I subbed for a 6th grade class yesterday. When I arrived, some random woman walked up to me and asked for my phone number. I was like, “okay, sure, why?” and she told me that she was one of the other 6th grade teachers and she’s always looking for people who are willing to substitute for 6th grade. She said “willing to sub for 6th grade” as if it was the stupidest thing she could thing of something willing to do. I gave her my phone number, she gave me a tight smile (“good luck”) and then she left me alone to wonder, what the hell am I getting into subbing for 6th grade? Are 6th graders really that bad? Are they going to eat me alive?
It turns out, 6th graders ain’t bad at all. I don’t know why it’s a grade that substitutes apparently have to be “willing to” substitute for. I mean, yes, the kids were definitely going through crazy hormonal shifts and were more interested in flirting with each other than doing their assignments (quick anecdote: at the end of the day, I was cleaning up and I noticed a very small piece of paper on this one kid Tony’s desk, and I noticed the paper had writing on it—I picked it up to throw it away with the other loose papers I was throwing away, and looked closely at it—it was actually a note, which read: “Tony, will you go out with me?” and as soon as I read it, I looked up and this one girl Katie looking at me, totally mortified, like, oh my god the teacher just read my note, and I looked at her and smiled and put the note back on Tony’s desk and she turned red and ran away), but the 6th graders were fun to talk to and they were a smart group of kids, and totally easy to police. (A lot of substitute teaching consists of keeping kids from killing each other rather than actually teaching.)
It was “Science Day,” which meant we had this visiting rainforest specialist come in for an hour and she brought several rainforest animals for us to meet and touch and I touched some crazy bugs. The scariest one was called the Emperor Scorpion—part of his body folds over his head like a headdress, and he really does look like royalty (or, bug royalty, at the very least) and he was the biggest scorpion I’ve ever seen in real life. (Um, the only scorpion I’ve ever seen in real life?) I also got to hold a really big beetle, which was apparently the kind of beetle that they eat on Fear Factor, and I’ve decided that the bigger the beetle the less disgusting the beetle. I know that might seem like an incongruous idea because small beetles are gross and you’d assume that big beetles would naturally be even grosser—but the larger they are, the more manageable they seem. Like, I could imagine having a really big beetle for a pet and walking it around on a leash, but I totally can’t even imagine looking at a small beetle without jumping up and stepping on it.
I cannot even begin to tell you how stoopid I felt during the rest of the day as I was “teaching” 6th grade—the kids were supposed to work on several different worksheets and projects throughout the day and they kept coming up to me with questions, like, “what’s a mode number?” and there were several moments when I wanted to say to them “do you know how long it’s been since I was in 6th grade?” but instead I would huff and haw for a minute pretending to be “thinking” and in the meantime I’d be looking up the answer in my teacher’s manual and trying to figure out how to explain a simple math concept that read like gibberish to me (though I totally know what a mode number is now).