I’ve been substitute teaching in the first grade for almost two months now, but I am still learning something new every day. Previous to this experience, I considered myself an expert on children.

I’ve successfully parented 3 active boys through childhood–through the Hot Wheels stage, the super-hero stage, and the Star Wars stage (that lasted for a least a decade). Through Nerf guns, water guns, air soft guns, and paintball guns. Through cuddles and love notes, stoney silence, angry outbursts; through wrestling, stitches, broken bones, sprains, and dislocations. I have played them in hockey, baseball, football, soccer, ping pong, tennis, chess, Battleship,  Monopoly (that’s a harsh one), and the list goes on.

I can’t play Risk or roller-blade, but I can ice skate. I have threatened and helped and mandated homework and reading time, monitored TV (and now a host of other media), and sent children outside to play. I’ve had 6 boys in my house on a regular basis, each with a toothbrush in the bathroom drawer. Competence and creativity are my middle names.

And then I taught first grade.

It must be different when the kids are all the same age and they’re not yours.

I’m learning a lot. Usually, my revelation follows a barrage of little children rushing to participate in something one child has managed to do alone, unnoticed by me. That’s my first clue that contraband sits somewhere under those wiggling bodies. For instance–

1. They can sharpen a new pencil down to a stub in one day. (Note: electric pencil sharpeners are off-limits.)

2. They can literally tattle all day long. (Note: tattling is off-limits.)

3. They spend a quarter of their school day walking in a straight line. (Well, who are we kidding? It’s more like a snake slithering back to class, except with arms touching the walls. Note: touching walls is off-limits.)

4. They can make more cards than the Hallmark Corporation. (Note: construction paper is off-limits for personal use.)

5.  Little voices make deafening sounds. (Note: screaming is off-limits in the indoor play space.)

6. Best friends can change three times within the same day.

7. Everyone needs a job title. Too bad they won’t remember it half the time.

8. Candy works better than stickers for rewards and incentives. (However, candy tends to heighten the desire for all things contraband.)

9. They think they can successfully apply tape (they can’t); torn pages are really a ploy for playing with contraband. (Note: tape is off-limits.)

10. They can fall in love with their teacher after only a few days, no matter how inept she is, as long as she listens to them and smiles.

Although every day ends with a headache and sore throat (obviously, I’m doing something wrong), somehow I look forward to seeing their little faces the next day when they explode into the classroom. Yes, exploding is off-limits, but they have trouble walking.

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