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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Substitute Teaching--Days 1 and 2

Last Friday I had my first subbing gig. Half a day (11:30-3:30) with 19 first graders at Deerfield Elementary School.

Needless to say, it kicked my butt from here to New Jersey and back.

The problem was this: I like kids that age. I love the way they completely accept you the moment their regular teacher says, "Mr. Sack is your teacher this afternoon. Be good for him!" I love the way many of them will come up and hug your leg within the first few minutes of being in the classroom. I love the way they talk, completely guileless, eager to speak their minds, and ready to please. I love watching them interact with each other, and I love trying to figure out what's on their minds. And all of that kind of gets in the way of being The Enforcer.

For the first hour or so, things quickly spiraled out of control. They started popping up out of their desks to go do stuff or talk to me, they started talking as they raised their hands (if they raised their hands at all), and I felt like I was herding 19 kittens. Then I took them to art class, which is in a different room with a different teacher. I had a chance to talk to another teacher in the same team, and she gave me some good advice.

When the kids came back from art, we went directly to recess. (Remember recess? That's like a coffee break, except you spend the entire time running, climbing or kicking a ball around, BY CHOICE. And you don't get coffee, thank God.) After recess, I asked them to sit down, and we had a little conversation about classroom rules and etiquette. I then told them that they had a choice about what kind of letter I would write to their teacher: a good letter, or a bad one.

I'm pleased to say that they chose a good letter. Unfortunately, they had already misbehaved, so they had to pay the consequence: Fun Friday was cut from 45 minutes down to less than 10. They didn't complain much, not after I got them to admit that they had been pretty rowdy.

I felt a little bad about letting them run amok. If I had cracked down from the first minute, they never would have gotten out of hand, and wouldn't have gotten in trouble. I made that clear in the note I left for the teacher. It was my first time to substitute in a long time: twelve or thirteen years. On top of that, they had just had a sub the previous day, so things were already a bit out of control.

However, it was a good return to subbing. Not too long for first graders, a well-organized teacher, and students that were ready to behave when handled correctly.

This morning (Tuesday) I got a call at 6:10 a.m. asking if I wanted to take an "Inter-Related Resource" position at West Jr. High. (The name is now a bit ironic, as it appears on a map to be almost in the exact center of Lawrence. Reflects how much the city has grown, I guess.) It turns out that Inter-Related Resource means Special-Ed, so I had a good day. There were paras (para-professional, a person trained to work with special needs students) for each kid there, and they kind of traded off jobs. I spent some time reading with Peter, and went to a regular photography class and a math class with John. I also spent a fair amount of time just having conversation with Peter, John and Chris. (I am just making up names for these kids, even though I can remember them right now. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to name names on a blog like this.)

Three or four of them were not capable of conversation per se. They had serious behavior issues, or just sat staring at nothing if not given instructions. James kept slapping his own legs, grinding his teeth, and making funny noises. He had an electronic device with USB ports that he could use to communicate. It was set up as a sort of hi-tech See and Say; he touches the picture(s) and it says what he wants to say. A speech therapist came in and worked with some of the kids, though I didn't see her work with James. She was working with Suzie, who had a tendency to just sit and do nothing until instructed by someone else. The therapist played a card game with her; she picked up the cards one at a time, and Suzie had to say what the card was. It was a pretty big deal for her. I never heard her make any other sounds the rest of the day. The other girl, Deana, was also very quiet. I found it interesting that the two girls were content to just sit in their chairs and watch videos (as we did through the afternoon, watching "Home Alone", "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and most of "Stuart Little"), but the boys wanted to be up and moving around, getting into stuff, talking with someone, or causing trouble.

Horyon commented that this is a good chance for me to try some different classroom styles on, and remind myself of how American schools are run. I am enjoying it so far. When I went to class with John, I was impressed by both the photography and math teachers. In the photography class she was juggling what seemed like half a dozen different tasks, and students at different stages in their projects, including some in the dark room and some outside writing up paragraphs about their photos. Once she had taken roll and reminded them of their tasks, she put some classic rock n roll on her computer speakers. It made the time pass quickly for me.

The math teacher was working on ratios and percentages with the class. Apparently she had driven the point home in an earlier class by dividing the class into different sized groups, and then passing out apparently random numbers of Skittles to each group to share. She had them report how many Skittles they had in their group, and wrote the numbers on the overhead so that they all knew what each other had. Then she made them come up with a solution to the fairness problem.

It struck me as a fantastic way to connect gut feelings to math. I imagined the students saying, "It's not fair that their group has four people and 90 Skittles, but my group has ten people and 27 Skittles!" Suddenly the words "ratio", "average" and "cross-product" have very practical meaning: they help make sure you don't get shafted on the Skittle count!

She also had them spend some time in the journal section of their notebook, writing a reaction to that Skittle activity from a previous day. I'm guessing that it was a review of what they had talked about in class, though I didn't find out for sure.

I ate lunch at the school cafeteria. I was starving, so I had some ravioli, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, beef stew and salad (all in small bowls), an orange, and a chocolate milk. Cost me three and a half bucks. Not a bad deal. It tasted exactly like I remember school cafeteria food tasting: boring. Not bad, just boring.

I ate my lunch in the classroom. While I was eating, John came up to me and started talking as he stood over me. I was listening, but I didn't stop eating. He told me a couple of things that I can't remember now, then he told me that there was someone he knew named ____ ______ , but she died, and she was his grandmother. Then he put his hands over his face and started sobbing very loudly. No transition at all. For a second or two I thought that he was pretending, forgetting that I was dealing with someone much simpler than your average 13-year-old. Before I could decide how to react, one of the paras came over and held him in her arms, a woman old enough to be his mother. She told him it was okay, and tried to distract him a bit. When he had calmed down some, I gave him a hug, too, and told him that my Grandfather had recently died. I then reminded him that we are still here, and we have each other.

John, Peter and Chris seemed to have a lot of the same educational skills as other kids their ages, but were socially and emotionally quite a bit behind. They actually reminded me of the first graders I had just taught the previous Friday in that respect; John came up to me when he first walked into the room and introduced himself. Chris told one of the paras that my name was just the same as a grocery bag. All three of them were my buddies from the get-go.

It was a good day. It's not what I want to do for a career, but it was good for me to be there. I think it would do many people good to spend some time in an environment like that once in a while. I was glad that I didn't have to work at Wal-Mart today, though. (I will resist the temptation to make comparisons, trusting that you, my faithful readers, will manage just fine on your own.)

Working two jobs isn't going to kill me, but it is going to make me tired. And I still haven't written about our new (to us) car. It will have to wait, as well as catching you up on Maxine. I am working on a Maxine update post, I promise. Please be patient with me, and try to be content with a picture of Maxine eating (a popular pose):
and a picture of her with her friends dressed up for Halloween:
Is she not adorable? And it's okay to say it, she's more adorable than her friends! I only wish that I could have dressed up as a clown, too.

I must especially beg Aunt Becky for forgiveness! I know I said I would do the Maxine pics tonight, but I just had to get this post written while it was fresh in my mind.



1 comment:

MKuehler said...

Sounds like you had an interesting time. I hope your next jobs go better.

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