Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Joys of Subbing, but Sometimes the Headaches

It's been a while since I've posted anything here, due to a combination of having a bit of writer's block and being fairly busy with working as a substitute teacher. If I'm ever going to get that full-time contract, I really have to figure out how to come home and not be completely brain dead.

But the other day I found myself lamenting to my wife that I have all these teaching stories and not enough time to share them with friends. So many times I've found myself in situations that I could only laugh about afterwords, and I'd love to be able to let people into the secret behind-the-scenes world of being a teacher. However, I've now been subbing for almost a year, which has left me with far too many stories to simply tell. I'd get bored before I finished them, let alone the person listening. It might be more efficient, therefore, if I wrote my stories down for anyone to read who may want to. I may write about more fun teaching times in the future, but for this omnibus, I think I'm going to stick to the most consistently mind-numbing and regularly hilarious, Kindergarten.

Kindergarten is, nicely put, not my forte. I just don't seem to have those nurturing and patient attributes that make the great kindergarten teachers who they are. I think I'm too full of sarcasm and puns. 5-year-old's don't get puns. I've tried. Yet for some reason, I've gotten into the good books of a couple kindergarten teachers around the city. Maybe it's because I'm better at making sure the kids are having fun than actually teaching them, so they all end the day happy and tell their teacher about their new teacher and how much fun he was. Or I'm just more available than the good teachers. Whatever the case, I'll almost always take the job, since I like getting paid and I'm a glutton for punishment.

Another reason I find kindergarten so difficult is that every single kindergarten teacher organizes and teaches their classroom completely different than any other teacher. I've been to several now and no two rooms are the same, nor is the program. So it's always an adventure in figuring out how everything runs. Luckily, most kindergartners are more than happy to tell you when you're doing something wrong. There's not many feelings similar to being chastised by a 6-year-old. But enough backstory. It's time for the front of the story.

My first subbing job ever was an afternoon in a kindergarten classroom. It was in a brand new school and the foyer was designed as a huge atrium, letting in loads of sunlight. There was even a balcony on the second floor, so you could look at who was going in each room. The initial view was breath-taking. But I wasn't needed over there. I was in the kindergarten room, which was right by the front doors. When I entered, I found a room with a few tables and the rest of the space filled with experiential objects, from play sets to jars of  rocks to shelves full of books and paper and colours. On the desk, I found the brief lesson plan for the afternoon, written on a large post-it:

Thanks for coming in! It read (or something close to it), For this afternoon, the class has exploration time. Let me know how it went!. There may have been more, even a reason why she was away, but the gist was that: exploration time.

What the heck is exploration time?

I flipped through a few books and piles of paper on her very cluttered desk - if kindergarten teachers have one thing in common, it is that their desks are almost always completely covered in piles and piles of paper - until I found some semblance of an explanation. And it was exactly as I feared. Exploration time was a time for the kids to explore the toys and materials around the room. And that was all they had to do for the remaining 3 hours in the day.

As the kids returned from lunch, I introduced myself and let them know what the plan was. Of course, this was nothing new to them; it was May and they had been doing the same routine since the very beginning. I watched as they got out thing after thing until everyone was playing in a different pile of materials. This continued for about thirty minutes, at which point I became incredibly bored. I had come to realize that my being here was simply for supervision. In an effort to entertain myself, and potentially to entertain a few of the kids, I began to make origami flapping birds. Instantly, three kids were fascinated and wanted birds of their own. Then three more wanted birds. Then five more. Then six more after that. I started by trying to teach the kids some of the folds, getting them to make their own, but I soon became a drive-through window, where kindergartner's would place their orders, then go back to playing with whatever they were using before. As the recess bell rang and everyone went outside to play, I sat in a too-small chair, folding bird after bird after bird as fast as I could, so that everyone could have one. I really had overlooked the herd-mentality of six-year-olds.

Finally, the end of the day was near. 15 minutes before the bell, I called everyone's attention and said that it was time to clean up. The moment I finished speaking, the home bell rang, reminding me that since today was Thursday, it was early dismissal. 15 minutes early. I hurriedly tried to get the kids to put some stuff away, but a few began to panic about missing their buses and eventually I just shooed them out the door, leaving me in alone in the middle of Hurricane Kinder. I spent an extra 30 minutes picking up paper, markers, rocks, streamers, costumes and plastic food and throwing them wherever looked like they would fit because I had no idea where any of it was supposed to go. Then I wrote a quick note to the teacher, thanked her, and got outta dodge.

I learned a lot from that first paid teaching gig. Like, don't do origami with anyone under the age of 10, or that Thursdays mean the bell goes 15 minutes early (but I'd forget it frequently), or that doing origami for children is a way to make your head nearly explode.

Seriously, don't do origami with little kids.

From time to time since then, I've found myself back in kindergarten rooms, and each time was an adventure. Once a girl peed her pants. Another time, a girl puked her guts out it the calmest manner I've ever seen. Another little girl began to bawl when the toy phone was taken from her because, as she said, "I was talking to my MOM!" Come to think of it, I've been around a lot of screaming, sometimes with multiple offenders. But I have never wanted to curl up into the fetal position more than when I was teaching one particular child about numbers.

Recently I found myself teaching three days in a row in a kindergarten class. How the school division has decided to organize kindergarten is, where there are lots of kids, have alternating classes. So on Monday and Wednesday, the teacher would have one group, and on Tuesday and Thursday, she would have another. Fridays would then alternate between the two groups, so every other week, a group would go two days in a row. Simple, right? Anyways, I found myself teaching a group on Thursday who would be back again the Friday. Excellent, I thought, I'll actually be able to remember most of their names.

It also gave me a familiarity with the routines of the classroom, and one of the days' activities had half the class work on little games that would test their colour matching, number recognition and shape identification. A teacher or EA would then go around and check their work, giving them a sticker when they finished or corrected their errors with some guidance. Over the three days, I began to roll my eyes when a student grabbed a number word game, since most of the kids still couldn't read. One kid in particular seemed very attracted to these games, yet was potentially the weakest reader in the class. When I went over to check his finished work, it was pretty clear that he had just randomly guessed pairing the dotted clouds to the number rainbows. So I removed his errors, encouraged him to count the dots, then left to check a few more student who were finished.

When I returned, he had rearranged all of them, yet there wasn't a correct pairing in the group. I sat down beside him and decided to help him through his counting and word recognition. And by that, I mean trying to count along with him and getting him to stop on the right number. For example, I'd say, "Let's find the one with eight dots." He'd then pick one at random, and we'd count together to check if it was right. I would then say, "Does this have eight dots?" to which he would nod, yet not five seconds earlier, we had just counted 4. I'd then patiently remind him what we counted and that we should find another. We only did this little exchange eight or nine times before the EA passed by and whispered, "Most of the class can't read yet. Just pull a few words and have him find the dots." That sounded like a much easier task, so I pulled the three easiest ones: four, two and zero. And I started with the trickiest, four. I laid out all the dotted clouds, pushed away the other rainbows, and asked the child, "Alright, can you show me which cloud has four dots on it?"

He then proceeded to flip over every cloud to see if there was the answer on the other side. Which there wasn't. All that was there was the number 35, which was the number of the game he was playing. I had set all the cards right side up, dots showing. I'm not that terrible of a teacher. But after flipping so many, he'd show me the 35 and ask if this was it. "No," I responded patiently, "we don't need to flip over the cards. The dots are all on the front." I then figured I'd help him out a bit. I pointed to the four-dot cloud. "How many dots does this have?"

"1...2...3...5!" He announced proudly.

"Um...no, that's not quite right," I replied slightly less patiently. "You know what comes after 3. What comes after 3?"

"Four!"

"Right! So how many dots are here?"

"Three!"

"Oh, remember to count the dots. Let's see, 1, 2, 3..."

"...4, 5, 6..."

"No, no, there's not any extra dots there."

I was running out of ideas at this point at how to guide the kid to the number four, so I changed my strategy and went for the easiest number I could think of - zero.

"Alright, can you find me the cloud with zero dots on it? The one with no dots?"

He began to flip over every cloud and show me the number 35 again.

"No, we don't need the back side of the clouds," I said slightly more impatiently. Another classmate sitting on the other side even started trying to help, repeating what I said, but quite a bit more patiently (because he just joined the party). "Just find the cloud without any dots on it. No dots. Zero."

He again tries to flip them over. I cringe inwardly.

Then he tries counting some of the dots. I try to dissuade him, repeating, "Find the one with zero dots. The cloud that doesn't have any dots on it. No dots." This ploy fails, and he continues counting, somehow getting up to 9 on one that only has 4.

I try a few more times to guide him to zero without pointing to it, but it's no use. Even if I showed him which one, he still wouldn't get it. The background knowledge either isn't there or isn't being accessed. I...I just can't anymore. So I sit and watch him count and flip the cards, suppressing the urge to just hold my head in my hands and weep softly.

Suddenly, the lunch bell rings. I stand up and announce that it is now lunch, so all the games have to be put away. He looks up at me with disappointed eyes and says, "But we didn't get to finish."

I shrug. "Well, I guess we just ran out of time. We have to clean up now so you can go out for lunch." But inwardly, I cheered. No more numbers. No more counting. No more flipping those bloody little clouds.

So that's some of what I've experienced in kindergarten. It's always entertaining to get called for a kindergarten class. Mind-numbing, teeth-gritting, headache-inducing and eye-rolling, but also entertaining.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Welcome to My Nightmare

So you may know that I’m not a huge fan of horror.

Back in grade 10, we would usually have some time after our year end exams before the busses came, especially if they were only morning exams, so we’d often go over to a classmates’ place and hang out. One time, we decided to watch a movie. The title – The Hills Have Eyes – wasn’t one that I recognized, but what could be so bad about it?

After 5 minutes and one scene, I decided that that was all I needed to see. Forever. So I said I was hungry and was going to grab something at the restaurant. That’s been the most of any horror movie I’ve ever seen still to this day. I’ve watched the occasional thriller, like Shutter Island and Disturbia, but those had a mystery component and very minimal gore, so I found them very interesting.

It’s not just movies, either. I try to avoid all scary situations. I don’t want to be scared. Being scared is not a pleasant feeling. During my teaching practicum, I wouldn’t even go into the Haunted House with the grade 7’s and 8’s, just in case it was too much for me. It’s a kid’s haunted house, and I still wouldn’t even go in with a large group of people.

Which makes my next experience just a little inconsistent.

For my honeymoon, Janelle and I took a river cruise on the Danube from Munich, Germany, through several stops in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, ending up in Budapest, Hungary. It was about two weeks and one of the coolest vacations I had ever been on. But there was one tiny part that I’d rather not have done.

While we were in the Czech Republic, in a small, fairy-tale-esque town called Cesky Krumlov, we decided to plan out our next few hours so we wouldn’t miss anything we were interested in. It was our only day in the Czech Republic, anyways, so we wanted to get out of it as much as we could. Glancing at our tourist map, I noticed the giant castle in the centre, the armoury and mint for the castle, and the castle gardens. Then I hear some of the people talking about the torture museum and joking about going to it. I guess Janelle heard this too, because she then said, “Ooh, that sounds like fun! Let’s go to that.”

At this point, I’m fairly aware that this spot will not be my cup of tea. You want to talk about the goriest and scariest period of history? That would be torture in Medieval Europe, and it doesn’t get much more medieval that the Czech Republic. But Janelle is interested in seeing this, and really, how bad could a torture museum be? A bunch of glass cases with old, rusted instruments, with a short write-up about their usage? With this in mind, I agreed. At least I’d be there with my wife.

We saved this stop for the very end of our walk around the town, since it was close to our tour meeting spot. However, there were a few subtle signs that this museum may not have been what we were expecting when we went to go buy the tickets. The foyer was a bit on the dark and gloomy side, with a stone floor and walls; not your typical polished museum, but it could have just been a 300-year-old building, since that’s pretty normal for Europe. Then the cashier asked if we wanted to buy the joint ticket with the wax museum for a discounted price.

Dolls are creepy. Marionettes are creepier. Wax figures of very realistic people that look like they could move at any moment are deeply unsettling. No, we’ll just stick with the torture museum, thank you.

That was the first sign.

The second came almost immediately after, when the cashier directed us to go through the red curtain down a flight of stone stairs, into what looked remarkably like a dungeon.

And the third was when we heard the soundtrack, which confirmed that we were entering into a dungeon. There was the sounds of chains clinking, water dripping, metal scraping, and the moans and soft cries of prisoners. 

We haven’t even really entered the displays, and I’m already unsettled.

Then there was the first display.

It was a scene, created with wax figurines, of a prisoner sprawled over a stretching rack, while a torturer stood over him, seemingly pulling on the mechanism to stretch the guy out. I stood staring at the scene for a few minutes, picking out the details of what I was seeing while also regretting spending money on this.

We were then directed to a more typical museum room (though still very much in a stone dungeon) with glass cases that displayed some old, rusted torture instruments, paired with a short write-up on their use. I poured over every instrument in the room, reading its full description, not because I was incredibly interested in them, but I had seen that there was another room that I couldn’t see in, and was unsure if I wanted to. The creepiest ones were the tools used to pull off, or slip a needle under the fingernail. I’ve had splinters there and couldn’t conceal a shudder while reading. I then looked up to find that Janelle was long gone and I was alone in this room. I guess I’ll spend the rest of the time reading here, then.

Janelle then poked her head from the next room, asking if I was finished reading. I sighed, mentally prepared myself and followed my wife into the next room.

It was filled with wax figures. Freaking wax figures.

To my right and up some stairs was a “witch” being burnt at the stake. In front of me, another “witch” was poking her head out of the top of a pile of bricks, apparently having been built inside by her accusers. To my left were a few more instruments, but much larger than the previous room, such as the breaking wheel, the mule, the judas chair, the iron chair, and just a giant saw that could be used to cut down trees, but wasn’t.

Side note: I remembered what these looked like, but to get the names right, I googled them while writing this. Now I feel sick all over again. I just don’t seem to learn.

And finally, to my far right was some sort of scene that I couldn’t see, but could hear birds cawing and waves splashing. So I went over to the terrifying instruments to read about them. I found it somewhat interesting how many different methods were used to torture alleged witches. I might have found it more so had I not had to shudder after reading every single description. I looked up to see Janelle coming down from the mystery shoreline, and hoping that I could guarantee our passage out of this accursed room, I asked casually, “So, is there anything up there?”

“Ya, come on up!” She said, then turned around and went back up to the display.

Crap, did that ever backfire.

I again mentally prepared myself then followed my lovely wife up the stairs to the scene, which wasn’t overly terrible, except for the two or three heads that had been impaled on spikes. There may have been more, but I didn’t count. I was engrossed in trying to figure out if the tent on the side was a full tent or just half a tent reflected in a mirror.

(It was a mirror)

Janelle then took me to a part I hadn’t noticed before- a small display beside the burning witch, which was a jail cell for waiting prisoners. The soundtrack was now playing the sobs of the men who awaited their fate. By this point, I was partly convinced that one of these wax figures was actually a person dressed up in period clothes and that he was going to move at any second, in which case I would need to change my pants. There was one scene in particular that Janelle pointed out. A man sat in the foreground, uncomfortably close to the wall separating me, crouched over, but looked relatively unscathed. I turned to Janelle and asked, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

“I think he’s missing a hand,” she replied coolly, then turned to leave to the next room, once again leaving me alone. Sure enough, he was missing a hand, but I was unconvinced that this was the only thing here. I ever so slowly peered around the corner of the jail cell to see if there was anything else here. Thankfully, there was not, as I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do if there was something extra.

Even though I had found no extra surprises, I was still completely done. There was nothing I wanted more than to leave this dungeon, breathe the fresh air and completely forget the mental trauma I was currently experiencing. And then there it was.

The exit.

To my left at the end of a long, very tiny hallway were the stairs that ascended to a revolving door, which leaked sunlight all over the dreary corridor. It was beautiful.

But then I looked to my right to see Janelle going down a set of stairs. Into a room that I could not see what was displayed. Now, I had two options. I could ditch my wife to the unknown horrors of whatever was kept down there and ending my living nightmare, or be a supportive husband and accompany my wife wherever she went.

I guess I’ll be a good husband.

However, my body didn’t seem to want to support my decision. As I started to descend the stairs and follow my wonderful wife, I felt my knees having trouble bending. My hand also would not release its death grip on the railing at my side. I could barely hold my head up to see what was at the bottom of the stairs, instead focussing on the steps at my feet. One step after another. At long last, I finally reached the bottom step. I looked up to see a skeleton sitting in a cage, within a prison cell, and Janelle casually perusing it from a much closer distance than I was going to move. I still hadn’t stepped off the final step.

This wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. It’s just a fake looking skeleton (I hope). After a few seconds, Janelle turned to me and asked, “Ready to leave?”

Oh my yes. Like an hour ago.

Suddenly, my legs and hands sprang to life. I spun around and made strong, powerful strides up to the exit, making sure not to walk too quickly and reveal my hidden distress. Upon exiting, we found ourselves in a little cafĂ© on the street, which I thought ironic, since who could actually eat after that tour? Funny enough, we actually found some of the people we were on tour with enjoying a light lunch here, and we joked with them about how the “museum” had been not what we expected.
No kidding. It was a living nightmare.

So if you ever find yourself in the small town of Cesky Krumlov and find that you have a bit of time to kill, DO NO go to the torture museum. You can thank me later.  


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Give Me Back My Eyes

This is a year of big changes for me and my family. I graduated university with a bachelor of education. The girl I've dated for 4 years (and was engaged for one of them) is going to marry me in less than a month. However, one of the weirdest changes is that my little sister has graduated high school.

Yes, this is weirder than getting married.

It's weirder because Paige has always been my little sister. Technically, Austin is my little brother, too, but with him being only two years younger, I see him more as equal to my age. We've experienced things roughly at the same time, though I am still waiting for a nice, even beard to grow in. With Paige being seven years younger, I've been able to watch her experience things that I've already done from a varying distance. Now I'll get to watch as she starts college next fall at Briercrest, which is where I went. As I'm living in Saskatoon next year, I'm definitely coming to visit. Janelle will come, too.

Paige, you've been warned.

As you may have guessed after reading thus far, Paige and I are pretty close despite the age gap. Maybe it's because I was always good with younger kids. Maybe she didn't have the chance to get sick of me when I left for college when she was in grade 5. Austin and I are also very close, but a brotherly bond is different than one between Paige and I.

For instance, Austin has never stolen my eyes.

You see, all three of us kids have gone through 4-H raising beef animals for sale. Sadly, when Paige came around, I was practically done and Austin had only a couple years left, so she did it mostly on her own. But that also meant that when either brother came home to visit, they could be expected to help Paige out when it came to driving her to certain events when mom or dad could not, then lending a hand at whatever it is the club was involved in.

Such was the case for me a few years back with the 4-H food drive. The club sets up food donation boxes around the town of Foremost and area which they collect and then sort for the food bank. It's usually very successful, meaning that they need all the help they can get. With both parents unable to meet Paige after school at the place where the food was being sorted to take her home afterwards, I was asked to help out.

Being that meeting Paige at 3:00 in Foremost was my only responsibility of the day, I was in no particular rush to get out of bed or get ready. Heck, everyone else had already left by the time I rolled out of bed. When I'm home, I share the bathroom with Paige, but with her gone at 7, I had no one to compete with, so I could take as much time as needed to get ready. Now, a very important detail about me is that I am not a morning person. Part of this comes from being a nigh owl, but it always takes me a while to wake up. A good rule to go by is no important questions before noon. If necessary, keep the questions to a minimum.

Anyways, once I finally got out of bed, I got a coffee and did some reading, taking my time to fully wake up. Then I made some lunch, watched some TV, and then started to get ready to go into town. After showering and dealing with my hair, I went to go put my contacts in. I grabbed my case, which looks very similar to Paige's, but I made sure to remember where I put it on the counter space.

But my contacts weren't in there.

I rubbed my finger in both of the cups, making sure that the clear plastic disks weren't just being invisible, or that they weren't stuck in the lid. I remembered throwing out some contacts recently, as I change mine monthly, but there were no remnants in the garbage can, either. These were brand new contacts that I had been wearing. Did I leave them in my eyes? I've forgotten them there before, but no, everything was still blurry.

Where the heck were my contacts??

While I thought about it, I decided to brush my teeth. I went to grab my toothbrush, but then noticed that the brush was wet.

That wouldn't have been caused by the steam of the shower...

Then it clicked.

I grabbed Paige's very similar-looking contact case and opened it. Her contacts were still inside.

Paige was wearing my contacts.

Apparently, I'm not the only Reimer child who isn't good in the morning.

I met Paige in Foremost, wearing my glasses that I hardly used, with a giant grin on my face.

"You're wearing your glasses?" She asked. I hardly ever do so in public.

"Well I had to," I replied. "You're wearing my contacts."

"What? No! These are mine!"

"Nope, I checked your case," I said, shaking my head. "They were still in there."

Paige thought for a second, then laughed. "That explains why everything looks weird today."

We did establish that she hadn't used my toothbrush, only wet it before realizing the err and grabbing her own. So I guess I could have brushed my teeth before I left instead of grabbing gum.

You probably didn't need to know that.

But we made sure to use different cases when I came home and made it very clear where the other put their contact case. I even wrote my initials on them once, but they faded pretty quickly. Paige eventually switched to daily (or weekly?) contacts, primarily wearing glasses, and removing the need to have a specific counter space for her eye stuff.

So, you may be close to your siblings. Closer than anyone else you know. But I doubt your so close that you've shared your eyes with each other.

Yes, the sharing was involuntary, but it still counts.