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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

More Subbing Notes and Praxis results

It bears repeating: after two years in my own classroom, subbing is a piece of cake.  In the worst case scenarios, I shake the dust off of my proverbial sandals, but the worst cases have not been anywhere near as bad as some classes that I had to teach every day.

I have become a popular sub at SouthWest Jr. High (SWJH) since they found out that I will teach a math class, or any class for that matter.  I subbed for an English teacher on Monday.  I had been in her classroom as an inter-related resource teacher (support for kids who struggle with school in general).  Her class was high-speed, to say the least.  She had a very jovial mood, and jumped from one activity to the next.  Her lesson plans totally filled the class period, even with me deliberately pushing the pace.  We started with a daily grammar exercise, proofreading a couple of sentences with three or four errors each.  The advanced 9th grade English class had a student assigned to mark corrections on the overhead while the class helped, and the 8th grade English classes had me leading.  It was good to ask questions and have them answered, and I felt good about knowing the answers myself.  The teacher had actually left a quotation problem unfixed, so I had to fix it on the fly.  Fortunately, I'm a fair shake at English stuff as well as math.

In fact, I just found out that I passed my English Literature and Composition Praxis test with an Excellent rating.  Once I submit the paperwork, I will officially be qualified to teach English in certified Kansas schools, grades 6-12.  And I do feel qualified to do the day to day stuff, but I would need some assistance in the broader planning for a whole year.

Last week I subbed for a couple of days in a classroom which went back and forth from Jr. High Geometry to a couple of classes doing website design and one class doing AV projects, including documentaries and stop motion films.  It was all fun.

Because you know what?  I like teaching.  Even substitute teaching is fun, when it's not dull.  If I could make a living doing it, I would seriously consider it as an option.  I am learning a lot about how different classrooms are run, how different subjects are taught, and how different buildings are organized (or not, as the occasional case may be).  I had originally thought that I would try to blog about it at least once a week, but too many subbing jobs take too much of my attention.

And then there are jobs like today:  Lawrence High School (still hard for me to hear LHS without thinking of my alma mater and good 'ol Pioneer Pete) has late starts on Wednesday, and the teacher I am subbing for was here for most of the first class, so I didn't have to show up until 10:30.  Very nice, gave me time to iron a couple of shirts this morning, fix breakfast for Maxine, and entertain Quinten for a while.  On top of the late start, the classes themselves are Drafting and Research and Design with Autocad.  Project-based classes, with students who are more highly motivated than many.  These are kids who act remarkably adult.  They work on their projects, stop from time to time to shoot the breeze, then get back to work.  They help each other, and when the teacher came back she brought DQ treats for all of us, even me!  They are even consulting with a professional as they learn to use a new program (Inventor).

Days like this make the job totally worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Some pictures from October and November

 My apologies to the readers out there who actually tune in just to see pictures of my kids.  I hope this makes up for it a bit.
 Princess Ariel came to Maxine's 5th Birthday Party, but Maxine was still the #1 princess.
Dual trips to the pumpkin patch:  Two preschools = two trips for Maxine.  The rest of us only attended one.  I figure that more pictures in a different outfit would be too much.
Quinten was thrilled to be in this picture.

At 18 months old, quite the handsome fellow.

The Perfect Pumpkin
Thanksgiving with Grandpa
Quinten really loves his Grandpa, and responds very well to him.  Perhaps the facial hair is familiar to him...

Sorry again for the lack of posting.  I won't promise to do better: I have too many other promises to break first.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Attention Roblog Readers!

I Wordled Roblog, and this is what it came up with: 

          title="Wordle: roblog">
          alt="Wordle: roblog"
          style="padding:4px;border:1px solid #ddd">
I know it looks like a garbled mess. 
Just click on it, already. 
In other news, I have just gone through my list of Roblog 
"drafts"--unfinished posts.
I found about a dozen from 2007 and 2008 that I had just 
never finished writing.  Some of them just needed me to 
hit the "Publish Post" button, and some needed some 
reworking, but they are all up now.
Click on 2007 or 2008, and all of the posts from that year will come up.  You will probably recognize the new ones.  Have fun!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Something from the Archives

Back in the day when I worked at Wal-Mart, some truly weird things happened on the job.  I found myself writing about one of these incidences at length, but unwilling to publish, for whatever reason.  Eventually the piece sat for long enough that I forgot about it.

Just this evening, I came across the lovely story of A Match Made in the S-Mart Parking Lot, and decided to polish it up, try to fix the spelling mistakes, and put it out there for you to enjoy.

There is some embellishment, but most of the action going on in this little vignette is pretty much as it happens.  The biggest departure from reality is that the jewelry associate is not nearly that clever in real life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Take the Good with the Bad

Today and tomorrow I am at Central, filling in for one of my favorite teachers, Charlotte Prosser.  And as usual with these sort of experiences, I had a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride.

After spending two years in the classroom, subbing is so much easier than it was before.  I can walk into most classrooms and put on the Teacher 'Tude with very little effort.  One trick that I have developed is to offer "Free Chat Time" at the end of the hour.  I give them the last two minutes, then offer to tack on an extra minute for every five minutes in a row that they are productive.  If anyone talks, I walk up to the board and restart the countdown time.  I have a precise spiel that goes with it, which is becoming quite polished.  I am trying to use it only when I have a sense that there is no other way to get work done.  But so far it has worked really well.

The toughest jobs now are the ones at Central, where I end up working with kids who are somewhat familiar with me, and perhaps used to a more relaxed version of myself.  Because Thanksgiving is this week, there are only two days of school, so no one expects to get much done.  Most of my classes are "Learning Strategies" classes: small study halls for kids who just aren't hacking it in their other classes.  The smallest was five kids, the biggest nine.  Most of them went just fine, especially the 7th graders.  Being the youngest kids in the school makes them easy to manage.

My last class of the day, however, was 8th and 9th graders.  And there were some serious attitudes in there.  Three, to be precise.  I'm afraid that today I let them get away with too much talking, including a fair amount of back talk.  It was the last hour of the day, I was tired, and wanted to avoid conflict.  I never raised my voice, and was polite but insistent that they work or read quietly.  They weren't having any of that.  They did not use any inappropriate language, but they were rude to me.  They weren't interested in earning more Free Chat time at the end, because they were chatting along during the class.  The resource teacher, Rebecca Clark, was working the room with me.  She is in that class every day precisely because of these problem students.  I'm sure her presence helped, but it didn't suppress the mess.

So by the end of the class period, I was feeling kind of down.  The rest of the day went well, but it had ended on a sour note.  I spent some time talking with Rebecca about how it had gone, and she asked me where I had gotten my Free Chat Time routine.  It was so finely polished, it must have come from somewhere.

I got a bit misty.  It was a strong compliment at a time when I was not feeling confident.  I told her that it was mine, and thank you for lifting me up like that.  Since losing my job, I have been having an internal debate over whether or not I am a good teacher.  I tend to be a pretty positive person, with a good self-image, but getting fired has really screwed with that.  Kind words from friends and family are well and good, but hearing that I am doing well from a colleague lifts my spirits in a unique way.

So I left the school feeling pretty good.

Of course, it didn't hurt that today was the Staff Thanksgiving Luncheon.  I brought a 12-pack of Pepsi, and feasted from the pot-luck wonder.  Sooooo good.  I love a good pot-luck.  And that was an unmixed blessing in the middle of my day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prarie Park Elementary P.E.

Today I taught PE at an elementary school here in Lawrence for a friend of mine, Mike Martin.  He is a fantastic teacher, with a real passion for teaching kids how to be physically fit.  He is fighting off a sinus infection, but still came in this morning to meet me and give me a verbal rundown of the day.  Not absolutely necessary, since he left pretty good lesson plans, but still very considerate.  Of course, he was probably there because his daughter is a sixth grader at the same school, but he had no idea that I would be his sub.  I got the call just after six in the morning.  A rude awakening for a night owl who (Who!  Who!) has gotten used to waking up after eight.

It's been a long time since I substituted in an elementary school.  I had forgotten the innocent energy of that age.  There are still incidents of meanness, but they are much rarer, less humiliating, and more inclined to be fixed by even a forced, insincere apology. 

Lesson Learned:  One of the basic things that kids learn in PE is sportsmanship.  Because sportsmanship is a kind of discipline, requiring individual attention and effort.  In other words, it is work.  And what do students naturally do when there is a sub?  You know it: they slack off on their work whenever they can.

My first class, a group of 4th graders, did not play nicely; they played a sort of capture-the-flag game, and some of them took it just a little bit personally.  There was some name calling, some bending of the rules, and some outright cheating.  I compensated for this in later classes by starting the class with a talk on sportsmanship, asking them to give examples, and encouraging the practice.

I had forgotten that kids can cry easily. I saw four or five kids cry today, mostly because of perceived unfairness or insult from other kids. One or two were close to tears after a fall. A couple of kids got very whiny when they didn't get what they wanted from me, whether chosen to be “it” or allowed to pitch in kickball.

I had also kind of forgotten that kids can latch onto a reasonably friendly and fair adult, such as myself, in one class period. By lunch time, as well as at the end of the day, there were kids saying, “Hi Mr. Sack!” from all over. And of course, I had learned absolutely no names, as I did not even have rosters. Still, the open friendliness of the kids made me feel welcome, and I'm guessing that if I am back at Prairie Park some of them will remember me. When I started teaching at Central Jr. High there were kids who remembered me from when I subbed in their elementary classes. Like I said, they can latch onto some adults.
It was a good day, but a reminder of why I don't want to teach elementary school all the time.  They have an amazing energy, non-stop, and mostly positive, but by the end of the day I have had enough of it.  I prefer the more laid-back atmosphere of high school.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maxine Quote

As I am taking down the Christmas lights we leave up year round, Horyon asked me why.

"Because Christmas lights don't last forever," was my reply.

Maxine quickly chimed in, "Like flowers. And tattoos."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Leavin' on a jet plane.

In January.

Let me cut to the chase: Horyon and I have accepted jobs in Korea, and will probably leave in late January.

And my wife is awesome.

Over the past month we have been discussing our options. That's when it started to become apparent that there was no teaching job waiting for me in the Lawrence area, nor even a job slowing down to a manageable pace to which I could catch up. Heck, most of them seemed to be in vehicles while I was on foot. This was very frustrating, after spending the past two years in a transition to teaching program designed to help Kansas deal with their teacher shortage. I feel sorry for anyone getting into a program like this one right now.

Since I lost my job, I have gone in and out of a funk. More in than out, I'm afraid. On a rational level I believe that a man is not defined by his job, but it seems that as you walk into my reptile brain, my job title is written on the door and the mailbox. And when you ring the doorbell, it announces, "Someone to see you, Mr. Teacher!" Even the towels were monogrammed. Now when you push the doorbell button it makes a rude noise.

Through all this Horyon has been patient with me, and lifted me up when I felt like just giving up. Not just telling me things would be okay, but talking about what we could do practically to move on.

It was not an easy decision to make. Whatever doubts I had faded quickly: less than a week after telling Horyon's parents about our decision, her father found a school that wanted to hire both of us.

We are now collecting documents to prepare to go. Maxine needs a new passport soon, and Quinten has never had one. Horyon needs to file some very expensive paperwork to leave the country without losing her visa. Papers will have to go back and forth across the ocean before we can go. It's all somewhat messy, and that's not even getting into the fun and excitement of packing and disposing of three years worth of stuff.

We are planning to leave in mid-Januray. You would think that four months is plenty of time, but it is going to be tight. We've already made flight reservations before the prices start changing for the worse. Hopefully we will not have to change them before leaving.

In the mean time, I have applied to be a substitute teacher again, but can't start until the state processes my license. So I have time to work on these projects, but our only income is from Horyon's sewing. Yeah, no stress there, right?

I feel like there is lots more to write, but I'm going to leave it here for now, and hopefully have more news to share sooner rather than later.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stuff Happens. Like getting laid off.

[OK, I started writing this on the posting date. It was too painful to work on again until I felt there was some resolution. Check the next post for that.]

I'm unemployed as of June. Well, technically August, because that's how long my contract is, officially. But when this school year ends, I will no longer be a math teacher at Central Jr. High.

My principal, Dr. Stubblefield, let me know that this might happen last Friday morning [early April], right before my classes started. Let me tell you, that was not a pleasant way to start my Friday. One of my favorite coworkers, Charlotte Prosser, came and offered to cover the first ten minutes of my class. That was very kind, but I figured that all I would do was sit and think about how crappy my situation was, and that if I were going to be miserable, I might as well be doing my job (teaching jr. high students!).

By the end of the day, I had sort of settled into the idea, though. My intention had always been to spend three years teaching at the jr. high level before deciding whether or not I liked it. Perhaps this is God's way of telling me that I don't really need three years, or maybe not three at this school.

I should have been applying feverishly for every position within an hour's drive of our home, but I was also trying to juggle the last few assignments for my Baker class.

Finishing the year was tough. The kids always get antsy the last few weeks of school, and when the teacher is unfocused, as I was, it's even worse. And when the teacher spends the last two months in deep uncertainty and feeling unappreciated, things can get much, much worse.

I finished my course work with no problem, but was still left with the burden of being between jobs. I had been telling people that I was unemployed until someone told me that I was being too negative. She asked me if I thought that I would have a job again in the future. "Of course," I replied. "So you are between jobs!" she asserted. I have been using this terminology in an attempt to bootstrap myself into a better mood. It didn't make me happy, but if the alternative was feeling worse, I'm glad I did it.

Job application season came and went. I sent resumes and applications for any math job within an hour drive of our home. I just couldn't see doing much more driving than that and having anything left of myself to give to my family. A one-hour drive would mean leaving for work around 6:30 a.m. and probably not getting home until 6:00 p.m. Later than that for the first few weeks, as I adjust to new circumstances and plan out courses I haven't taught before, perhaps earlier if the school/district has tight plans in place or the material is familiar to me. And this was basing driving times on GoogleMaps rather optimistic projections.

There were not many openings available. The Kansas Dept. of Education website has a job connections page. It is not mandatory for schools to list on the site, but most do. The site keeps track of the total number of jobs and the total number of applicants. At the beginning of summer there were about 220 teaching jobs listed, all subjects, all grade levels. At that time there were more than 23,000 applicants. I came to wish that I had never looked at those statistics, because it's been burned into my mind: more than a hundred applicants for each job, on average. Maybe the odds were in my favor as a math teacher, but it takes a lot of swaying to balance out that much competition.

I had two years of part-time teaching in America, and an online teaching certificate from a small university. Of course, in Lawrence K.U. provides a deluge of freshly trained teachers every year, with their student teaching done right here in town. Hard to pass up, with all that energy, youth, and the option to sleep ten hours a night.

This is a difficult topic for me, as it draws me into being bitter easily. There have been nights when I've been unable to sleep, replaying some choices made over the past few years and felt the heaviest regret of my life. I've thought about how fascinating and fun my post-college life was, how different my life has been, and wished that I had just gotten a job and married someone before I realized how big the world is.

Usually at this point I realize I am throwing myself a big self-pity party, and do something to get out of it. It's been harder this time, and I'm not quite out of the woods yet. But rest assured that the party is over, and we have a plan.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.