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?