I love subbing half days, and I love subbing in my own subject areas, so I was thrilled when I was notified of a half day in English at F. High School.
I waited for Ms. C.’s kids to leave the class and introduced myself. I found out that the next period was her plan bell, followed by lunch, so I would only have two classes. Woo hoo! This was going to be a piece of cake. Or so I thought…
6th bell. The students wandered in after lunch and I greeted them. Some asked what we were going to do, and I pointed to the agenda displayed on the Smartboard. When the bell rang, I got everyone’s attention, introduced myself, and explained that their teacher had gone home early. I said they would be reading and annotating an article, then answering some questions on it.
As the students were coming in and reading the agenda, I had heard a few kids asking, “What’s annotating?” so I asked the class to explain annotating, and a few students gave examples. I thought we were ready to go, so I said, “Okay, get started with the reading, and when you’ve finished, you can come up and get the worksheet.”
During my introductory spiel, a few kids had been horsing around and chatting, but I thought that would calm down when it was time to get down to work. It didn’t. Kids were just blatantly talking across the room. I shushed. They got quiet for a few seconds, then started up again. I grabbed the clipboard with the roster on it and I started walking up and down the rows, looking for names on papers and binders. After a few more “shushes” and “back to works,” I started making marks by the names of the noisy kids. One girl noticed.
“Why’d you make a mark by my name?”
“Because I’ve asked you more than once to get to work.”
The class exploded. “Did you mark my name?” “Did you mark my name?” Most often my reply was “not yet.”
Eventually things calmed down again for a few minutes, but never longer than that. I continued walking around, but every time I bent down next to a student’s desk to answer a question, the rest of the class grew noisy. All that I felt I could do was continue walking around urging each student to stop talking and get back to work, with the threat of a mark if they didn’t.
Ugh. Another class of this?
7th bell. In addition to the introduction I used with the previous class, I had a student read the quote at the beginning of the article, which was the basis for the first question. This had given the last class trouble, and I figured it would help to discuss it together. But things really turned around when a student asked, “Can we read the whole article together?”
I hesitated. I know some kids don’t understand what they read when they are reading out loud. Other kids will tune out. Some students don’t read out loud well. But it couldn’t be any worse than what had happened sixth period, could it?
“Okay, who wants to read the article out loud?” About two-thirds of the class raised their hands. I read the title of the article, and pointed out the author’s name, which I know from experience that some students tend to skip over. Then I called for a volunteer for the first paragraph.
We read the whole article together. I called for volunteers; when no one volunteered, I invited a particular student to read, and allowed them to decline if they wished. By the end of the class, everyone had read, even kids who had passed before. One fellow seemed particularly antsy, and I gave him the option to stand at a bookcase at the back of the room and work there. He gratefully accepted. I had two students pass out the questions, and everyone got to work.
Everyone got to work. And they worked until they were done. I walked around helping, answering questions, and made not one tally mark.
What was the difference? Was it just the kids? Maybe. But I think it was reading together. The students and I worked together, and in just that fifteen or twenty minutes, we had created a bond. Not a strong one, but we set a tone: we have work to do, and we can do it together.