If you think the world is upside down these days, spend a day at your local school. Recently, I have been substitute teaching at the Warren School, and each day I spend there bolsters my hope for the future. I have been a parent, and I am now a grand parent of the neighboring Fayston School. Volunteering as a ski coach with the Winter Sports Program for many years has been a lot of fun. But, participating in an entire school day in one of our humble little schools makes one really appreciate the great kids and future leaders that we are raising in our local town-based schools.
This new part-time gig became part of my semi-retired lifestyle thanks to Diane, the person in charge of lining up the substitute teachers for the Warren School. Her son Zak and I have been good friends since he was in my Snow Blazer youth ski group that I coach at Sugar Bush Mount Ellen. We have also been golfing together for four years. My little brother is not so little anymore and has grown into a talented young man due to very dedicated parents and teachers. It is a privilege to be a small part of this team and it has been very rewarding to observe his progress toward maturity.
Last fall, I went through the background check and fingerprinting to be able to help out with Zak on the Harwood Union golf team. Brian, the golf coach and mom encouraged me to also get signed up for substitute teaching, so I did. I have faked my way through other careers before, but I really wasn’t that excited about my prospects for pulling this off. I once took an online quiz on Facebook, or somewhere entitled: Are You Smarter than a 6th Grader?, and got six out of ten questions correct (you try it), so I was pretty intimidated about my outdated math methods, etc. I successfully fended off Diane’s requests earlier in the school year. Long story short, a while back she contacted me for a day well in advance when I had no conflicts. I swallowed hard and said yes, a decision that I do not regret.
My first day was with the 5/6 upper unit. Even though I have skied with thousands of kids of this age group for over 20 years, I was very nervous in addition to my lack of confidence in my ability as a school teacher. I thought of my mother who became a very successful teacher in my school. She and my father each went to night school to get their college degrees. My brother and I washed a lot of dishes as teenagers while they did that. My mom started teaching in the local grade school once she got her degree and later became head of the history department at the high school. So I put a picture of her in my notebook for good luck and headed to school.
Upon arrival, Heidi the administrator asked a young lad to guide me to the classroom. I had been in the school before but not enough to know my way around. We passed the library, went through a doorway, and ascended to the second floor. This well-lived-in home of learning is well-maintained by Lloyd, the building’s caretaker. I felt more welcomed the further I entered into the heart of the building and began to relax upon entering the classroom. Elizabeth, the teacher had left me the plan and itinerary for the day. The good news was, the kids knew what to do and each took their role during morning meeting that included, attendance, fun greetings and games. Spanish, library and music occupied most of the morning, so I did not have a lot to do until Math. Ok, I’ve got this.
Thankfully, today’s elementary teaching approach is a team effort. The teachers and other educators work together throughout the day. The kids work independently and often with partners and in groups on the subject matter as the day progresses. There seems to be no assigned seating and there are nooks and crannies with couches, beanbag chairs, and cushions where the kids congregate. Laptop computers are utilized for research, to improve typing skills, and for games and videos that are allowed with headphones at certain times. As a substitute teacher, I am pretty much there as backup and to keep the kids focused and productive. However, I found many teaching opportunities and coach-able moments throughout the day. I have always used a student-led coaching method with my ski group and this was easy to do in class. If someone was stumped on a problem, I called on a student who knew it to teach it (to all of us).
The kids were very well behaved and did not push the envelope too much, though I’m sure some got away with slacking a little, taking advantage of the new guy. I thanked them all for being such great kids on my first day. Back in my day, I was the trouble maker in my 6th grade class. I am thankful for the teachers and coaches who had the care, patience, and skill to work me through it. I had a very successful high school experience. These kids have a lot to look forward to at Harwood Union and beyond.
Highlights of my day at the Warren School included music class, recess, and lunch. Carolyn was fine with me sitting in and singing with the kids as they rehearsed their student-selected repertoire of songs. Who doesn’t like recess? At the Warren School it is serious fun. The 5/6 classes have a full-on soccer game and you can spot many rising stars that will lead Harwood Union in the future. Girls play with the boys and hold their own very well. Ga Ga Pit, a game that originated in Israel, is a popular game with all of the older kids. It is played in a small corral circle with hip high wooden walls, the object is to be the last person standing without being hit by the ball that is rolled on the ground at each other. After recess there was lunch. Yuko, the chef prepares healthy foods that the kids enjoy. You may not believe this, but we had sushi this day. The kids take shifts helping in the kitchen and cleaning up the cafeteria. The engine of education at the Warren School is a well-oiled, though it is a somewhat rambunctious machine.
Proverb: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” This is particularly in practice at the Warren School. Para-educator work alongside the classroom teachers to shore up individual performance of students who need extra help. In addition to the fine educators, there are others who make the Warren School special. It was great to observe Ruth Ann direct the kids through a rehearsal for the upcoming school play, “River Child.” Warren residents Joe visited with his dog Saba to provide welcoming therapy, and Cherri was in the library reading with a student. The Waitsfield School students came to join the Warren kids for a concert of selections of Prokofiev’s “Trapeze,” performed by Scrag Mountain Music, a local chamber orchestra. Their performance involved a lot of audience participation. This was amazing! The value of a small school with the personal touch from the villagers and towns people cannot be underestimated.
I am grateful to Principal, Beth and her awesome staff for their support getting me started with this new avocation. After my first day, I was glad to be over the trepidation and I have not hesitated to do it again when asked. Since then I have returned four times and had the pleasure of subbing for the 3/4 Grade class as well. What a joy it is to get to know these kids, many whose parents I have known for years. And, I think they like me, too.
So, if you get a chance to visit your local school, even if you are not a parent, you will discover, like I have, that the future is bright. We are doing a great job raising the bright lights of the future, the kids, in our humble little villages in Vermont. The Warren School is a great example, as these kids will go on to right the world. It is a privilege to take a small part in that.