Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In the Beginning...

I'm done subbing for the year. Turns out my old job called and needs me to come in for the next couple of weeks (which is fine with me because I love that job and it's a lot more peaceful than subbing, let me tell you).

But fear not, my loyal readers, for I am still prepared to dazzle you with anecdotes involving all manners of darling, disobedient, and downright terribly-behaved children. From here on (til fall) I will be backlogging the tumultuous 4 months that I subbed before starting this blog.

Let's talk about my first assignment ever. It was the first day back at school after the kids' winter break. I woke up to the frigid cold darkness of 5:30 on a Monday, and out of nervousness took the first elementary general assignment (third grade) I could find. It was at a school that we'll call...M. Manson Elementary. I had been warned about this school from teacher friends of mine, and let's face it, it's a small area, everyone in this city basically knows which infamous schools to stay the h--- away from. But in my half-awake nervousness, I accepted the assignment and got ready.

The school is an inner-city school, old, run-down, in an area not lacking in boarded up windows and bars across doorways. The office secretary seemed to have more on her mind to worry about than a terrified sub's first day at work. I located my classroom and read the plans--and to my chagrin discovered that I had unwittingly accepted not a one-day babysit-and-get-the-heck-out assignment, but a three-day you-will-actually-have-to-teach-these-kids-and-be-productive assignment.

Well I certainly did plunge into this whole substitute teaching thing head-first, didn't I? I thought to myself.

The next three days can be condensed into this much:
running, howling, fighting, pencil-stealing, video-game-playing, yelling, crying, destruction, chaos, confusion, rage, frustration, laughing, boredom, disobedience, hitting, pushing, kicking, peacing out during lessons, insanity.

The greatest thing about the underpriveledged schools is that there is a near-constant stream of "intervention" teachers pulling and returning students to/from class, creating a whole new level of confusion for both substitute and student when the student returns and has no idea what is going on. Usually I was able to teach a lesson to a group of about 4 kids at a time who were actually trying to learn; the rest basically ran around the room like hyenas.

My favorite moment was when I lost my temper on the third day and yelled at the top of my lungs at them (no worries about neighboring classrooms--I heard my colleagues do it on an hourly basis. I don't know how teachers in these schools keep their voices for any length of time; mine was shot by the 2nd day).

"EVERYONE SIT DOWN! I AM SICK AND TIRED OF HAVING TO SCREAM OVER YOUR NOISE! IS THIS HOW YOU ACT FOR MS. ___? IS THIS HOW THIRD GRADERS ARE SUPPOSED TO ACT? YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!..." and so on. Well this speech, believe it or not, did shock them into a staring silence, and I thought it had done the trick. I finished speaking and stood for a moment to catch my breath, and in that moment, I heard a snicker, and all was lost. The class erupted once more into an all-consuming chaos.

More to be said on this experience in the next post.

Monday, May 24, 2010


What do you do when some 4th-grade boys in your class walk into the room from a bathroom break laughing about how one of them pooped on the floor?

You pretend like you never, ever heard one word of it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Awkward Moments

So I think I saw a former student at the mall today. Or rather, he saw me. After you've subbed enough classes (well, for me anyway) the faces start to kind of run together and look the same. I'll just be out and see a random 9-year-old, in a whole different city, and think, "I could have taught him." As was my passing thought when my idle eyes landed on this tyke--but then he smiled shyly and waved. I waved back. That was all. Did I know him? How awkward. I barely remember the kids I taught yesterday.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010



Have you ever subbed for a school you used to be a student at? I'm sure it happens to anyone who teaches in the same area where they grew up, like me. It's very strange going back to your old alma mater, having not seen it literally since the last day of 3rd grade. Spring of 1994. A lot changes took place at Strawberry Fields Elementary in that time, but a remarkable amount stayed the same. Of course the hallways--I didn't remember them being quite that small and bright. I guess memory literally has dimmed them for me. The classrooms were exactly the same--all window-lined and cozy. And I never quite realized how hippie it all was. Nature murals on the walls, school mottos about peace, respect, love. Mandatory chorus productions for the lower grades, in which they sing songs with a 70s vibe about flowers growing and nature being happy. Holding their fingers in the "peace sign" as a way to tell others to be quiet (and the students do this, not the teachers!)

Yes, I had an absolutely wonderful day last Friday (not like the one I had there the week before--I'll save that for another post). It consisted of me acting as special ed. specialist, which was basically helping out the main teachers for a 2nd grade class and a 4th grade class (it goes up to 5th now! It was only K-3 when I went. Crazy.) Let me tell you it was the easiest, most delightful day. I got to help with some reading tests, help make bags for the children's Mother's Day gifts (decoupaged candle-holders), monitor them during chorus rehearsal (which was really just sitting in a metal chair in the cafeteria and watching their adorableness), play with them during recess, helping the other class make tissue paper flowers for their mothers, and my favorite part--we all went outside in the grass and sat in a circle, and opened some screened cages to set the class's butterflies free, which they had hatched themselves for science studies. The kids were delighted; butterflies landed on everyone and fluttered all around us like little orange petals in the wind.

Whoa, sorry, getting a little too hippie dippie there. Anyway, want to know the BEST part of subbing at your old elementary school?

You finally get to see the FACULTY LOUNGE!

Well, obviously it looks like every other teachers' lounge I've visited (not that exciting), but it was still a bit surreal to finally be on the other side of things. And the weirdest part is eating lunch with your former teacher, Mr. Baciagalupo. How weird to hear him be called just plain "Dave." I will never call him Dave. It's just not right.

And then there's the awkwardness of playing the memory game with your old teachers (only 2 of mine are still there--I was told I just missed my others by a year. Also the gym teacher, library teacher--just as scary as when I was young--and a reading specialist who I was never close to). My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, remembered my last name and my talent, which was astonishing and touching. She didn't seem much like she wanted to talk though. Young and energetic (if firm) when I had her, she still retained that prettiness I remembered, although edged with age.

And Mr. B, well he was completely different from '94. I wonder now whether it's my memory that is wrong, or he acts different around kids than coworkers, or maybe the years of dealing with third graders has caught up with him, but he (I think) used to be upbeat and humorous, and now he is barely monosyllabic. Not to mention he went from black hair to gray, and his face is a lot more bedraggled than I recall. And he didn't remember me at all. Not at all.

Still, it was a wonderful day. I loved that school, and I hope I get to return to it before the year is ended.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

6th-grade math

Charlotte again!

Well, sadly there was no answer key, but we were doing "area of a circle" (pi-r-squared) and even though it's been awhile, I felt reasonably confident that I had the correct answers.

I'm constantly at this school so the majority of kids in all my classes knew who I was. I subbed an 8th-grade social studies class here for 3 weeks straight when their teacher was, well, arrested actually (and is no longer their teacher.) I also subbed a 7th-grade English class for a full month when the teacher had major surgery. And I can't remember a week when I haven't been in the school at least once. It's nice to feel like I'm a part of the school. I always hear shouts of "Ms. Charlotte!" when I'm walking down the hall and the staff and admin. recognize my face even if they don't know my name.

In the morning, I had a class of 8th-graders who apparently come in for a "study skills seminar" with this teacher on Fridays (which I had no idea about until they showed up, because it said nothing about this in my lesson plans). I told them they could use this period as a study hall, to which they replied "we took our finals last week and we have two weeks to kill until graduation," - to which I replied "okay, fair enough." :)

So basically we just talked. I asked them about their post-junior high plans and about their end-of-year dance and I even answered some questions about high school... It's such an exciting time in their lives and it was nice to just take a minute and chat with them about it. I had several students come up to me and hug me at the end of class and I had to politely decline several invitations to be friended on facebook. (A recipe for disaster in my opinion, but it's nice to be asked).

And the 6th-graders were GREAT. Really well-behaved, worked hard, and were much calmer than I expected for a gorgeous Friday in May. The only problem with this school is the fact that they have block scheduling - it's really hard for 11 and 12 year olds to sit still for an hour-and-a-half. (Heck, it's hard for ME!) and they usually lose it after about an hour-ten. They were on their best behavior today, though, so... can't complain at all!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

And We're Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Insanity.

Charlotte here!

That didn't take long, did it?

Today was pretty bad.

It was a 4th grade class that I've had once before and - while they weren't exactly little angels - I definitely don't remember them being this insane.

The whole day seemed to consist of them complaining about their work (which, granted, was simply packet after packet of worksheets - totally monotonous), disturbing the people around them, and tattling to me about every. little. thing. And then of course they're "supposed to do the worksheets individually, but they can talk quietly as long as it doesn't get out of hand." Well, we all know how that goes.

The tattling got SO out of hand that I took a leaf out of Rosy's book and explained to them that what I really wanted to hear was them complimenting one another - and promised to give little rewards for each compliment I heard them give to one another. Well, guess what? Barely ANY takers. They were just not interested in saying anything positive about their other classmates.

What they WERE interested in was sneaking to the back of the classroom to get on the (highly off-limits) computer whenever I was bent over helping a student with their worksheet, jumping over tables, drawing all over each other's arms (???), criticizing each other's clothes, calling each other names, stealing calculators from the teacher's cabinet (which was emphatically dis-allowed by the teacher) for their math packets, and you know... just too much craziness to report in full.

I mean, by my usual standards, two-thirds of this class would have been sent to the office.

And THEN an item was stolen from the teacher's desk, and (before the principal was able to determine the culprit) it turned into a classroom version of a witch-hunt ("it was youuu! Nooo! You're only saying it was because it was youuu! Noooo! It was hiiiim! Yes - it was hiiiim! I saw him!" No proof. No credibility. Just pure hysterical vitriol and one spitting-mad substitute screaming for quiet.

Hmm. Yup. Probably could have handled this one better.

I was probably lulled into a false sense of security by how smoothly everything went yesterday.

Tomorrow is 6th-grade math: (Please leave an answer key, kind teacher! Please leave an answer key!)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why I Do What I Do...

...For days like these.

Charlotte here, guys. And it really was just a glorious, glorious day. Unlike the one had by poor Rosy. :( I had an elementary school Special Education class at a seriously awesome school. The class was small, the kids were adorable, the para was AMAZING - I literally wasn't ready for the day to end.

One thing I love about this class is that the teacher and para really seem to let the kids' interests shine through in their lesson plans. One of the kids is really interested in dinosaurs, one loves outer space, one loves sharks... and they actively encourage these interests, which is just so wonderful.

We had all sorts of adventures together. We read a book about spiders, and it was a GORGEOUS day, so we took a walk outside and tried to look for spiders. We found plenty of other bugs, but no spiders - although we did find one inside the school, naturally. We sang songs, we had "social time" (during which we played two rounds of Uno) - which may sound fluffy, but is actually great for the kids' cognitive and social development (i.e. recognizing patterns, taking turns, being both a gracious loser and a gracious winner).

I only had one child throw a minor tantrum the whole day, which is actually pretty amazing. He had accidentally smacked another child in the eye (it really was an accident, but he hit her pretty hard nonetheless) and I told him that he should apologize to the other child. Something along the lines of: ("I'm sorry that I accidentally hit you - I didn't see you there.") He insisted that since he hadn't MEANT to do it, he didn't need to say sorry.

Now there is just NO point in getting into a battle of wills with a 9-year-old. You'll lose every time. So I just shrugged, said I was sorry to hear him say that, and added a check mark to his daily behavior card. At which point he got up out of his seat, walked over to the window, ripped up the behavior card and threw it out the window. He then stormed back to his seat, put his head down on his desk, and refused to do any work whatsoever during that class period.

But I gave him time to cool off, and by the end of the day he was his normal chipper self. Other than that, the day was essentially awesomeness. I'd go back in a heartbeat, and the para said that "with your permission, I'd like to tell the teacher that you clicked very well with the kids and that we'd love to have you back." That's just so nice to hear! Oh, well. I'm sure tomorrow we'll be back to our regularly scheduled insanity to make up for today's welcome respite. :)