Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Well-Rounded Education

I'm nearing the end of my third week as a substitute teacher, and I have to say it's quite an eye-opening experience. I have taught several different topics so far, including English/Language Arts, Social Studies, and Art. I was even "tricked" into being the In-School Suspension Coordinator for a middle school last week. The computer said it was a Social Studies assignment, so I accepted...and then found out when I arrived that the Social Studies teacher is now the ISSP Coordinator (translation: let's put 11 kids with attitude and behavior issues into one small room the size of a storage closet with no windows and teach them to behave...not likely). I survived, but wow, do I ever have more respect for my parents for raising my brother and I to respect our elders after being so disrespected by the ISSP students. Those kids were obviously testing me, and I get that, but if I had EVER acted like that in school I wouldn't have been able to live it down with my folks.

And today, I taught Math to sixth and seventh-grade students at another middle school. Math, as anyone who knows me well enough will understand, is not my favorite subject. I really do believe that despite my teacher's best efforts, I was just never meant to be a math person. I can compute basic figures in my head well enough. I liked Geometry because it was like a game to me somehow. But where in life will you REALLY need to know that (3+x)/(14-y)=132? I mean, that's fine if you want to be a scientist or a mathematician, but I was just more worried about learning to balance my checkbook. Anything with the word "calculus" in it was just too terrifying for me. But the teacher who called me to sub for her is a friend from church, and I've known her for quite some I accepted the assignment and just hoped for the least it wasn't high school pre-calc or something like that.

Lo and behold, she had an awesome lesson plan all written out for me and all I had to do was follow it carefully. Hand out the assignment, help the 6th graders if they had questions, and make sure the 7th graders didn't talk during their test. It was somewhere about halfway through the day that I realized, "I can totally relate to these kids." Now, I don't think I'm going to run out and get my teaching certificate and specialize in Math, but I had some sort of epiphany that because Math frustrates me, I was really working harder to make sure the students could get a better handle on things. Maybe that will make a difference for them later down the road, even just a tiny insignificant difference.

So subbing is going well. The kids are having a blast with my mom during the day, so that's just another blessing I count among many each time. And several teachers today asked me for my contact information so they could call and request me, so I take that as a positive sign. I don't know if middle school is really my "favorite" age group, since I haven't worked with elementary or high school all that much yet, but it's nice to know I'm doing something right.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Learning Curve

So my first day as a substitute teacher was Monday, and thank you Meagan for reminding me to give an update! Things went pretty well. Actually, the first half of the assignment I didn't even have students. It's a school that works in four blocks of classes each day and then the blocks rotate every other day. Instead of having seven classes that are 50 minutes long each, there are four classes that are 90 minutes long. Each school will be different, so the trick is to learn to adapt, I suppose.

Since my assignment was for HALF of a day, I was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 a.m. I got there early. Not just 30 minutes early because that's what was recommended by our instructor in orientation, but over 45 minutes early because I had allowed for traffic on 95...not thinking about the fact that there really isn't any rush hour traffic at 10:30 a.m. My mom met up with me to get the kids and take them back to her house, and from there I jumped on 95 and zoomed right up.

I was early enough to get to the main office and check in, and I made it to "my" assigned classroom in plenty of time to meet the teacher I'd be subbing for. That's when I found out that the next class session is her planning period. Meaning no students. Oh, and don't forget a 30-minute lunch break. I was told to take lunch and be back in the classroom by 1:15, since students would be arriving around 1:23 and the final bell for class to start would ring at 1:28.

I went to the cafeteria because (gasp!) I hadn't been on-the-ball enough to grab a frozen dinner from my kitchen, and I was not at all shocked to find that cafeteria food hasn't changed much since I was a high school student. It wasn't terrible, don't get me wrong, and for $3 you wouldn't be able to find much better elsewhere, but I will definitely be remembering to bring my lunch from here on out. There was another sub in the teacher's lounge when I got there and we chatted for a while...but as soon as she found out I was a "newbie" she got a huge grin on her face. She gave me some good, practical advice about how to handle the students in my class. Basically, the rules include things like "Don't let them know it's your first day." Oh, and "Make sure you tell them you will not tolerate profanity in your classroom." Yikes.

I got to my classroom with plenty of time to spare, reviewed the lesson plan the teacher and I had discussed before she left, and then started greeting the students as they arrived. The coursework was simple...some workbook time (grammar) and then an in-class open-book essay quiz on Act One of Othello. Should have been simple. But these kids wanted to talk. A lot. To each other, and especially to the kids who were sitting across the room from them. Fine, I'll mention that in my note to the teacher. I had a good handle on my control and didn't snap, since I'm pretty sure they were hoping I would. I calmly told them that they needed to have the assignment completed and turned in by the end of class. I even walked around the room every so often and discreetly had the "willing to work" students mark a star on the corner of their assignment, so that I could tell the teacher to look for the star if she wanted to know who was really dedicating themselves to their work.

By the end of the class, I was still doing fine. I only had one student who was tardy, and out of 26 that wasn't bad. Out of 26, however, three refused to do the quiz and turned in nothing to show for the day. That was students turned their essays in, I marked it down on the attendance roster so the teacher would have that on record.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with my first day. I'm glad I did a half day first to give myself that confidence boost I needed. Tomorrow and Friday I have an assignment with a middle school, much closer to where my mom lives. Again, I'm teaching a Language Arts Class, and while I've been warned by several "pro" teachers that middle school is probably the roughest age group, I think I can handle it. And I'll learn from it, too, so that each class I teach will be that much better for all involved. :)