Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions - Subbing Edition

Ah, New Year's Resolutions. I try to make (and keep) them annually and some good things have come of them. This year I have personal resolutions, but I also have professional ones. (The good thing about teaching resolutions is that you only have to keep them until June :D)

1. Get a real teaching job.
2. Don't be content with "well, the room didn't burn down" as much.
3. Use my breaks more productively - read, stretch, network, draw.
4. Try new classroom management techniques.
5. Look for opportunities to really teach instead of babysit and go for them!

Any for you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Even Steven?

Hmmmm, so the 7th graders from Hades broke even on the +/- chart. Still, I recommended to the teacher in the notes that she NOT give them a reward or party. Here's why:

1) They lost points on the really basic stuff: being quiet for directions, staying in their seat for directions, etc.

2) The obnoxiousness was spread evenly around the room, I think there was maybe one kid I didn't have to call out on a major issue in the whole group. I would feel bad if there were 5 or 6 great kids or if it was just the boys being bad or whatever, but everyone had their moment of awful.

Thank goodness I get high schoolers the rest of the week!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Had my first teacher's union substitute committee meeting today! How lefty of me! Issues discussed:

-The sub management system keeps hanging up on people instead of assigning them sub jobs.
-Schools are very inconsistent about what info they give you and how (ex: are the roll sheets given to you when you walk in, or left in the classroom?) and it needs to be more uniform and helpful.
-A rising trend in lunches and prep periods not being scheduled.

Also, I somehow wound up as a write-in candidate for substitute representative. Oops!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The score

+ :0
- :7

They actually had 2 + points, but I caught a kid trying to add more and so erased them all. I was pretty pissy at this point.

In related news, a discussion has started on a friend's facebook about the fact that two substitutes have walked off the job this week at her school. Questions raised: are there days that the money is just not worth it? Are there consequences for subs for this? Is there any responsibility of the admin to make sure it does not reach that point?


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why do I agree to this?

So today, and for the next three days, I'm back in the classroom mentioned here, the one where the same group of seventh graders come by three times, for math, social studies, and a horrible space of time called SSR/leadership/study hall, in which nothing in the title gets done. I honestly don't know why I agreed to this, except that this teacher has been very good to me and my pocketbook in the past and I want to maintain that relationship. Also, as I work on my math endorsement, I want to keep her as a friend/mentor/reference. So, I take on her horrible seventh graders.
Today I actually instituted the "marks on the board" system, that aged piece of classroom management that modern educators rail against. Mine is set up in a = / - T-Chart and if by the end of the day Tuesday they have more on the + side, they get a treat when the teacher comes back. They get negative points if they are still talking at the end of a "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" countdown or if they are doing naughty things with the rulers, and positive points for doing well with the countdown, cleaning up, or all finishing the assignment on time.
Score so far ... 7/7. This roughly translates to "you weren't so awful that Ms. GT is going home to cure her migraine with a bottle of Jack and a bullet, but there is room for improvement."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Long Day!

7 periods.
No prep.

Soooo glad I got to pee during my lunch break!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mileage Reimbursement?

So, I had a half-day gig this morning at school a few miles away ... stayed to lunch with some nice teachers then headed back home. Nearly there, I pulled in for some gas and my phone rings - it's the school and they need me back for an afternoon gig!!! So, I turn around, re-trace my commute, and got another half-day's pay in the bank.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In-a-pinch movie

For the last two days, I have been subbing in a middle school math room. Stressful enough, but I had the same group of obnoxious seventh graders three periods a day! (Math, Social Studies, and Study Hall.) Ugh. So today, I brought in a rented DVD of "Life," a show that was on the Discovery Channel a while back. It (mostly) saved the day: the boys got really engrossed in the Komodo Dragon hunting scenes and the Ibex calf hopping around cliff faces. Some of the girls chose to gossip in the corner, but at that point I really didn't care. We watched one episode during Social Studies and another during Study Hall, and boy did it save my sanity!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good Things.

So, those of you who know me know that I had one particularly awful day on Tuesday and that the fallout is still ... falling. I will post about it once all the chips are down. Anyways, the rest of the week was spent at different assignments at OHS and boy was I glad!! It's like going home. And the kids are so awesome. A few examples from today:

I wore my "Queen Bee" costume and got lots of laughs and compliments. I even got one "Your Highness." And a drawing!

Not bad for a 17 year old, right?

One of the girls dressed up as Tank Girl. So rad.

One of my former students offered to organize some sort of march on the school district office to get me my job back.

A special ed kid told me that there is an eagle in his head that is controlled by the GPS and other machinery in his glasses. Only not really! Ha ha!

AND one of my former co-workers bought me a beer after work. TGIF!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to Work!

Great vacation.

Anyhow, back at the salt mine:

Ms. GT: "Okay, let's work on that still life drawing!"

Cranky Student (C.S.) : "I don't wanna draw! This is hard!"

Ms. GT: "Well, yes, but this will make you a better artist if you try something new and challenging."

C.S.: "It doesn't matter for my art! I only draw manga."

Ms. GT: "Even manga artists need to know about shading, proportion, and drawing realistic objects that might be near the characters."

C.S.: "It makes my brain hurt!"

Ms. GT: "Good. It's supposed to."

At this point other students at the table start to snicker a bit.

Ms. GT: "If you told the PE teacher that benching made your arms hurt he would say the exact same thing. Exercise all your muscles."

C.S.: "But I don't wanna."

Ms. GT: "If there was a class in complaining you would have a 4.0."

C.S. "I wish there were. But I'm stuck here drawing."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Up, Up and Awaaaaay!

Just had 2 very nice days at AK8 Part Deux - a different K-8 school that the AK-8 teacher moved to which is also called .... AK-8. Anyways, I saw all grade levels, drew elephants and value scales and volcanoes, discussed "Washington Crosses the Delaware" at length, and somehow survived the technology classes too.

Tomorrow I believe I am taking off work and taking off in a plane! I'm hoping not to work but you never know if your favorite teacher will have an emergency. Then I'm headed to the East Coast without my laptop for a few days.

Ta ta!

Friday, October 15, 2010

F*#&ing Eels


Teenagers can be such slippery, evil little eels. They wiggle out the door and are never seen again. Today I had to take second roll at the end of what should have been a fairly self-contained Spanish class because they kept slipping out rather than wait for the hall pass or because it is a nice Friday and they "don't wanna do Spanish!" Grr!!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Played checkers in special ed class ...

... and lost.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I'm back!

Arrgh! Internet issues!! Finally resolved.

So, since the last entry:

SHS - Photography classes! Keeping an eye on a darkroom AND classroom with 35 squirrelly 10-12th graders is a challenge to say the least. Plus distributing materials, collecting money for replacement materials, and helping kids avoid major disasters like opening their film in the light.

SHS - Back to the digital media classes while Mr. U was ill. This time, working with faces in Photoshop - creating composite photos and altering their own faces into free-choice goofiness. At the end of one period I gave them the extra credit option to write a 5-page paper on the gender implications in the habit of the boys adding tons of facial hair to their own photos (one kid even made himself into a wolf-man-type-thing) and makeup to each others' photos. No one did it, but they thought it was funny that I asked them to.

OHS - Life Skills. This is a super-special ed classroom where we were pretty much self-contained for the whole day (3rd period they went to electives), working on things like drawing, numbers (via a game of Yahtzee), doing household chores (getting ready for lunch, cleaning up after, other duties), cursive, plus we went for a walk to the neighborhood park and read out a few chapters of "Percy Jackson." I had three aides but it was still exhausting!

SHS - Language Arts - super easy day of checking in homework and then popping in a movie - the juniors were watching "Guilty By Suspicion" in relation to "The Crucible" and "The Scarlet Letter," (I got to watch the emotional Senate hearing ending three times) and the seniors were watching "Good Morning Vietnam" in relation to "When Heaven and the Earth Switched Places," a Vietnam memoir.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back at NHS

Hooray! After 2 call-free days, I got a day doing art at NHS! The best part was seeing students from last year's subbing and remembering their names - and that they remembered me and were excited to see me! I had a good time circulating and seeing work-in-progress, and taking some time to do my own sketching and drawing, especially during the mellow classes.

Weekend - sushi, brunch, and BBQ all planned!

Monday, September 13, 2010

SHS Continued ...

So, I have been at SHS since the first day of school and it looks like that trend will continue for another day or two. I'm filling in for the very tardy design teacher's substitute, if you can wrap your head around that. It's been really nice, having a steady job with great kids and a fun curriculum. I actually stay after class to lesson plan! Weird! These are some of the InDesign compositions that turned out quite nicely (2-3 days work on average).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day!!!

I spent Labor Day mentally preparing for not working on the first day of school. It's one of those days that is a little tough for me; a stark reminder that I don't have my own classroom. And really, who calls a sub on the first day of school? So, I purposefully did not pack a lunch, I did not pack my bag, I did not set an early alarm. When my alarm did go off at 8:15, I mused that high schools were welcoming freshman for a 2-hour orientation before the upperclassmen showed up, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Well, about 30 minutes later, my phone rings and it's a secretary from SHS, where I did my student teaching a few years ago. Apparently, they need someone to teach art for some vague reason. When I arrived I got the story from my former mentor teacher in the art department: the school started a digital media class, hired some graphic designer from California, and then found out late last week (as the district office was closing down for Labor Day weekend) that he couldn't make it in time for the school year to start - in fact, not for maybe 2 or 3 weeks. The school called up the retired teacher (Mr. U) who had built the computer lab from the ground up to come in and sub, the problem was that he hasn't been teaching for 2 1/2 years so his paperwork wasn't in order to be a teacher again. So, they called me. Luckily Mr. U is a devoted educator and came in for 1st period on his own time to help me set up, start up the server, go over the proposed lesson plans. I did the rest of the morning (it is a half day gig) and found out that they will need me for the rest of the week until all of Mr. U's paperwork (and re-fingerprinting and all that jazz) can go through. So, in the first month these kids will have 3 teachers!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dear Readers

Happy Labor Day Weekend! Some of you have already started school, some of you start this week (like me!) and some of you don't teach at all, you just read this blog to be happy you don't. Anyways, it looks like I'll be subbing again this year so the adventures will keep coming. I made a few changes to the settings of this blog, one important one is that you can now comment anonymously. So, go forth and feedback.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Establishing Alpha Status

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people I'm a substitute teacher is "man, how do you walk into a room and let the kids know you're in charge?" This is probably because a) they remember all the subs they ran ragged and b) I'm blonde and kinda baby-faced so the cards seem stacked against me when it comes to alpha status.

This is a really complicated question because every classroom is different. Different age levels, school cultures, and individual teachers' classroom style all create a different environment. Also, things you have no control over like season/weather, school politics, or the circumstances of the teacher's absence all play a role.

So, some thoughts at being at the front of the wolf pack...

1. I don't really try and establish total alpha status. It's pretty impossible for kids of any age or background to implicitly trust and obey a stranger. It's more about establishing repoire rather than dominance. I set up a "don't bother me I won't bother you"-ness type thing instead. This is not to say that I sit at the desk and read a magazine and hope they don't burn the room down. I'm still going to give the assignment, teach what needs to be taught, and hold them accountable for productivity and behavior. However, I'm going to make it very clear that as long as the work gets done, as long as everyone is happy, I'm not going to micromanage them. The script might go something like "hey guys, the assignment is on the board. You might find it easier to answer the questions if you use the glossary in the back - let me know if you need help with that. You can work by yourself or in pairs, as long as it doesn't get too loud in here."

That brings me to
2. Give kids reasonable options. This is true for parenting and regular classroom management, so why more subs don't do it is beyond me. My favorites are the "alone or in buddies" option above, or "when you are done, you can read, write, or draw." These are 3 quiet, productive, individual tasks that the student can interpret a few ways - they can get some homework done, or they can do something they like such as reading a magazine, drawing cartoons, or even writing a note to friends (which is a dying art, by the way, thanks to texting and facebook.) Sometimes amazing things happen like kids spontaneously making "get well soon" cards for their teacher. Other options include "you can do the work here or in the office," or "you can work nicely with your neighbors or sit alone at that table over there." It's important to let them know that either one is okay with you, especially if you accidentally give them an option that the regular teacher uses as a punishment (such as the 'sit alone at that table' choice.) I might say "I'd rather you sat at that table and got the work done than for you to get in trouble for fighting with the other kids."

3. Learn their names! If only just a few. I really like it when schools have a badge system for students, but that is pretty rare. One trick I use is right when I give them an assignment, I remind them to put their names at the top and wait while they do that before giving out more instructions. If I have a problem with a kid, I can walk over, glance at their paper, and say "John, could you keep your voice down while the other kids work? Thanks."

4. Say please and thank you. Treat them like people. Again, teaching/parenting 101, but something that gets left by the wayside if you panic and think you have to establish authoritarian rule.

5. Name Drop. "Mrs. S asked me to come in today while she is at a district meeting. We thought it would be fun to do some peer editing on your essays." If kids know that you know their teacher, it eliminates that "Lord of the Flies" chaos that can take over if kids think they have no accountability for their behavior that day. It also sets up more of the "guest teacher" status than "just a sub." This only works if it is true, by the way, so get to know your teachers.

6. If you try and pretend that you are all-powerful and infallible, the illusion will be crushed the second you get something wrong. If you let kids know that you are kind and flexible, you can convince them to work with you. It's still good to be firm and in-control, though. One thing I like to do is if there is something that I am not sure about (what happens when the schedule says "SSR," for example,) I will ask individual kids quietly and get a consensus. So, during work time, I'll crouch next to a kid's chair and ask "hey, at SSR does everyone have to read or can they do homework?" I'll go on to another kid, ask the same question, then tack on "do you sit in your assigned seat or can some kids sit on the floor or by a friend?" After a few surveys I'll get a good idea for the normal procedure, and at SSR I can confidently say "OK, time for SSR! Get out a reading book or homework, but please stay in your regular seat."

This usually sets up enough repoire to last the period. But ...

7. When all else fails, don't be afraid to bring in the big guns. I firmly believe that school administration is ultimately responsible for the culture and discipline in a school and if I find kids are rude, misbehaving, or being dangerous I do not hesitate to call them in to do their jobs. When in doubt, just think how much more they get paid than you!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Flying colors!

I passed!! The math test is behind me, with a whopping 198/200! I have sent the paperwork to update my license to the state, but with their track record I probably won't be endorsed to teach middle school math in time for the school year to start. So, I'm still looking for art OR math jobs as Labor Day draws near...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer starts .... NOW

So, just as yahoo starts using alphabet magnets on it's homepage and Old Navy runs school uniform ads, my summer actually starts! Yes, the temp job ended and I'm not taking on another one (I swear I can not work for more than a week without freaking out!)

So, ideas for adventures ???

Friday, July 23, 2010

Big Test Tomorrow!

Adding a middle school math endorsement to my license - I hope!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No officer, he was wrapped in packing tape BEFORE I arrived ...

Well, it has now been a week temping! I'm not sure if subbing has shortened my attention span or if this job is truly boring, but I was feeling mentally DONE in the warehouse at the end of the day yesterday. Each potential task has lost its luster, my feet hurt, and my arms and hands were dry and scratched from packing the cardboard boxes with stiff paper and getting tape glue all over me.

This morning did not start out much better, as I grabbed a scan gun to start filling orders and item after item was out of stock, in the wrong place, or not bar coded. I took each concern to one of the managers (his name is Forrest but I call him Captain GrumpyPants) because, well, I'm a temp! I can't solve these problems! Anyways, each question was met with a heavy sigh. I nearly lost it by incident number three ("is the part ready yet?" "Yes, it's on the shelf" .... "I found the part but the number is off by one ... " "SIGH!!!! It's not the same part!"). Well, I know that buddy, but it's not where you said it would be and in fact it still doesn't exist like you said it did and aren't you glad I ASKED instead of sending out the wrong part? Sheesh.

Luckily, before anyone died a gruesome, gluey tape death they called me back upstairs for more data entry. This time I'm in an office with someone else so I can stop talking to myself all the time AND I get to make check marks on the paper after I find some inane piece of data, so that's a plus. I'm sure I'll be horribly bored of this by lunch tomorrow but at least my feet won't hurt.

Friday, July 9, 2010


That goodness it's Friday ...


Temping Get Intellectually Freeing


Durrr ... I push the button and make numbers go poof!

So, Bobbi in HR had me verify orders. Or something. Pretty much the company is behind mainly because one task that did not get done in their inventory overhaul this summer is to:

Highlight an order number, Ctrl C copy it.
Ctrl V paste it into another screen. Hit "Find."
Double Click the order.
See that the order exists.
Mark it "In progress."

Magically it will appear in shipping (where I have been for the last two days) and they can get it out the door. 10 days after it was ordered.

So that is what I did all day. Sat in a hot cubical and saw that orders did in fact, exist.

During the school year, when the kids are throwing things and sneezing on me and being loud I often fantasize about going to work in nice clothes, maybe even pretty shoes, and sitting at a desk with nifty little walls that keep the germs out. At this desk I control the information input - I can choose to do one thing or perhaps to get a little crazy and multitask 2 things - rather than keeping an eye on 30 little things who exist to stymie me. Adults come by and ask questions like, "where are the TPS reports," rather than "how do you treat a yeast infection?" (Yes, this happened once.)

This has been a good reminder that I thrive on action, movement, creativity, and fun. That kids might be dumb sometimes, but at least they have an excuse - they're KIDS! Can't wait for September!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Temping is like subbing, only with grown-ups ...

I have signed on with a temp agency. I figure, if I can survive random subjects at random schools with random students, then I can survive data entry for Peggy in HR. Right?

My first placement started this week, with about 11 hours notice. Sub life? Check.

It was for something I was kinda-sorta prepared for, warehouse work. Currently, I work part time for an online women's accessories place, so I'm used to getting an order, going to the right spot to find the item, and figuring out the difference between "lavender" and "purple." This place is industrial cleaning supplies, so I have to get an order, go to the right spot, and figure out the difference between "1001.2398" and "1000.2398." Boring, but check.

And, oh, the characters. Here is a run-down.

Rob. Rob is the warehouse manager. He is a total DBag. (Late to work, matchy-matchy hat and t-shirt, awful tattoos, insincere "how's it going?" questions, taking time to chat up the receptionists from upstairs.)

Brad and Tony. They are awesome. Hilarious, professional, and actually pretty nice to us temp folk. Sure, a little rough around the edges, but whatever.

Angie. Angie has been there two weeks, also from the temp agency, and is awesome. I seriously thought she worked there for years when I started.

Jason. Jason is the other temp who started the same day I did. Jason is like a big bouncy dog - a little dumb but trainable, overall likeable but can get annoying, really really really wants to be liked, especially by the "big dogs," Brad and Tony. You know when 2 guys meet and start trying to be cool yet friendly? "Yeah man, I love video games. GTA 4 is alright, but I totally beat it really fast." "Yeah, totally. The graphics on the next one are supposed to be sweet." I get to overhear this crap every time Jason is paired with another guy.

Anyway, they are going to transfer me upstairs to do data stuff tomorrow, with Bobbi in HR. We'll see if my nodding and smiling skills from subbing will suffice.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth!

Hope everyone has a relaxing day. I'm headed out to the country to sip beverages on a friend's porch and eat potluck BBQ.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Activities

So, for the last week I have been working at OHS, doing a "credit retrieval" summer school of sorts. Pretty much, we take freshmen who earned around 55% in a core class and give them time, space, and tutoring to do enough assignments to get it up to a passing grade, 65% or so. I was in charge of the science group, which meant organizing lab materials, photocopying tests and packets, and of course brushing up on my own chemistry and physics skills. Very rusty.

The next project is to study for my standardized math test to add a 6-8 math endorsement to my license. I am hoping that will improve my chances at getting a full time job next year!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The total so far ...

105.5 days of subbing!

We have 2 days to go ... but does anyone call a sub the last 2 days of school??

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Half day today, filling in for a science teacher at OHS. I can't remember if I wrote about her classes before, but I did sub for one day about a month ago. It was block day, and I got her 3rd period freshman science followed by her 5th period, which was the same curriculum but sheltered for English language learners. Long story short, it was a "simple machines" lab where students experimented with pulleys, see-saws, etc and recorded results. 3rd period was terrible. Uninterested, uncreative, unresponsive. 5th period was amazing - students from 5 different countries working together to build an elaborate pulley system to raise a jug of water that 3rd period couldn't budge.

Anyways, today they were working on their final project, which was to use simple machines to build a wacky Rube Goldberg type device. It seemed really fun and reminded me of this:

Which I let some students watch online for inspiration.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Winding down ...

This has been the second-to-last full week of school and man, have things been sloooooow. Just one booking, for today, at AHS. A lot of jobs at the end of the year are covering for teachers who are chaperoning the end-of-year field trip, and this was no exception. Small classes, no fancy lesson plan, it was pretty nice.
It was also nice to see one of my old students from OHS. She came to AHS because a picnic she was attending was rained out and AHS kindly offered up it's cafeteria. The picnic was for graduating members of the Teen Parent Program - yup, a cafeteria full of unwed teenage mothers, their guests, and offspring. Actually, I shouldn't say that, we actually have several Somali refugees who are married and having babies, but still in high school. Anyways, I was one of this girl's teachers when she found out she was pregnant in the fall, had her in class all the way up to practically her due date, and then continued to communicate with her during her maternity leave as she somehow recovered, parented, and did classwork at the same time. She really is amazing, she now has scholarships and is college-bound and her daughter is adorable. I'm not really a baby person, and I'm really not a baby-in-high-school person, but if anyone can make it all work it is this young woman.

Monday, May 31, 2010

On a personal note ...

Today is my cat's SIXTEENTH birthday!! (Well, adoption anniversary. We just figure if he was 6 when we got him, then each Memorial Day he is definitely one year older.) Still going strong.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Multiple Endorsements?

Well, the job search is still freaking me out. I hear too much and too little gossip about who's retiring, transferring, getting hired, getting cut ... and come up with way too many chess-like strategies for how to get a spot in the district. So I think it's time for a REAL strategy - getting more endorsements on my license so I can teach multiple subjects.

Time was, (and I'm a young'n, so by that I mean, two years ago,) to get real job security you added a special education or ESL endorsement to your pedigree. I resisted, because while I love my special-needs students, I like having them mixed into a regular class, adding variety and diversity, not cooped up in a room doing slowed-down curriculum. I just don't work at that speed. And it seems that may have been the right move, because the district is announcing all sorts of "restructuring" to the delivery of SpEd and ESL content, which is a fancy word for "cuts." Some of the best teachers at OHS are getting cut to half time or cut completely. So there goes that theory of job protection.

So, I've been thinking about getting a middle level math endorsement (that would let me teach up to Algebra.) I think it would open up the number of jobs I could apply to or, if I get a job and then get cut, the number of jobs that the district could re-assign me to. And while I don't want to teach math forever, it could be a nice touch to an application for an art post: maybe instead of a study hall duty period they give me "Math Support," or again, if cuts are proposed they share me between art and math.

Does this sound like a solid plan? Do any of you have multiple endorsements?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My, how they've grown.

One of the main things that I miss about being a classroom teacher is the bonds and relationships one forms with their students, and the opportunity to see those students grow. Sure, I get to go to OHS and check in on my former charges, but I am not experiencing the growth with a fresh batch this year.

Even as a substitute, though, you can see some growth. For example, I was at AK-8 today, with the Wednesday kids that I used to see weekly in the fall. The eighth graders today came in, were relatively polite, mostly did their work in a non-messy way, noticed the time, cleaned up completely, and headed back to class! Color me speechless! Now, of course I can't take credit for more than a tiny percentage of their education, so at the end of the day I went down the hall and complimented them to their teacher. She said that's the third compliment she's gotten today - they went on a field trip and were praised by the Courthouse staff and the city bus driver who took them there. So they really are growing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Irregular Economics

While that could be the title of my bank account, or my current career path, it was actually the title of the lesson I was left for two periods today. Now, I take pride in my ability to deliver a wide variety of high school curriculum, from Algebra to German to Ceramics to Physics labs to US History, plus all of that modified for special ed or English learners ... but seriously?!?! A powerpoint lecture on how irregular economic events cause inflation or stagnation in the GDP and unemployment figures, as evidenced by graphs of aggregate supply and aggregate demand, plus how governments get themselves into and out of this with lassaiz faire, supply-centric, or demand-centric policy ... all illustrated in historical events such as the Great Depression, the 70's recession, and Reaganomics.

No. Freaking. Way.

If I knew how all that worked, I wouldn't be where I am today, I can tell you that!

Luckily, the class has also been watching and discussing "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" so saved the day with the season finale that they hadn't seen yet.

I left an apologetic note to the teacher, but I don't feel that bad for not sticking to the lesson plan.

What is the craziest lesson you've ever been asked to teach?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Left Right Left!

I have been at OHS since Tuesday and I'm going back tomorrow, but that is not unusual. (Seriously, I had a student and a fellow teacher who both only just realized last week that I don't teach there anymore!) What is unusual is that my schedule was Science, Art, Science, and tomorrow, Art.

How fun to switch from left- to right-brain daily (if you believe the old brain theories)! The students do a double take when they see me in Science, too - "Ms. GT, I thought you were an ART teacher!"

"Well, I am, but today we are doing a physics lab together! YAY!"

If nothing else, this year has given me an opportunity to show that art people can also be Science, Math, PE, English, or History buffs too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Teachers, take note ...

OK, I've been in both spots: a substitute teacher and a classroom teacher who is afraid to ever get sick because of the daunting task of picking and planning for a sub. So please excuse the advice, but teachers, seriously ...

"Free Day" is not a lesson plan. It's a nightmare. The kids already think they can get away with anything when there is a sub, that just makes it official.

Ideally, you leave an activity that is relevant to the current unit so we can teach something. If you teach something like calculus or AP Biology, leave an answer key. Having something relevant means that kids will know that the assignment will directly affect their current grade. It can even be a film IF ...

... you have a set "Movie Day" routine that is practiced and reinforced BEFORE YOU GET SICK. For example, I once had a lesson plan to show a movie and "have the kids take notes." It was obvious that this teacher has never shown a movie before because the kids didn't know how to take movie notes, didn't know how many points it would be worth (no answer on the sub plans either), and THE TV DID NOT GET LOUD ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE TO HEAR. Please, please, please test your equipment before you go. If you are the kind of teacher who never shows movies (and I am one of them too), don't make the sub do it for you because all hell will break loose. So, before you need a sub, select a relevant film, create guidelines and expectations, actively watch and coach your students through watching, and reinforce their work by grading it and reviewing expectations for movie day.

You can create other sub routines ahead of time, too. There could be a set of one-hour activities that you do on say, every Friday in September and October. (Examples: reading time, imaginative writing project, art challenges, article reviews.) Then explain to the kids that you won't be doing them anymore with them but when you need to be gone they will do one of those activities with the guest teacher. Let them pick or vote. You can also have a list of rewards (Heads up 7-Up, iPod time, whatever) for the sub to choose for the last 10 minutes. Just communicate to me the expectations and rewards.

Lastly, I put my e-mail and phone number on my business card for a reason: I want to talk to you. Let's decide on a lesson plan together, or discuss rewards, or let me ask questions.

Spring fever

The fever is not cured by cowbell.

It's cured by job postings!!

Ah, yes, it's that time again when an administrator's cool indifference turns to fancy as they realize that September will be here soon. And strangely enough, in my region, there have been quite a few art jobs posted, no small feat in this economy. Still, each one is getting hundreds of applicants, and since it is all online nowadays there is no opportunity to "stand out" - even having nice resume paper is outdated.

Any ideas on how to shine in a black and white digital world?

Friday, April 23, 2010

A list ...

... of things my high school students lost in the classroom today.

- A brown notebook

-Car keys

-a green and white iPhone

-A bag of Legos

-A book and book on tape

No. No, I have not seen them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dude..... 4/20.....

So, I'm not yet booked to sub tomorrow but the afternoon is young and there is plenty of time for someone to come down with a wicked case of teacher burn-out. However, digging into the archives, I remember that I did indeed sub on 4/20 my first year out. (For those of you unaware of urbandictionary, 420 is the police code for marijuana and therefore 4/20 is like a pothead's Fourth of July.)
When I did get that call it was for a nice high school- large, but pulling from a good neighborhood. I was filling in for a math teacher. This particular math teacher had a math support class - they came in for one period in the morning and then another period after lunch. Anyways, this one kid, Sage or Forrest or Sequoia or something like that, comes in just REEKING of pot in the second session. Seriously, kid? I'm a teacher. That meant I spent 5 1/2 years in college with other dreamy do-gooders. You can't pull this one over on me.
The high school was so large I didn't know who to call about this one, or even if anyone would care. (I have gotten advised before when in a similar neighborhood to not bust kids for pot because their deep-in-denial parents will make life difficult for you.) So, I did what any other over-worked, under-paid sub would do: I made his little stoned brain hurt.
"Hey! Hey, SageForrestSequoia, let's do some math! Right here [tap tap tap], here's your worksheet. Wannadomath wannadomath wannadomath?!?!"
"Uuuuuummmmmm, I'm not really.... in the mood .... to do math ....."
"Oh come on! MATH IS SO FUN! How could'ya not wannadomath? [Tap tap tap] Problem one, right here, a train leaves Baltimore - Baltimore is awesome, huh - at 11:30 ..."
And on it went for another 45 minutes. I hoped he regretted coming to school stoned. But just to make sure I flagged down a security guard on my free period. "Excuse me, there was a kid in my class who I think was stoned? SageForrestSequoia?" The guard grinned and said, "Oh, I know EXACTLY who you are talking about. I'll go pull him out of class now ..."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

One Day

Two awful movies.

1. Pay It Forward. Oh dear Lord, it's just painful to watch Spacey, Hunt, and the creepy kid in their earnest and fruitless quest for an Oscar.

2. Shark Tale. Everything that is wrong with kids' movies. Cheesy urban lingo: check. Madonna/whore female characters: check. Glossing over really bad life decisions like credit and gambling: check. Sir Mix-a-Lot: check.

Any particular hated movies for you?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Special Ed ...

It was actually an elementary art assignment, but this teacher gets 2 groups of exclusively special ed kids on Monday afternoons.

Group one was labeled as "academic" special ed. They were going to watercolor in a fish shape in rainbow order. We started by reviewing the colors of the rainbow. They were really good at listing colors, just not in order. So we chanted them a few times. The next step was actually painting the fish. Even with one adult for every four kids, it was still a challenge to get them to paint a stripe of red, stop, rinse the brush, and wait for the next color. By the end, though, we had about 12 lovely rainbow trout.

Group two was listed as "nursing" special ed. They ranged from full support wheelchairs with "hand on hand" instruction (an adult moves their hand that has the brush or pencil in it) to what seemed to be moderate Down's Syndrome. We glued cotton balls to a paper plate, then added black triangles, rectangles (face and feet) and googly eyes to make sheep. Few of the kids performed all the steps (including putting their name on the work) themselves without adult assistance.

Since I usually teach high school art, I'm used to a variety of abilities in my students. However, the severe disabilities are somewhat unfamiliar to me and always a bit of a ... shock (?) Any special ed teacher or sub stories out there?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Guten Morgen, Mein Kinder!

Taught German class this afternoon!!!

So fun -

A) I got to brush up on and test my German skills

B) At OHS - love those kids

C) Got to watch "Shrek" dubbed in German and a film I hadn't seen, "Advertising Rules" - German with English subtitles. It was really good and I wish I knew how it ended.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Back at Work ...


Well, Spring Break was kind of a bust, partly because I leave a bunch of lame things like taxes and license renewal until I have "time off," and partly because the universe conspired against me in the form of a hefty traffic ticket and poor medication side effects.

So I went back to work today, grateful for the routine, the distraction from bureaucratic ickyness, and the paycheck.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Almost there ...

Last week of school before Spring Break! I already have a to-do list a mile long ... boring things like taxes, doctor's appointments, and job applications as well as fun things like hair beautification and a decent pedi. That's the trouble with an inconsistent work schedule - a lot of big and little things get put off!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

He was so quiet ...

... kept to himself a lot.

So this is a post about an origami lesson gone a bit awry. Middle school, the class was called "Explorations" or some other such nonsense, pretty much it is what passes for an elective in a K-8 with no art teacher. So, the math teacher I was subbing for was supposed to do art projects with a random group of 7th and 8th graders. She thought it would be easier on the sub to have them do study hall while she was away but previous experience with this group taught me otherwise. So, I busted out some copy paper and the one tupperware of lost little colored pencils and came up with an origami lesson.

Step 1: Fold a triangle across your paper and cut off the excess to make a square. (This takes them more than 5 minutes, I swear.)

Step 2: Select two or three colors and make a spring-time pattern all over your paper. (I demo with pink cherry blossoms and orange dots.) Remember! Do not draw a picture, just repeat one or two elements all over the page!!

I give them 20 minutes or so and circulate while they draw. Bunnies, lines, polka dots, leaves, flowers, birds start to appear on the papers.

Except one kid.

Who has drawn, in startling detail, a dead bird in the center of his page. He took a red colored pencil, drew the blood pool coming out from under it.

Now, I'm 99% sure that he did it just to get a rise out of me and the other kids, a small rebellion against cheerful lesson plans and limiting instructions. But 1% of me? Not so sure.

And that's the thing about substitute teaching. You see the tiniest slice of what a student is all about. You can go on your gut of "is this kid going to be a problem for the next 45 minutes?" but you really know nothing about them. All you can do is your best with a smile, and hope that someday in the future you won't be reading the newspaper and find yourself saying "but he was such a nice boy...."

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Question

"So, what's new with the job search?" "Any jobs out there?" "Have you heard anything about hiring?" While I love, love, love that so many of the teachers I work for care about me and my career, that question (especially in the stasis of February) is akin to some of my other favorites:

"So... when are you two kids getting married?"

"Have you thought about just BUYING a home?"

"Babies are so much fun ... are you next?"

I guess the answer to all of the above (except the baby one) would be "I would if I could people, but until you get a magic wand, you might stop with the frustrating questions!!"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reading the Tea Leaves

One of my New Year's Resolutions (stolen from my boyfriend): drink healthy tea daily. My favorite flavor so far has a mix of green tea, mint, citrus, with echinachea and kombucha for immunity support. A little caffiene, a little tummy-calming mint, an immune boost - perfect for the overworked substitute teacher!
The little paper tab at the top of the string has inspirational thoughts. Here's today's:

Be great,
feel great
and act great.

I find that I do that in reverse order, especially in the classroom - the ol' "fake it 'til you make it" routine. When I'm overwhelmed I act confident and happy, smile big. That gets me feeling better and lo and behold - I'm back in charge and class is flowing smoothly.
What gets you Zen in the classroom?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miss Popular

Well, it looks like I'm booked solid for the next two weeks, including a 4-day-long gig at the ever-lovely NHS and several at my old stomping grounds OHS. Today was middle school math ... kids that really should be well-behaved (upper class neighborhood, etc) but are actually kinda loud and obnoxious. Luckily the days are getting longer so I can unwind with a trip to the bank and library, outside reading time with the newspaper and pet chickens, and now a glass of wine as I blog and listen to the neighbors playing outside. It's amazing what a few hours of light can do for your mood!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Maaarion ... The Libraaaaaaarian

Today and tomorrow I get to sub for OHS's librarian! It's an awesome gig -- there is an assistant there to tell me everything I need to know about all the technology and check-out systems (or just go ahead and run it since that's what she does usually), lots of art projects to do to make the place look nice, research to be done, and kids swinging by. On my plate for this stint: researching websites about Haitian history and culture for a reading/author event, making a poster and cardboard cut-outs for a display case commemorating Dr. Seuss's birthday, and checking the shelves to make sure everything is neat and alphabetized. Rejoice!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Militant Truancy


Monday, February 8, 2010

4 Schools, One Day

Today and tomorrow my job is that of "itenerent math teacher." I travel to 4 different schools in the course of the day, teaching a math class at each one. Travel time and lunch are built into my schedule, so no stress there. But what a weird teaching position. The kids were really great, but I was exhausted when I got home - it could be because I am on working day 7 in a row (second job on the weekends!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Movie Day

What are your thoughts on having the kids watch a movie on "sub day"??

My thoughts are:

Pros- it's easy, it's quiet, and kids usually either get into it or just fall asleep or something.

Cons - kids see right through that flimsy lesson plan, sometimes the technology does not work and then you are really up a creek, and I have to watch the same bleedin' video up to 5 times. Blech!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Classroom Management

OK, this will not be very well thought out, but some thoughts on being a "guest" teacher and classroom management.

First of all, in my regular classroom, I am a very relationship-based teacher. I like to get along with kids, and I want my classroom to be a different sort of place. Power struggles just don't do it for me. To start the year I will stick pretty sharply to classroom rules and the like but as the year progresses, each student becomes an individual.

As a sub, though, you don't have a relationship or prior knowledge of the kids. They might have pre-conceived notions about you, and might be oh-so-ready to play games with an "evil" adult. And you, as this stranger, are a great target.

I have been reading "Love and Logic" and find that a lot of what it contains describes the way I like to teach. But as a sub, it's difficult to follow any classroom management techniques that build trust over time because you only have an hour with the kids. To combat this, I try and present myself as a friendly, easy-going person. I start off with a quick introduction of myself, the assignment for the day, and something positive like "so let's relax and get this Math work done so there is one less weekend assignment!" If it is possible within the lesson plan I do not yell out roll call, I circulate the desks and ask each kid their name. If I can, I add one personal interaction to each one "oh, that's unique," "did I meet you in your science class last week?" or "what is your project topic?" I try and give solid reasons for any restrictions I put on them such as "I'm only letting one student out to the bathroom at a time because I don't know everyone well enough yet to keep track of any more than that. As soon as the pass comes back you are free to go." And I smile, smile, smile!!!

I have found over time that trying to pull power plays on unfamiliar turf will just bite you in the butt.

What types of classroom management techniques do you use? What personality do you try and project?

Monday, January 25, 2010

More found objects

OK, to lighten the mood after Friday's disaster of a day ...

Why does emo Jeff draw vaginas? The world will never know ...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Grr, argh

Two words:

Stink. Bomb.

Three more:

In. The. Classroom.

Monday, January 18, 2010

First Day Ever

I keep a subbing journal in my bag. It's a habit I picked up in grad school, where "reflections" were the main assignment for every class. It does help me reflect on successes and challenges, to note where I can improve. It also serves as documentation of days worked so I can verify my paycheck, a record of things to know about each school or classroom (bad parking, rude secretary, when the prep period is, etc) and a handy place to keep contact info. And it provides fodder for the new blog!

Sub calls were slow when I got started. Finally one of my colleagues called and made an appointment and I got really excited - I knew she would leave a great project and that her students would probably be pretty good. What a great way to start!

The day before that assignment, however, I got a last-minute call from the sub line. Groggily I punched all the numbers - ID, PIN, yes I do want to hear a job. I rolled out of bed and raced through my morning, then jumped in the car to try and find a mystery school. When I arrived I nervously handed over my time sheet, got the sub folder and keys and tried to find the room. I then had 10 minutes to prepare for first period. The teacher's desk looked like a hurricane went through and I couldn't find the book of warm-up exercises. I totally panicked and started pawing through everything like a madwoman. Finally one of the students came up and offered to help, then handed me the right book.

Lesson #1 - The kids know how the classroom works. When in doubt, ask a helper!

The first two classes of social studies went OK. About 80% of kids were on task, with just a few really irritating ones. I got initiated into the lying about classroom procedure game, the name-switch game, and the general off-task game. The schedule then said, "Per 3-4, English" and left a bunch of activities. I raced through every activity on the list, but was surprised when kids didn't jump up and grab their bags when the bell rang for the end of 3rd period. "Well, don't want to be late, do we?" I asked. A kid looked totally confused. "We have a double period. This is just a break for us."

Lesson #2 - Learn to think on your feet.

Well, now I had a whole period to go and had raced through my curriculum. I had 5 minutes to figure out a plan. I ended up having them go through the writing project we had rushed, self-editing and then peer-editing their work. Then they could have SSR time to either finish the assigned reading (that I had of course rushed them through) or to read ahead. That got us to lunch.

Already fatigued, I headed downstairs to find a teacher's lounge and microwave. I then took the time to double-check the schedule and computer-lab policies with the secretaries, because I was tired of surprises. "Oh, go talk to Raoul about the computer lab. He's supervising the playground right now. Black coat." I thanked them and headed out to find Raoul.

Raoul the Brazilian male model-turned-computer science student. Neat.

Raoul was very friendly. And very helpful. "I will come to the computer lab with you sixth period, just to make sure everything goes alright." Yay!

Lesson #3 - Schools are filled with educated adults who have similar interests to yours. Some of them happen to be former models with adorable accents.

So, sixth period in the computer lab rolls around, and Raoul does indeed see how I am doing and check up on a few kids he knows to be trouble makers. "By the way," he said "we're going to have an earthquake drill this period." We looked over the emergency folder together and he showed me the correct turns to get out the door and to the field for kid-inventory. I grabbed the roll sheets and sub folder and kept everything in my arms so I wouldn't have to scramble during the drill.

Sure enough, about 20 minutes later a bell goes off and I shout "EARTHQUAKE!! EVERYONE UNDER THE TABLES!!" Kids duck under, except a few stragglers. "OH NO! TIMMY GOT CRUSHED BY FALLING COMPUTER EQUIPMENT! IF ONLY HE HAD LISTENED TO MS. GT!" We waited a few minutes (for falling debris to settle and in case of major aftershocks) then went out the door and to the field. I had kids facing the fence, in line, within seconds. I saw teachers holding up giant construction paper and asked a neighboring adult what that was all about. She rolled her eyes at me and said in a huff, "It's a red/green card. You're supposed to have it with you. Red means you are missing students and green means you are all there. It's required." I stuck my thumb up in the air as an "OK" signal and responded "well, we just came from the computer lab, and I'm new here. Isn't it also required to have kids lined up and quiet?" OK, I didn't say the last part out loud, but boy was her line a mess.

Lesson #4 - Most people are really nice and helpful. Some see subs as less-than-human, especially young ones.

As I checked out at the main office, the secretaries asked me how my day went. "Well, not bad, considering it was my first day." "It was your first day?!? Well, we never would have known, you were very professional." Yay!

So in my first day I faced a horrible mess of a desk, misbehaving kids, a whole period with no curriculum, an earthquake drill while I wasn't even in the regular classroom, and one rude staff member.

I also got Raoul's phone number.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trouble Maker

Today in 2nd period ...
"Hi, I'm Cody, and I'm the worst troublemaker in the class."

"Hi Cody, nice to meet you."

"No, seriously, I'm the worst troublemaker here. Ms. W throws me out like 10 times a month."

"OK, then."

"Don't you believe I'm the worst troublemaker?"

"I can believe you are the worst troublemaker in the class. Heck, I'll even believe you are the worst troublemaker in the school. But I highly doubt you are the worst troublemaker I've ever met, and I bet we can just have a nice, relaxing, productive class period."


Later on I saw li'l Cody at lunch with his buddies. "Hey Cody, you didn't even crack the top 10. You'll have to try harder next time!" I got a huge smile in response.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Running down the clock

Have you ever gotten a classroom with skimpy (or no) lesson plans?

Thankfully, this does not happen to me very much. However, when it does, you can feel very panicked and worried about losing control of the room, especially when dealing with younger students who need structure and direction all the time.

There are some basic time fillers:
-Study Hall time
-Heads up 7 Up

These are great because students all know how to do them and it requires no extra materials on your part.

If you feel like lugging them around you can have emergency supplies like:
-Worksheets and puzzles
-A nerf ball for a round of silent ball
-Story book for youngsters

One of my favorite time fillers? Paper airplane contest! You can use binder paper or old paper out of the recycle bin. Students work in pairs or solo to create the best airplane they can, with a time limit. For the end part of class, you can either move furniture to create a flight path through the room or take them into the hallway and have them compete for distance. Any students who chose not to make a plane can be judges or write down the names of winning teams for you. You can also assign extra awards for "coolest trick" (for the plane that just looped or crashed spectacularly) "most innovative design" (for the pair that ripped, folded, and torqued their plane in unexpected ways) or "prettiest design" (in case anyone decorated their paper in addition to folding it.)

Do you have any favorite emergency lesson plans???

Friday, January 8, 2010

More found objects

I do not remember being this smart in high school.
(Found at my old high school, which has an unfair reputation for being "ghetto" and underperforming.)

Great week so far!

Wow, I have never been so glad for Christmas (oops, I mean Winter) break to be over! It ended up being a 3-week break for me because the calls stopped on Tuesday the week before break and I didn't get a gig until the day after they came back. Luckily I have a part-time retail gig that keeps me busy in the weeks before Christmas, but ... I'm a teacher, dammit! I want to hang out with kids!
Anyways, my first gig back was a three day stint in a friend's special education room back where I used to teach (OHS). Because the curriculum for these classes is so complicated (they work from a special textbook and workbook that seems like it was written in another language, there are so many routines and jargon words), the teacher and I worked out an alternate arrangement. Pretty much for the three days we would read part of an article about the British graffiti artist Banksy (image above, but your own google search is highly recommended), then work on our own stencils. It was awesome, combining special ed literacy with ART ART ART! By day three we were in an abandoned shop classroom spray painting our stencils. The kids got really creative with color combos and special effects. I really love doing these fun projects with kids and it makes me even hungrier for my own classroom!