Thursday I got not calls to sub. Didn't bug me much. I could feel some sort of virus testing my defenses, trying to get in. It eventually succeeded, and is now waging a minor war in my sinuses. Not serious enough to lay me out, but it is distracting much needed resources from my brain. It didn't really settle in until Friday evening, so Friday's subbing went okay.
I got the call around 6:15 a.m.: Lawrence High School, 9 a.m. until 3:05 p.m. (The regular teacher a had planning period for the first hour, and no duties during the zero hour, so I got to show an hour and a half later than usual.) Of course, I couldn't get back to sleep after waking up, taking down that information, going to the bathroom, going on the internet to find the exact location of the school, and verifying the work info online. So I had a leisurely breakfast, shower, and plenty of time to get my car de-iced before leaving. Which was good, because I had to circle the school to figure out where to park.
I had my doubts as to whether or not I should have taken this call, because the subject was Spanish, and I probably couldn't come up with a dozen words in Spanish, much less a conversation.
I had nothing to worry about. The Spanish II classes were working at a pretty lame level. They had quite a few vocab words under their belts, and they could read a passage and answer questions, but they weren't sitting around just talking with each other in Spanish. And I made it clear from the get-go that I would be unable to assist with Spanish related questions.
The Spanish V class was a different matter. Some of them actually talked with each other in Spanish when it wasn't part of the assignment. I was impressed. Not so much with their ability, but with their dedication, that they would maintain that level of practice even with a sub who didn't know any better.
My trouble situation on Friday involved a teacher's aid. She was an upperclassman with an attitude. When she came in I asked her what she usually did in class, and she told me she just "kicks." I take it that this is the latest version of "hang out". She also said that she usually just talks to a couple of students who sit near to her. The warning bells should have been going off at this point, but I am still learning. I asked her to go make some copies of an activity, as the teacher had instructed me to do. After she had come back, I was trying to interpret the lesson plan, and asked her opinion of the paper. Her response was to tell me, in front of all the students there, that the teacher never planned very well. The other students backed her up, and they all agreed that the teacher was usually just winging it.
So I made the judgment on the lesson plan on my own, which perhaps I should have done from the start. The students got to work, and I asked the aid to step out into the hall with me for a word. We had a bizarre little conversation that went something like this:
R: I don't appreciate you disrespecting the teacher in front of the class like that.
A: What do you mean?
R: Saying that she is disorganized, and that her plans are not very good.
A: I was just saying the truth. All the other students said so, too.
R: Yes, but you are the aid in this class. I expect you to be supportive.
A: I don't understand why I'm out here and no one else is.
R: Because you are the aid. You are not the same as the others.
A: Everyone knows that she's disorganized, so why are you picking on me?
The conversation kind of spiraled inward like that. She either wouldn't admit or couldn't see that she had disrespected her teacher, making my job more difficult. Eventually she just turned away from me and walked back into the room.
I have to admit, I was a bit upset at this. I decided that she was on her final warning, and that if she tested me again she was going to be sent to the office. Fortunately, she must have sensed this, because she sulked for the rest of the class. Perhaps she thought that her uncooperative silence would annoy me. Far from it. It freed me up to deal with the rest of the class, and there were no more problems.
I was kind of sad that she didn't say goodbye when she left the classroom, but I got over it.
In my last class I had to deal with a jock, one of the wrestling team. Big guy, and very cheerful. Liked to play dumb, but I think he may have been pretty smart. He demonstrated for me at one point that he could conjugate verbs on the computers well. He just wouldn't do his work unless I was nearby watching. The rest of the time he focused on entertaining himself and the people around him. Not in a bad enough way that disciplining him would have been worth the trouble, just enough to be annoying. I let him go to the restroom (probably a mistake) without paying attention to when exactly he came back (definitely a mistake). I'm not sure if he was gone just a few minutes or 10, which gave me nothing to work with. And of course, at the end of the class he was perched on a desk by the door, even though his desk was on the other side of the room. I tried to convince him to return to his desk, and he out-talked me. When the bell rang he was the first one out of the room.
Perhaps I am becoming a control freak, but the behavior of the aid and the jock very much offended my sensibilities. I feel that as a good teacher, I need to be in control of situations like that. Though they cause no serious harm in a one-shot substituting situation (at least no harm so far), I can see these behaviors dominoing in a regular, full-time class room. This time for me is like a laboratory, where I can experiment with discipline methods. As a sub, I often have little power or influence, so I have to leverage it to the maximum. Friday's experiences with the aid and the jock felt like minor failures to me. Dragged my grade for the day down to a B-. In both situations the solutions seemed clearer to me by the following day:
I should have told the aid that I was unhappy because she did not help me to understand the instructions, but rather added to the chaos in the room. Her attitude towards the teacher was secondary. Maybe she would have understood that. I'm not convinced that this would have worked. She felt to me like the kind of person who just never admits to making mistakes, so maybe I was doomed from the time I asked her to step outside.
On the other hand, she stayed out of my way for the rest of the class, so maybe I passed that little test after all.
With the jock, letting him go to the bathroom was the trigger. I should have reminded him that we are no longer in elementary school, and that he had only 50 minutes to go. Perhaps offering to let him go later in the hour if he seemed to be working well.
Oh, I almost forgot. One of my Friday classes was an ESL class. There were only four students, from [in the interests of privacy, I'm omitting their countries of origin]. We ended up just chatting the whole time. They were very curious about me, and asked a lot of questions. Except for the guy who didn't speak English. At all. He has been in the U.S. for a year. Told us (through the other [blank]-ish speaker) that he had worked at McDonald's. There was something very odd about that. A year of working at McDonald's should have at least taught him how to ask and answer the basic introduction questions.
The guy from [redacted] spent most of the class time working on an assignment for another class. I later saw him walking the halls. Apparently he has managed to wrap most of the teachers around his finger.
The guy from [Nunuvyabizness] stayed for my next class, Spanish V. Seems like he was a very good influence on the other students. They used him as a resource from time to time, without swamping him. Seemed like a good way to help him build a peer group, which can be difficult for an outsider who doesn't speak the language.
It was cool being back in an ESL setting. I didn't really teach anything, but I slipped back into the conversation-leader role quite easily. And I found that I can still speak "Special English." It sounds easy to most people: you speak slowly, with very clear enunciation, simple vocabulary, and minimize the idioms you use. Very vanilla. Almost everyone can slow down, but clear enunciation takes some work and focus. Most people can do it for a short time, but they start slurring and speeding up after only a few minutes. The vocabulary and idiom issues also take practice to eliminate, or "weed out". You are probably unaware of how many idioms you use in daily conversation until you have a classroom full of students who are puzzled every time you use one that they have not previously encountered. When my parents came to visit, my mother slipped more easily into this kind of language than my father. I was a bit surprised; my father taught high school shop for many years, and I had assumed that it would help him. The lesson I learned is this: talking to second language learners is not really the same as talking to people who aren't that smart. Not that all students who take shop aren't smart, but a lot of them are there to avoid more academic subjects.
It made me a bit homesick for Korea, actually. Puzzling out what someone is trying to communicate and teaching them the language skills to do it. It was fun stuff.
This may be my last post for a while. I work again tomorrow, then Chaeryon will arrive on Wednesday. That will take up the whole day for us, I'm pretty sure. Once she is here it will be the countdown to Christmas, which will definitely keep me busy on the work front.
Still, I will definitely get on the Roblog one more time before Christmas. Hopefully.