Whatever with Heather - Mindset, Parenting & Personal Growth

16. Lessons Learned as a Substitute Teacher

October 18, 2023 Heather Evans Season 1 Episode 16
Whatever with Heather - Mindset, Parenting & Personal Growth
16. Lessons Learned as a Substitute Teacher
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It's time for some Whatever! In this episode I talk about what I've learned from substitute teaching.

We'll talk about grades, achievements and effective communication skills I've learned while working with kids of all ages.

First, Is pushing good grades and achievements what you truly care about?
Then... How to use younger you to help you when parenting your kids.

Send me a DM on Instagram or a comment on YouTube with your thoughts!

Speaker 1:

Hey y'all, welcome back to another episode of Whatever with Heather. And since this is Whatever with Heather, I want to get a little more into the whatever, and today I'm going to share some lessons I've learned from being a substitute teacher over the past month. To give you just some quick background when I was little, I wanted to grow up and be a teacher and so I went to college to be a teacher. I got my degree in kinesiology with a teaching certification and then I went on to certify to teach PE and middle school math. But right before my last semester of college I had my daughter. So I was student teaching full time with a newborn baby, and if anyone's familiar with how teachers get paid, I could not afford to be a teacher and put a newborn in daycare, and so I ended up never actually having my own classroom. That doesn't mean I haven't taught, obviously like kind of teaching here on the podcast and in women's empowerment courses. I teach yoga, I've taught Taekwondo, I've taught tennis, I've coached volleyball, I've taught girls empowerment workshops, and so I always have kind of had this life of teaching. And when I used to be a member of a church congregation, I frequently had the job of teaching the adults and the kids. So I've never actually had my own formal classroom that was mine, which is kind of what I envisioned for my teaching career when I was younger. I've really enjoyed this journey of teaching this and teaching that and being in different spaces and teaching different age groups and teaching different things. It has challenged me in really cool and fun and sometimes hard ways. That has made me grow into what I feel like is a better rounded teacher than I would have been otherwise. And so fast forward to today. Yes, I could go be in a classroom, but I know that in being a full time teacher because I have so many friends that are teachers that this kind of fluid way of teaching doing a podcast, coaching and working with women, teaching yoga, all of these other things would not have space anymore. So instead of me just becoming a full time teacher, I've decided to substitute teach and really channel younger me that really wanted to be a teacher and be in the classroom with actual students of different ages. I'm mostly subbed at the middle school. I've subbed at the elementary and yesterday was my first day at the high school and lots of people are shocked that I love subbing at the middle school. There are definitely challenges to it, but there are definitely things about it that are really fun and honestly, I think some of the fun is the challenge of it. The challenge of how do I go into a classroom where I don't know any of their names, I don't know any of their behaviors, I don't know how they're doing in whatever subject I'm there to sub for. How do I step into a classroom and build rapport, build this mutual respect between the students and myself and maintain discipline in the classroom? Where things aren't going crazy and I have no classroom management, how do I build the rapport and the classroom management really quickly? And middle school gives a great opportunity because you get different class periods so what worked with one class may not work with another class, or things that didn't go so well in one class you learn from and you can quickly implement and try again in a different class. And if one class is just falling apart, don't worry, they will be out of there in 45 minutes. It's okay. But for the most part I haven't found me like suffering and just wishing for the end of class. I have really enjoyed the challenge and the insights I've gained in working with so many students such a wide range of subjects, wide range of ages, where I only have quick and short interactions with these students. So I want to share some things I've learned from substitute teaching or things that I have practiced and implemented while being a substitute teacher. The first thing is probably a little controversial. There will be people listening to this who do not agree with me, and that's okay. But hear me out. Just hear me out for a minute and see if maybe there's some things you haven't thought of before. If we go back to me, in middle school and high school, I was a straight A student. I was ranked high in my class. I did well in school, and in high school I was in all advanced classes and I was overworked. I was exhausted. All I did was advanced classes, honors classes, and the amount of work I was putting in was taking away from me getting to do sports, choir, theater, arts. Those were things I enjoyed and there was a trade off. Your children's childhood is so very short and a lot of us were raised in a very especially if you're in my generation a very achievement based parenting style and cultural style in which the achievements you accrued and accumulated added to your worth straight up. That is what it felt like. The A's you would get would add to your worth. The bad grades you get would subtract from your worth. The things and honors you accumulated would add to your worth. The harder classes you took meant you were worth more. This was never said, but this was very much implied and felt by people in my generation. I have talked to multiple people about it and partway through my high school career I realized I was working my high enough and getting good grades in honors in advanced courses for no reason zero reason other than to prove I was smart or to prove I could work really hard or to prove that I was different than the other students. I don't know what all the reasons were, but being in honors in advanced classes was very important to parents in my generation and now parents like me. We are raising children and we are pushing this achievement agenda forward on our children. As someone who was a straight A student and went to the University of Texas, I can tell you the best thing I ever did for high school me was drop out of all of my advanced classes. Just be a regular high school student in which I still got straight as, and build relationships with people and friendships, participate in activities that actually built teamwork and collaboration, versus me being a one woman show, getting straight as and essentially stressing myself out, thereby shortening my happiness to try to prove my worth by the hard classes I took in the grades I got. Now I think, to really round out this conversation, we need to think about if you are a parent that really cares about your kids taking advanced classes or getting good grades. Why do you care? Because I can tell you in working with a lot of middle schoolers, these kids are so stressed about getting a bad grade whatever a bad grade it is a lot of times considered anything that's not an A is bad that they shut down. They don't build collaboration, they don't build problem solving skills because their fear of failing and failing is a B to them, because failing is a B to their parents. Their fear of that will stop them in school and it will stop them in their future, because if you are scared of failing, you will do anything to avoid failing. You won't try new things. You won't have fresh, new ideas that might fail. You won't start that business because it's going to feel like failing for a while. You won't leave the relationship. That's toxic because it feels like failing you won't leave the friendships. That are toxic because you're going to lose something and fail in the process. We are building a generation of kids who are scared of failing because we either A protect them from failing and we set up all these boundaries so they never fail, or we don't allow them to fail because we stress them out so much that if they fail or if they get a B, then that is not good enough. The reason we want our kids to get good grades this is what my brain thinks is because if your child gets a good grade, one reason could be it proves that they worked hard. It proves they're a hard worker. It proves they put forth effort. I 100% agree that hard work and effort are valuable characteristics to have, but an A does not prove that your child is a hard worker or put forth effort. If you were an easy, straight A student, like I was lots of the time, my A's didn't always meant I did hard work or put forth effort. It just meant I got an A and there were times where I got like B's on tests. My final grades were always like A's. When I say straight A student, like my semester, grades were always A's but I might get a B or a C on a test and that did not reflect the work that I put into study, because sometimes I studied really hard and still got a B or a C. And sometimes I put forth no effort and got an A. And when we push our kids to get A's to prove that they worked hard or that they put forth effort, what we're saying is the grade is the indicator of the hard work and effort and we know because we've lived it, that that is not true or not always true. When we focus on the grade, we focus on something that the student has no control over. They don't have control over how their teacher grades that essay or what mood their teacher was in that day or what they were looking for. We don't have control over them being tested on stuff they may not have actually been taught or not taught very well, because I've seen this before. I gave out a quiz to students that they had only like been taught the subject for a few minutes in a class, randomly, and then they had to take a quiz on it and most students, even the quote-unquote smart kids, did not do well on that quiz because they had not been adequately taught on the subject. So if we want our kids to have good grades, we need to ask why? Because, especially when we're talking elementary or middle school, those grades have zero bearing on their ability to get into a college. And if we set them up to be so stressed out in elementary and middle school, instead of building resilience, the willingness to fail, the trust that if they fail that it's okay, and instead focus on hard work and effort, we want our children to work hard. We want them to put forth effort. Those are not always reflected in the grade. Those are not always reflected in the grade. We put the grade above the character trait or we say the grade will tell us that you have those character traits, but we know this is not true, because we have worked hard at things and failed and we have not worked hard at things and succeeded. So the question we need to ask ourselves is do we care about the grade or do we care about who our children become in learning how to put forth effort and hard work, even if they don't get an A? Do we care that our children know how to not stress themselves out that they got an 89? How to not cry or completely shut down when they're overwhelmed. How to navigate overwhelm, how to navigate stress, how to know when things don't matter, how to know when they did their best and when their best is good enough. And if their best is a C and they put forth effort and hard work, why would we not be just as proud of that as the A? We expect more of our children than we even expected of ourselves. We put so much pressure on them from one of two reasons Either we were the smart kid and we feel like that gave us a sense of self-worth, or we were not the smart kid and we feel like maybe our children will feel better about themselves if they get the good grades that we couldn't get. What pressures are we putting on our kids that are framed around our own inadequacies or the places we perceive we failed, or the places we perceive we could have done better? Your children's childhood is so short. They have the rest of their lives to be stressed out, you know, because you hit adulting and the stress can be endless if we let it be. Yet we put so much stress on our children to prove something through a grade that doesn't mean much of anything, and I watch these kids be so stressed out and at the same time there are kids who don't even try because they know they won't get the A. And so some of you have children who are probably failing classes because the aspiration is the A or the B instead of the effort and the hard work, and they are so afraid of failing in your eyes or the school's eyes or the teacher's eyes that they rather just make sure they fail, because then they have control over it. They rather just know they didn't try because then they don't have to be shown that they actually are dumb or not smart or inadequate. It's like when you're playing a board game with someone and they're losing and then they give up. That is what some kids are doing. Has nothing to do with them being smart or not smart. It has to do with their belief that their effort and hard work doesn't matter and only their grade does. And since they don't have control over their grade, they don't do the hard work and they don't put forth the effort, and their hard work and effort are things they have control over, the grade they don't. And so I wonder what it would be like if we stopped putting so much pressure on grades and started asking our kids if they put forth effort, if they could start to look at themselves and evaluate. Did I put forth some work to learn this? Did I put forth some effort to learn this? It's no different than us when we stand on the scale, even though we've been working out for a week and eating well, and the scale doesn't change and we say, oh, I got a bad grade, the work wasn't worth it, and then we give up. Our children feel like the work isn't worth it if the grade doesn't match winning or succeeding. I am not saying grades don't matter, fail everything. No, we are saying focus on the effort, focus on the work, focus on being okay with failing and getting back up and trying again. Those are qualities that if your children were hard workers and put forth effort and knew how to fail and knew when things were actually stressful and when they weren't, and knew how to move themselves forward, those skills are worth more than any A plus any 100 on a test, because those skills will withstand every test in life. Because we know lots of the hardest tests in our life are not graded. They are whether or not we can put forth effort. We can be resilient, we can fail and still try again. We can feel hopeless and get out of bed. Nobody grades that, but those are what matter most. So what have I learned in substitute teaching? This is all one topic Evaluate whether the pressure you're putting on your kids for good grades are actually what you care about. And I'm not saying it's wrong for you to care about good grades. I'm just saying evaluate why you care and see if it actually matters to you or it's just a belief you've carried since you were in school. The second thing I've learned since substitute teaching I'm only going to share two today, because this is getting long. The second thing is the best way I have found to communicate with these kids of all different ages is to channel myself in that age. When I work with middle schoolers, I try to remember what it was like in middle school Lots of social pressure, lots of drama, lots of pressure from teachers, lots of pressure to prove yourself to peers and to adults, lots of frustration when adults don't respect you just because you're a kid. I remember subs would come in and tell me, tell our class, that we had to earn their respect. No, when I was 12 years old. I knew that was wrong, and so I channel me in those ages and I walk into the classroom and I tell them hey, I'm Mrs Evans, I'm your sub for today. Here's the thing. I want to have a good day, you want to have a good day. We both have the same goal. Here's what we need to do to reach that goal. Or hi, I'm Mrs Evans, I'm your sub today. I'm excited to be here. We're going to get some work done today. I want to have a good day, you want to have a good day. I want to be respected, you want to be respected. We have the same goals, right? They're all like yeah, now we're on the same team. I want a good day, they want a good day. I want respect, they want respect. I name it, I say it and I act like that. I treat them that way, and if someone in the classroom is acting disrespectfully towards me or peers, then it is my job to hold the standard of respect that we established just through that first phrase. And when I establish respect, I don't amp up, I don't yell. You need to get back in your seat, open your laptop. You know what we're doing today. I hold them to the standard of sit there, do your work, chat with your friends if you'd like, because middle schoolers just want to talk to their friends. Move forward on your work, put forth some effort and then we're fine. I don't care if it was a perfect day or if everyone was silent or everyone finished their work. It does not matter to me. What matters is I have a good day, they have a good day, I am respected, they are respected and we hold that standard. And as the adult in the room, it's my job to make sure I'm being aware of where that is not happening. But I find for the most part and I've subbed a lot in middle school now that most of these students want to have a good day and be respected and be respectful to me and to each other. So I channel myself there. In the elementary school I was subbing for the librarian. We were reading stories. I went all out on those stories for the K first and second graders. Now what do you want to do if you're a kinder first and second grader? You want to shout out, you want to say things, you want to move your body. So we read, I read the story, I would leave out words and let them shout out the word we would move. When it was time to move to our station, since we had read Halloween books, I said I like to use like strategies that play into this. Right, they want to play, they want to move. And since we had read a Halloween book, I said we're gonna move so sneakily and quietly to our spots. So creepy. Those kids were silent Silent because they want to play, they want to have fun, and they move so silently to their desks. There was no fighting and they were so quiet and so sneaky. Man, if you're watching me on YouTube, I'm like really into this. It was so fun. I didn't have a plan, I just channeled second grade me, kindergarten me. And for the high schoolers, what do they want? They just want to get through their day, see their friends have less drama than the middle school and they don't really want homework. I assume I remember not wanting homework. They also don't want to be chatted at a ton and talked out a ton. So went in there, got straight to work and I was like hey, do you want to work through this together and that way we can get it done and at the end of class y'all will probably have like 15, 20 minutes to just, you know, talk to each other and hang out. They all said yes, they all got their work done, all of them. We worked through it together and they would have to write their own answers. We had great discussions about a poem. I don't even like analyzing poems. We had great discussions. They all told me how much they appreciated being able to get their work done in class, because they normally don't have enough time. They all appreciated getting to chat with their friends at the end and, guess what? They kept their volume at a really appropriate level automatically. This type of strategy works with our children too. It makes me sad. My kids are growing up. It makes me sad when things are hard for them at school, but then I try to channel me and those ages and I remember how exciting certain things were and how overwhelming some things were, and I communicate with my kids from that version of me, that part of me that relates to caring deeply about the things they care about. Therefore, I respect the things they care about and respect the things that are important to them, and it becomes a lot easier too, because it's younger me Now. I still talk as a mom. I don't like, oh, I don't like going to play, or I don't show up moody like a teenager, but I remember what it was like and so I can respond with compassion. I can respond with understanding instead of judgment or correction or this hierarchy of I'm above them and somehow better and smarter and my thoughts are the winners over their thoughts. We have all been children. We wouldn't be where we're at right now had we not gone through that. But we forget. Or because adults treated us a certain way. We felt like when we became an adult that meant we needed to treat our children that way. Or because adults, when we were little, valued grades, achievement, this or that. We have never evaluated what we actually value. We feel like those just must be important and then we put those into our parenting and how we interact with our own kids and we wonder why we butt heads. We wonder why there's tension and I'm not saying I'm a perfect mom. There is definitely buddy heads and tension in my family, but I always step back to see where am I allowing things I don't care about to create tension in my family, to create stress for my kids and therefore stress for myself? One of my favorite phrases, one of my favorite quotes is remember not to care about the things you don't care about. And this is my thought now. Just because people tell you you should care about X, y and Z does not mean you have to. This episode got kind of passionate for me because I am with these kids and I see where they hold themselves back because they have already determined their worth, or where they stress themselves out because they feel like they need to prove their worth and we as adults have to do better. This does not mean not putting expectations on our kids or aspirations. This is saying where do these come from and what do I actually value? I value hard workers, I value effort. I value respect. I value collaboration. I value failing and getting back up and resilience. I value my children building those, but when we focus on the grade, we focus on the wrong thing and we could have straight A students who have none of those skills and the only thing they know how to do is be stressed out all the time and use their stress to force them to try to get A's. Come heller high water. That is where a lot of children are operating from that or the place of giving up because they can't get the A, so why even try? Is the goal that we are pushing, the goal we actually care about? It's a good question to ask ourselves, about ourselves as well. Thank you for being here for this really passionate podcast. Whoo, let me know what you think, even if you highly disagree with me. Let me know what you think, because my world is always made better by multiple perspectives and viewpoints. You can leave me a comment on YouTube or send me a message on Instagram at Heather Evans dot life, and the best way for this podcast to continue to grow is for you to continue to share it when you have an episode you love or share a thought from it. Anything you get from this, share with a friend, because that is the way this message gets out in the world and we all grow and become better together. Bye all.

Insights From Being a Substitute Teacher
Insights From Substitute Teaching