Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fare Thee Well, '10-'11

Well, unlike last year, the end of the 2010-2011 school year was busy busy busy. Not only did I make good on my promise to work the last day of school (AM assignment with Life Skills at OHS!), I actually worked every school day in June.

This summer, I am working events for a small local business, vending at fairs and whatnot, volunteering, teaching a 2-week arts-focused day camp, and being a good little housewife as my fiancee and I move into the house we just bought - I'll be in charge of unpacking and organizing our stuff, decorating, and spending his hard earned money on furniture and other feminine frippery.

What will the next school year bring? Well, hopefully a *real* teaching job. But with budget cuts all around and deep cuts in the arts, it's not looking good. If I am back and subbing next year, I have a couple of potential family leaves to cover for. Also, my main district is moving to a new substitute phone system that will put more emphasis on license area and teacher requests and less on seniority. I have also been invited by our union group to join the substitute bargaining committee, duking it out with the big boys at the district office. Whatever happens next, it's sure to be exciting!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almost there!

My school district is out next Tuesday. Mentally, I had prepared to be "done" earlier this month, thinking "oh, jobs will be really slim in June, who hires a sub the last week of school?"

Answer: everyone, apparently. I have worked every single school day in June, and I'm booked tomorrow, Monday, and hopefully the last day of school (had a teacher ask me but it's not in the online system yet.)

Over here on the west coast it has been unseasonably cold and cloudy, which makes it feel like the school year will go on forever. But the signs of the end of school are there: packed up boxes in classrooms, test study guides, libraries and textbook rooms in disarray, hyper kids. On days like yesterday, when I had 7th graders all day at AK-8, this is a Good Thing. "Nearly done!" I think to myself, with relief. But days like today, with some of my favorite freshmen at OHS, I get a little wistful and the rays of sun are a Sad Thing. It is especially hard as a sub because while I care about them very much, the kids don't really know me and won't miss me too much. Also, since I am applying like mad to any available jobs, I may not work for the district next year and therefore probably won't see them again.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


Normally when I get a call for OK-8 I flat-out turn it down. I did a day or two there as a rookie and with the volume of my business now, have the privilege of never going back. It's one of those urban schools where the kids are loud and unruly and bring so many issues to the classroom that it makes for a nightmarish day. However, as the school year winds down I'm hearing out any job offer because I know I'll regret passing up money. So I listened to the job offer - afternoon only? dance class? Hell yeah!! Sleep in and then go to dance class? Sure, why not?
I figured that we'd probably watch a movie but just in case, I grabbed my dance bag (my hobby is bellydancing, the bag had loose yoga pants, CDs, and some "extras" like my veil and finger cymbals.)
When I arrived, it turned out we WERE dancing and using the auditorium as a classroom so I spent my prep time figuring out the sound system (the best I could do was put my CDs in the DVD player and play them through the TV. The first group arrived, a mix of 1st and 2nd graders. The procedure was to make them run in a giant circle for 5 minutes to warm up, then lay on the floor for 3-4 minutes to calm down and focus, then play "freeze dance." The running went well. The laying down? Not so much. I made them listen to a calm song twice and maybe got 10 seconds of consecutive quiet. Then we played freeze dance and I pulled out my practice veil and let kids take turns spinning with it, which they enjoyed. Unfortunately I had the discipline problem of one kid biting four others ... oh well. This is why I refuse to try and teach them math.
The lesson plan repeated for the 3rd and 4th grade group. They got pooped a little faster then the little ones, but still didn't want to leave when I had to send them back. At the end of the afternoon I stunk of sweat- mine and theirs - and I should probably apologize to my veil. But I think it was a success.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Today's middle school art lesson plan? "Junk Sculptures." Now, don't get me wrong, I was subbing for one of the best art teachers in the district, her students are really well trained, friendly, and engaged, and it's a cool project to promote recycling and reusing and to creatively solve problems. However, it's probably best done when you aren't going to have subs (looking at the notes there was a sub last Friday as well) because the project is accomplished with:

-8 giant tupperwares of random crap, including sharp things and yanked apart computer parts
-1 vice and 3 saws
-2 hot glue guns
-15 pairs of pliers and 1 pair of tin snips
-20 different screwdrivers
-4 hammers
-1 drill press

Holy crap! I thought that the day I had to hand out 8 razor blades for flower dissection was the craziest sub plan ever. I was wrong.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

June's Goal

You may remember how surprised I was to get a call on the FIRST DAY of school. Since then I have been working regularly, even turning down jobs (I've had four requests for this Friday, alas, I can only take one). My new goal - to work the LAST day of school, June 14th! I'm already booked for June 13th, can I make that last juicy day?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to get ahead in subbing (and yes, it involves really trying)

I wrote most of this as a comment on another sub's blog and then thought "hey, wait! Why does their blog get all these cool ideas and mine doesn't?" So here is an expanded version on my reply to the question, "Is subbing a popularity contest? Why do some subs get significantly more calls than others?"
Being a good teacher is the first step in getting lots of calls. The second step is to treat subbing like a career in free-lancing. That means publishing business cards, shaking hands, introducing yourself to teachers, secretaries and administrators, and being available to your customers. Check your e-mail regularly, have your phone number on your cards and notes, and clear your schedule. Your business card should create your "brand" - stay away from cutesy apple clip art unless you want to only sub K-3. Mine has a graceful leafy plant design in violet, with one leaf photoshopped to be a yellow-red gradient, my one nod to the autumnal aesthetic in back-to-school stuff. As an art teacher, I want my card to have good design! Up top it says "GT Goddess Experienced District Substitute" (It used to say MS/HS Humanities when I first started but now I know that I like teaching math and science too) and underneath my cell phone number and district e-mail. I also have stationary with that same leaf design that I can use for my notes - again with the "brand."
When you are writing your notes, it is good to use student names - it shows you actually learned a few and that you were aware of what was happening in the room. Also, sign off on a positive note and ask to come back, sealing that by leaving your sub number and phone number. I know a lot of teachers are anxious about how their class behaved, if you can sound like you actually enjoyed spending time with them that can increase your chances for a call back. Many schools and teachers pick subs not just for their expertise, but for their "fit" in the building, so complimenting students and staff goes a long way. For example: "Johnny had a little trouble staying quiet for the reading activity, Mr. Jones from next door was super helpful and gave me some tips and the activity went smoothly from there - Johnny even shared out an answer!"
I start each school year with an e-mail to all the teachers I subbed for in the past year (keep track!) telling them I'm back on the sub list (many assume that if you are that good you have a classroom job now) and that I would love to sub for them. I usually get at least 10 immediate requests for days from just that one effort. Throughout the year I take calls at pretty much all hours, spend a lot of time discussing scheduling and lesson plans, and keeping track of all schedule requests.
I treat subbing like a small business: self-promotion, networking, the works. But it still comes back to being a good teacher and doing your best in the classroom every day.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday the 13th

I'm not superstitious but I think one of Hell's minions escaped on this accursed day, this one in the guise of a 7th grader named Chad:

"I just wanted to properly greet you and let you know that the only reason I'm here is to make sure you earn your paycheck."

Well, Chad, I can always send you down to the office and make sure the principal earns his ...

Saturday, April 30, 2011


As my dear readers know, I teach mostly high school but in a wide variety of schools, from alternative high schools for inner city near-drop-outs, to a high school in a district populated mostly by rednecks, to a high school in "the hills" of suburbia with the kids of lawyers and professors who are just one step down from sending their kids to private school.

Anyways, I was at this rather well-off school this week and had the math class FROM HELL. I think the most infuriating thing about it is that these kids are supposed to know better. Demographically, they have been raised in 2-parent homes, gone to nice schools with high standards since Kindergarten, are likely to go on to college, and have been exposed to the value of an education (family, friends, and neighbors who are doing well thanks to their degrees.) Even if they don't match these demographics, they are going to a school where these attitudes are the norms and the predominant culture. So it makes me angry when they are rude, off-task, loud, and openly hostile to learning because they are squandering the opportunities that my other students don't have.

Since one of the purposes of this blog is to vent, and because I can't say it to their faces, I will say it now: YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

Yes, you, white male Soph-o-moron. You are ruder than the middle schoolers in the special education class for kids with behavioral disorders at AK-8.

Yes, you sassy girl. You think you are soooo street when you listen to your headphones during class and bop along to the words instead of listening to my explanation in math, but a know a few single moms on the north side that can kick your butt in work ethic. And they will, and I will laugh.

Yes, you, Junior in Algebra 1. You think you are delightfully, counter-culturally average. In a school with over achievers, you revel in not achieving. You wear your C's with pride. Let me tell you, there is a world beyond this high school. A world where lots of Juniors are in Algebra 1 because they have been hampered with sub-par schools their whole life, because they don't have parental support after school, because they don't believe college can be a reality for them. Stop wasting your time on sitting around, your parents' money on weed. Or don't. I really don't care, because tomorrow I'm going to go to a different school and expend my energy on kids who need it. Right now, as you graffiti the table and tear your worksheet up into little pieces, I'm imagining you pumping gas for all the students who clawed their way out of poverty by using all the opportunities provided to them at school and beyond.

OK, that feels better.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


This week I taught newcomer ESL at OHS for four days. It was really interesting and exciting and a new challenge. My day went like this:

Per 1/2 - Language arts block with all the students.
Per 3 - Prep
Per 4- ESL Math with half the students.
Per 5 - ESL Math with the other half of the students.
Per 6 - Duty
Per 7 - Language support with all the students. (Computer reading programs, reading time, conversation practice, HW help, etc.)

At OHS, they have the ESL kids divided into two sections - those who had school in their country of origin and those who didn't. I had the kids who didn't, which makes life even more interesting.
One thing I learned really quickly is that these students are not reflected in mass-produced ESL curriculum. One passage that we read was entitled "My English Class" and listed all the people in the narrator's class. They were from Mexico, Puerto Rico, China, Japan, and France. My kids? They were from Somalia, Chad, Kenya, Burma, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It's really hard explaining to kids who just learned the English alphabet in September (or more recently, since immigration plans don't really take into account our school year) that the "J" sound is totally different if they are reading about "Juan." Another bizarre thing was that while the curriculum did include a nice variety of foreign names, all the "American" names were old-fashioned ones like Frank, Loretta, Patty, or Margaret. Really, how often will today's generation need to stumble over "Margaret" rather than "Jessica?" Also, I totally skipped the reading lesson that wanted them to try and decipher cursive. That's just cruel.
The last period of my last day there, I gave them a little break - we watched shorts from "Shaun the Sheep" by Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit guy) and I made a little handout to answer questions using this week's vocabulary and sentence structure. Nick Park's stuff is awesome for this because there is no dialogue - all the plot is shown with action and expression. It makes everything very universal. Here's one that we watched:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Prep Period

As a sub, sometimes you really need your prep period. Getting the lessons ready, pre-reading the book or assignment, using the computer to arrange/confirm future jobs, going to the bathroom, cleaning up from previous students - these are all important activities. Sometimes you just need to chill out from the crazy classes or mentally prepare for the next.

But sometimes, you are really, really bored. This is especially true if there is no computer available or if you can't log on. Unnecessary prep periods can be a great time to earn gold stars as a sub. Some stuff to try:

-Go to the library and offer to shelve/organize books.
-Go to the art room and offer to clean painting supplies or organize materials, or to hang up work in a display or bulletin board.
-Go to the staff room and do any dishes in the sink.

Any others?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We Wish You Were Our Teacher All the Time!

This statement is a double edged sword. Just as you get all happy and proud that a student said that to their substitute teacher, you get the follow-up:

"... because you let us talk all period."

"... because we never get to watch movies with our regular teacher."

"... because you're pretty."

Today, though, I got a great comment:

"I wish you were our art teacher all the time because instead of just telling us our paintings are bad, you show us ways to improve them and tell us when we do it well."

Aw. Thanks kid. I try.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alas, poor mouse

Today I subbed at one of my regular gigs, freshman science at OHS. I knew already that 1) this was an unexpected absence and so there were no lesson plans, I would have to make it up and 2) I would have a first period prep to do so. I didn't even go to the classroom, just straight to the library to use the computers to print out two articles on earthquake preparedness (2 different lengths/reading levels) and then back to the office to photocopy and staple them. After chatting with some teachers I headed up to the room to get ready, with about 10-15 minutes to spare.

I noticed a white board propped against the teacher desk with "Mouse Names" at the top and several suggestions below. (Some of my favorites included "Khadafi," "Osama," and "Despereaux.") There must be a new pet, I thought, to add to the turtles and house plants already there. I saw the cage and headed over to look - and there he was, curled up asleep in his food bowl. I looked closer and he didn't move. I tapped the glass and he didn't move. Fearing the worst, I opened the cage and tapped his cold furry back.

Yup. Dead.

Quickly, I put the cage in the back storage room and locked it tight. When the kids came in I insisted their teacher had taken the mouse home and that's why the cage wasn't there. At lunch I called her cell and gave her a heads up so she can either find a matching grey mouse or break the news to them. I mean, that's why she gets the big bucks and I'm "just a sub."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Pat's

I celebrated by wearing the only two ceramics-room-appropriate (ie, school appropriate and they can get messy) green things I own: a jade green sweater vest and socks with little green dinosaurs all over them (plus jeans and an art apron). The teacher next door had a great idea - she was handing out green yarn to any kid who forgot it was St Patrick's Day for the price of a pinch!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The news from Japan sucks and is scary.

Charlie Sheen is getting more attention than cuts to education and attacks on public employees.

The weather here is gray gray gray and the educational forecast is just as gloomy.

This is the season when stress, rumors, and rumblings about the budget situation for the next school year raise and moods lower. The tax revenue numbers, retirement notices, and student enrollment choices haven't been tallied, so all people can go on is rumors, assumptions, and worst-case-scenario estimates.

Basically there is a gloom train that goes round and round the staff room and round and round my head.

Every March I get a little hopeful for the upcoming job market and then a lot depressed about the future out-of-work teachers in line in front of me and the lack of job openings waiting for us. Do I sub again next year? Do I jump ship and try a new career? Do I gamble on adding another endorsement? Those last two options take planning and commitments that are directly opposed to the "wait-and-see" of teaching jobs, which can open up as late as October.

I think I just need some sun to try and boost my mood!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Epic Excuse

Dear Teacher,
Please excuse Marie Smith for being late, the toaster exploded.

-Mr. Smith

Monday, February 7, 2011


You would think that a day that involved me guilt-tripping a parent for taking her daughter out to lunch (seriously, the kid has missed a week in my class) and this ultimatum to computer-game-playing kids: "If you don't stop playing that game, by Friday either I'm going to be in the looney bin or one of you will be in the hospital" would be filed under "bad day."

But no, it was one of my best days at GHS yet, with ACTUAL TEACHING occurring (I got to introduce 2 new topics), aesthetic feedback on projects, and finally getting down most of the names!

We'll see about the computer game issue.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Steady Gig @ GHS

So, an art/technology teacher in another district planned to take family leave for the birth of his first child, so I got on the sub list in that district so I could take the job. He teaches web design, Photoshop, and Illustrator ... not my strongest suit but I took some time to prepare. I just finished my first week (he gets 2 weeks paid, and may choose to take unpaid time after that) and it has been crazy! Luckily the kids are pretty good - no major shenanigans, just sometimes they get lazy and come up with excuses not to work. It's weird being out in the suburbs - lots of white kids and really nice facilities. It's also good to get known in new districts to widen the job search net come Spring.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Scene: AHS, special ed room. Students are supposed to work on homework or in-class work with my help. One student won't do anything, and won't do the default activity of reading a book.

Me: Will, I'm going to ask again if there is ANYTHING you can do right now to be productive?

Will: Nope. Just wanna sleep, or go home.

Girl Across The Room: Will, you are so lazy that when you die they need to bury you on your stomach to give your ass a break!

I just about died trying not to laugh.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Busy week

When I went to bed on MLK Day I had a free and clear week ahead of me.

5:34 the next day I get a call ... and they just snowball from there until I was working every day this week and turning jobs down too!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Don't see this every day ...

Usually my "normal" friends get to discuss their day at work like this:

"Today someone brought cookies!"


"Today our servers went down, luckily I had some filing to do!"

I get to say:

"Today two 8th grade boys performed for the class, one rapping and the other providing the beat with a dingeridoo!"

My day ruled!

(Confused? )