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.

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