Saturday, February 21, 2009

I like a fun Friday

I give yesterday a 7.5 out of 10 in terms of how much I enjoyed myself. I subbed for a 6th grade Language Arts teacher is slightly anal and of course that made my job all the easier. She had everything labeled in sticky notes on her desk- seating chart, worksheets, teacher's edition of the textbook, the novel- everything. I felt a little awkward at the end of the day, though, because if I forgot to do anything or didn't get detailed enough notes, I'm sure it would've bothered her.

Her kids were also in line. They knew their routine well and the first few classes didn't give me any difficulty, other than whispering to each other at the beginning of class. I gave the same speech about a class-wide warning and anyone I spoke to from then on out getting a silent lunch, and it did the trick for me. I enjoyed being in a Language Arts classroom, reading aloud, and facilitating a literary discussion.

The last period of the day was a Social Studies class and they gave me the most difficulty. The teacher assigned them to read 5 pages from their textbook, while taking notes via a web graphic organizer. I tried to explain how this particular graphic organizer was akin to the typicacl Roman numeral outline format, but I could just see the information whoosh around the room and whiz out the door. The kids had a lot of trouble grasping what exactly they were to be doing and I got the same questions over and over again because everyone was talking over me. They weren't loud, but none of them would quiet down long enough for me to get out a complete answer.

At one point my frustration got the better of me and I just told them I was done giving directions and that they needed to figure it out on their own or finish it for homework. I asked them to work silently and raise their hand if they had serious questions for me. Well, a couple of kids couldn't handle that and so I asked one boy to go work across the hall, to which he responded with a dramatic scene. I broke up a group of four boys to various parts of the room, and once again, more drama.

With about fifteen minutes left in class and the kids really struggling, I decided to give them about a third of the graphic organizer on the board to copy. That finally quieted everyone and I feel bad for losing my patience with them earlier, because I must not have given very clear instructions. But I feel like I did because I even drew a model on the board when I was explaining it the first time.

Overall, a good day, but I need to work on balancing the fun, goofy sub with the sub who has things under control. I have to learn which classes can handle that from the start, and which classes need more structure right off the bat.

Other things that still get me are attendance (for some reason I have yet to send a correct attendance form to the front office), getting the kids lined up and quiet before the bell, and issuing silent lunches. I always buckle thinking I made a mistake in giving a kid a silent lunch and offer the chance to earn lunch back. I have to stop either issuing them out so freely or stand my ground. I'm just not very good at giving multiple warnings because I forget how many I've given and to whom.

I also had these moments where I just had to laugh because this age group is nuts. During one of the Language Arts classes we were reading aloud from the last chapter of a novel. The kids were taking turns reading from their desks. I was reading along, but looking up occasionally to see what everyone was doing. This one kid in the back, in plain view, what twiddling some scissors, then drawing on some paper, then playing with some glue, and every time he would catch my gaze, he'd look around the room as though he'd been paying attention to something very interesting on the Word Wall, the ceiling, wherever. But would he look back the book like he'd been paying attention? Nope! Just looking all around- it was hilarious.

Here's to more 6th grade sub jobs in the near future, because I need to hope that I might get a job in the Fall. I don't have a teaching certificate, although I passed both content tests of Georgia's teaching exam, and this makes it extremely unlikely that someone will hire me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dangling a Carrot

Before I get into how wonderful this morning was, I'd like to make a little comment about communication. Communication is great. Communication is an important part of getting good subs and keeping them in your roster. Communication would have prevented me from driving over 45 minutes in each direction to and from the school for a job that last just over two hours. Granted, the kids were fantastic, but seriously, who wants to drive nearly an hour to be at school by 8:15, find out the classroom teacher will be back by 11, and then have to drive another forty-five minutes or so home? So yeah, there's my little not about communication.

Aside from my issues with the commute and only getting to sub for about two hours at SMS, the students I taught were perfect. Okay, definitely not perfect, but compared to yesterday, I would've liked to feed these 6th graders chocolate and caviar. There were a few students who had to be reminded a few times to sit down or quiet down, but every time I asked them to do something, holy crap, they did it. And said yes, ma'am. Even then kids who I swore would try to paint the classroom with me didn't give me any lip or so much as roll their eyes. I mean, for a little while I thought I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone and had lost my ever-loving mind.

This morning I tried things a little differently, so maybe that helped. Or maybe this team of 6th grade teachers knows discipline, I don't know. I brought in my computer speakers and MP3, which was loaded with classical music. I turned it on when the bell marking the opening of the school rang and the students began arriving. Most of them didn't saying anything about the music, but rather raised an eyebrow and kept with their morning routine. Others gave me the typical, "Are you our sub?" "Are you going to be here all day?" "Where's Mrs. So-and-So?" I think the music disarmed them a little upon entering, and that's exactly what I wanted.

During their Special Class (the class after homeroom, before their first academic class), I played a game with the kids. In my Substitute Handbook, there are some great worksheets for each subject, and there was a word scramble with weather words, which the kids had just finished studying. I put ten scrambled words on the board and said whoever gets all ten to me first, gets a prize of two gel pens. I never heard a room get silent so quickly as these kids raced for the chance to get some new pens. I think I'd like to put together a box full of more little items like that (not candy) for games.

One thing I realized as the morning came to an end, is that when a class is easy like this, my goofy personality tends to come out and the kids get to see my halo instead of smoke coming out of my ears. But I realize that the difficult classes need the goofy side of me to come out in order to connect and get them on my side. But how do I show that when I've got kids who just plain won't stop talking when asked, won't sit down, won't get started on work, etc. I ran into the teacher I subbed for yesterday and told her how I hated writing the note that I did, and how I'd thought about the morning classes all afternoon and night, and had wondered how I would've handled it differently. She just told me that teachers, and especially subs, have to be mean if it calls for it. I think by "mean," she intended to say "strict," at least that's what my interpretation is. And that's really what I have to work on with my substitute teaching technique.

When classes are so awful that I have to get strict about every single infraction, my stress level goes up exponentially and pretty soon I'm imagining kids are talking and start calling them out on it. My biggest issue right now is keeping myself calm, cool, collected, and ALWAYS speaking in a level tone, no matter what. I need more techniques for attention-getting that don't involved yelling ("If you can hear my voice, clap once...") and more techniques for staying calm.

But today was a little carrot of hope. That maybe if I get a job someday, I'll be able to set the rules and enforce them early on with good support from my team teachers. Our team will be under control and ready to learn. That is the aspiration. I really, really hope I can sub for this group of teachers again. I need the reassurance and the inspiration.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wow. What a day. As I was driving home I thought about this blog and thought I should post, but when I started to run down the events of the day, my mind apparently turned into mush. When I have crazy days that involve a considerable amount of voice-raising and constant direction-repeating, I tend to lose all track of what happened during the day. Stress is a fantastic memory eraser.

I subbed at a middle school that I've been to the most of all my schools now. I had a crazy 8th grade experience at this school that convinced me never to take 8th grade again, so mostly I've been with 6th grade classes. An acquaintance of mine teaches 6th grade science at this school (we'll call it SMS), and she called me last night to see if I could sub for her while she tended to her sick 3-month-old. Of course I was happy to oblige.

The day started off alright. I expected the homeroom class to be a little jumpy since they had a sub on a Monday, but nothing major happened. SMS has a special class after homeroom where they either read or work on math before they start their day. This class was great and I got to use my favorite hangman word: triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen). I'm glad I had a good start to the day because the middle of the day was rough.

The 2nd and 5th periods (they have band, P.E., art, etc during 3rd/4th periods) were hog wild. I had a lot of instances of students talking back, having direction repeated over and over, and lots and lots of talking out of turn. I ended up with seven or eight names on the board for silent lunch at one point, however I allowed most of them the chance to earn back their freedom.

One girl, who was sitting directly in front of me, made a snide comment to a passing student after their test had been issued. I asked her to pick up her things and move to the neighboring classroom, to which she replied, "But I didn't say anything!"

I've learned with middle-schoolers that nothing I can say or do short of video taping them in action can convince them that I caught them red-handed, in the act of misbehaving. Is it not enough that I was looking directly at you, saw your lips move, and heard your voice? Apparently not.

This student continued to cause a scene and eventually got up and moved. Later she returned to the room and I spoke to her in the hall and asked her to apologize for being disrespectful in front of the class, which she did, but as to its sincerity, I'm not entirely convinced.

The 5th period class was better overall, but SMS expects its students to walk through the halls in silence and I had to give silent lunch to two girls who were obviously whispering to each other in line. During lunch, they proceeded to sit next to each other at the silent table and talk the entire time. I caught them towards the end, confronted them, and was met with a wave of backtalk and rolled eye. To this I asked them to write me a note apologizing and giving the definition of silent lunch. One girl turned in a note later, and when I read it I felt genuinely bad for giving her silent lunch, but did not get the chance to speak to her afterward.

The last two periods were fine, thank the Lord. I am the kind of person who is definitely strict, but I do not like yelling or raising my voice. I used the "If you can hear my voice, clap once" attention-grabbing technique on the last two classes, and I wish I'd thought to use it on the earlier two. I really, really do not like having to get so upset because it's a sign that I have lost control over the situation.

Days like today are what I call "Jekyll and Hyde" days. You get a few classes that are absolute saints and a few that are, well, I'll let you finish that yourself. The good classes see the fun you and the difficult classes see the Hard Ass Substitute. And they see you for a day so that's all they get. I want to say, "You don't understand! I'm freaking hilarious when you're good- I play games, I tell jokes, I give you homework help!" But I'm too busy keeping them in line like I'm at an elementary school. It sucks (a word I don't let them say and often have to check myself for saying).

I'm subbing at SMS again tomorrow for a different 6th grade team. Overnight I must erase the events of today from my mind, get up on the sunny side, and say hello to all the kids who pissed me off today with a wide grin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Class, Clase, Klasse

After a slow two months, I finally got a subbing job today for two 6th grade ESOL Language Arts and Social Studies classes. The first class consisted of students who know intermediate to little English and I really struggled with a few of the students understanding the classwork. One girl was clearly ahead of all the other kids in proficiency and she constantly showed it off by finishing early and announcing it to the class.

But seriously, these kids were some of the best I've had. 6th graders don't care if you act like a goofball- they think it's cool. At least these kids did. I got to use a bit of my acting ability to help explain lessons to some of the kids struggling to understand. And they helped me learn some Spanish, too. We talked about words for senses and feelings today, and I learned a handful of Spanish vocabulary words.

I told the kids to be patient with me since I don't speak much Spanish and to politely correct my pronunciation as we went along. I said if they'd help me learn some Spanish that I would teach them some German. At the end of the day during the last class change I heard random voices calling out, "Guten Tag!" and "Auf wiedersehen!" I also showed them similarities between English, Spanish, and German words, hence, the title of this post.

The teacher didn't leave the best instructions for me, but she did leave a lot of work, which in some ways was good and others bad. It can go both ways- too little work and you're scrambling to come up with something quickly and too much can make you feel obligated to fit in every assignment. Neither class was able to get everything done on her plan and we had to fudge a few assignments because the directions were unclear.

The second class had a lot of trouble with using the glossary and index in their social studies books. I chalked it up to them being ESOL students, but I couldn't help but wonder if any of the other 6th graders on their teams could use them.

I need to start updating with some of my other subbing stories. Some of them are pretty interesting.

I plan on mailing in my application for the Masters of Art in Teaching at Mercer University by the end of this week and I've been printing resumes like a mad woman to mail to schools prior to the February 28th Gwinnett County Schools job fair. There's one school in particular that I've subbed at twice that I reeeeeally want to work for in the Fall so I'm crossing my fingers.