Thursday, October 28, 2010


Trying to control the sixth grade class I was in today, I played "trivia" with them, making them each answer a question before lining up for lunch. Name the captial of this or that state, name someone who signed the Declaration of Independence etc....

Name a famous cowboy. I was looking for Jesse James or Buffalo Bill (not exactly cowboys, but the idea is there) or someone like that.

I got Woody.

Couldn't argue. He's a cowboy, and he's famous.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Early is Too Early?

This week is Red Ribbon week. We tell the kids to say "no" to drugs and give them bookmarks and elastic bracelets to remind them of the word "no."

There's nothing like a kindergartner or first grader asking, "what are drugs?"

I get the idea of planting the seed early and conditioning kids to make good choices when the time comes, but sometimes I think it's too much too soon. They're still trying to figure out the right direction to draw the number 7, and we're telling them about drugs.

College is the other big one for me. One school I work at has each classroom themed like a university. Usually, the one the residing teacher attended. Each room has a bulletin board in the school colors with a banner, streamers, etc. Another elementary school has a line about attending college within their school pledge that they recite after the Pledge of Allegiance.

This is another message I think we might be drilling in with too much enthusiasm. I get that dropout rates are bad, and that we want kids to finish high school and be eligible for college. I also get that the job market 0pens up substantially for those with a college degree, but truthfully, college isn't for everyone. There are many worthy trades where a degree is not necessary. Why are we obsessed with this message? And are we filling young heads with information that only confuses them and adds to the stresses they already face on a daily basis when we give them these broad instructions on how to deal with situations they're not going to face for many years, if at all?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Month Down

I was a little bit worried about a lack of work this year because my favorite district put subs on backup in favor of recently pink-slipped teachers. I'm still worried about that in a long-term outlook. It's the district where I live and I really enjoy the fact that so many of the schools are less than a ten-minute drive from home.

However, I am pleasantly surprised to have already worked nine days this year. Most of the days were in what has always been my least favorite district. It is difficult to get to, parking is a mess and the schools are overcrowded. At least, that was my impression after last year. This year I got three days in a row in a school that is on my edge of that district, and only about 8 miles away from home. I don't have to mess with freeways, it's a straight shot down a large boulevard, the school is actually quite nice, with the upper grades being in a brand new building, AND it has a parking lot! There are still too many kids in the classrooms, but, that seems to be the trend everywhere.

I worked a fourth day there just yesterday. So...maybe the Mother Superior in The Sound of Music is correct when she says that where a door closes, an window opens. I hope this is a good omen for the rest of the year. The first month there are a lot of meetings. Of all my scheduled days, I think only one has been to cover for illness. Budget cuts have also cut out a lot of inservices, but maybe it will be okay....maybe. Cautious optimism...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Did I Miss the Announcement?

Raise your hand if you heard the announcement the Principal made that said you can run on the stairs, talk loudly in the halls, talk in class, not listen to teachers and take things off of other people's desks today!

Nobody heard that?

Then I guess today is just like every other day and we have to follow all the same rules we've always followed, right?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bathroom by Lottery

I may have hit upon a way to deal with the "I have to go to the bathroom" requests that have a tendency to spread like wildfire after the first kid asks to go.

I had 29 third graders today, and in the time between the start of school and first recess, I have no clue how many kids had to go. I don't like to decline the requests, because, well, they may have to actually go.

So, when I went out to get them from recess, naturally a few asked to go before we went in because they "forgot." I lined them up in the hallway outside the classroom, made them all sit down and listen (not the easiest feat) and numbered them off. I told them that they would get to go when and only when their number was called. There would be no extra trips and no extra drinks of water before lunch.

Then we went inside and sat down and did our work. I called them group by group at at time. All the 1's, then the 2's, etc. Shockingly, it worked. Only one kid missed his number being called and asked me later if I ever called it. Nobody whined or asked to go a second time.

I may make this a standard practice. It beats sending them all at once at that age. The problem was, I numbered off to seven, which meant I had four kids out at a time. That may be too many. Next time I'll do the math better and only have two or three. As always with subbing, something that works once can be a fluke. There's no guarantee it'll work again, but I may try it tomorrow when I'm in with fourth graders.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I worked three days last week and I have five days set up for this week. Two days this week are in middle school, and the other three days this week are at a district that isn't my favorite, but since I have about $1500 on my credit card from summer spending, I figured I'd better suck it up and take the work while I can get it.

It's interesting how my various districts are dealing with budget situations. I was in a First Grade class with 29 students last week. The rest of the district is similarly packed. Subbing in that type of situation is mostly noise control. After the first hour or so, it's really not possible to get anything of substance done. Another of my districts has ten furlough days on the calendar. Ten! And some of those days are reserved for in-services that would ordinarily get me some subbing work. My favorite district has put subs on an on-call basis only. No requests because pink-slipped teachers get called first for any sub jobs.


So, this year may be less fun, and more survival-mode. Although I'm getting calls, the calls are in a very difficult district that is something like 99% English learners. The schools are surrounded by high gates that are locked, and in some cases, the parking lot gets locked up as well, although I'm not sure that's so much for safety as to keep the local residents out of the lot.

I'm hoping that the situation in my favored district will get better and the teachers listed to sub will either get re-hired or make other choices. That's really the district where I'd like to work full-time, and the only way to get a foot in the door is to actually be there. That said, all experience is valid, right? It's all about learning.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Second Year, Same as the First

Well, maybe not really.

I actually got a call this morning at 6am. It was to sub for 5th grade math. I decided I really didn't want to start the year off with 5th grade, so I declined. Not wise. I certainly need the money, but I just couldn't see rushing around to deal with 5th graders the first week of school. Of course, they're not really 5th graders yet. At this point, they're really still 4th graders, but, whatever.

Since I know at least two of my four districts (still not sure about number three--sub meeting is on the 16th) have put pink-slipped teachers on priority for sub calls, I know most calls will be last minute. I guess I'm going to have to get into the habit of waking up early and getting ready and just wait for the call to tell me where to go each day. Not my preferred method. I'd rather have notice at least the night before, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I am slightly encouraged that I got the call this morning. I was expecting to have nothing for September. A call in the second week of school might be a good sign.

Despite my hesitation to deal with certain grade levels, I think I'm rested up and ready to go back to the battlefield. I'd better be, because I already accepted a full day roving at a middle school followed by a half day science at the same school for later this month. It makes no sense, I know. Why decline 5th grade and then accept middle school two days in a row? I don't have an answer. The only redeeming aspect of the assignment is that the school is closer to home than the call I got this morning.

I'll let you know before I go in....if I don't post afterward, send in the National Guard....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ready, Set, Go!

I think I'm ready to go back to work. The summer has been great. I've had a lot of relaxing time. In July alone I read eight books, and I started a CrossFit regimen that has not only brought my weight down by about ten pounds, but also added some muscle and is changing the composition of my body. I managed to wean myself from full-out sugar addict to someone who is very happy with just an Andes mint or small piece of chocolate after dinner.

I'm a little bit worried about fitting the CrossFit classes in once school starts. I suppose the best strategy will be to get ready for work as if I'm going to go, and if I don't get a call by 8:30, to go workout at 9am. Work days will be a little harder, but I can always go at 5pm, with the rest of the world. The intense nature of the workouts makes me wonder if I can get through them after a full day of classroom's another challenge.

The other thing that concerns me is the ready supply of sweets once you pass through the doors of any Elementary school. From treats in the lounge, to birthday treats, to my habit of always taking chocolate with me for that afternoon burst of energy. I know I can control it, but we all know how addicting these tasty morsels can be. Once you eat a little bit, you want more, and then it turns into an every day thing.

All that aside, I'm looking forward to the fun stuff. I love the adorable perfect little faces, reading stories to the Kindergarteners, listening to the various facts and bits of knowledge that kids of all age can't wait to share with an adult, the light-bulb of "I get it!," seeing them run around like wild creatures at recess, and checking out their brand new school clothes and supplies. I'm definitely looking forward to recieving a paycheck again!

School here doesn't start until September 8th, so I still have a couple of weeks to go. I'm hoping the work comes in early. Last year I had an office job that lasted until late September, so I didn't start subbing until October. I'm not really sure what to expect straight off during the first month of school. I'll find out soon enough!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Things Never Change....Part 2

Remember the girl I wrote about in my last post? The one who I had the hard time with in Las Vegas?

Well, after a week of her snark-bombing me on other people's Facebook statuses without speaking to me directly, I sent her a FB message and told her if she is angry at me to either call me or message me about it.

After telling me she was on her way to Disneyland and had no time to respond to me, she let loose with a litany of complaints about my behavior on the Vegas weekend. It was crazy stuff, most of it misinterpretations of my actions and some of it was entirely fictional. By misinterpretations, I mean things like accusing me of insulting our whole group by stepping out of a club for 5 minutes for some air. Mind you, I told everyone exactly what I was doing, so it wasn't like I disappeared. She was also upset that I went inside after an hour out by the pool. Keep in mind that I burn like a lobster in about 20 minutes. She's taken trips with me before, so she knows my pool-endurance is short. And there was something about me only ordering one drink when everyone else had two. By fiction, I mean her issue with a "miserable look" on my face, when in fact I was people-watching at a bar and not thinking about my facial expression at all. And apparently the worst infraction was walking into a room and asking if they were talking about me. I don't remember this, but whatever. Many similar sins followed.

So, because this was all via messages, I tried to take her issues one by one and explain that what she thought she saw wasn't what happened at all, and that I meant no offense at any time. I told her to call me to discuss, and wished her a good time at Disneyland. Two minutes later, I had another message from her elaborating on how I'd ruined her weekend and everyone else's and that I should stop blaming her. What?

I tried again to calm her down and apologized. My theory is that in such emotional situations, someone has to take one for the team. I have no problem with apologizing to keep the peace. I know the truth. She came back with a message that it wasn't about apologies and that I should stop blaming her. Again...what?

So, I asked what the solution was. She said the solution was to end it. End what? The discussion? The friendship? I let it go and figured she needed time to cool down from whatever frenzy she'd whipped herself into.

The next day, I got a message from one of the other girls who was there over the weekend. Basically, it was a re-run of Disney Girl's complaints. I tried again to say it was all fabricated and that none of it actually happened the way it was being portrayed, but apparently my friends share a brain...actually, not "apparently." I've known this for a long time. Disney girl whispers in Other Girl's ear and her words come out Other Girl's mouth. I never saw it as a problem before, just a funny quirk. After a few more futile messages, I asked what their motivation was for such detailed examination of everything I said and did all weekend. Other Girl said I needed to stop creating drama because she didn't need it. My response was that I hadn't created the drama, but I was ending it.

Oh, and I got one more nasty-gram from Disney Girl today. Something about how she had been rational and I was insane. She made a few taunts and said she was cutting me off.

I may be starting the school year two friends short. Honestly, at this point, I don't care. I am an extremely loyal and good friend, but when someone attacks me about things that are in her own head, there's just no response. I have to say, though, I'm absolutely fascinated by this girl right now. She's like a textbook "mean girl" all grown up. I also sickly wonder if her fights with her husband are similar and how he deals with it. She seems to create a world of drama for her own entertainment and then blame others for doing it. I don't get it, but I really have no doubt she'll be making nice with me within a few months. We're scheduled to run a half-marathon together in October. Unless she talks someone else into doing it with her, I'll probably be getting a very sweet phone call in about six weeks. It really wouldn't surprise me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Some things never change

I've been reading about all of the beginning-of-the year activities on the teacher blogs that I frequent. People are getting ready for the new year, setting up classrooms and meeting new crops of students. Everyone seems ready to start a whole new adventure. Its scary and exciting, for teachers as well as for students. Nobody knows what the future holds. Will the class be a difficult one or a hard one? Will they be a challenge to control? Will they shine academically? How much parental support can I count on?

For the kids, it's about getting along with the teacher. Will he/she be nice or mean? Will I make new friends? Will I fit in? I'd guess these are the same questions being asked by teachers going in to new schools. We don't change very much as we age.

I was reminded again this weekend of how far some of us haven't come. I went on a weekend trip with some girlfriends. One of the girls decided she was going to harass me all weekend. She often targets me in front of others, but is the nicest, friendliest person when we are alone together. When she starts in, my tactic has always been to play along. However, when I throw back the "jokes," she claims I'm picking on her and our other friends tell us to stop fighting.

So, this time, I tried a different approach. I let her go on and on and said nothing when she called me "Grandma" for wearing flats instead of heels and brought up stuff that happened months ago. For instance, I missed her birthday in February because I had concert tickets for the same date. One of the girls we were with is getting married next year. She commented that I probably wouldn't go to the wedding because I'd be at a concert featuring this band. Crazy stuff, right? Out of nowhere! And it went on for three days.

By the end of the third day, I told her to knock it off. She laughed, said she didn't know what I was talking about, then has been making comments on Facebook about the drama I caused.

Textbook adolescent relational aggression, right? The type of behavior that peaks when girls are in junior high school. Sadly, we are all approaching the same side of the street as 40, not 14.

Once again I was reminded of why I prefer to be surrounded by people under the age of 10. They may drive each other nuts and tattle, but at least they can be shamed out of it for a while.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Looking Ahead

It's been a relaxing summer so far. I've been doing a lot of reading and sleeping. The most stress I've been under has been pushing myself to get through workouts each day. That, and not spending money. I'm not doing so well with the second. I've been spending here and there, but it's adding up, and I'm going to Las Vegas for an upcoming weekend, so that will be even more spending. I have money in the bank, but I always hem and haw at paying off my bills in full, which lowers the balance in my savings account, versus paying part of it, which gives me the temporary feeling that I actually have money, but ends up costing in interest fees.

I've applied at several schools for full-time positions. Got two rejections based just on my application (not really a surprise, given that it's a employer's market and I have no experience outside of subbing) and one phone interview. I wasn't jumping for joy after the phone interview. Their first question was to describe my classroom set-up. I babbled on and made it up as I went along. Afterward, I thought I should have just described a room that I'd spent time in. Walking through my mind to describe a room that actually existed would probably have sounded a lot better than creating one on the fly. I think I did reasonably well on the rest of the questions.

So....I'm resigned to subbing another year and hoping that I do better than last year. I kind of bumped along last year. It was my first, so I was a little more focused on just getting by than doing all of the politicking that they tell you to do. I'll work on that this year. I was looking at the calendars for my school districts. Last year, all four districts had spring break the same week. This year, they're spread out over three different weeks. Bad because I can't just take a week off and blame it on the schedule. Good because maybe I'll make some money that month.

I've got about a month left of vacation. No clue when the sub jobs will start coming in. I'm hoping it's not too far into the fall!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Follow the Money

This past April, The Capistrano School District was the site of a teacher strike. The strike lasted three days, and as you can guess, cost a lot of money in terms of security and substitute fees.

Interestingly, the district ended up saving more than they spent, resulting in 1.7 million dollars extra from salaries that were docked from striking teachers paychecks.

In addition to the three days of instruction that were essentially lost due to the strike, the schools were also closed for another three days in the school year. These "furlough" days were intended to save money.

Here's the rub: instead of using that $1.7 million to restore the days lost to furlough, as the parents and teacher's union requested, the district opted to put that money toward next year's budget gap.


My favorite part of the article in the Orange County Register about this is the quote from the district representative near the end of the article. He assures everyone that it's not about "disliking anyone" and that it's a "financial reality." One of the things I always deplored about the business world is that people would take these reprehensible actions that hurt other people and then justified it by saying "it's just business." losing six days of instruction is nothing personal. Sorry kids, we just can't afford to educate you properly.

Article here: http://

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Super Sub!

Since school is over, and I'm not working, I have nothing substantial to blog about on a regular basis. I could blog about my new fitness regimen, or the books I'm reading, or what I ate for lunch on a given day, but I'll spare you that nonsense.

What I do have today is one more story that I haven't yet gotten around to posting.

I think I've mentioned that I'm pretty much opposed to being in a classroom populated by children over the age of ten. I don't like the arguments and I don't like the constant observation from them, just waiting for me to do something they can comment on. I especially don't like the attitude that they don't have to do any work because their regular teacher is out.

But, a girl has to make money to pay for her chocolate habit, so I will occasionally take a fifth grade class if necessary, and I did so near the end of the year.

When I walked into the room, the teacher was there to warn me that his class was the worst in the school.


He told me it should be an easy day, because after recess they had music, followed by PE, followed by lunch and an awards assembly in the afternoon. Throughout the rest of the day they would be doing benchmark testing. He would be working on campus, but would check in a few times throughout the day. come in..."Yay! a sub!" and then complain to High-Heaven when I told them they'd be testing. They'd just finished the Big Scary Test a few weeks before. I told them this is what they'd be doing, reminded them that ALL test taking rules would be in effect and got them started.

Overall, I moved probably five kids out of their table groups for chatting. Of course, when I made them turn their desks to the wall, there were protests of "It wasn't me!"

The random chatting just went on, and I decided to put the full weight of peer pressure on the class. I told them that every time I had to ask for silence, a hash mark was going on the board. Each mark equalled one minute of their recess they'd be spending inside with me. Within an hour, they had seven marks up on the board. When the bell rang for recess, I made them put their heads down. That's when their teacher walked in. His comment was, "Missing recess again? This happens when I'm in the room also."

After they'd returned from their hour and a half of recess, special classes and lunch, it was back to the tests. They were a little more focused than before, but one student in particular was talking to his neighbors. Every time I looked his way, he was talking. Finally, I walked over to him and told him to stand up. I handed him his chair, picked up his desk and carried it outside the classroom. He wanted to know why he was being moved outside. I told him that every time I looked at him, he'd been in conversation with the kid next to him. Naturally, I got the response, "It wasn't me talking!" So, I told him that the test was important and I wanted him to be able to concentrate, since clearly he couldn't do it in the classroom with so many distractions.

He finished the test in ten minutes.

Score one for the separation technique.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thank You for Playing Our Game....NEXT!

It's the last week of school, and I have two days in a row in second grade. Apparently this class has had a lot of substitutes going through. I heard something about their regular teacher being gone on Mondays due to a family thing, so they have a regular sub every Monday. I'm not sure why I have a two-day gig, but it's a nice school and way loose because of it being the final week. I'm not complaining.

I really like second grade, but I haven't been in the grade in a while. I forgot about the everything is an issue issue.

First off, the kids have a book with "bell work." It's simply starter work for the day. It's broken up into weeks. Unfortunately, there is one more week of work in the book than they have left of school. The amount of confusion over this was immense. I finally just told them that the writers of the book didn't know how many weeks of school their school would be in session.

Then, I had two separate instructions for math. The note from the regular sub said one thing and the teacher's plan book had a different assignment. I asked the kids if they'd already done the work listed on the note, and they had. Unfortunately, they couldn't just transition into the second option. They wanted an entire discussion about what they wanted to do, because it looked like I was making things up as I went along. I have grown more adept at handling this type of thing. When I first started, I probably would have been dragged into explaining the reason for the change. Now I just tell them to do the work.

Alas, the capper was the writing assignment for the day. The kids were to write a letter to next year's students about what to expect in second grade. I started a brainstorming activity, only to hear complaints that they'd talked about this same thing several times over the last few weeks. The teacher had provided the letters that last year's class had written as examples. The kids demanded to know why they weren't given the letters at the beginning of the year. And, when I started reading the letters out loud, there were enormous protests over the fact that last year's class had gone to a different museum on a field trip than this year's class. Sheesh!

Oh, and their yearbooks were delivered today. When they went out to morning recess, they saw that one other class already had them. They came in wanting their books because all of the rest of the school had theirs. Expecting this reaction, I'd been speaking to another teacher about this very thing, and she said she didn't know why anyone would give them out and deal with the distraction all day. By the time I did hand them out at the end of the day, they'd forgotten about them.

Some days you just can't win.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Word Tally

I've often wondered what I sound like during the day. While I'm convinced that students simply hear the whaa-wha-wha-whaaa that the Charlie Brown characters hear when adults speak, I'm pretty sure I simply repeat two words throughout the day.

The first is "no."
As in:
"No, you may not sit wherever you want to sit."
"No, you can not eat your lunch at your desk."
"No, you will not choose a friend to take with you to the bathroom."

But, the one that must get the most use has to be the word, "stop."
As in:
"Stop working and put your math books away so we can go to lunch."
"Stop touching things on other people's desks."
"Stop calling people names."
"Stop talking while I'm talking."
"Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and worry about what you need to do."
And, at the point of exhaustion, usually when a kid is arguing with me about a consequence, is:
"Stop! Just....stop!"

Years of reading and expanding my vocabulary, and I find that I really only need two words. Go figure.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Crazy Days

The jobs have been pouring in for the last couple of weeks. I really didn't expect this. I thought things would peter out over the last few weeks of school. I feel obligated to take the money and run since the incoming cash flow will not exist over the summer.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I've also had some "social conflicts" that have led me to turn down some days of work that I otherwise would have taken. Earlier this month I was out of town to run a half-marathon, so I missed a day for that. Then I took another day to spend some time with friends who were visiting from out of town. This week, I've also been flaky on the job front. Tuesday I cancelled a job because I didn't feel well and yesterday I went to an afternoon baseball game, so I didn't even look for anything. Then, today, the job I had was cancelled by the school at 6am. I guess turnabout is fair play in that case. My own guilt comes in when I look at it all added up and find that all of this has added up to several hundred dollars lost.

And yet, each day when I do actually work is filled with such insanity that I'm counting the days until I don't have to walk into LoonyLand. I haven't posted lately, but I have a few stories that I want to write up. It's been quite eventful.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mr. Holland's Marching Drills

For some inexplicable reason, many kids don't seem to know how to walk in line. It could be that they just don't do it with me, or it could be that they never learned how to do it. I will say that I sometimes do get classes where they can walk along quietly and keep up with each other, but those classes tend to be better behaved all around.

One of the things I plan to do on the occasion that I finally get my own classroom, is to drag my kids outside and teach them how to walk in line. I may do it every single day for the first month of school. The vision I have is of the scene in Mr. Holland's Opus, where he drafts the PE teacher who formerly served in the military to teach the band kids how to march. I can see myself taking a line of kids out to the basketball court or to the athletic field - wherever a line is painted- and drilling them endlessly until they can pay attention and walk along properly.

To me, it's just a part of discipline. If the kids can't get from place to place without looking like wild animals, what is the management like inside the classroom?

It's just one of many things on my "to-do" list after this year of subbing. The list is growing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Since testing ended, it's been a little bit easier to find jobs. I've been religiously monitoring the subfinder sites for my districts, and have filled in quite a few days for this week and next. Unfortunately, they keep getting cancelled on me. I had two jobs cancelled for this past Tuesday before finally getting one that actually stuck. And I had a job set for today that was cancelled on me last night at 10:00.

It's very unsettling. I'm not crazy about accepting jobs the morning of, simply because you don't know what you'll be walking in to. If a teacher posts it by at least the night before, you can be pretty certain that some form of a lesson plan will be waiting. I also like to be able to forecast how much money my next paycheck will be so I can plan ahead. When I can, I often double-book myself. I'm sure the school districts wouldn't appreciate this practice. This means that I'm guilty of cancelling assignments also, but I know that the sub pool is large enough that someone else will snap up the job and be happy for it, and I haven't really inconvenienced anyone else.

It's pretty crazy right now. School ends on the 25th. I'm not expecting any calls the last week of school, so I'm trying to get everything I can in over the next couple of weeks. My only explanation for the rash of cancellations is that right now teachers are taking time to finish up work and if they have it finished ahead of time, they cancel the sub. I guess the other rationalization is that they could be planning personal days and then decide that it's more important to be in class, but if that's the case, don't request the sub until you know for sure what you're doing!

So, I guess it's another day at home today, and one less day's pay on the check.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Solitude, Solitare

I've been reflecting on the solitary nature of teaching. For most of the day, teachers exist in a vacuum void of social interaction. Sure, there are the live bodies of the students, but it's very different than working right next to another person in an office environment. Life in a cubicle farm involves hearing people on the phone, chatting with them while they walk by and crossing paths in the breakroom, and perhaps even tossing nerf balls over cube dividers in moments of stress-relief. In the old days, I'd often get so sick of co-workers and their constant presence that I'd sit in my car in the parking lot at lunchtime with a book, just so that I didn't have to interact with people for one hour out of the day.

Life as a teacher involves a morning greeting in the lounge, and if you don't have recess duty, perhaps sitting down with a co-worker for ten minutes, often while waiting for the one "adult" bathroom on campus to be free. Then there is lunchtime. I've heard stories of principals who require the staff to eat together in the lounge. I've also been in some schools where the teachers tend to chat over lunch. By and large, though, there is so much to do that most of the staff spends their 40 or 45 minute lunch in their own classroom, prepping or grading work.

The solitude is enhanced as a substitute teacher. I don't know the staff, and I'm horrible at starting conversations with strangers. If someone engages me in conversation, I'm happy to answer questions and make my own polite inquiries. I'm not completely inept in social situations, but I'm definitely not a gifted conversationalist and probably more on the "introverted" end of the spectrum than the "extroverted" side. This is something that I've always felt guilty about. I would love to be more outgoing. I'd love to be the person in the group that everyone is drawn to, but I'm just not that person. As much as I value being with my friends and attending parties and going out in the world, I also need my time alone to decompress.

So, I'm torn about this aspect of the World of the Teacher. Social interaction with children alone leaves a lot to be desired, and I miss having coworkers and friends at work. At the same time, I appreciate not being involved in the politics and drama of the workplace. Once I have a regular position, I'm sure I'll be as drawn in as anyone else in the event planning and gossip sessions that seem to be present where any group of people get together. I'll be glad to have a sense of community again. And for better or worse, I'll be subject to both the help and the criticism of peers.

I'm both looking forward to that day and dreading the loss of my autonomy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Doing Something With Nothing

Another really great first grade class today. This is amazing in part because I was subbing for a sub. The kids' regular teacher is on maternity leave and they've had a long term sub, so they've already gone through the turmoil of change this year. Only 17 of the 21 kids were there today, so that may have had something to do with the laid-back attitudes. A class of 17 kids is fantastic! Imagine the learning that could go on if every elementary school class was that small all year long!

Lately, though, I seem to be having challenges with lesson plans. Today, there was a 45-minute block set aside for centers. When I got to it, the kids told me they'd already gone through all the centers this week because they'd doubled yesterday's work. So, I had 45 minutes to fill. Normally, I'd give a writing assignment, but all of the paper was locked up and the kids didn't have access to any of their own. There also was a mix-up during math time where the lesson plan said that 5 of the kids went to another class for accelerated math. After I sent them, they all came back and I got a phone call saying that that class wasn't happening this week. Fortunately, there were enough copies of the math work for everyone.

Improvise....Adapt....Overcome. I may get that tattooed on my arm for future reference.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Somebody's Watching Me...

I'm not too crazy about having another adult in the room when I'm teaching. There's a certain amount of pressure there, whether it's a Special Ed aide, a parent volunteer or the classroom teacher. I always feel as if I'm either too lenient or too tough.

Today, it was the classroom teacher. He had a free day and thought he was going to be in a workshop, but it turned out, he just had a work day. And, he chose to spend it in the classroom.

On one hand, this is the same reason this teacher keeps calling me back. On the very first day I subbed for him, it was a similar situation and he liked how I handled his third graders, so he booked me for every absence he expected to have through the year. On the other hand, his class is difficult. I posted yesterday about a few of the problems, but he's got 32 kids and at least half of them are a challenge in terms of behavior. When you combine the individual personalities with the fact that the kids are basically "done" with the year in their own minds....well, let's just say if he wasn't yelling at them for disrespecting me, I was threatening them with loss of recess and PE time for their incessant chatter. It was a bad day for everyone, and did nothing for my self confidence.

There were two kids to the right of me who fought all day, but cooled it just before I shipped one off to another seat. There were two kids to the left of me who invented new and exciting ways to cause problems, even after I separated them. Then, last, but definitely not least, there was one boy who, as I said yesterday is diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. The kid is pure drama and probably shouldn't be in a regular ed class. I've been told they have constant meetings about what to do with him. He gets upset cries about everything under the sun. Then the kids make fun of him for crying, which makes him cry even more. Today, as they were coming in from recess, I watched him peel around a corner and collide with a bigger kid. The bigger kid saw him coming and ducked out of the way, but didn't get completely clear and they touched arm to arm. He started screaming. Both his aide and I saw the whole thing and she tried to calm him down, taking him for a walk. She told me later that she's basically had it for the year. That she works primarily with preschool special ed and that there they can usually see improvement, but that this particular boy seems to be sliding backwards. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'd do with this boy if I had him in a class day to day. He can do the work from an academic standpoint, but the rest of the world is just too much for him. I wonder what his future will hold.

I guess if it wasn't for classes like this one, you wouldn't know what the good ones were like. The saddest part is that with so many behavior problems, the kids who put their heads down and work are never recognized. I try to do it at least once a day when I'm in this room, and the teacher does have a reward system in place that I can utilize. I just worry about this group in the higher grade out teachers!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How long until summer?

Well, I'm sitting at home yesterday and today. Yesterday I got in a five-mile run in the morning, so that's good. I'm going to have to look on the bright side of summer with no work. I can force myself to get two hours of workouts in each day. Or, at least more than an hour every other day like it's been lately.

Tomorrow I have a day in a class where I regularly sub, but the kids are rowdy on a good day. I'm grateful to the teacher for continuing to request me, but I definitely go home with a headache after this group. He's got one boy with Autism who really should have someone with him full time. He's got two girls who watch me to see when I look away and then start trouble with the kids next to them, and several of the students argue continually. And there is one who wants to be my best friend and comes up to put her arms around me while very sweetly asking to do things she knows are against the rules. It's definitely a cast of characters! Now that we're down to mere weeks, I'm sure they'll all be more of a challenge than ever before.

And I just picked up a 5th grade class for Friday. This is a class where I've worked once before. If I remember correctly, they were pretty good, but I really only had them for half a day and then the district science advisor prepped them for testing all afternoon.

Is it terrible to admit that I'm counting each day now in terms of dollars? I've learned so much this year, but I'm really on the edge of burn-out right now. I'm pretty certain summer vacation is for the teachers, not for the students.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I had a half day of work set up for today, so I went to bed at 10:00 last night and taped the finale of LOST, thinking I'd only have a few hours of work and then be able to watch it in the afternoon.


About an hour into the day, the office manager called and asked if I could stay all day because the teacher who I was subbing for had an issue that was going to keep her out longer than she expected. Naturally, I agreed. I couldn't really say "no." Well, I guess technically I could, but I want to look good for this district and with summer coming I need all the cash I can get, so LOST was going to have to wait a few more hours.

Does time ever go slower than when you are looking forward to something?

The class was incorrigible in their chattiness. Nothing quieted them down. Not rewards, not punishment, nothing. Added to the problem was that I didn't have a full lesson plan for the afternoon, only the instructions that the teacher gave the office manager over the phone. And when I tried to teach, most of it was stuff the kids had already done. Oy vey.

We got through it. I stopped and did two read-aloud breaks, reading two stories for each break, and assigned a writing project rather than giving the kids free time. If I'm learning anything from subbing, it's how to improvise.

And so, I finally got home to my LOST. Wow! Was it ever worth the wait!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Best. Class. Ever!

Wow! I had an amazing group of first graders today! They cooperated. They listened. They controlled their talking and worked quietly when it was time to do so. I didn't have to referee any fighting, and get this.....


All day! Nobody tattled on anyone else. These kids just got along. I'm not really sure the day actually happened. I may have just dreamed it...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Never A Dull Moment

When four first grade girls get in trouble for knocking down a boy who is the size of two of them, you think you may have just seen it all.

This happened on the playground, and I wasn't on duty, but the kids were all in my class. I'd already ID'd the ringleader of this merry band of female mini-mercenaries when she very sweetly asked me if I would tell their teacher if they were bad. She spent most of the day whispering to the girl next to her and eyeballing me, so I had my eyeball on her.

Anyway, when I went out to pick up the kids, the duty teacher told me the four girls had knocked down this boy and started hitting and kicking him because he refused to chase them. In her words, it was "unprecedented" at the school and she was sending the matter directly to the principal. Fine with me.

The principal pulled them out of class, and told them to return to her office during afternoon recess to write apologies to the boy. The girls reminded me several times that they had this punishment to suffer. The interesting thing about first graders is that they recognize their duty to do the time for the crime. Not one of them played games with me about it or try to ditch it like older kids would.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Toddlers and Tiaras

Toddlers and Tiaras...have you ever seen this show? It's about all of these people who put their young daughters in beauty pageants. They spray tan them, make them wear tooth covers to disguise missing teeth, paint their little faces, dress them up in sparkles and tease their hair to within an inch of the ceiling. These people spend thousands of dollars on this and travel all over the region to these pageants.

It seems like a Southern thing, so maybe the relevance is lost on me out here on the Left Coast. Clearly it's all more about the mothers than the daughters, because often the kids protest and throw tantrums instead of smiling and flouncing around as expected. The most entertaining is the "Pageant Dad" and his wife who is so thrilled that Hubby is bonding with his little girl. Yes, he may be bonding, but I'm fully expecting the spin-off show called, "My Husband Just Revealed He's Gay."

And, although the show seems to focus on children under the age of five, this has to go on to older ages. I can't help but wonder what it's like to try to teach these little girls. What are they like? Is school valued in these homes? And what is the pre-teen beauty queen like? That age is fabulously self-absorbed in a normal situation, but what about the girl trained all her life to put her entire focus on her appearance?

Just wondering.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spoke too soon

I had an absolutely wonderful group of third graders today. They were fantastic! They listened. They raised their hands to speak. They didn't fight with each other. We got through the morning work so quickly that we had a half hour before lunch, so we played silent speed ball. I did have one incident with the game. One kid got irate when he was "out" because he felt I'd let someone else continue for the same violation, but I reminded him arguing with the ref was grounds for being out anyway.

So...because they were so wonderful, I wrote the "teacher note" at lunchtime, thinking I could get out of there right at 3pm and not be stuck writing a note after school.


We got through math with measurably more chatter than we'd had in the morning, but it was still okay.

We went out to PE, where I had the kids playing "Steal the Bacon." They were having a fantastic time, boys vs girls, screaming encouragement for their teams, when a teacher came out and yelled at them for their screaming. Honestly? They're out on the basketball courts at PE, playing a game! The kids said that that teacher is always "mean," but I let them do one more round. They couldn't not cheer, so I decided it would be better just to give them free play for the remaining 15 minutes, since they had recess right after that.

This was where it fell apart. One kid was throwing freshly-mowed grass at a group of kids, who naturally had to come and tell me about it. I walked over and broke them up. By then, another teacher had come out for recess duty, so I went inside. Then, there's a knock at the classroom door. It's one of the kids from the grass-throwing incident to tell me that the same kid who was throwing grass hit her. I briefly considered telling her to tell the teacher who was on duty, but Grass Thrower/Hitter was right there. He said she'd hit him also. So, I told both of them they were benched until the end of recess. They protested, but I told them to march over and go sit down. For some reason, they went together, arguing the whole way. Then, on my way to the restroom, another one of the girls involved in the grass throwing incident told her mother, who had come to pick up a younger sibling, that the boy was throwing grass. I told her he was already in trouble and being punished.

Then, I went back and tore up my letter and re-wrote it.

Well, the first 2/3 of the day was excellent, anyway.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blogging vs Facebook

I get that blogging is supposed to be an interactive thing. People read my blog, I read their blog, we comment, yada, yada yada. I'm not too good at keeping up with other people's blogs. Come to think of it, I'm not too great at updating mine. There are days on end where I continually post, and weeks where I don't post anything.

Blame Facebook.

In the time that it takes me to read several paragraphs of someone's blog (or typing this entry), one of my friends could be posting even more pictures of her chihuahua dressed in pink doggie-clothes. Why would anyone miss that kind of canine torture? Or someone might post a Facebook update that they're popping open a beer and settling down for the Laker game. Being over here on, I could miss it! Are the Lakers even playing tonight? I have no clue. I find these things out on Facebook.

Why am I rambling about Facebook on what is supposed to be a blog about teaching? Well...if I was really good, I'd be able to link the two. The truth is, I don't have anything constructive to say about teaching today. So, Facebook rambling it is!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Last week I worked three half days. Today was the first Monday in a very long time that I haven't had an assignment. In looking at various school calendars, it appears that my districts are all doing testing over the first three weeks of May. Since so much rides on the magic results, no teacher is going to trust test administration to anyone else unless she absolutely must. I was hoping to really fill out the calendar with jobs over May and June. I don't have anything yet for summer, despite tossing applications out into the wind for everything I'm even remotely qualified to do. I'm getting discouraged.

So, unless there is an abnormal number of Pre-K or Kindergarten teachers out, it looks like the next two weeks are going to be slow going for me. I hope it's not signaling the end of jobs for the school year. To be honest, I didn't give the whole testing thing much weight. I knew it was coming up, but I really don't remember it as being quite so intense when I was a kid. I don't think we spent two whole weeks on it. I feel for the kids. There's so much pressure put on them over these scores. It isn't right. I get that we need some measurable accounting of success to placate the critics of public education, but I've been watching the ramp-up for this. Making kids feel like it's do or die if they don't get high's painful. And there is a lot of information. I wonder if the voters who criticize teachers and the system had to take these tests, would they even come close to passing? The 5th grade science test alone covers electricity, weather and geology among other things. It's a massive amount of information. of luck to all who are mired in testing this month!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Wild, Wild West

I'm not sure what it is about recognizing the kid who will be the biggest problem of the day. I can I.D. him the moment I walk in the door. It always seems to be the same kid. He starts off badly and gets out of control from there.

Today, I worked a half-day assignment in a 4th/5th combination class. The kids had a half hour of silent reading, and their teacher told me she allows them to read in the room or on the grassy area right outside the door.

When I went to check on the kids outside, there was a group of them sitting together. One of them complained to me that a boy was writing on the newsletter she was trying to read. The kid with the pen tried to stare me down. I told him to put the pen away and take out a book. Naturally, there was the back-talk. He put the pen behind his back with a "See! Now it's gone!" Now, at this moment, I could have stood my ground and made him put the pen inside, but another kid told me he wasn't really in their class, and a man who I assumed was a special ed teacher was watching the exchange. He didn't say anything, and didn't introduce himself to me, so I let the pen thing go and told the student that if he couldn't find something to read, that I would find him some work to do. He very dramatically picked up his book and held it in front of his face, pulling it down every few seconds to see if I was still standing there looking at him. I stood there for a while and then went to check on the kids in the classroom.

A few minutes later, pen-boy came in with marks on his hand complaining that someone had taken his pen and stabbed him. Seeing no puncture marks, I told him that if he had done what I asked and put the pen away, it would not have been available for anyone to take from him. He demanded that I go speak to the offenders. When I told him I would not do that, his response was, "Well, I guess you're really not good for anything." A kid who heard the exchange told me not to worry, that that boy speaks to everyone like that.

I really can't stand showdowns with students. This isn't the Old West. There is no reason for it. Thankfully, this one student was not representative of the attitudes of anyone else in the class.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Better odds in Vegas

Sometimes, the randomness of subbing twists my brain. Consider this: I am listed in four districts, but actually work in two.

District #1: The school district where I student taught in the fall of 2008. I subbed several times through the spring of 2009. Then they laid off teachers. Those pink-slipped teachers have priority for long-term jobs in the 09-10 year. I have worked about three days in total at that district this year. I've had several jobs cancelled on me at the last minute, and showed up for one only to be told it didn't exist. I actually received a call for a job from them last week. Thinking I wouldn't get any calls that day, I went for a run. My cell rang at 9:30. I was 4 miles into a run at the time. To get down the trail back to my car, go home and shower, change and get to the school would have taken about two hours. I declined. I have no idea what is going on at that district. I'll be surprised if I get renewed next year, given my lack of work there this year.

District #2: About eight to fifteen miles from home, and the first district where I was hired outside of the one where I student taught. I work a reasonable number of days there. Strangely, I've worked three days over the last two weeks at a school that I'd never set foot in until last week. Such is the random nature of substitute jobs. I've been getting frequent calls from this district recently, but I'm seeing a lot of half-days of work offered. I suspect their substitute teacher pool is dwindling. Perhaps subs are getting other jobs to prepare for the summer.

District #3: My favorite district. In combination with District 2, I work here the most. This is the one that serves the city in which I live, as well as the neighboring city. City Next Door has some extremely high socio-economic areas. It's always interesting to go into the "rich" schools, but I'm always beside myself with joy when I get days at schools that are a 10-minute drive. I've worked here since September of this year. Again, I marvel at the randomness. I've yet to get a day at the elementary school across the street from my home.

District #4: This one boggles my mind for several reasons. I applied in September, and was hired in November. In January, I received a letter that I was officially added to their listings (???) and started getting calls. This district has 100 pink-slipped teachers who receive preference for sub calls. That means it's useless to leave my information behind, because teachers are unable to request specific subs. It also means I can't pro-actively go online to search for open jobs. I have to wait for phone calls. And when those calls come, no grade level is specified, unless the teacher adds it. Not all of them do. This district is in an inner-city, low SES area. That's fine with me, but it equates to over sized classes. And parking is always a mess. Parents double park and block teacher cars in, and then leave their cars there to go find their kids. It has taken me 20 minutes just to get out of parking lots at these schools, and it's very difficult to get home because of traffic and road construction that seems to be all over the place in the area. So, this district is my final option. I take jobs here when I can't get them anyplace else. I think that I've only worked here for three or four days this year, which has probably shot me down on the call list. I haven't received many calls from this district lately.

I have found that I enjoy the transient nature of subbing. I don't get caught up in workplace drama and I can decline jobs if they're not grade levels or schools where I want to spend the day. But, the low salary along with the unpredictable nature of knowing when jobs will be is really starting to wear me down. At this point, next year is up in the air. I went to a job fair last week and was very discouraged, but was told over and over again that all of this is cyclical and jobs will come around again. Sadly, nobody can say exactly when.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


For the last two days, I've walked into the schools where I've picked up jobs to the greeting of, "Oh, we were expecting someone else."

I get it. I do. When a specific substitute is requested through the system, that sub has the option to accept or decline. If she sub declines, or if he or she accepts and then cancels, the system throws it back out to the general listing and anyone can grab it. For some reason, the teacher requesting the substitute doesn't get a notification of who will be showing up. Or perhaps they have to make an effort to go online and check. I don't really know.

Regardless, I couldn't help being slightly insulted to be greeted with disappointment that I wasn't the person these people were expecting to see. I'm not sure if I should be offended or amused. Clearly, it's not meant with malice, but it's not exactly warm or mannerly.

Or, maybe I'm just too sensitive. It's the end of the year. Everyone is tired. How long until summer?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Technological Quicksand

Do you ever hear people complaining that their kids know more about technology than they do? My mom can't text, and really has no desire to do so. She also can't program the VCR, and refuses to pay for Tivo. Why should she? She has a VCR.

Technology moves forward, but we stay put. I found this to be true today as I was subbing for an Elementary school music teacher.

The teacher dropped by in the morning to make sure I had everything I needed. The plans consisted of playing a CD so the classes could sing to it. While showing me how to work the CD player, she mentioned that I shouldn't ask the kids to help me. She'd asked before, and it seems the kids of today only know how to work their iPods. They have no clue how a CD player works.

Forgetting this piece of information later in the day, I asked a sixth grade student to find the place where the kids were on the CD. She couldn't do it until I showed her how to move forward through the disk. And, at one point, a student asked me to "turn it over" so we could sing a song a second time.

So, to all those confused by the fast progression of technology, I offer this: technology is quicksand. Moving forward can be as difficult as moving backward. We simply grasp the technology of our time and rely on the oldies and the younglings to pull us out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Demon of the Day

I often think I'd like to present a "Demon of the Day" award, but I doubt that it would go over with the same tongue-in-cheek humor with which I intend.

Those of us who spend time in classrooms know that there is always one kid who just has to have been placed there by supernatural forces in order to test us. It's the kid who decides to scream out "HERE" while you're taking roll. It's the kid who asks to use the bathroom twelve times before lunch. It's the kid who sits and draws on his desk instead of doing his work. It's the kid who tattles about everything. It's the kid who wanders the room. It's the kid who slinks up to you, puts her arms around you and asks very politely to do things that she knows are against classroom rules. It's the kid who plays the entire time you're explaining something, and then says "I don't get it," when it's time for the class to do the assignment. The list goes on and on.

Even in the best behaved classes, there always seems to be at least one party very deserving of this award...and that child is probably the CEO of tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Adventure Every Day

Yesterday was the first day back at school after Spring Break. I didn't think I'd have work, but I was fortunate enough to find a job in Kindergarten just down the street from home.

I figured subbing for kinders on the first day back from break would be a little bit of a challenge. The fact that they were forecasting rain made me a little more tense, but lately we've had a lot of off-base weather reports, so I wasn't terribly worried.

I really do love Kindergarten. The kids can be fantastic or monstrous, and I've certainly had groups at both ends of the spectrum. This group of kids was quite good. Unfortunately, they got less "good" as the day went on and they were stuck inside. That's not their fault, but it makes for a headache by 3pm.

The rain started at about 10:00, ten minutes before recess. The classroom was large, the kids didn't fight with each other and there were only 21 of them, so it was all good. Sadly, it kept on raining.

I don't think the classroom teacher suspected that it would rain, because he didn't leave me a copy of the rainy day schedule. The office gave me a copy of the bell schedule when I checked in, but that was just for regular days. So, imagine my surprise at 11:15 when I was just getting the room cleaned up so I could line the kids up for lunch at 11:25 when an announcement came over the speaker saying that we would be on rainy day schedule and that kinders would be having lunch at 11:15. Are you kidding me?

So, I rushed them through cleaning and lining up...the poor kids...and it took me until 11:30 to get them through the lunch line and seated. Then another teacher tells me to hurry because I only get 30 minutes for my own lunch. (And that's 30 from 11:15.) So....I had 15 minutes to visit the restroom and gulp down some food. I'm a flexible person when it comes to last minute changes. I figure they're paying me to be there, so I don't really care about recess duty or how long my lunch break is, but a person needs a bio-break once in a while!

Fortunately, the sun started shining at around noon and the kids were able to play outside for their afternoon recess time.

I'd never been to this particular school before, and they had one program that I absolutely thought was a godsend. The kids who need extra help stayed after the bell for intervention and worked in a small group with the teacher. I dismissed most of the kids at 2:00 and worked with the remaining three of them until 3:00, when the older kids get dismissed. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to another kindergarten teacher within the same district about the need for such a program. He must have known it existed at this school. His position was that not all kids need extra time in class, but for the children who do, we should offer the personal attention. It seemed reasonable to me, and seeing how calm and ready to work those three kids were during that last hour cemented my opinion on the issue.

Although there are negative things about subbing: low pay, no benefits, not working steadily, and having an extra challenge with classroom management by virtue of not being the person the kids see every day, there is an enormous advantage to traveling throughout different schools and different districts. I really get a chance to see things that work. And that may turn out to be worth it's weight in gold at some point in my career.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Documenting Life Changes

In my former life, I viewed resumes. Hours and hours of reading resumes of job seekers. Job seekers who sent me lists of former jobs with the names of employers misspelled. Job seekers who saw fit to note on their resume that they were married with X-amount of children. Job seekers who felt that a prospective employer should know to which religious belief they subscribed or how they spent their weekends. Typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors...I often had to fight the temptation to mark up their offerings with a red pen and send them back with a "better luck next time" note attached. I even considered writing a book about how to design an effective resume, and then realized that the people sending me the awful resumes probably wouldn't read the book.

Since I've changed careers, I've put off rewriting my own resume. I just added my additional education information and student teaching jobs to my Human Resources resume and that was that. It was good enough to get me hired as a substitute. Yet, I don't wish to remain a substitute, and it's time to start applying for positions for the next school year. The time has come to do some surgery.

For some reason, paring down my resume is more painful than walking out on my former career. It's harder than passing the tests to get into the credential program. It's worse than the additional year of school required for my teaching credential. It's more difficult than facing a room full of exuberant students who have just realized today is Torment the Substitute Teacher Day.


A good resume is written documentation of the accomplishments you've achieved in your career. You are showing that yes, you can and yes, you have done these things. You've passed these tests and gained these professional designations. Someone else was impressed enough with what you did while working for a former employer to give you a chance at a new opportunity. A resume is your chance at no-holds bragging and it is the only time anyone will ever really care about your professional experience.

So, to reformat my own resume and make it appeal to an entirely different career field means deleting a lot of information that is not applicable to the new field. In my own case, I highly doubt that a school district will care about my experience processing payroll, recruiting, handling employee relations issues, etc., etc., etc.... They don't need the details about every job duty I've ever been responsible to complete. They only care about what is applicable in their world. And that's where I need to adjust my own focus. I'm not wiping out my own past. I'm simply making some changes.

I guess I'd better get to it, then, instead of sitting here blogging about it!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What I Like

I was going through my recent posts and cleaning up some of my terrible grammar, and I noticed that there are more negative than positive posts. I suspect the reason for that is that when I'm wound up about something, I start tippy-typing to vent the frustration. When I've had a good day and I'm happy, I just move on and don't feel the need to write about it. It doesn't present the most balanced blog, so I thought that I'd try here to list things I really enjoy about my job, in no particular order:

  • I get hugs!
  • Teaching is centered in reality. The whole purpose of the job is to boil complex ideas down to simple building blocks. The rest of the world is covered in marketing sparkle and political spin. In a classroom I don't have to sell anything or try to make people believe a lie.
  • I enjoy going to different places each day. I would love to have a full contract and my own classroom, but there is value in subbing and seeing how things work in different classrooms, different grades, different schools, and different districts.
  • I get to read stories!
  • Sometimes, kids go home after a day with me knowing something they didn't know prior to that day.
  • Kids are cool!
  • I get to go outside during the day.
  • For the most part, other teachers are very kind and helpful.
  • I get to teach art. And music. And math. And reading. And history. And do science experiments. And tell kids never to start a sentence with the word "and."
  • The random things that crack kids up are hilarious!
  • Even on the worst days, when the kids are the most out of control, I think about my days of working in an office and thank my lucky stars that I get to be in an elementary school!

Friday, March 19, 2010

They Behaved! Honest!

I picked up a half-day assignment today in a third grade classroom. They were really very good. They got a little loud early on and I promised them a game if they listened the rest of the morning. The kids wanted to play that game so badly that they were extremely good all morning!

When walking them to the lunchroom, though, they completely lost their line. They were all over the place and cutting across the basketball court. (This was my fault, because they were following me that way. I didn't know they had to walk all the way around.) Another teacher was behind us and yelled at them to stay in line. Once I got them through the lunch line and left them, that same teacher asked me if they'd been like that all day. I assured her that no, they had been very good in class, but I let them play a game right before lunch and they may have still been giddy from that.

So, I went back to the classroom to leave my note and collect my things. When I checked out at the office, their regular teacher was there. She told me she heard they'd been terrible! What!? Sheesh! How information travels!!! I assured her that no, they'd been very good in class, but they just had some trouble staying in line on the way to lunch. She said she'd been working on that with them and they just couldn't seem to manage to stay in line.

Other than that strange conversation, it was a pretty nice morning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lost Key = Lost Mind

Believe it or not, during the two-day kindergarten job in the previous post, I had another crisis that concerned me even more than the behavior of the students.

As a substitute teacher, the first thing you do in the morning is check in at the office. During this time the office manager tells you the room number where you'll be working and hands you the key to the classroom. I always put the key in my pocket so that I have it with me at all times and can not lock myself out of the classroom.

At this particular school, the kindergartners are released through a gate on the side of the school. Nobody else uses this gate. The teacher for whom I was subbing left me the key to the gate on her desk with the lesson plans. It was a loose key and I stuck it in my pocket along with the key to the classroom door.

When it was time to let the kids go, I unlocked the gate, sent them off with their parents and returned to the classroom to lock the back door. Then I down to organize the teacher's desk and get ready to go home. After stacking everything nicely, I reached in my pocket for the gate key and it wasn't there!

So, I shuffled through my nice stacks of paper on the desk, peeked in the drawers in case it had slipped inside, looked on the floor, crawled around on the floor to look under everything, dumped out my tote bag and my purse and then took a walk to the gate and around the back of the building along the same route I'd taken before. When I got back to the classroom, I moved everything on the desk again, shook out the teaching manuals and still found nothing.

Trying to decide what to do next, I opted to wait another day. Since the assignment was two days, I'd hoped someone had picked up the key and given it to the office, or that walking away from the situation would allow me to remember something that the stress of the moment might be blocking.

Naturally, I couldn't sleep that night, thinking at best I'd be blackballed from that school, and maybe lose my position with the district. I'd always be "the sub who lost the key." Should I play stupid and say that the last time I saw it, it was on the desk? Should I confess? Should I just call and cancel the next day?

I didn't do any of this. I went back the next morning and asked at the office if anyone had turned in a loose key. Ironically, they had several keys that had been turned in, but none were the key I needed. I did another circle of where I had walked the day before and searched on and around the teacher's desk again, but found nothing. I had to borrow the gate key from another teacher to let the kids in for school. Since he was busy at the time, he didn't even question me. While the kids were at lunch, I wrote a note apologizing for misplacing the key and offering to pay for a replacement, thinking the entire time that this was probably my last job ever in my own local school district.

The final subject of the day was Science. I grabbed the teacher's manual and brought it to the front of the room. As I flipped the book over to get to the right page, what should come flying out but THE KEY!!!!

Lordy, I don't think I've ever been so happy! The kids couldn't comprehend why I was so ecstatic to see this key. I had looked through all those books the day before, but apparently I wasn't thorough enough! I'm just glad it was a two day assignment. If I'd admitted to losing the key the day before, it would have upset some people. Then the key would have turned up and I would have looked even worse. I very seldom lose things, especially things that are only loand to me, so on the occasion that I misplace something, I get very upset.

I'm just glad this time there was a happy ending!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why Do I Do This, Again?

I'm not even sure I can explain the last two days.

I was working in a kindergarten classroom. I was requested for the assignment. I have no idea who requested me. I worked in the preschool at this campus for two weeks while the teacher was on jury duty, but the preschool is pretty isolated from the rest of the campus. Perhaps the office manager just saw that I'd worked there before and put my number in. Whatever the case, I'm grateful to be personally requested, even though the two day assignment was one of the most trying I've had.

First thing, when I picked up the kids in the morning on the playground, I heard from behind me, "Cool! Maybe we can just play all day!" Oh, boy. The class had twice as many boys as girls, and 20 of the 24 kids caused non-stop problems. Even after going over the rules, they proceeded to run in the classroom, run instead of walk in line, yell across the room, hit, crawl around the floor, and talk, talk, talk. Several times each day I brought them together to review their classroom rules. All of the kids could recite the rules, yet only 4 actually followed the rules.

One boy whose desk had been moved away from the rest because of excessive talking, did not let the distance stop him. He just yelled across the room to his friends. This boy also yelled out to me about how to do everything, gave his opinions on everything, told me it was time for lunch and recess (about an hour before each) and just yelled to hear his own voice. He never stopped talking and complained to me that his friends didn't let him get in a word. Oy....the life his poor mother must lead!

I tried everything in the classroom management book. Rewarded my few listeners with valued "tickets," gave them extra privileges, wrote names on the board, took away recess, put kids in time out, the whole shebang. Nothing worked. They were even yelled at by the librarian! I quieted them all down before walking in to the library. I asked them at the door how we are supposed to behave in the library, got the expected "no talking" response and then they all ran into the library talking and yelling. The librarian told me that it's just the combination of kids and that they're pretty much always like this. I doubt that, but I'm sure the behavior for their regular teacher is only a minor improvement. Their teacher did come in at the very end of the day, and asked the kids how they were while she was gone. They told her "good." She asked them how I would say they were, and their response was, "bad." So clearly they know there were expectations and they chose not to meet those expectations. I tried to put a positive spin on it and tell her that "we had our moments," but she told me she knows how they are and that she doesn't like to scare subs with information before they even get started.

I'm so glad every day isn't like these past two!

Friday, March 12, 2010

They Know What to Do

Dear Classroom Teachers,

Please, do not leave me instructions with the words "the students know what to do."

Invariably, they all either come down with a case of sub-induced amnesia or they just decide they don't want to do what they "know" they should be doing.

And while I understand that your classes are all filled with "good kids" who are "a bit chatty," please do me a favor and let me know who works better away from a group of other kids who may be creating distractions.

Thank You,
Vagabond Teacher

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thank God It's Friday!

I have a background as a preschool teacher. Long before I finally earned my elementary school teaching credential, I taught preschool for a couple of years at a chain day-care. At the time I saw it as a sort of educational progression for myself, starting with young children and working my way up. There was also a practial reason for this - the credits necessary to teach preschool could be earned at the Community College level. The next step would be to finish my Bachelor's Degree and get my credential for Elementary School. It ended up taking a much longer time than I intended, and I took a few detours along the way, but I finally saw my plan through.

All of this exposition is by way of explainining that I have experience with preschool and pre-kindergarten, and so I take sub jobs at this level when available. In my area, we have several preschools located in the elementary campuses that are state funded. In practice, they operate very differently from the chain preschool where I once spent my days, but the principles of child development really don't change.

When I reported on Monday morning, I found the job was not subbing for the teacher, but for the assistant teacher, which meant the teacher would be in the room, along with her student assistant. Three adults makes for an easier day with small children, but in this case, I found the teacher to be of the type of personality that, to put it gently, grates on me in the worst possible way. She was overly controlling and not in that comfortable way that makes you feel like she's got it together. She had all of the academic teaching instructions down, in terms of teaching blending, keeping to a schedule and classroom control, but there was no room for fun or any type of experession. Examples of the children's writing were all over the place, but not an art project in sight, and the day was highly regimented with obedience being the main requirement. The kids were rushed from one thing to another all day long. If you were to look from the outside for a few minutes, you might think it was an ideal classroom, but given some time, the cracks show.

Everyone has their own style, and I tend to not be quite so nitpicky. I pick my battles and tend to be laid back about some things, especially when there are people trying to help me. This teacher got upset with her (new) student aide for writing down the names of kids who were not staying still at rest time. The aide tried to explain that the teacher had been on her lunch at the time, and she wrote the names down to remember them, but the teacher told her to "just tell me." She also got upset at the same aide for the placement of a table. While explaining to the children about syllables, she questioned the number of syllables in a word. She was looking straight at me, and I said that because there was a double-consonant, it separated the word into two syllables. I offered to look it up if she had a dictionary handy and she just maintained that she was correct and I was wrong. (For the record, I looked up the word that night when I got home, and I was correct.) From that point, I stopped offering assistance and just did what I was directed to do. It was easy to see that initiative wasn't welcome.

I think there has to be some warmth in a person who works with young children. I would never want kids to be afraid of me or to think I don't like them, but this teacher laughed at her students and seems to have a power struggle going on with at least one parent that I could see this week. Yet, in terms of the student preformance, she probably achieves the very important Measurable Results.

I could give many examples of why she rubbed me the wrong way, but perhaps the most telling is this: because it was full-day, the kids had an hour of nap time in the middle of the day. One day, one of the kids woke up crying. I went to hug her and try to comfort her, and this woman's reaction was to tell me that this girl always cried after her nap and to just leave her alone. I'm not so sure the child's mother would have appreciated hearing how her daughter's teacher handled her child's disorientation when waking up at school instead of at home in her own bed.

So, the moral of the story is that there are all kinds of people in charge of classrooms full of children. Some have style and some have substance. Some work off of their academic knowlege and some work by instict. One of the advantages of substituting is that I can see who I never want to be.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Whatever You Do, Don't Tell the Boss!

I don't always get to meet the teachers I sub for, so when I do, I generally get some good information and advice. At the very least, I hear some good stories!

This week, one of my jobs was in a 1st/2nd grade combination class. The teacher warned me ahead of time that they would be difficult and that I'd have to come on strong from the very first moment. As it turned out, they weren't too bad. They were chatty and had a hard time sitting in their seats, but I've had harder groups. And I was only there until lunchtime, so that made it a nice day.

Anyway, in my discussion with this teacher, she told me they'd had some really bad substitutes at the school. I always hear horror stories about bad subs, and I really don't understand what can be so hard for some of them. In my experience, I've always had lesson plans and the day planned out moment to moment. I seldom have to use up time on my own. (And now that I've said that, I'll probably have a bunch of jobs with no lesson plan!) My hardest day was a one where the teacher had been out the previous two days and written the schedule on the board, with instructions to just pick up where the previous sub had left off. That got a bit ridiculous, since the kids argued about where they were on each subject, but I made it through the day.

These "bad subs" this teacher told me about were all in situations where the classroom teacher doesn't leave lesson plans. Teachers can be so entrenched in their own systems that they don't write them down. If there's an unexpected absence, there may be no sub plans. The error on the part of these substitutes that got them blackballed was in asking the principal what to do in the absence of these plans.

Now, while I can see the panic that would arise from having a classroom full of kids and nothing to do with them all day, the one thing you never want to do is make someone look bad in front of their boss! I have no idea what these people were thinking. Really, both sides are guilty. If a classroom teacher doesn't write day to day plans, she should have a generic substitute folder with activities and a schedule in case of an emergency. And a sub should be ready with at least a few ideas to fill time if necessary, without panicking.

I can only imagine that the sub's intentions may have been to get further instruction from somebody in charge. However, pointing out that the person you're supposed to be helping isn't doing her job is never a wise strategy. It comes off as passive/aggressive. I once worked for a company where people would send emails to "remind" each other of things, and cc managers "just so they're in the loop." What a manager sees in this case is a red flag that she has to oversee something that in reality she probably don't need to be involved with. It makes for a terribly nasty work environment where everyone is trying to make everyone else look bad, under the guise of looking polite. It undercuts autonomy and is really a form of "tattling," a habit we all try to break kids of.

In fact, because substitute teachers go in so blind to the work environments, I've grown to be on the side of not even asking other grade-level teachers for help unless instructed by the teacher for whom I'm subbing. I once had the teacher next door pop her head in first thing in the morning, only to find she was a little bit irked about the teacher being gone yet again. I inadvertently compounded the problem by asking if she knew the location of the worksheets that were mentioned on the sub plan, but that I couldn't locate. She went right to them in a corner under a shelf, and went into a tirade about how every time that teacher had a sub, the sub couldn't find the worksheets.

Nobody said that substitute teaching was easy. And because we're on our own so much in a sea of politics, attitudes and rules that differ from place to place, you have to have the strength to improvise and adapt to whatever comes along. And sometimes, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. So, my personal strategy is to stay under the radar unless I'm absolutely sure I'm shining.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Environment and Behavior

On Tuesday morning I walked into my assigned classroom and was astounded. The room was the neatest and cleanest room I'd ever seen. No clutter anywhere, and that included on top of the students' desks. Bulletin boards were colorful and clear, desks were perfectly lined up, and the only visible materials were the things I'd need for the day. It looked like a classroom set for a movie. I really would have been happy to just sit there and absorb my surroundings all day.

The teacher for whom I was subbing was in an onsite meeting and came into the room during a break to work on a bulletin board. As I tried to teach a reading lesson with one kid screaming the whole time that I was doing it wrong, I watched her work on the board. She pulled out a ruler and measured the distance between the things she was posting.

Suddenly it made sense. This was a woman who spent a lot of time on details. Simply eyeballing distance didn't work for her aesthetic sensibilities and the extra effort was noticeable. Moreover, her class of first graders may have been one of the best groups I've ever worked with. (My little critic aside.) They were certainly the best first grade class!

Then, today, I walked into a classroom that looked like a tornado had run through it. The room was very large. Easily the size of a classroom and a half, if not two very small rooms. There were scraps of paper on the floor and stuff everywhere. Books, piles of worksheets so high they were falling over, broken pencils, clipboards...just stuff.

And the students were not awful, but they had a hard time focusing. This was fourth grade, so it's not really fair to compare the two days I'm writing about, especially since there were thirteen more students in my group today than yesterday. The fact that the older the students get, the harder time they give a substitute also was a factor, but I couldn't help thinking: does the organization of the environment affect the behavior of the students?

I'm sure people have done studies on this. I'm sure if I wanted to, I could track this and do my own unofficial study based on my substitute travels. I'm not sure to what end, or what I might learn. There are so many things affecting each child in each hour of each day that you can't narrow down everything to the way the classroom looks, but it would be interesting to see if I can make connections.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kindergarten: It's a Jungle

Today I subbed for a half-day in Kindergarten.

When I got there, I was told that there was a student teacher and today was his first day in charge of the class, so I only had to be there for support.

Kindergartners + Student Teacher + Substitute = Something close to anarchy!

The poor ST had clearly prepared for his lessons and had a great vision of what he wanted to do, but the kids just weren't having it. They weren't responding to any of the usual classroom management techniques their regular teacher utilized --ringing a bell, moving kids out of the circle, taking away recess time. The ST never raised his voice. In my mind, that particular technique is debatable. When I student taught, both of my master teachers told me to just do it if I had to in order to regain control. In this case, I think it would have helped in the moment, but the effect would not have lasted.

When the regular teacher came back and he told her that all of the kids were out of control, she was very surprised. I guess even the kids who were generally cooperative had acted up. I felt so awful for him! I really stayed out of it and left the class to him, but I'm not sure if it would have been better if I'd tried to step in and control them. It's tricky to sub with a Student Teacher because you don't want to step on toes, but you also want to offer another point of view if you are able.

Anyway, I hope he had a better afternoon. I'm sure the classroom teacher talked to them and told them that the ST will be their teacher for the week. Best of luck to him!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I'm so tired of people who don't have children, or who have children but haven't set foot into a classroom since they were a kid ripping into the public education system.

I recently read a Facebook post where someone said she doesn't want kids because society has never accepted her and the school system is bad. Since she doesn't have money to send her kids to private school, she just won't have kids. (Let me state for the record that this is not a particularly close friend of mine, so I'm not familiar with her reasoning for the statement. She is the girlfriend of someone I am close to.)

I certainly won't state that the school system is the answer to everything. Naturally, there are problems. There are problems with any system set up to support a large number of people who have varying needs. And, there are bad teachers. There's an irony that we're so conditioned to never say we have a "bad kid" because of the label, yet we will say there are bad teachers. But, there are also bad taxi drivers, bad grocery baggers, bad accountants, bad doctors and bad police officers. The nature of doing a job doesn't necessarily make you good at it or ensure that you enjoy doing it. And, let us not forget, "good" and "bad" are judgement values assigned by individual people. The words don't represent a quantitative measure.

The larger problem in all of this is the fact that politicians running for office need an issue that nobody can argue. "Fixing the schools" is always one that is sure to appeal to a large base of voters. Parent or not, who in their right mind would publicly disagree with something that helped children? So, the politicians get up on their stage and shout out that they're going to fix what is broken and make broad and scary claims and the people believe it. Because, most of us do not do our own investigations. We'll take his word for it, and boy, does that sound like something needing fixing! If we were to believe all of the screaming claims about awful teachers who refuse to do their jobs and bad systems, we would certainly fear for the future!

Strangely, we live in a world full of competent doctors, scientists, architects, police officers, teachers, and even politicians who are all products of the public school systems in America. And all of them can point to their own very dedicated and caring teachers who helped them along the way.

Where I will freely admit that we have failed is in the area of teaching people to think instead of just believing what is put in front of them. Ask yourself why the politicians are making such claims. Why is the press harping on these claims? Where are they getting their evidence? What factors may be at play? Once you understand underlying reasons for what you hear, you may see it in a different light.

Read between the lines, criticize the words they're selling. Think for yourself and feel the walls become sand beneath your feet. ~ Geoff Tate