Friday I subbed at West Junior High in Lawrence. As it happens, I went to West Junior High in Leavenworth. It was one of those days where it seemed like perhaps the regular teacher just took a personal day because she knew it was going to be a crappy day to be at work. And let's face it, the odds were against me:
1. Beautiful weather--sunny and mild, still a novelty after these many miserable months.
2. Friday--a killer day for subs everywhere.
3. K.U. in the Final Four. Maybe not a factor in other towns, but in Lawrence EVERYONE gets in on the excitement.
4. Substitute teacher=license to be an idiot.
It was one of those days that made me oxymoronic: I wanted to help these immature people become human beings that other human beings wouldn't want to instantly throttle, while simultaneously wanting to throttle them.
One positive side of the day was that I didn't have to be there until 9. Pretty late for school. And my first class didn't actually start until 9:40. If I had known how the day was going to go, I would have spent those precious minutes pulling my hair out to save time later.
One thing I didn't like was the schedule. Many schools in this district us block scheduling, in which students spend 90 minutes in one subject. They have four subjects one day, and four different subjects the next. I know that 90 minutes opens up many options that are difficult, if not impossible to pull off in 50. In ELS, way back at the turn of the century, I taught mostly classes that lasted 50 minutes, but some that were 100 with a ten minute break. I loved those classes, because I could do activities that took time to play out. I rarely found myself cramming the last ten minutes of the lesson into the time between the bell sounding and everyone leaving. We not only had time to do an activity, but to talk about it.
On Friday the students did worksheets. About an hour's worth of worksheets. If you are good at math, you will quickly see that this left 30 minutes with no plan. See if you can guess which activity was most popular for students who had finished their work:
a) Complete work for other classes
b) Get a head start on the weekend's homework
d) Participate in a discussion with the sub about how water's unique properties make life possible on Earth
e) Goof off.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you the answer to this one.
The lesson learned here is this: always have more than enough material for any given class period. It's tough at 90 minutes, but when you don't have a choice you have to just knuckle down and do it.
In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to cut them off at an hour and make them turn in whatever they had finished. Then I could have possibly led some kind of discussion on why the properties of water are key in the existence of life as we know it. Or maybe there were too many factors against me to pull it off. At the very least, I could have given them a short written assignment that stretched a bit beyond what they had just worked on: "How would the world be different if water ice were denser than liquid water, like most solids and liquids?" Sure it's more for the teacher to grade, but 1) she wouldn't have had to make it a big part of their grade or spend more than a couple of minutes on each assignment, and 2) not my problem. When a teacher pitches a sub a problem, they should be prepared to have a line drive problem beamed back at them.
Part of the problem was that everyone didn't finish at the same time. The students who finished first settled into some other work for the most part. But as more and more of them finished, there were more social personalities added to the mix, and the noise level slowly grew. By the time I realized it was a problem, it was no longer a small problem. And with no other assignment to focus them on, there was not much I could do.
And of course, in the first class I didn't realize that the work was only sufficient for 2/3 of the class time. I should have suspected it in the 2nd class, but it looked like more work, so I thought I was safe. And by the 3rd class, end of the day on Friday, it just about didn't matter. We were all tired of being there. In the last class I had to spend most of their working time walking around making sure they were actually working. You might be able to imagine how much fun this is if you have some sort of infection.
Still, I have had some good experiences in Jr. Highs here in town. A day like Friday may bring me down a bit, but it leaves me wondering how I can make it better. And hopefully the next time I will.
I didn't get called today, so I've had time to wrap this up. And April 15th is fast approaching. It looks like I'm going to have to file for extensions, because Horyon's business is not going to be fun or easy to file for. Her investments in sewing machines, remodeling, cloth and thread far outweigh the money she made in 2007 (about $900, not bad for starting in the summer!), but we have no evidence of how much she spent in Korea. Wish me luck. I haven't even decided whether she will be the sole proprietor or whether we are partners. Depends on how much hassle doing her taxes is and how she plans to repay me.