Returning to the classroom every fall always reminds of my
feeble beginnings as a substitute teacher.
Returning to the classroom every fall always reminds of my feeble beginnings as a substitute teacher.
In ’95, I’d graduated with a BA in Liberals Arts and passed CBEST. State officials checked my fingerprints and granted me a 30-day emergency teching credential. Gilroy Unified School District hired me. All I needed was a sick teacher and a darling group of children eager to learn their ABC’s cuz I was READY!
Now it’s computer generated, but back then, a live person called us with district assignments. Bernadette had added my number to her Rolodex and called shortly after I met all requirements.
I confessed to this sweet invisible voice that this would be my first job. She laughed and assured me that I’d do great. “Just look for the lesson plan and follow the instructions,” she advised.
That first call led to my first job at a first grade at Rod Kelley. The secretary gave me a key to the classroom and pointed me in the right direction. But it wasn’t until I unlocked the room and walked in that it really hit me: I was going to be in charge of a whole bunch of kids for a whole day.
After making several sweeps around the little desks in search of the magical lesson plan, I realized that I didn’t know what one looked like. Tears threatened just as the wonderful teacher next door poked her head in and said if I had any questions or discipline problems, she’d be glad to help.
I quickly admitted I couldn’t find The Plan.
“She keeps it on her reading table,” she said looking a tad concerned.
I’d gone by it three times without realizing that the notebook with multiple squares was the scepter for my first-grade kingdom.
She showed me the work next to the plan and told me to keep an eye on the clock and just work my way through the pile. The rest of that first day was a fast paced blur but I’m happy to report that at the end of the day, every child was alive and I’d survived.
Since that day, many wonderful teachers have pulled me under their fluffy wings and gladly shared their tricks of the trade …
Patti Littlejohn taught me the importance of keeping your sense of humor intact no matter what a 5-year- old might say or do. The Queen of Kindergarten also taught me how to give directions in song-song voice or lilting rhyme so that children are actually eager to follow directions.
Carol Difiore taught me the importance of instructing step-by-step with younger-aged pupils. On pages of handwritten lesson plans, she explained how to use elements of the Slingerland method, how to model examples on the white board and how to write with fingers “in the air.”
Chris Wheeler taught me the importance of positive discipline. That giving rewards usually works more effectively than taking away privileges. That kids need us to be consistently fair and unending in patience. (However, I still haven’t forgiven her for leaving me with 32 sixth graders who were supposed to whittle white Ivory bars into figurines. What a mess of slippery slivers and soapy dust!)
My worst day so far was spent in a bilingual class at San Ysidro. The district was desperate and eager to overlook the fact that my Spanish vocabulary consisted of being able to count to 10.
Bernadette assured me that the English speaking kids would help translate. I’ll never forget their sweet little worried faces when I told them they were stuck with me for the day. I got a few smiles when I did my “uno, dos, tres” routine, but that was the only time in six hours that we connected in a meaningful way.
I came home in tears and ready to retire no matter what the state of California, Gilroy Unified or Bernadette said about my qualifications to continue.
It’s been 10 years now that I’ve continued to walk into classrooms, find lesson plans, piles of prepared tasks and teach. Even if I do this for 10 more years, I’ll always be amazed at the learning process and those who make it happen. To me, it’s a mystery … somehow, we all learn how to read, write, tell time, color within the lines and, most importantly, whittle bars of soap into sudsy shapes.
Bonnie Evans has lived in Gilroy with her husband Mike for 21 years. They have two grown children and a black lab named Pepper. Her volunteer work centers around end-of-life issues. To support her volunteer efforts, she teaches for Gilroy Unified.