Saturday, September 17, 2011

And Again

Monday night I got called to sub for the rest of the week - four more days.  It is now Saturday and I made it through the week.  From what I heard, he will be back on Monday, so I am hoping I am done.  Eight days in all.  It really wasn't that bad, but it wore me out.  First of all, I have had a year off without having to work and, even though it was frustrating in many ways, it wasn't exhausting.  Subbing full time is exhausting.  The exhaustion stems from several sources:  discipline, procedures, work parameters, and content.

Discipline:  this is always a challenge for subs.  With younger kids, they are often upset that their teacher mom is gone and purposely act up a bit, so that the substitute won't stay and replace their teacher mom.  With older kids, it is the chance to gain popularity points by being a clown or annoying the sub in any of many "subtle" ways.  One class I was in this year, a high school math class, while the class was quietly working on the assignment, every so often, a boy would say clearly, "Penis".  I think the game is to see how long they can keep it up, before the sub tells them to stop.  Sigh.  Another high school class:  the kids were using patty paper to explore translation, rotation, and reflection.  One boy took a tape roll and taped paper to his face.  The question is always, how much to try to ignore and how much to intervene in.  With the classes this week, relatively older students, I chose to ignore some of the childish behavior, but eventually had to intervene in some of the most egregious instances.  Luckily, so far this year, I have taught essentially good kids, who are just being silly, immature, whatever, because they can.  Unlike some of the schools I have been in, they aren't threatening or dangerous - just obnoxious.

Procedures are also a source of stress.  How does this school organize the day?  Is there a dress code - for students and/or staff?  How do you get copies made if you need them?  Where do you park, so you aren't ticketed?  How is attendance done?  What are the hall rules?  What about students leaving the classroom for the bathroom, their lockers, a drink of water?  How often is homework handed in?  Where is it put?  And dozens of other questions.  This past few days, one procedural source of stress was the fact that subs in this building are not issued keys for the day.  The faculty restrooms are supposed to be locked, so there isn't a locking mechanism on the inside of the door.  But, since I didn't have a key, I couldn't lock the door - meaning anyone could open it.  Not having a key also meant I couldn't get into the room with the teachers' desks, their supplies and the microwave and the room where the other teachers ate lunch.  It also meant that I couldn't get into the computer lab for the lesson I was supposed to teach there.  There are work arounds to all of these problems, but they take more time and energy than just using a key would take and they make the sub feel helpless and like a second class citizen. 

Work parameters:  these are similar to procedures, but more specific to the teaching part of the job.  Are there lesson plans?  Are the materials for the lessons available?  What happens if the lesson plans are absent? take too long? don't take long enough?  What if the teacher doesn't specify what to do about homework?  Is grading homework part of the lesson or left for the teacher?  What can you do if the students don't understand the lesson at all?  What if you discover that the teacher has taught a previous concept incorrectly?  This has happened to me at least twice.  The lesson I remember best was about scientific notation.  The teacher had taught that scientific notation used the significant figures and one decimal, then powers of ten for the rest of the notation, e.g. 1234.5 X 10^8, which is incorrect.  It should be 1.2345 X 10^11.

This last example overlaps with another source of stress for subs: content.  What if the content is unfamiliar?  There isn't a lot of time to prepare for teaching a lesson.  What do you do when you know you aren't quite prepared enough?  What if you are called to teach Chinese, because there is no one else willing to take that class? And you don't know any Chinese?

In the end, I did OK.  I wish I had been more confident with the calculus, but maybe it is OK to let them know that this is hard stuff and you don't always get it right the first time.  And, on the last days, I did have a bit of fun.  I had brought in my Escher stuff for the geometry classes to look at and two of the students in one of the classes were very interested in it.  So I let them take two of the models of Kaleidocycles and assemble them.  They had a good time doing them and the other students were impressed, so, on the last day, I showed the geometry classes how to make tri-hexaflexagons.  Some of the calculus students wanted to do them, too.  I love it when something really ignites their interest.

I also like the Geometer's Sketchpad lesson I developed.  It wasn't any great shakes as far as content or process, but I was proud of the fact that I developed it rather quickly and did so in spite of only having briefly used the software on one of the previous days.  And, it was a valid thing to do at that point in their studies.

I hope the regular teacher is satisfied with the work I did for him.  I guess I shouldn't worry about the geometry, at least, since he didn't tell me what to do.  I did stuff that was helpful and consistent with what they should have been learning at that point.  He may be less satisfied with the calculus.  But I did what I could.  So that is what he gets.

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