Twice now I have sat with boys who have gotten into trouble with the substitute teacher for their class. In both cases, the boy would tell me he didn’t like the substitute and the substitute was mean to him. In both cases, the substitute was male.
Although these boys aren’t first graders with whom I have been assigned to work, they are in the office, they are in trouble, and someone needs to take care of them until the overworked vice principal and/or principal can get to them. I don’t know the exact protocol for disciplining these troublemakers so I just sit and talk to them. It’s what I do best.
I ask questions: why are you here? what did the substitute say? what did you say? what should you have said? how can you fix this? In both cases the boys knew they were wrong and they had to apologize. I was able to return the second grader of a few weeks ago to the teacher and have him do that and go back to class. Yesterday, I had to leave the fourth grader in the office, working on a paper he pulled from his backpack, so that I could get to the lunch line with the first graders. But first I knocked on the principal’s door and explained the child’s situation. She was up to her eyebrows in reports that had to be completed but said she would talk with the fourth grader and that working on his paper was a good plan.
These boys, as is the case with most of the children in the school, are from fatherless homes. They have not bonded with men very well. Sometimes it’s their mom’s boyfriend who has mistreated them. Sometimes they just have no male role model and don’t know how to react to a stranger in their life except to be defensive. The boys have become comfortable with their classroom teacher. It’s a safe place to be each day. There is routine. Then a substitute teacher arrives. Someone they don’t know. Their equilibrium, which is shaky to begin with, really gets thrown off. They act out, testing the waters, to see just how far they can go. Just what they can get away with.
Do I have an answer to this problem? Not really. I explained to both of these boys, weeks apart, that they have to listen to and obey the substitute even though the routine and rules might be different from what they know. I explained how we have to work with people we may not like or agree with, but who have authority over us. The boys nod their head, they agree that they were wrong and that they need to apologize. But, and this is the big question, will they do differently when the next substitute teacher shows up?