When the principal told me, “The last time this class had a substitute, the kids let the snake out…”, I thought, “That’s just great, a snake. I’m in for it today.”

The morning started like many mornings did: a call for me to fill in for a teacher. This was the first time for this school and it was for a fifth grade class. Cold weather would make the children more unruly with unspent energy. And, when I arrived, I realized this was in the middle of gang territory. I could be in for a very challenging day.

I checked into the office when I arrived. The principal met with me, “Glad to have you here. If you need anything, just buzz the office and I’ll pop in. The last time we had a substitute in this class, the kids let the snake out, so keep a close eye on them.” Of course, this reinforced the feeling this day could be disastrous. I would need to make extra effort to create a rapport with the children and to keep them occupied.

The principal escorted me to the room. I reviewed the lesson plans and found all the materials that would be needed. The plans were straightforward and told me one child had behavior problems.

The morning actually went very well. I quickly established a rapport with the children, especially the child that had been identified with behavioral problems. In fact, the morning went smoothly, we ended up finishing earlier than expected with the morning work. We still had lots of time before we needed to get ready for lunch.

This is where I decided I needed to be creative. We needed an activity that would get everybody involved and to reinforce lessons from the morning. The assignment that we had just completed had been a Social Studies lesson on how a bill becomes a law in the United States. So my brilliant idea was to have a mock congress.

I proposed this idea to the classroom and the children agreed enthusiastically. First we reviewed the process of how a bill becomes a law and most of the children remembered the process. I wrote the steps on the chalkboard.

We then chose a president who would either veto or sign the bill into law. I split the children into two groups: one group to be the House and the other group to be the Senate. And now we were ready to begin the process.

The children began to brainstorm various bills on which they could vote. I wrote down all of their ideas on the board. After we had a lengthy list, we then chose a bill to try. The children decided they wanted to vote on a bill regarding having pizza on a certain day of the week, every week.

We followed the process I had written on the board. First the House discussed and then voted. They voted to pass the Bill. The Bill then went on to the Senate where they too discussed and then voted to pass the Bill. Finally the Bill went on to the President and he signed the Bill into law.

This may sound like it took a long time but it really didn’t. We still had plenty of time before lunch and the children demanded that we do another one and so we did. This time they chose the more controversial bill: Parents cannot beat their children.

Wow! This is a heady topic. First I decided to clarify we were going to mean that ‘beat’ meant ‘spank’ in this context. The House took up the conversation and it did not go as expected. The children discussed both sides of the issue in depth and not all agreed with the Bill. They finally took a vote and it passed.

Now, as luck would have it, school nurses came into the class during the discussion to check the children for lice. This made me rather nervous and I wondered what they were thinking as the children discussed the issue. But, we carried on and the Senate took up the Bill and, again, after some intense, but respectful, discussion, the Senate passed the Bill.

The Bill finally went to the President. He took a few moments to decide, but finally he decided to veto the Bill. He said that parents need to be able to spank their children so children will learn to obey, follow rules, and not do bad things. I was surprised by the high level reasoning he demonstrated, even if I personally don’t believe in corporal punishment.

At this point, it was time for the children to get ready for lunch. The rest of the day went very well. It was a day I did not expect to go well, but I was prepared to be flexible and the day turned out to be a really great day. And importantly, we avoided the dreaded “Great Snake Escape.”

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