The Lone Ranger Volunteer

October 22, 2013

OK, so not exactly the Lone Ranger.  BUT as I left our great-nephew’s 4th grade classroom today, one of the boys at the back of the line, just before the last of them walked out their classroom door, said, “What was your name?”  And later, I couldn’t help but smile.  (I told him my real one.)

Up until today, I’d been an invisible volunteer.  Which I was happy to be.  I’d signed up because I’d wanted to help in whatever way I could.  Jack’s class was infamous in the county – a too-full class of unruly, troubled children who stretched the term “classroom management” to new levels.  This year, with a brand new school superintendent and a brand new, tough little teacher, even that classroom seemed full of promise.  And when Jack’s mom mentioned that she was volunteering, I’d thought, “Sheesh.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  So I signed up.  I’d emailed the teacher and said that I was a good trash-putter-outer, an especially bright capability of mine, and she’d emailed back, saying that had made her laugh.  But bottom line: she got the idea.  I was pretty much willing to do anything.

The first morning I was supposed to show up, I forgot.  Oops.  So much for trash-woman-of-the-year.  I’d emailed the teacher again, apologizing in CAPS, so she’d be sure to get the intensity of my repentance, and give me a second chance.  I managed to show up, on time, the next school day….which unfortunately was a Monday, so of course she hadn’t gotten my email over the weekend, where I’d asked her if that day was OK – (no, contrary to popular opinion, teachers do not live at the school) – so I waltzed in with a very bright, willing smile, ready for my instructions, but since she’d had no idea I was coming, it was a complete surprise to her.  Oops.  (Again.)  BUT there was a man there, who was also a volunteer, and after I’d sat silently for a bit, he gave me some instructions.  I’d happily followed them and when I’d completed my assignment and was again sitting like a compliant little mouse (unusual for me, but I had messed up twice and wanted to do my best to improve my standing on the 4th grade volunteer list of the world, I wanted to put my best foot forward), he suggested that I maybe work on the books on the shelves, their classroom “library.”  Wow – that was exactly what I wanted to do:  a project to put things in order!  I’d be sticking small color-coded stickers on the spines of the books indicating reading levels, and yoo boy, I knew I could do that!  So I began following the directions to the “t,” putting on yellow stickers for the earliest reading levels, red for the next, followed by blue and then green.  After that, there were no more colors that would work (purple, pink and teal just didn’t come in the primary color package), but after a couple of volunteer days (one / week), I simply began identifying them by location on the shelves, while determining to find some of those rare colors some place else.  I went in today, ready to continue work on the books and oops:  the teacher wasn’t there.  There was a substitute.  (And she was a nice one).

I cannot imagine being a substitute teacher.  I have to have all of my ducks in a row.  I can swing along in some settings, but when organization and structure are needed (at least in one’s head, even if it’s not in the physical space), I need to know what’s what.  So the idea of being a sub where one arrives two minutes before the kids, with exactly that many minutes to read over an entire day’s worth of the teacher’s lesson plans, while figuring out the lunch money routine, attendance chart, seating arrangement and who-knows-what-else, the scenario does not appeal to me.  I’d be lost.  I wouldn’t care how much they’d be paying me.  I’d have to have those lesson plans at least 24 hours in advance.  And that’s just not how it works.  So the first thing that struck me was that the sub looked pretty OK.  She looked comfortable and OK, and this was saying something in that particular class (even though it had been split in half with an extra teacher hired.  It was not an easy group.)  I walked over to “my” table, where the book project always happened, and kept my ears and eyes open.  I was a teacher for too many years not to have my ears and eyes open.  And as I said, she was OK, but I sensed she might be still OK if I offered to help.  I approached her quietly and asked if she would let me read to the group while she got a bit more organized.  She very graciously gave her permission.  So I began reading the paper aloud that the kids had in front of them about the “Woodland Native Americans” in our region.  And then, right away, I knew I was going to have fun.  I’d never been in front of a group of 4th graders before, but before I knew it, I was in a groove.  At one point, darned if I wasn’t telling them about my Daddy chopping the heads off of the chickens that he butchered for us to eat.  (I knew they’d love the part about where the headless hens continued hopping and jumping and I was not wrong about that.)  They began really thinking:  one wanted to know if that’s why fish sort of jumped after they were dead, and there was another example which I cannot now remember but I told them they had great questions, that I thought that the reason was the same, but that they should go to the library and ask the librarian to help them look up the answer.  They really looked like they might want to do that.  When they began talking more than they should, I did hand clapping games and silent hand motions that they needed to copy.  Land sakes, it worked.  I let them act stuff out.  They did.  Good grief, I was in my glory.  And the sub just let me go.  I was so grateful.  The time flew for me, and gosh, I think it did for them, too.  I didn’t get to point out Wyoming, which I’d intended to do (it was related), and I didn’t get to define all of the vocab words (and I would’ve loved that) but they did get “plaza” before the end, I think – we’d acted that out – and they seemed like it had been pretty good.  When our time was up, Jack (one of the best students who has found himself in that particular class – before the split – every year since kindergarten and who has tried to let most of the difficulties roll off his shoulders) came up to me quietly before they all left and said, “Thanks for coming.”  And then there was the one at the very end who asked, “What was your name?”  So yep.  As I said, not exactly the Lone Ranger Volunteer, but it was fun enough to feel like it – for me, anyway.  And if you have fun with something and others are there, too, it can’t be all bad, right?  Hehehe.  So that’s how I spent my Tuesday morning, from 10 – 12 on this gorgeous October day.  🙂




  1. Joan says:

    sounds exhilarating! and so YOU!

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