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.