“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my 40’s”

Yep, this one is about the Kindergartners.  Enjoy…..(oh, and buy the book.  It’s so worth it).


The One and ONLY Day I Taught Kindergarten (Ever)

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.”

– Socrates, 420 B.C.

“Remember in elementary school you were told that in case of fire you have to line up quietly in a single file from smallest to tallest? What is the logic in that? What, do tall people burn slower?”

– Warren Hutcherson


There was a time when I didn’t enjoy kids.  I didn’t want to have any of my own and I didn’t understand the draw.  I couldn’t relate to them nor did I want to.  For whatever reason they didn’t really get my jokes or pause to reflect on my insights or do anything I told them to do.

Now that I have two children I realize how obviously mistaken I was to have had such an outlook.  I love my son and daughter so much it’s almost inexplicable.  It’s amazing how life changes when you first see their little noses and lips and toes and fingers on that momentous day they come into the world.  They’re so amazing to look at when they’re your own.  They’re fragile, beautiful and precious little miracles of God.

Then at some point they grow old enough to go to kindergarten and consequently gather into a mob and frighten the living garbage out of their substitute teachers.

That’s what happened to me before I became a parent.  I’ll recount the horror as best I can.

After I graduated from SBU with a Bachelors Degree in Heightened Religious Experience and How Many People Per Square Foot Can Legally Fit Into a Church Building, I decided I wasn’t at all interested in furthering my educational torture with a Seminary degree.  I was in limbo between graduating and serving happy meals for a living.  My degree and 50 cents could buy 1/16th of something decent at Starbucks (I’m actually thankful for my undergrad because it set me up to get an MBA.  I later used that MBA to pay full price for one whole cup of Starbucks coffee.  Wad officially shot).

I heard somewhere that I could imperil myself by substitute teaching for a half way decent wage.  $70 a day or something like that to wrangle some Jr. High kids into submission.  No sweat, right?


I didn’t realize that once you sign up for subbing, you can’t be particular about the jobs you take if you expect to get any teaching assignments.  So when Old Mrs. “You’ll Go Where I Tell You” called and asked if I would teach Kindergarten, I said yes without hesitation.  If I could have only foreseen the sweaty, chaotic, hazardous hell that awaited me I would have hung up on her after a long stream of berating shouts into the phone.  I just didn’t know. I just….did….not….KNOW.  This phrase would become my mantra.

Before I proceed to tell the tale of my shameful incompetence with children, allow me to brag on myself just a little.  I’m a natural teacher when it comes to a classroom.  I can take a concept and spin it seventeen different ways to reach even the most confused student.  I can command attention with subtle humor, interesting conjecture and equip students to achieve the knowledge intended with a plethora of methods which are entirely my own creation.  I have even been known to use the word plethora in a lecture.  You might call it a gift.  The best thing is they don’t even know it’s happening to them.  They just leave smarter.  That is providing these students are PAYING ADULTS.  It’s a whole different spitball game if animal crackers, primary colors, flu-snot and potty breaks are involved.  It’s not even a ball game.  It’s no game at all.  It’s survival of the fittest.  And I became painfully aware on this particular day that I was sorely out of shape.

So with my smart-looking, cleanly pressed khaki pants and white button-up shirt I arrived at the Bolivar Primary School at 7:45am for my first day of substitute Kindergarten teaching.  I was ready to go.  I was smart.  I was edumacated.   I looked professional.  I could do this.  Let’s go.

I checked in at the front desk and found the room which would later be sealed off with police tape and had a quick discussion with the teacher whose place I was taking for the day.  She looked haggard and sick (I later realized she was not sick at all, but always looked this way due to the overwhelming weight being placed on her ailing psyche by these glue-munching vermin called kindergartners.  She just BADLY needed the day off).  The teacher proceeded to give me details of how she ran her room.  She offered some effective disciplinary tools like writing down the offender’s name on the board for the “real” teacher to see when she returned.  She confided at what point in the day I could do reading time (I took this to mean that these kids could read), and also where the lunch room was, etc.  She stressed how important it was to hand-deliver notes to the bus driver for any kids who have specific directions of where to be taken that day so they don’t get dropped off at an empty house, or the wrong house, a crack house or anywhere other than the correct house.

So after Mrs. Smith mumbled something about “centers” and a special treasure chest for the boy who was celebrating a birthday, she girafffed out the door and left me to it.  By the way, I’m calling her Mrs. Smith for a couple of reasons.

1) I don’t want the poor woman’s name associated with the carnage that occurred in her classroom that day, and
2) Because I can’t remember her name.

The first five minutes were okay enough.  I remember something about introducing myself as Mr. Richards (I’m sure I probably did something stupid like write it on the board so at any time if they had forgotten, they could simply glance up and read it) and asking the children to go around the room and tell me their names.  Simple right?  Actually it was.  That part was fine.  That worked.  But that was the only thing that worked for the rest of the day.  After that first five minutes was over everything else was only a blur to me.

The following is a collection of events that occurred five minutes and one second after the teacher left.  These events are not in chronological order because that part of my brain that keeps track of time and events was shut down and re-tooled to manufacture valium to calm the panic that ensued.  I never can remember what happened first when I recount this story.

Centers is Banshee-speak for “free for all.”  It comes from the original Greek word sin – which means to do nothing the teacher with the nice pants tells you to do, but rather run amuck yelling until you’re tackled.  I’m pretty sure Mrs. Smith told me what centers were designed for before she left.  You know, the educational value for the various little “portals” around the room where kids do something educational with blocks or yarn or a guinea pig at each station to stimulate different parts of their brains.  But she neglected to tell me how to split 20 kindergartners into the appropriate groups where each child would have a turn, or how many minutes to clock between each educational segment (A whistle and a cargo net would have come in handy), and that it would have been a good idea to keep the door closed and blast Nickelback as loud as possible in order to mask the jubilant shrieks coming from the room because

“yayyyyy, we have a substitute that doesn’t know anything at ALL, yayyyyy!!!”

It was “centers” time that fostered most of the classroom offenses, many of which I was never aware of.  Seriously, there were just too many of the scampering little freaks to keep track of.  Boys were chasing girls, girls were hitting boys, boys were crying and they were writing with permanent marker on things they should NOT be writing on.  When I say etcetera, I mean ETCETERA was happening in this room!  I looked up at the clock.  Shoot.  I had let them have centers time for 1 hour and 7 minutes.  I kid you not.  Those of you who are in education and know anything about anything know that you do NOT allow centers for that long with 5-year-olds.

I just didn’t know.

The Rubbish Girl, Fluent in Nonsense
There was one poor little girl whose name I can’t remember (you’ll see why) that was kind enough during the Aboriginal Centers Dance to actually come up and talk to me during the cyclone.  She was an adorable little thing.  I was sweating a lot, my shirt was untucked and I had three different colors of permanent marker on my pants from circling little artists (probably marking me for death), but she managed to overlook all that and very sweetly ask me “Blarmee planket sool toofus a mak mak DAY Misser Riggards?  Moodle tank swooley can uh PEEZ?”

Oh perfect.  The one ally I have in this war and she’s speaking Pig Latin, and probably has to use the restroom and who KNOWS how I’m going to pull that off and who in the FRIKK would allow permanent markers in a Kindergarten classroom?!! I still to this day don’t know what she ever said to me and she talked to me ALL DAY.  After a while I began to take comfort in her words.  I started to falsely translate little pieces of her blah blah and use it for my own comfort.  “Moofus meedle” meant Jon, it will be okay.  The sun will rise tomorrow. And “glak glah flediddmph” came to mean Jon, your pants will wash out, and one day you will look back on this and…..swear you’ll never have children.

Recess, and the Yelling Lady
When I was in school my favorite part of the day was recess.  Today was no exception.  I needed a break from these little people and I was happy to hear the bell ring, signaling it was time for us to move our chaotic circle of mischief outdoors.  The kids under my charge seemed to instinctively know that they were allowed to act up and disobey their fool heads off outside since they had a substitute teacher.  They were horrible.

Actually to be fair, they were just being kids.  I was the one who didn’t have a clue how to communicate any sort of rules or advice to them while out on the playground.   I just plain forgot to remind them that they shouldn’t kick, hit, bite, spit, throw mud with ROCKS in it or yell in my face.  All this seemed to be occurring at once when all of a sudden a very loud woman approached our group.  YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THAT NOW GET IN LINE!!!!  Her face was beet red and a vein was popping out in her forehead.  I took this as a sign she also taught Kindergarten.  I was so startled I got in line with my kids and didn’t say another word.  I only remember a feeling of embarrassment and fear as we all marched back into the building.  That was not the kind of recess I remember as a kid.  I don’t want to go outside anymore.

Snack Time and the Flying Milk Carton
There is also a time during the school day when all the kids get a snack.  This is referred to as “Snack Time.”  I refer to it as “A Swarm of Disorganization and Then the Yelling Lady Again.”  This task primarily consists of the entire class being lined up in the hall near an antiquated cooler after a pee break and grabbing a milk, then heading back to the room.  This might seem like a simple thing.  I can assure you that it is not.  My group flooded the hall with kicking and cutting in line, then crying because I didn’t let little Mark (or whatever his name was) be the line leader because it was his birthday so he hit the other boys who took his place. Then I felt bad because I didn’t know he was supposed to get to be the line leader and good grief I didn’t know my sweat glands could produce this much perspiration.  My deodorant had pathetically failed me.  At some point in between the potty break, a.k.a., Germ Fest 2000, and the milk line, the decibels in the hall became so high that the yelling lady materialized out of nowhere and proceeded to increase the sound levels even more.  YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THAT NOW GET IN LINE!!!!  I sheepishly apologized to the vein in her forehead and attempted to quiet her down with a stream of excuses as to why I had no ability to accomplish the appropriate hallway behavior, which she blew off with a “pfffft, your kids are going crazy out here” and then showed me how to properly turn your back to someone and walk back into your room without another word.  She was good at that.

Step One: Embarrass your colleague.

Step Two: Go back to your business.  She must have done that quite a few times because she executed the steps flawlessly.  I consequently began to dislike her.  Yelling Lady and I were not going to be having drinks after work.

So after the crowd reached in and got the WRONG milks (I found this out later through a much softer, but just as humiliating line of communication from the Yelling Lady) we were meandering back to our room.  Then I see something peculiar fly about 10 feet into the air that looked very much like one of the chocolate milks I’d seen in the cooler.  Then SPLAT! Chocolate milk in the hall.  I kinda snapped.  I’d had enough of trying to be sweet and patient and safe.  I was no longer the kind “Misser Riggards” that Rubbish Girl had talked to earlier.  I became “Misser Crayzhee-Headed Red-Fayshed Riggards.”  I’m ashamed to say I partly resembled Yelling Lady, but with bigger arms.  Before I could stop myself…YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THAT YOU DON’T GET MILK NOW!!!…

Immediate crying

Then sobbing

Then angered mumbling

Enough about MY reaction, let’s talk about the poor kid who became victim to my tirade.   Jeffrey (or whatever his name was), wasn’t going to get a milk because he threw it into the air.  What I didn’t know is that when a 5-year old doesn’t get a milk for Snack Time, it’s a HUGE DEAL.  He cried.  But he caused me no trouble for the rest of the day.  Hmm…Yelling Lady was on to something.

The Drunken Cupcakes
Listen parents.  And listen good.  If you’re prone to downing a fifth of Jim Beam’s finest during daylight hours and indulging in your lust for baking delicious things that is just fine with me.  But if you’re inclined to perform that act and then bring your inebriated show to the SCHOOL, I will beat you in half if I ever catch you.  (No I don’t work in the school system but my kids are in school.  I will hunt you down if I hear of it.  Stay your drunken ass HOME).  So it’s poor Mark’s birthday and apparently his father took it upon himself to bring 20 cupcakes to school for the event.

Another note to parents… Don’t bring 20 cupcakes to the school.  Especially sticky ones topped with two inches of chocolate icing to a kindergarten class.  It will not turn out well.  So after the goodie exchange between myself and Mark’s whisky-breathed father I brought the treats into the room.  The kids were so elated.  Here’s the drawback to not having any kids of your own and therefore not having any experience as to how to feed them.  You end up with chocolate on the walls.  You end up with chocolate on the chairs, the floor, your hair, your pants, the filing cabinets, the poster board, the door and just about every other surface in the room.  I’m not kidding.  I…..I just didn’t know.

The Treasure Chest and The Amazing Reading Kindergarteners
One of the awesome privileges of being one of Mrs. “Smith’s” students is that on the day of your birthday you get to choose something from the treasure chest full of surprise toys she keeps in the room.  You and you alone.  Just that one time.  On your birthday.  And you can’t tell your friends what you see in the box.  This whole idea is flawed to begin with, but it can be successful for someone with a clue about teaching.  Or kids…or human behavior in general.  I didn’t have any of those.  At one point during the utter chaos I decided maybe it would calm them all down if they sat and watched Mark get his toy for the day.  Mind you, it was after lunch because I had forgotten about his birthday until his drunken dad showed up with the chocolate mess around 1:30pm.  By this point you’ve run out of fingers and toes to count how many foundational mistakes I’ve made in my poor attempt to teach these kids anything.  But this was by far one of the dumbest things I’ve ever tried to pass off as rational.  Why in the WORLD would a room full of 5-year olds sit still while another 5-year old got to pick out a toy from a box they KNOW is filled with things they’ve never seen?  But I thought I was being smart.  I was given some instructions by Mrs. “Smith” to hand out some assignments for them to accomplish which I think had something to do with them cutting out some squares and gluing them onto some other pieces of paper.  I don’t know.  Anyway, there were 20 copies with instructions for the students to follow at the top of each page.  I thought this would be a good time for Mark to open the treasure chest while I was handing out the assignment.  You know, to kind of distract them.  But here’s what happened (I say that as if I have any clue how the following events transpired.  I just know it was really really bad and Mrs. “Smith” was going to be really really mad).

Did you know Kindergartners can’t really read all that well?  Yeah, well I didn’t know that.  I handed out the assignment and expected them to read it and just go to it.  HA!  They were confused.  So was I.  So some of them decided to help Mark out with his treasure chest excursion, while others decided it was time to do “Centers” again.  A small group of others distracted me with questions about the assignment.  There was another smaller group of girls that I noticed had gone up to the whiteboard and were writing boys’ names on the board who they didn’t like.  Oh no.  This was to be my punishment strategy to get offenders to pay attention to what I was “teaching.”  Writing students’ names on the board who have misbehaved.  Well, there goes THAT.  So many things are happening at once I can’t keep up with them.  Disaster again.

The End of the Day and a Note to Mrs. “Smith”
To summarize the last hour of the day; I made a little boy cry because I wouldn’t let him use the bathroom when there was only 10 more minutes left.  I flatly and uncaringly said NO!  It wasn’t that I didn’t think he had to go.  It was that I was petrified to think of what he would do if I let him go out into the hall and Yelling Lady confronted him, and even more petrified what would occur if I went with him and left 19 demonic crazies to demolish the rest of the room.

There was chocolate icing everywhere.  The entire contents of the treasure chest was now in various places throughout the room, and since I never knew what the contents of the treasure chest was before it was raided by the little pirates, I couldn’t tell the difference between one of Mrs. “Smith’s” normal classroom niceties or a treasure.  It was all mixed in.  Mrs “Smith” would have to buy all new treasures as the surprise was foiled.

Finally, toward the end of the day a nice lady came in and told me she would walk the kids who rode the bus out to where they had to go.  Finally, a rescue!  YES!

So that emptied about three fourths of the room.  Five minutes to go.  Nonsense girl came up to me and said “Sue krantis mabble doo soopin?  Rakki dowel head marfus”  Which I’m sure meant “Have you ever done this before?  Because you’re really not very good at it.”

Ultimately there were no kids left in the room.  Yelling Lady poked her head in on her way out to observe that I had indeed broken down just like she secretly assumed I would.  I held up my hand as if to say “Do not yell at me.  Do not look at me.  Turn away.  I’m grotesque in nature and shouldn’t be allowed to direct children how to behave.  Goodbye now!”  She took the hint and left the room. I can only assume to go to her natural environment under a bridge scaring children on their way home.  The troll.

So as I sat in the little kindergarten chair six inches off the floor to ponder what to do about the Armageddon-like destruction around me, I found a piece of paper without chocolate icing on it and penned the following (and I swear it’s all exactly as I wrote it):

Dear Mrs. Smith,

I’m really sorry about the condition of your classroom.  I’ve tried to straighten it up as much as possible with the strength I have left.  Unfortunately, at no time during any part of the day did I have anything even closely resembling classroom control.   I was yelled at by your teacher neighbor.  I was marked for death with Sharpies (and you really should remove those from the room.  Come on).  I thought your students could read so they didn’t end up doing any work.  None of the checklists I was supposed to fill out would be of any use to you.  And I am really sorry about the fact there is chocolate in every crevice of this room.  The names on the board that have been written in permanent marker are not to be used as an indication that those boys did anything wrong.  They just have girls that don’t like them.  You will be happy to know that Mark really enjoyed his special day, getting to take an item from your treasure chest.  However, I would advise you to visit the Dollar Store and restock the treasure chest as many of the other students in the class also took part in his birthday treasure chest activities.  I would make that purchase for you myself, but my wallet has been stolen, misplaced, or shredded.

You will also be happy to know that I will most likely NOT be subbing for you again.  It’s not your fault.  Your kids are great.  I’m just not cut out for this.

Thank you for this experience.  I hope you feel better


When I got home that day I told several friends what had happened.  They nearly wet their pants in gleeful laughter.

After I had finished recounting the journey across the river Styx, I reached into the pocket of my now ruined pants and found……..two bus notes. OH NO!!!! My stomach dropped to the floor.  All I could do was hope that those kids made it to their homes.

I called the subbing schedule lady and told her that I would never, no not EVER, be subbing for kindergarten again.  Not EVER!!

My next subbing assignment was at a juvenile detention center.  It was AWESOME!! They could read and everything!  And if they did something I didn’t like I simply sent them back to their cell.

I’ve learned a LOT about kids since then.  I would even go so far as to say that I could probably teach kindergarten now.  I wouldn’t WANT to teach kindergarten but I could sure pull it off now.  My son Luke is in kindergarten and even though they’re really short and eat inedible things they find on the floor, kids are actually quite a lot of fun.

Leave a thought. Come on, you know you wanna