"May I vent to you? Please? It's been a long day. Let me start at the beginning."
"Class, listen up. Class? Class?"
My day of subbing had just begun and already was starting on the wrong foot. They wouldn't even listen to me long enough to start their Daily Oral Language assignment. They had been talking non-stop since they had walked through the door, and I had already written out five passes to the nurse's office. I knew not all of them were genuine, but I was a sub. How was I supposed to know? It was a bit early in the day for this method, and I hated punishing the whole class for just a few who were causing trouble, but I was desperate.
"Okay. That's it. Five minutes off of recess," I said, making a slash mark on the board.
That quieted them. For about five seconds. Then it started again. "Am I going to have to take off more time?" I asked. No change.
Bribery. That normally works. "If you make it until music without talking, you can earn your five minutes of recess back." Finally, I saw twenty sets of eyes looking up at me.
"Thank you. Let's continue with the lesson."
I made it to music, and they even earned their five minutes of recess back. I patted myself on the back for a job well done. However, after music, they were back to their old tricks. Talking, turning around in their chairs, putting their feet on the desk... you name it.
Okay. Time for Action Plan C – Bribery Part 2. Once again, it was a bit early in the day for this method. But sometime you've got to do what you've got to do. "I have a surprise for you at the end of the day if you're good. And I'll make sure to leave your teacher a good note," Well, mostly good, I thought to myself.
This time they made it to lunch with minimal disruptions and only three more passes to the nurse's office, although at least one of those was genuine. I have the proof sitting in the trashcan. And my shoes.
Then, after lunch, they were even worse than before. "Class, listen to me. Please listen to me. Remember the surprise I have for you at the end of the day."
"What is it?" one child asked.
"You'll have to wait to find out. That's why it's a surprise," I said. The truth was, I wasn't even sure what it was. Maybe the teacher had a candy stash somewhere. I'd pay her back. Or maybe I had twenty quarters in my wallet.
Unfortunately, they didn't seem to hear my reminder.
Well... fine then, I thought, mentally crossing my arms and pouting. I couldn't let them see any outwards signs of defeat. If they aren't going to listen to me, maybe I'll talk to someone who will.
Without a word to the students, I walked to the side of the room and turned to the wall. "Wall," I said, loud enough to be heard by the children, "These students won't listen to me. But maybe you will." I heard the talking stop, but I didn't want to turn around quite yet. "Mr. Wall, would you please get out your science book and turn to page 251? I want to teach you about light. And if you listen quietly and can answer the review questions after we read, I have a really cool experiment to show you."
I finally dared to turn around. Before me, nineteen students (remember the shoe incident?) sat before me with their science books open. My footsteps echoed in the room as I walked to the front. Finally. I had them in the palm of my hand. Oh sure, they'd talk about the substitute who talked to the wall. But I didn't care.
At the end of the day, I handed nineteen students a quarter. Am I a softie? Perhaps. But four dollars and seventy-five cents is a small price to pay for my sanity. And that whole talking to a wall incident? Let's pretend that never even happened. Good night, Mr. Desk Chair."
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