Monday, January 4, 2010

Can Kids Smell Fear?

I've been working toward becoming an art teacher over the past year.  I have a degree in Art Studio, but never took any education courses.  South Carolina has something called PACE, Program of Alternative Certification for Educators, that allows people without a degree in education to earn their certification while teaching on a temporary certificate.  I've been approved for the program and am now eligible for hire as an art teacher.  But of course with this economy they are letting teachers go, not hiring them.  So until they have a position for me to apply for, I'm in limbo.  I'm trying to get into substitute teaching in the interim so I can get my feet wet and have some experience to put on my resume.  Trial by fire, if you will.  I'm more scared of subbing than I am of having my own classroom! Classroom management can be a challenge for any teacher, but for a substitute who is only a temporary teacher?  That's just asking for the students to go crazy. I have this fear that I'm going to have a class full of hooligans who are all running around like monkeys and that I won't be able to control them.  I hear kids are like dogs - they can smell fear.  I wish I could afford to go back to school for my Master's degree (which I want to do one day anyway).  Then I could just get my Masters in Education and get some training and experience and not have to be thrown into it blind.  I'm hoping I can fake it enough until I know what I'm doing.  I keep remembering what it was like when I was in school (so long ago...) and knowing it wasn't as bad as I'm imagining.  But then I remember that kids today just aren't like they were when I was their age.  My parents would never have blamed my teacher if I failed a class - they, and I, would have known it was my responsibility to pass the class.  I know it wasn't perfect - there were class clowns and bullies - but I can't help but feel like I'm getting in way over my head.  Eeek!  Do you remember in the movie Dangerous Minds how wild the class was when Michelle Pfeifer started teaching there?  She couldn't even handle it, and she's a former Marine!  I'm not nearly so assertive. And then there's Kindergarten Cop, where Arnold Schwarzenegger goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher - 30 hyper kids running around the room and screaming at the top of their lungs.  Those little monsters are going to eat me alive...

Then on the flipside of my anxiety, is my flowery dream-world, where I love teaching and all the students love me and everything is all fun and hunky-dory.  I'll be everyone's favorite teacher and I'll love going to work everyday and everything will be perfect.  Parents will rave about how much their child loves my class and how they can see the improvement in their child's life.  And on and on it can go.  Then of course I can't help but think of all the great blog fodder I'm bound to get teaching school, especially if I go with elementary school. 

Too bad the fear an anxiety is usually more powerful than the day-dreaming.  I think I'd rather go in there all naive and optimistic and have it not turn out so rosy than start out scared that it's going to be horrible and that I'm going to suck at teaching.  I'm really hoping that posting all this online will get most of it out of my system so I can starting being more realistic about it.  I know it won't be completely horrible or completely perfect, but somewhere in between.  I just don't want to be one of those first-year teachers who comes home crying at least once a week.


  1. For movie guidance on how to handle the class, watch "The Substitute" starring Tom Berenger.

    Always bring enough gun. ;-)

  2. gotta admit kindergarten cop made me not want to be a teacher...

  3. Yes, kids can smell fear. But this ability is honed over time - stick with 1st & 2nd grade, they still respect authority then!

    I subbed once. For a 6th grade class. I am the substitute you are worried you would be - I am too nice and smiley and nervous and ready to be eaten alive.

    The class wasn't as bad as I expected. Yes, they talked too much. But I used some tricks, like turning off the light, to get their attention. I didn't actually cover regular material but instead made up my own. I wrote teaser questions on the board and asked them to write & then share their answers, which were all subjective (no wrong answer, instead self-reflective inquiries). They all seemed to enjoy it and were well-behaved when occupied (not bored).

    A better teacher probably could have gotten even more out of that class but I didn't do half bad. I did need to sleep for 14 hours afterwards though! lol

  4. I say, focus on the flowery dream-world. That sounds like a much happier place. I wonder why it's so much easier to think about the scary place? Anyway, I wish you much luck. Teachers RULE!

  5. Marvin - I've never seen that movie, but I do remember a poster of it. He was pretty scary looking. I doubt he'd have a problem even without the guns!

    Paul - Kindergarten Cop started out crazy, but once he got the kids all in line and behaving it was nice. I'd love to have a class with kids who behaved well enough that we could have a class pet!

    Spleeness - When you say you subbed once, do you actually mean once and only once? Or once upon a time? I get extra smiley when I'm nervous too, so I know it will be hard to hide it. Eek! I'll have to remember the lights for getting their attention. :)

    JD - I do love my flowery dream-world! I'm trying to work on building that place up so there are more positive images floating around in my brain than negative ones. My husband teaches high school science, and he wants me to sub for him when he chaperones Grad Night. He's got great kids in his class and covering for him would be pretty easy. It would be a good way for me to get some positive experiences to boost my confidence. Too bad it's not until the end of April!

  6. I was nervous to begin substituting, and this was after I'd been a teaching assistant a number of times in college, student taught for a semester, and been a teaching assistant for five years in the fifth-grade. While it's not my favorite job, it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

    Honestly, I think it's the best way for new teachers to begin. Too many take all of their courses, then student teach and realize that they HATE teaching. You'll learn discipline tricks and when you do finally teach, it will probably be a breeze.

    Good luck.

  7. Oh, I can really relate to this post. I'm of the opinion that an individual who worries about sucking as a teacher is precisely the individual you want teaching because they care about what they're doing. They have pride in what they're doing. Unfortunately, I've seen and experienced many jaded an apathetic teachers in my day, particularly at the university level.

    Last semester, I was thrown into teaching a studio class (16mm film) at a state university with absolutely zero direction/preparation and had the same worries about students sensing my fear. A semester later I can sincerely say that the experience was one of the best of my life, while my student evaluations were far beyond and above the entire department evals, as well as the majority of the university.

    I think there's a lot to be said for ambitious newbies. I'm not jaded, I'm not apathetic and I have a temperament which isn't easily discouraged. I had expectations for my students, however I wasn't smug or unrealistic with those expectations and many expressed their appreciation for my efforts with them, as a studio production class isn't an easy task.

    Don't get discouraged with your fear; embrace it and temper it with humor. You don't have to be perfect; perfection creates impotence. In fact I shared that exact sentiment with the students upon assigning their first project.

    As for the Master's dance, that's a whole other story. So many who are teaching shouldn't be and so many more that should be are being shut out by certification particulars. For the most part the system is broken and backwards.