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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life as Lucy Ricardo - 'Elementary' Math

Substitute teaching at the elementary school down the road from us in an Atlanta suburb was pretty easy. The teachers were well organized, and there was always a roll book and lesson plan within easy reach. The day’s schedule was outlined, and I just had to check these important documents and glide through the day with what was usually a great group of kidletts.

So early one morning when I got a call for yet another fourth grade assignment that day, I didn’t hesitate. I jumped up, dressed, and drove down to the school. After taking roll, our first task was to check the previous night’s math homework. No biggie. I asked the children to exchange papers with a neighbor, then I reached for the answer book. But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t anywhere in the desk. The kids were waiting, and I was having a panic attack.

For those who don’t know me well, I need to pause and explain that I’m seriously math deficient. My eyes glaze over when number stuff comes up. And I don’t even care any more. I know how to operate a calculator. So there.

On that day, however, looking at the “new math” assignment the children had completed, I knew I’d never figure out the answers on my own, and yet all those sweet, expectant faces were gazing up at me. I also knew that fourth graders are savvy enough about subs that they can spot a chink in your armor from a mile away. And then they attack and devour you. Nothing left but a mangled hall pass. I had to do something fast before they could see me sweat.

In a move that was either genius or desperation, I announced that we would be putting the homework problems on the board. I called up three children at a time to put the same problem on the board. If they’d all done it the same way – and with the same answer – I could confidently proclaim that to be the proper answer. When there was a variance in the three problems, I turned to class participation, otherwise known as voting. Is that your final answer?

“And who believes that this is the correct way to solve the problem?” Another benefit of that approach is that I quickly spotted a little girl on the front row (it’s always those front-row kids) who was obviously good at math. In a split vote, I went with her opinion. I wonder if she knew that she was teaching the class.

I may write a survival guide for substitutes.

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