By Nicolas Kay — Until recently I was supremely confident that my experiences and education at Marquette had prepared me for anything I could possibly face in the realm of Secondary Education. Thanks to Marquette, I have grown confident in my ability to handle just about any challenges that could be thrown my way. I’ve learned successful behavior/classroom management techniques, I know how to help diverse learners in my classroom, and I have developed strategies that motivate and make learning fun for my students.
So what could I possibly NOT be prepared for…right?
Well, one morning this fall I was awakened by a phone call. It was my first substitute teaching opportunity! As I fiddled with the automated phone system to accept the assignment, I was overcome with excitement. The adrenalin rush fumbled my fingers and was so debilitating that I was forced to rush online to accept before another sub could steal my assignment.
As I logged on and navigated to “accept the job,” I was suddenly frozen, gazing at the screen, as a heart stopping horror overwhelmed me as I read the letters K…I…N…D…E…R…G…A…R…T…E…N! Suddenly, my excitement turned to a panic as I realized holy cow, I’m not prepared for this!
As I walked into the classroom, I introduced my self to the teacher who was noticeably ill, and cringed at the sight of 19 small pairs of anticipating eyes – eyes that were studying me as if I were a new toy they were about to explore! After receiving my instructions from the teacher and taking my seat in front of the kids I realized I had come to face my worst fear, a secondary science teacher on his first day subbing gets 19 Kindergarteners! I guess my situation could be considered similar to Superman facing kryptonite, however, just as our famous superhero never fails, I was NOT about to throw in the towel. I still had a trick up my sleeve!
I didn’t realize until that moment, sitting in front of my kids, that the Zoo had given me all of the tools I needed! Thanks to Marquette, I was fortunate to get an internship at the Milwaukee County Zoo for 2 summers where I learned how to interact and manage classrooms with 4 and 5 year olds all the way up to 14 and 15 year olds. My experiences there taught me three things. Always set expectations, never allow for a dull moment, and just have fun!
With these things in mind, I stuck firmly to the schedule the teacher set, but at every opportunity I tried to get the kids laughing with animal noises and fun little activities that kept them on task and out of trouble. For the most part it was an incredibly successful day. The only challenges were the proverbial bathroom virus that was caught early and never left all day…
“Mr. Kay, I need to go to the bathroom.”…
“Mr. Kay, I do too.”…
“Mr. Kay, there aren’t any more bathroom passes…and I REALLY need to go”.
And, there was the adorable little girl who ran circles around the classroom while asking questions and causing minor mayhem. In the end the bathroom virus didn’t take up too much of our time and the little girl was able to take the best nap during rest time that I have ever seen…found her spread eagled, face down, buried in her mat. “So precious”, as one of my friends would say.
My favorite moment of all was when one of the boys came up and asked me, “Mr. Kay, are you going to be our teacher for the rest of the year?” I replied “No, not the whole year!” Disappointment quickly grew over his face.
Then he asked, “What about the rest of today?” Chuckling, I said “Yes I will be your teacher for the rest of the day!”
I never knew that answer would light his face up so much nor produce the triumphant “YEAH!” that bellowed from his small body. It was adorable. As all the kids left, the horror and panic of the morning had been replaced by a sense of joy and fulfillment. That morning I never imagined I would have such a wonderful and mind boggling day!
Then I wondered… “What would I do, without the Zoo?”