I’ve worked as a substitute teacher at my children’s former elementary school for years. It’s a good gig. Flexible, most tough moments are healed with a hug or a shiny sticker and there’s recess every day.
Working at the school was especially nice when my children attended. One of my favorite memories was peeking over at my son at lunch when he stealthily said his prayers before he ate. He bowed his head and mastered the speedy 7-year-old sign of the cross touchdown style without the pointing-up-to-heaven and chest bang parts.
Simply said, substitute teaching is like being the crazy-fun aunt who visits every few months, has secret dance moves and always has gum.
Kids like a new face once in a while and most students already know I love recess so it’s a win-win. I actually thought about contacting Meghan Markle and asking if she’d like me to be her substitute Duchess of Sussex. I have the experience, I can pull off a crown and a good cockney accent (I sang an Eliza Doolittle song for Jr. Miss in high school) and being an old soul, I think the Queen and I would really hit it off.
This week I was lucky enough to substitute in a 2nd-grade class. My primary job was to shadow Maddie, an invincible gal who needed a little bit of support, physically.
My favorite moments of the day were during recess…where invaluable lessons are digested into their little souls.
Once in the recess “field”, Maddie dashed directly to her dear friend Keegan whose toothless smile seemed to say I’m glad you’re here. I pegged him as one of those friends you could sit with when you’re 40 and tell him your messy and sweet stories and he would listen with wide eyes.
My gal continually asked Keegan, “Do you remember when we met… SHORT PAUSE…it was in the hallway in first grade…SHORTER PAUSE…do you remember the face you made?” She told him he smiled when they met. She relished the memory.
Keegan gave her a quick side hug and said, “Let’s play portals!”
He orchestrated a game where each section of the field served as a “portal” (safe place) and we had to RUN from one to the next BEFORE the doors closed. I love to move but gee whiz the portals were really far away from each other. Maddie was quick and determined to keep up with her classmates and I jogged alongside like a cicada bug arms outstretched blocking flying soccer balls and tag games.
After we arrived at the fourth portal, Keegan announced there was a monster coming and we had to run! I was trying not to interject my ideas in the game, but craving a little break, I told everyone I packed invisibility cloaks in my back pocket and we could hide. That worked for about one minute. On the next GO! we followed him to the next portal and as he ran off he said, “Don’t worry, Maddie, we’ll keep the door open for you!”
Breathless, we jumped in the invisible doorway and a new portal player said,
“Okay, huddle up! Here’s a big cauldron (he pointed to a grassy area), and if we put one of ANYTHING inside, the cauldron will give us ONE MORE…(he stuck his hand in)…see, now I have three hands!”
They went around the circle and announced their superpowers which ranged from strength to crystal transformer. Then they took turns reading secret messages written on leaves and wrote notes of wisdom with sticks in their own language.
We heard the jingle from the handbell across the field which signaled it was time to go inside. One boy hugged his friend and said, “I doubled you in the cauldron so I’ll leave you here and take one of you with me.” They all giggled as he ran off with his hand outstretched hugging his invisible friend. Maddie and I decided we should walk to the line and just like that, we were back inside – invisibility cloaks stuffed in my pocket for next time.
It’s true, most days I learn more from substitute teaching than I can ever give. In just that 30 minutes I was reminded:
as we age and our souls callous, deep in our hearts lie our 2nd-grade superpowers.
someone is always holding that portal door open for us so why not take a risk and jump over the threshold.
30 minutes of play is priceless.
be the crazy-fun aunt.