a story worth 1000 words

If you want an entertaining job you should try substitute teaching. I think I have stayed in it for these three years simply because of the material it provides me for this blog. I come home every day with an entertaining story to share with my husband. And I have done it all it, at least it feels like that now as some of the material has started to repeat itself.

For instance, the "oh wow" class. These are the group of kids that are in middle socio-economic schools and struggle with this little annoying thing called entitlement. And kids in these areas are almost always given sort of unique name, the problem is that their identical twin on the other side of the city has the same name and the same attitude, twins separated at birth. Anyway, the "oh wow" kid is the kid that thinks that if you are disciplining them after they didn't follow through with the thing you have asked them to do, they say "oh wow". And if you're really lucky, they also suck their teeth or flip their hair, or if you're really fortunate, they'll bob their weight up and down on one leg while shaking their head. My husband does a great impression (because it actually irritates me when he does it).

Or, the really sad schools where the kids respond only to yelling. That one kills me. It hurts my heart every time because you know that that is the only way that their parents get their attention. Those are usually the schools that are in slightly worse off neighbourhoods than the "oh wow" kids. These are also the schools where you don't get to sit down because the second you do, mayhem breaks out. What makes those the tough days is because you realize that, on that day, you were simply there to be the warden for their jail time.

And then there are the classrooms where you didn't even need to show up. You could probably just put everything on a table and the kids are so well trained that they just come in like little factory workers and set to it on the assembly line. These are also the classrooms where if you try to do something different there will be an uprising. In some cases I go with the teachers' flows, in other cases I have adopted a script. I turn to the students and say "I know that is the way that your teacher does it but today we are going to try something new" I usually say that in classrooms where I don't fully trust that the kids are telling the truth (we only ever do 1 math question... yeah right, kid).

Something that I have learned from all of this is, no matter which classroom I'm in, kids listen when I start reading. I have had a near brawl quelled by whipping out a picture book. And every age group loves a good picture book. I've been in classrooms where kids can barely sit through a short craft but when you start reading the novel that the teacher has for them they immediately relax. And if they don't, their peers yell at them because they want to hear the story. It is a very powerful tool, and I am thankful for it.

So, the other day, I was in a pre-kindergarten classroom. There were only 8 or 9 kids there that day because it was either really snowy, or really cold, I can't remember, maybe it was both. Everyone should experience a pre-k at some point. It is play-based education and it is all about fun centres where the kids just imagine and work together. At some point during the day the kids have times with books. Most of them pretend to read. In a rare occasion you'll encounter a kid that can actually read but that is rare. I was about to read with one little girl, and then I thought twice. It was a Robert Munsch book, with vibrant drawings and a ton of repetition (a typical and classic Robert Munsch book). And this little girl was from somewhere in Africa and her first language was definitely not English so I turned to her and said you tell me the story.

She took the book in her hand, and using her fingers and her native language she told me a story. I have no clue what her story was about but it was so powerful to see her create a narrative of her own. She had a lot of detail and she kept repeating 'ooh-a' and when she said this she was pointing at the girl in the pictures. And when two girls were in the picture I heard her say 'ooh-a, ooh-a'. I didn't realize that she had very limited English skills as many of the kids in pre-k are shy and just don't talk so I didn't put it together until that moment. At the end of the story I pointed at the girl in the book and said 'ooh a'? She nodded. I pointed at myself and asked, 'ooh-a'? She smiled and nodded a bit more. So I pointed at her and said, 'ooh-a'. At this point she was giddy and a huge smile broke through her dark lips and her eyes lit up with delight, she nodded so fervently her little braids made slapping noises on her head. My smile broke into a laugh and I said 'thank you'.

I've taught in settings with one or two students and I have done a picture walk with them never really understanding the purpose of it. Until that little girl with her 'ooh-a's taught me that we learn to read visuals first, language, and written words come next. So, next time you're with a little person, get them to tell you the story, in their own language, with their own interpretation, and maybe you will get to understand it, or maybe you'll only understand one 'ooh-a', either way, it is a wonderful experience.

That's all.

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