Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Even I Get Tired of My Complaints

I was subbing the other day in a technology class and, since the regular teacher hadn't sent in lesson plans, his friend, the librarian, was explaining what the kids were supposed to do. That much is fine, but why did I detect a note of "this is probably too hard for you to understand or do much about" in his explanation? True, I am older and probably don't look all that technology literate, but why is that an assumption? I actually have a master's degree in computer science. True, it is a bit outdated, but I have learned things in the meantime. And the teachers who stopped by to pick up printouts also seemed to have that look on their faces, that "Gee, I am surprised YOU are in this job" look.

When I sub for teachers who are actually there and who explain the day to me, I also sometimes get that look. And, even sometimes from other teachers who stop by to help. Don't get me wrong, I am VERY HAPPY when the teachers nearby offer to help (or even just introduce themselves and make me feel welcome), but I am often surprised what they offer to help with. The things that I often need are class lists (why, oh why, do elementary teachers usually forget to leave a spare class list and, if they switch classes for a certain subject, a class list for the other class as well), schedules, a map of the school, directions on where to pick up the kids after they go to lunch and recess, where the copier is in case I have to make emergency copies. Instead, what I often get is questions about whether I can handle the curriculum for the day. That isn't, by the way, usually the hardest part of the day.

Which brings me to another question: why do teachers often give busywork (a puzzle worksheet, a movie with note-taking) to a sub? The students recognize that it isn't part of what they would normally be doing. It is actually harder to get them to do work that is "easier". They recognize that it isn't important and that the regular teacher will probably just throw out any papers they do while the sub is there. What regular teachers would consider an "easy day" has frequently actually been harder for me. The only conclusion I can come to is that the regular teachers don't have much confidence in the abilities of subs. Perhaps this is justified. But in many cases it is not. I have talked to a lot of subs over the course of my years subbing and many are retired teachers, others are people new to the area, trying to get a foothold in the school district. They usually take only jobs for which they are qualified.

Perhaps the reason the regular teachers are less confident in subs is that subs DO mess up at times. Part of the problem is dealing with normal classroom routines, which the teachers often don't explain - How are requests to go to the bathroom handled? Are kids allowed to go to the library during independent reading? What do you do when the kids don't have any pencils? How do you switch the overhead projector from the document camera to the laptop?

There are lots of things that the teachers assume the subs will know or that the kids will tell them. But often the kids will tell the subs the wrong things - yes, we are allowed to wear hats in class; yes, we can chew gum; the teacher always lets us do X... And, in a few classes, where bossy kids have been designated as "helpers", I have gotten so annoyed at the "help" that I had to ask the student to stop helping me - you have to push this button to get the overhead to work; no, it must be this button; well, maybe this has to be unplugged and plugged in over here; no, maybe that was OK, but this needs to be turned on (and by that time, the whole set up is hopelessly messed up). There are times when I just want to say, "I CAN read the teacher's directions by myself." But, of course, there are also times when the teacher assumes that all subs can work their particular kinds of equipment. Guess what, subs are never trained on using the equipment - and different kinds of equipment are set up differently, are activated differently, and fail differently.

Yes, the curriculum is usually the least of my worries. But I think that probably, for the regular teachers, it is the MOST of THEIR worries, so they assume that it will be the biggest worry for the sub as well. Regular teachers are used to their equipment, their routines, their school procedures, and they don't have to be aware of them - they just ARE. Delivering the curriculum is their focus.

That, and the behavior of the students. I usually DO get warnings about the problem students.

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