Years ago I worked as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles. It was a tough job. No training at all was provided to me. I was expected to walk into a classroom and take over where the teacher left off without knowing the lesson plan or the names of the students. It’s no wonder substitute teachers are treated so poorly.
But a friend of mine was a second grade teacher at a really nice school in a nice part of Los Angeles and she always requested me when she needed a sub. I enjoyed going to her class because she left me detailed notes about everything and everyone. Her students were the most well behaved students I have ever seen.
I was doing a 3 day stint in her class because she was off training other teachers. I was having the students go around the room and read aloud from their readers. When we got to this one kid, I’ll call him Jason, there was a noticeable and uncomfortable shuffle in the room. Someone in the front row was trying to warn me of something but I couldn’t discern what it was. When Jason began reading he looked very uncomfortable. He had trouble with every word he was supposed to read. It dawned on me after a couple of sentences that he did not know how to read. His face was beet red with humiliation. I quickly moved on so as not to embarrass him further. I refrained from calling on him again.
Now Jason was really good at sports. He was the biggest kid in class, and as the kids went out to recess everyone wanted to be on his team or play with him. He was well respected on the court. Later that day I had to take the kids to art class where they were assigned the task of drawing a dalmation dog. I walked around the room and saw to my utter delight that Jason’s drawing of the dog was absolutely brilliant, beautiful, and nearly perfect. He was simply an amazing artist, far beyond his years. I told him how beautiful his drawing was, and I could see he took great pride in his artistic ability. I assigned spelling homework and that was the end of day 1.
On day 2, as I was grading the spelling homework, I saw that Jason spelled nearly every word wrong. I thought that was odd since it wasn’t a test, all he had to do was copy the words, but there it was. Maybe he’s just lazy, I thought to myself. But that didn’t feel right. Maybe his parents weren’t around to help him, I thought. But that didn’t feel right either. I wondered if he had a learning disorder like dyslexia or something. I wondered if perhaps he simply had a kinesthetic learning modality instead of being visual or auditory like most kids are. His artistic ability and physical prowess were signs to me that he just might.
As day 2 drew to a close, I called Jason aside and spoke to him privately. Everyone else was assigned the task of writing out their spelling words again. But I told Jason that I wanted him to draw his spelling words instead of writing them. He was confused. I said, “Don’t write them one to each line. Just draw them. You can color them, you can make them big or small, you can decorate the words, you can draw anything you like. Just spell each word correctly when you draw them.” He liked the idea.
On day 3 when he turned in his homework it was amazing. He turned in this beautiful artistic representation of all the spelling words and they were all correct! He was pleased with his work and the other kids oohed and ahhed over it as well. I told him to practice drawing his words again that night and he promised he would. My time with the kids was done and I wished them well.
The next day was Friday and my friend gave the kids their spelling test. She called me later in the day and exclaimed, “What did you do to Jason? Up until now he has failed every single spelling test I ever gave him, but this time, he got 100% right! And why did he turn in his spelling homework with markers, crayons, and glitter on it? What did you do?” I was flushed with joy for Jason! I replied, “I gave him a new way to learn how to spell that I thought was more appropriate for his learning modality.” We discussed my theory that he was kinesthetic and she was very encouraged. She told me she would allow him to experiment with learning using a kinesthetic modality instead of the visual one favored by the school system. By the end of the year, he had nearly caught up to the level of the other students in reading, writing, and arithmetic. She told me his confidence was soaring and he was no longer resistant to reading in front of the class.
I learned a great deal being a substitute teacher.
I thought of this experience with Jason because today a friend sent me a link to a video called The Make a Difference Movie. It reminded me of my experience with Jason. Have a watch and make sure you have tissues on hand. If you have PMS or are pregnant, you’ll need a whole box.