). By the end of the weekend I already had two days of teaching booked, and I was a little apprehensive about it. Really, aside from the cough, I felt okay, but not being able to use my voice in a classroom of students who didn’t know me was a bit scary. I reasoned that I hadn’t really had any issues to date so I would probably be fine.
The morning rolled around and my first period class was a dream. I taught a grade 12 university-stream Writer’s Craft course, and while the students jokingly mocked my man-voice, we had a great time. We watched a film and had a brief discussion about it.
After rocking the first period, I was so ready to take on the next class: a grade nine applied (general) English course. Now I have to be honest–I usually prefer this stream. I like working with kids who need a little more help and more one-to-one teaching, and generally I find their behaviour and attitudes kind of fun. I usually get along great with these kids.
The class filed in and cheered when they saw they had a supply teacher. As they found their seats they told me alllll about how they disliked their regular classroom teacher and loved when supply teachers came in. What I should have taken as a warning, I took as a pat on the back. After all, I was a supply teacher, and this class loved supply teachers!
I introduced myself and apologized for my man-voice before running through the attendance. I then outlined the agenda for the period which involved my least favourite lesson plan: a work period. Most students in grades 9 through 11 translate a “work period” as the exact opposite: a “free period” to sit and chat with friends. Usually, I don’t mind this. I get that everyone works at a different pace and many students don’t need a full period to complete whatever assignment they are working on. I usually ask the students who aren’t interested in working to show me their progress, suggest something they could do to continue working on it or invite them to read or work on an activity I have with me. It usually helps to keep students on track and allow for some work to get done while they chit chat.
These students were having none of it. For the first twenty minutes the majority of the class was either working or talking quietly. Then two students decided they were bored and had had enough.
First they started moving about the room trying to switch desks constantly, moving ever closer to the open classroom door. As they were beginning to distract other students I firmly asked them to find one seat and shut the door. This frustrated their efforts to escape my class but they sat down and were quiet for the next 10 minutes.
That’s when I really learned the truth of that old adage–“when one door closes, somewhere a window opens”.
The entire class started to get restless and my attempts to engage them in their work were becoming less and less effective. I tried humor, then being friendly, then when that didn’t work I knew I had to be firm. I started moving students away from peers that were causing problems and they weren’t happy about it. As I was trying to help one lovely young lady get through a portion of her assignment, she accused me of being an awful, uptight supply teacher. (I should mention that I had just caught her throwing tiny wads of paper at another girl in the class and moved her entire supply into a garbage can. ha)
While I was trying to keep her on task and have a discussion why we can’t always do what we want all the time, I heard a burst of laughter to my left. I whirled around to see this:
Seriously. Except for the part where the kid was trying to escape my class, not get into it.
I turned around just in time to see his knees and feet disappear out the (first floor) window. I ran over only to see him sprinting down the street.
As the students in the room exploded into laughter, I racked my brain for how to deal with the situation.
For half a second as I watched him run down the street I completely froze–I panicked. I saw my chance at a job running down the street with him. But I knew I had to act and I whipped around and for not having any voice, I yelled at that class. The laughter died immediately and I demanded to know who had gone out the window.
Oh, didn’t I mention that part? One of the joys of teaching in a different class every day is never knowing your students’ names. You might remember a couple from the attendance sheet, but it’s hard when you’ve got 20+ new faces every 76 minutes.
As I roared to know who it was that had gone out the students giggled nervously but refused to give up his name, stating that they didn’t know who he was. So, incredulously I grabbed the attendance sheet and began barking out students’ names. Between the students who were absent and those who had left to go work in a resource room, I had a pretty good idea of who it was that had left. I called the office and asked for a vice principal to come down immediately.
As soon as I called for the VP the students’ realized that I was serious and that trouble was coming. When a large, towering man entered the room I was so relieved. The first words that roared out his mouth to the students were that he was furious for having to come down as I had apparently interrupted a meeting with a parent. As I explained that I had taken attendance and was pretty sure who it was (but not 100%) he demanded to know the name. The students shrunk down in their seats and he began pointing and barking at students to grab their books and follow him to the office.
He took six students in all and the room was silent after he left. It was clear that the students both respected and feared this man. No one asked questions, no one talked back and as the students filed back into the room after the “interrogation” no one spoke rudely about him. I was even intimidated while he was in the room. haha!
The rest of the period was uneventful, and I began the task of writing a detailed letter to the regular teacher to explain what had happened and how I handled the incident.
I felt awful.
I felt like my luck had run out and that somehow the incident was a direct result of my failings as a teacher. I needed a moment to collect myself so I did what any self-respecting woman would do: I ran to hide in the bathroom.
As I hovered over the sink another teacher I knew in the school came in and rescued me. She listened patiently as I lamented over the utter disaster that period had been and reassured me that I had done everything I could have done and that I had handled the situation correctly. Apparently this was not an isolated event and happens on a fairly regular basis. After a moment, she paused then asked me whose class I was covering that day. When I revealed the teacher’s name, her eyebrows shot up and a knowing look came into her eyes. She patted me on the shoulder and told me that the class had a reputation throughout the whole school and that she was proud of me for surviving.
I felt considerably better after, but I’m not going to lie–my pride was seriously wounded knowing that a student had taken to diving out a window to escape my class.
Thankfully it was just a half day, and all the days since have been full of sunshine and roses.
It really made me think back to when I was a student and how I behaved with supply teachers. There was only ever one that I didn’t get along with, and it was only because he was just weird. But I know some of my friends and classmates used to love playing pranks on supply teachers…