Adventures In Subbing Pt 1: From The Mouths Of Babes

Because I’m yet to make millions from my blog, I decided to start working as a substitute teaching assistant (TA). Boy, do kids say the darnedest things.

It’s a pretty common thing these days for teachers of younger students to have a helper in their classrooms, and the beauty of being a substitute TA is that I always get to meet new kids and new schools in new communities. The bad? Never knowing where/how I’m going to be needed until the day of. But I think the trade-off is worth it. After doing it now for about six weeks, I have more than enough material to share with you. In fact, this post focuses solely on the interesting–if not difficult–things kids have blurted out.

Children have a way of being unfiltered echoes of what their lives are like. 

Let’s start at an elementary in a nice suburb of the Twin Cities. I was assigned to fill in for a TA in one of their Kindergarten classes. There were about 24 students. I remember early this day noticing that one of the blond boys had on girls’ shoes: shiny black slip-ons with a strap across the top. Maybe I’m just behind the times and didn’t know the style.

Later, he and another student were at their computers in the lab. I approached them to tell them to quit talking. I said, “Boys, shhhh. we need to be quiet.” He wasn’t quiet, though. My words made him respond:

“I’m not a boy.”

Hmm. Now up close I started to see it, her short haircut extending a bit over the ears. But she didn’t care.

Back in the class we were enjoying play time. She and another couple students and I were fiddling with some bright-colored little plastic cube things that you could piece together. Then she offered this:

“My Daddy gives me a present whenever he comes to visit because he loves me. And when I grow up we’re gonna get married. We’re gonna be married when I grow up, but when I grow up then we’re going to get divorced.”

She just looked at me after saying this like I was supposed to respond. But what do you say to that?!

Away from the suburbs and into Minneapolis, I worked at a charter school housed in a wing of a single-floor office building. The setting there was quite different from the previous school: ethnically, economically; the whole school culture was less formal/more “real”.  All the kids in my pre-K class were black or Somali. There was one white boy in the group of 15. The day was a little wild, though not too bad. I just had to take one kid to the office and keep another from having snack for being bad–then he got worse.

At the end of the day, all the children gathered ’round as I readied to read them a story. Before I began I reminded them to keep their art projects safe so they could take them home to show their mommies and daddies. This elicited a response:

One girl spoke up, “My Daddy’s in jail.”

A boy followed up, “My Daddy’s in jail”, and then declared proudly, “But my Mommy’s out of jail!”

Finally, I was working at a childcare center serving low-income families in St. Paul. I was assigned to help out with the 2-3 years olds. During one of our outdoor play times, one boy was really upset that he couldn’t get a toy he wanted. It wasn’t a terrible-twos tantrum, but a cry that screamed loss and sadness. I felt bad for him and picked him up. He cried and rested his head on my shoulder.  I rubbed his back telling him it was okay. He eventually calmed, and I set him back down. I went inside for a moment, and when I came back out  the teacher of the class said that the boy I held asked where his daddy went. Later that day he’d again refer to me as “daddy” to another TA.

I asked the teacher why he was doing that. Maybe I resembled the black boy’s dad in deed if not in appearance. But more likely, he seemed to be looking for anyone to call dad as she didn’t think this boy had a father around. On the bright side, the mom was real cool when she picked him up later in the day.

Children have a way of being unfiltered echoes of what their lives are like.

From the mouths of babes.

Now I must be off. I work today at 10:00…

to new plateaus,


3 Responses

  1. Maggie Ferdig

    I wish people would keep in mind the fact that children are ALWAYS listening. Parents should try and keep kids somewhat innocent. They don’t need to know all the tough things in life by 6.

  2. In today’s world- as a teacher you learn two things fast- so you don’t put yourself and the child in an awkward position. 1. Don’t assume the sex of a child by looks or name- in this case above- leave off the “boys” and start with the “sh—” 2. Don’t assume all children have mommies and daddies. Some even have 2 mommies or daddies in the home.You can substitute- with “take home to family” or “take home to show your family.” Good luck to you.

What say you?