Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Gravy Train Has Left The Station

So all school year I have had a weekly gig, filling in for a former co-worker at his new school. For health reasons he needed one day off a week, so there I was as regular as clock-work.

It was a great thing for me in many ways, because it was a guaranteed job that added into my monthly paycheck quite nicely, it added structure to my week which is rare in the world of substitute teaching, and it was nice to create connections with "my" kids.

What wasn't so great was the actual job itself - an art room in a K-8 - it was filled with mayhem and stress. Pretty much, starting at 8:15 I got a group of kids for 45 minutes, then as one group rolled out the next rolled in, so no break at ALL until 11:45. No time to clean paint trays, set out new materials, go to the bathroom, grab a snack. Add to this the crazy organization of the day - 5th graders followed by 3rd graders followed by 7th graders followed by 2nd ... and it was a whirlwind of stress and activity. I never left without being totally exhausted.

So, when I found out that this teacher's physician will not be writing any more excused notes, I had very mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a day I started to dread every week. On the other, now that weekly safety net is gone. Hopefully my other contacts will pick up the slack and the gravy train won't be missed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Life Is Not ...

... an inspirational teacher movie.

Did the ghetto kids ever "quack" at Michelle Pfieffer? I seriously had a student, all thugged out in his basketball gear and tipped hat, QUACK in class.

Just for the record, I can't stand inspirational teacher movies ... I think my teaching film will be more a comedy of errors.

Monday, November 16, 2009

No Phone

Making breakfast this morning, "No Phone" by Cake was on the radio ... appropriate because my phone hasn't rung with sub work since last Tuesday.
To be fair, Wednesday was a holiday, so this is my third day in a row with no work. The first day this happens, I'm usually really glad to chill on the couch, play with the internet, read, etc. The second day in a row? By that point I'm feeling a little bored and quite guilty for doing nothing, so I will check my to-do list and do errands, cleaning, set-aside projects, and all those pesky business-hours-only phone calls.
But the third day? Now I'm working on half-baked conspiracy theories about the sub office, my unlucky sub number, and swine flu. I'm checking my cell phone's battery life every five minutes. I'm running calculations with my bank account balance, my expected paycheck from last month's work, and what I could possibly earn this month what with the slow phone calls, and the holidays and parent-teacher conference days that are coming up. It's not pretty.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Found items and gifts

One of the best things about subbing are the kids who are excited to see you and glad you are there. Sometimes they tell you flat out that they want you to be their teacher all the time, sometimes they even give you little gifts (usually pictures or cards but I've also been given little yarn bracelets and other stuff.)

Here is one drawing gift:

Accompanied by the explanation "This is my rabbit. I love him more than anything. He's going to die soon."

Oh. Thanks.

There is also the equal joy of the found item. Doodles, notes, secrets all created during class, guarded carefully, then left behind as soon as the bell rings:

So unintentionally hilarious. And it's now MINE!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So Bored

So I was back at AHS today (those business cards and the principal's rec really paid off!) and the kids were soooo good I got BORED! Thank goodness the regular teacher left his computer logged in so I could obsessively check e-mail and news updates. I was almost hoping someone would act out, if only to give me something to do.

I find it quite amazing that they seem to have trouble getting subs, or at least good subs. I don't know if things have been worse in the past, if subs are hanging up when they hear the school name out of misplaced stereotypes, or if the staff is just really really picky, but this was the easiest day in memory.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Magical Mystery Jobs

Having your work assigned by a computer can be delightfully straight-forward ... the format is usually location-teacher-subject-day-time-special instructions. But every once in a while one of those items is just weird. For example, my first year subbing I got this message:

"RHS-Mr D.-Math-Monday-7:50-3:20. Special instructions: I'm not actually a math teacher anymore. You will be the Dean of Students for the day, check in with the main office."

Wha ... ? Usually you have to have an administrator's license for those jobs! Anyways, I was the Dean of Students for the day, I wore a snappy suit and got Spanish tutoring from kids during lunch detention.

Last week I got this message:

"AHS-Mr. S-Counselor/Student Support Specialist/Student Behavior Specialist-Friday-12:00-3:20."

Again, with the lack of licensing. Also, I didn't know much about the location, except that it was some sort of alternative program for kids who were at the end of the educational rope. At any rate, I figured that I could BS my way through any job for 3 1/2 hours, so I took the job and went. And it turned out to be really easy and enjoyable. As the counselor at this small alternative high school, he took on 3 "orientation" classes, which were pretty much about self-management and common pitfalls (drugs, etc) for this population of students. Only one of them was in the afternoon, so I helped monitor the reading room (as in, I read my own book for a couple of class periods) and then sat with the orientation group as we discussed a DVD on the brain chemistry of drug addiction. So easy and fun! (No sarcasm there. It was fun to relate science and real life, because I am a dork.)

Also, the staff was so happy that I was happy that they eagerly took my business card. A lot of substitutes have the same fuzzy misconception that I had at the beginning of the day on what AHS was all about and so they have a hard time getting dedicated teachers in there. All the more work for me!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kids say ...

The most bizarre things.

Overheard 5th graders chatting (and started taking copious notes)....

Boy 1: Pulls something small out of his pocket. OMG! The tracker! They're sending banshees after us!

Boy 2: How did you get that?!?!

Boy 1: I put it in my pocket when I was pretending to throw away my plasma gun in the forest ...

Boys continue to discuss the epic battle in the forest while I grab furiously for pencil and paper. An important point of order arises: are they called force fields or bubble shields? And, how much does it protect you from things with blue tentacles.

Boy 3: What if you had a Breeder on your team? That would be awesome.

Boy 1: Yeah, but they don't have tentacles ...

Oh man, do I wish I had a plasma gun, if only for pretend.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What I Do Part 2

There is a flip side to the coin, of course. Some things about my job are not so great - but you knew that, right? Most people, when I tell them I'm a substitute teacher, get this look on their face, and sometimes, they are right. So, reasons that my job can suck:

1. I don't have a boss. No one to ask questions, help me with problems, recognize me for a job well done. No one to give job references when I hit the pavement in the summertime.

2. No lesson planning, grading, parent phone calls, etc. This was a major part of my graduate education: the creation of a meaningful, rich, interesting curriculum. When I'm back on the sub list I lose this opportunity to design lessons and projects that can educate and enrich a child. Instead, I'm left with the "lowest common denominator" lesson plan that anyone with half a brain could implement. Also, I don't get much opportunity to see students grow through the year or make connections with parents and families.

3. No staff meetings. Alright, there is no downside to this.

4. No one even knows who I am. It's kinda depressing sometimes.

5. Most of the time, kids are happy to see you. The rest of the time, they say "oh, man, a SUB" and refuse to do anything you ask, pepper you with inappropriate comments, and act like little brats in general.

6. The whole district is my classroom. There are no more "safe" places to go hang out and be myself, except maybe ones that card. Also, there is a lot of commuting, trying to follow Google Maps at 7 am, and every possible traffic situation.

7. The pay is actually pretty good. Unless you get sick, it snows, or teachers magically decide that their physical and mental health is in tip-top shape. Then you get to sit by the phone and start doing serious checkbook balancing.

8. I learn a lot. For example, things that I have learned: I hate kindergartners, some school staff are passive aggressive a-holes, teenage boys will do anything to disrupt a lesson, and how to spoon feed yogurt to a vegetative life skills student.

9. Networking. This is all well and good but I hate having to kiss ass every day, just in case that this is the school that will be hiring.

10. Kids are neat. It's neat how they love to talk when you are talking, sneak in when they are tardy and out when they are bored. It's neat that they loooove to text message and have no sense of future consequences for behavior. It's neat that they are messy. It's neat that America's future has no idea how to get back from lunch on time and that is somehow your fault because (say it with me) "you're just a sub!"

Taken individually, these things don't really tarnish my day. Every once in a while however, the universe's forces collide to make my life awful. And when it does I will tell you about it here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I Do

So, I'm back to subbing after a two-year teaching gig. There are pros and cons to substitute teaching ... let's be positive and start with the pros, shall we?

1. I don't have a boss. My "boss" is an autodialer that offers me jobs, I can accept them or turn them down, pressing a number that indicates "Illness," "Unavailable," even "Working in another district." No one checks the excuse, there is no paperwork to fill out, and no one catches it if I say I'm sick when some ghetto-ass elementary school calls me and then 5 minutes later accept a job from a ritzy high school.

2. No lesson planning, grading, parent phone calls, etc. I arrive 15 minutes before school, leave 15 minutes after the last bell, go home and chill.

3. No staff meetings. You think your cubicle job has awful staff meetings? Micheal Scott's got nothing on a self-important principal who has a PhD in education yet hasn't been in the classroom in several decades.

4. No one even knows who I am. There is pretty much no accountability as long as the room doesn't burn down.

5. Most of the time, kids are happy to see you. A "sub" means easy busywork, a video, a reprieve from the planned quiz. They are especially happy if they don't like their regular teacher, or if you have been in the classroom before and they liked you. And kids usually love me.

6. The whole district is my classroom. I see "my" students everywhere, in every neighborhood, and they usually give me a shy little wave or smile.

7. The pay is actually pretty good. Especially for a new teacher who would be pretty low on the pay scale if they had a contract job.

8. I learn a lot. I test lots of classroom management techniques, and get to see how different classrooms are set up. I steal copies of handouts I like and write down particularly good lesson plans or projects for future use. I also learn things about the content area I'm in - a bit of Spanish here, a brush up on algebra there, a literature classic I never read.

9. Networking. I do want my own classroom and freaking contract, one day. By traveling to lots of schools I meet a lot of other teachers and sometimes even administrators. These are the people who will convince the district that I need to be hired, should some budget money magically appear.

10. Kids are neat. By kids, I mean any human aged 4 to 20 who is attending public school. By traveling to all sectors of the district I meet kids from lots of backgrounds, with a huge variety of talents and interests. I love days when the worksheet is easy, and I can travel from table to table, chatting with fascinating people.

I like to keep these pros in the forefront of my mind, especially on bad days (which shall be addressed, never fear). As jobs go, mine is pretty interesting, with good benefits, decent pay, and maybe someday (if we get out of this recession), room for advancement to my own classroom. Keep your fingers crossed!