I had my first experience with substitute teaching recently at the local high school. When I interviewed for the part-time work, I expected to be called to ‘sub’ for social studies or maybe a French class here or there, so it was a great surprise when they called me to fill-in for a class in agriculture…me? a city girl? I was excited at the opportunity to talk with kids interested, perhaps, in the farm experience and looked forward to a class of attentive listeners anxious to learn. Wrong!
The classes were absolutely wild! One expects a degree of loudness out of teenagers, of course, but the kids went well beyond that and were often disrespectful, unwilling to take part or do their in-class assignment, and broke school rules wherever possible. I guess I should have anticipated that more, since I have heard horror stories about kids in the class today. It was a real eye-opener, but a great learning experience for me. I will do some things a little differently in the future.
For the next two days, I will substitute elementary aged ‘exceptional children’. These are children with learning disorders and physical limitations, as well as those diagnosed with hyperactivity difficulties. I’m going in with no experience there, either…and no preconceptions. I expect younger children, but the same problems I faced in the agriculture classes and intend to keep a cheery and nurturing, but stern outlook. That is a far cry from the peaceful ‘mothering’ and gentle coaxing I’m giving to our newest farm arrival.
“Baby” arrived yesterday. He is our first bottle calf and like many in their first few weeks of live, he is sick. Baby is a one-week old Guernsey with the ‘scours’. When the seller asked us if we would take him, knowing he was sick, again I had preconceptions and excitement over the possibilities our care entrusted. My first sight of him was at the back of the pick up truck in which he arrived. He stood there, scared and alone, unsure of his surroundings, of the two-footed humans around him, of the dogs barking in our truck, and of the herd of nearly grown calves that peered through the fence at him. Then I noticed it. He was crying. He didn’t make a sound, but there were tears nonetheless. He won me over completely.
Speaking softly to him, I stroked his neck and side and hugged him close to my legs in a sort of hug. Then as I walked a few steps towards the barn, he followed. We tried to give him a bottle, but he would not take it and the seller showed us how to tube him with electrolytes, a treatment for his diarrhea. He did not like that, of course and let out a loud call, apparently for help and heard an immediate answer. By the time we got into the barn and his new bed separate from the rest of the herd, I expected Big Mama, the maternal goddess close-by and waiting, watching, and staring us down. Surprise! It was not Big Mama, but Frick!
Every move we made, every stroke I made on Baby’s soft hair, Frick attentively watched. Soon the other calves, large and small, ambled over to the stall gates to glimpse the new arrival. Most watched a few minutes then wandered off to their feed or to graze nearby. Not Frick. He stood watching, horns at the ready, occasionally calling to the little one. Only when Baby settled in on the soft hay Mike spread out for his bed and began to close his eyes to nap did Frick join the others.
After awhile, I took Fritz out of the truck so he too could see the baby calf. He was so excited, but quiet. Panting and looking like he grinned from ear to ear, he sniffed the air, and looked over this new place he had never seen. He watched the calves intently and a couple came closer to see what ‘that thing’ was, realized they were in no danger, and went back to eating. But as I turned I saw Frick peering around the corner of the barn and watching me, the dog, and Baby. He was hiding his body and most of his head, but watching still with one eye.
Baby will received electrolytes two or three times today before his reintroduction to bottled milk. That is if he makes it through the night in his new home. I have high hopes for him, though. I felt we had a little connection yesterday and that I gained his trust. Or maybe it was just the mother in me watching over him like a child with a fever. In any case, I have to work today and will not know how he fared until I return this evening. I’m keeping the memory of him, his copper-colored hair with a white blaze on his forehead snuggled into the soft hay and sleeping soundly.
I need to remember in future jobs at the high school that no matter how badly behaved the high schoolers, there are times when they too sleep soundly and are just as loveable as little Baby. And both are worth watching grow up.