Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Teacher Treated Me, the Sub, Well

So often, if I have a partial day subbing job and the teacher is there when I arrive, I will get an extensive treatise on how to use the teacher manual for Everyday Math or the teacher will read the directions on a worksheet to me, as if I have never seen a worksheet before.  It is interesting to me that the teacher feels the need to explain the teaching part of the assignment, when what I really need is the management part of the assignment:  where are the class lists, what is the restroom procedure, do I need to accompany the students to their lunch recess, which door do I go to to pick them up from lunch, which kids leave for special services and when, etc.  If they stop to catch a breath or ask me if I understand what to do, I will often ask this kind of question and I get a surprised look, as if I am concerned about trivia and I should be much more concerned about content.  I guess I am concerned about trivia and less concerned about content.  The content comes easy to me, but the management issues differ greatly from room to room and school to school. And management issues are one of the things that kids find most unsettling, a la, "We don't do things that way." 

I am seldom treated as a real person with interests and abilities.  Oh, sure, most of the teachers are completely polite and grateful that I am there to take over for them, but I could just as easily be anyone - just as long as I take the class and make it through the rest of the day with their students.

So, it was really refreshing the other day when the teacher I was subbing for actually was friendly to ME.  She talked to me as if I had interesting things to contribute to her class and she even built in a couple of times in the schedule where I could add my own background to what her students had been studying.  Sure, she asked the usual questions about whether I understood the plans for the rest of the day, but it was obvious that she respected ME not just as a place holder, but as a person.  It was very refreshing.

And, given her positive attitude, which the kids also heard her express, they also had a positive attitude toward me.  It ended up being a very good day. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

They Identify Themselves

I have just finished reading the NY Times article:
and I am thinking about a recent subbing experience.  I was teaching 4th graders and had the students for 5 different small groups.  There were anywhere from 4 to 6 kids in each group.  Since I was a sub and not the regular teacher, the teacher had left the same assignment for each group.  Most of the groups needed a similar amount of support - help with vocabulary, connection of pictures to text, connection of text to knowledge, etc.  And all of the groups seemed to be quite interested in the topic - the volcanic origin of the Hawaiian Islands. 

But, there was one group that stood out from all of the rest.  They made connections to more other concepts, they had greater background knowledge, they asked more interesting questions.  They were intrigued by the pronunciation of Hawaii words.  And so on.  One young gentleman in particular, the class clown and the one who would certainly be voted "Most Likely to Interrupt the Teacher's Lesson with Some Hilarious Non Sequitur", stood out.  One young lady with sparkling eyes and insightful questions.  And one I had deemed unlikely in the large group, but who came alive in the small group. 

As someone who has nominated, tested, and taught (and raised) gifted children, I am thinking more and more that we could probably just bag the tests and do AnneMarie Roeper style interviews with groups of 4 or 5 students.  The gifted kids would identify themselves.  I love having test results - they are intriguing to me.  But I am not sure they are necessary.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Party Time

I would have skipped it if it had been a single job.  I was subbing for a 4th grade the day before Valentine's Day.  The class was only 20 kids, the teacher had made interesting plans, and the kids and I were having a good day.  But then the secretary asked me if I would come back the next day, since the teacher's children were still sick and she needed a sub for the second day - Valentine's Day.  That meant Valentine's Day parties and marginally controlled bedlam.  But, I really hate to have kids have to have two (or more) different subs in a row, and we had had a good day, so I agreed.

Most of the day was fine.  The kids were disappointed that their regular teacher wasn't there, but we had a good day anyway - for most of the day.  And the kids would say for the entire day.  They do love their parties.

The parents were in charge of the party - food and activities.  There were two adjoining classrooms.  In the other classroom, they were going to play bingo.  In my classroom, they were going to dance.  The parent in my room explained that she had carefully chosen the music, in order to eliminate language and references that were inappropriate for 4th graders.  And most of it was.  It was hilarious to watch the boys start the dancing.  At that age, it is entirely group dancing, usually a circle of boys and a different cluster of girls.  Soon enough, a large number of the kids were dancing - slightly more girls than boys.

Their favorite songs were obviously "I'm Sexy and I Know It" and "Call Me, Baby".  I am glad that I had nothing to do with the music, since I would have been very embarrassed in front of the parents who were there, if they had thought I had chosen these songs.  Virtually all of the kids knew all of the words to those two songs.  It surprises me that the parents thought that they were OK for 4th graders.  And the kids got to vote on which of them they would play again for the last dance ("I'm Sexy and I Know It" won).

Maybe I am getting old, but I remember when we wouldn't have even been allowed to play this song in high school and we certainly wouldn't even have considered the chest shimmy that the girls were doing.

I know kids love parties and Valentine's Day, but I will avoid it if I can.  Sigh. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Importance of Grammar and Spelling

The subbing job I had today started with a daily language exercise, where the students were supposed to correct the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of passages with underlined mistakes.  This they did fairly accurately and well.  Then, later in the day, for social studies, they were presenting Prezi slide shows, with material taken directly from a textbook.  The spelling, punctuation, and grammar of the Prezi presentations was appalling.  Titles were randomly capitalized; "their" and "there" were incorrect; periods were absent from sentences; sentence and paragraph structure were incorrect, etc.  Now, I know this was a fourth grade and their skills are still developing, but it seems to me that, before they were allowed to present their Prezi to the whole class, they should have had the teacher go through the presentations with them to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.  This is WHY they study these topics:  so they will learn to USE them in their own writing.  Yes, I know there are exceptions and Prezi presentations can be very effective with no capital letters and purposely misspelled words.  But you need to know the correct way, in order for the incorrect way to be effective.  Otherwise, it just looks sloppy, unfinished, or unpolished.  And yes, I also know that, for some students, just doing the presentation represents massive effort.  But when the majority of the students aren't using proper writing conventions, it says to me that they aren't being told that they are important. 

This is by far not the only time I have seen this phenomenon.  Far too often, students spend significant amounts of time in language arts classes, studying grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage, only to have those skills be completely ignored or discounted in all of their other classes.  This makes correct spelling (and the others) seem important ONLY in spelling class.  Everywhere else it is ignored.  No wonder there is such a disconnect between the subject areas.  Yes, ideas are important; yes, technological skills are important; but grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage are also important.  Or why else do we spend so much time teaching them?

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Positive Behavior Reinforcers

When I sub, I often am encouraged to use each teacher's or school's particular set of positive behavior re-inforcers.  One school will have tickets; another will have marbles; another will use adding letters to words to earn a particular reward.  Some teachers will use all of those things and more.

The other day, I was introduced to yet another variety of re-inforcer:  the ClassDoJo app.  The teacher I was subbing for had this app on her iPad and on her computer (PC-compatible).  I got to the classroom early (the previous day, I had had trouble finding a school that was unfamiliar to me, and I was afraid of it happening again - but, of course, when I leave EXTRA, EXTRA early, I have no trouble finding the school).  So I got to observe her working with her students and using the ClassDoJo app.  She had excellent control of the classroom and the students were working very productively.  They were working on writing and she was teaching a lesson about writing conclusions.  A lot of the classes I have been teaching lately have been working on persuasive writing, as it is part of the testing that is coming up soon in this state.  The lesson was well thought out and she taught it well.  The writing instruction follows the pretty much standard 5 paragraph essay: introduction (topic and opinion), three paragraphs, each supporting one of the major reasons, and conclusion.  Even the conclusion has a standard format: repeat topic and opinion, restate the three major reasons, demand/urge the reader to action.

While the kids were working on their essays, she used the ClassDoJo app on her iPad to add points to children's records for how they were working.  If they were following independent work expectations, she would tell them, "Good following independent work expectations, [Name]" as she awarded the point.  There was also "Good participation", and several other categories.  There were also negative categories, e.g., "Failure to Follow Instructions" and "Disruptive Behavior".  It seemed to work really well for her.

She needed to take her iPad with her for the meeting she was going to, so she showed me how to use the application on the computer.  It is relatively straightforward and easy to use.  But since the computer was set up to use the Smart Board for everything, it was also completely visible to the students, as it was used.  Evidently there is a contest for the students to have the highest points by the end of the day or week and they followed the standings throughout the day.  As a sub, I found this rather distracting, but the students seemed used to it.

The cracks in the system began to appear after she left me alone with the students.  I had little trouble using the system, but, as usual, the kids test the limits of the sub and using the system wasn't as efficient for me as it undoubtedly was for the regular teacher.  I had two different groups of students (she taught writing to two different classes and science to both of them as well) and I didn't know the names of the students.  The software doesn't use their pictures, just a name and an icon.

The students got work done and their behavior was acceptable, if not stellar.  But I left the school at the end of the day feeling uncomfortable.  And, on my long drive home, I was trying to figure out why I felt slightly down and depressed.  And, it occurred to me:  I felt like Pavlov's dogs: manipulated and conditioned, treated as an object, and not as a person.  I don't know if the students felt like that.  There was one student who said that this was the best school he had ever been in.  But there were 3 or 4 students for whom the system seemed to represent a negative.  I was only there a half day, so I don't know any more than that.  But I do know the effect that it had on ME wasn't especially good.  I felt that I hadn't had a chance to talk to kids, to interact with them on a personal level.  The system seemed to be a barrier between us.

When it is used on the iPad and is more hidden, it can give excellent information to the teacher about which kids are exhibiting which behaviors.  I am not sure how customizable it is, but it would be interesting to me to record things like higher level questioning, insightful answers, kindness to others, etc.  But I am not comfortable with putting such a strong emphasis on the number of points each student has and passing out rewards for that.  It feels a bit Big Brotherish to me.

Positive behavior re-inforcers seem to be very popular, but they make me uncomfortable.  And yet, most teachers swear by them.  I feel like we are manipulating students into behaviors that they should exhibit without the reward system.  They should be exhibiting good behavior for its own sake and not for the reward.  But, in some of the schools they seem to work.

I feel out of step.  Once, again.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Book about French Kids' Eating Habits

I have posted this on my book blog, but I am posting it here, too, because I think the review deals with some important education issues, too. This issues include teaching kids about nutrition and foods.

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy EatersFrench Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I do not have young children any more, I enjoyed reading this book. As a substitute teacher, I go to many different schools and I have previously taught regularly in quite a few more and I am not happy with the eating habits I see kids developing. It started with water. There was a big push to have kids drink more water and since the water from drinking fountains was often not very good, kids started bringing their own water bottles. Then kids would substitute juice for plain water, which soon was switched out for energy drinks. The morning milk and cookies snack, became the morning juice and crackers snack. Then came the decision that kids should determine when they were hungry and thirsty, so they should be allowed to eat whenever they felt they needed to. In some schools, VERY MANY of them, actually, this has become "kids can eat all day, whenever they want". This has led to an INCREDIBLE amount of food being thrown out - from their school lunches or from their packed lunches, usually food that is higher in nutrition than sweet drinks and chips of various sorts. Even at the high school and middle school level, in MANY schools, kids are eating virtually all day. I had one very chubby girl tell me that she "needed" to eat all day, or else she would suffer from faintness. She could have been telling the truth, I have no way of knowing, but it certainly wasn't doing her any good to be eating cookies all day.

So, it was very interesting to me to read about a different culture where this was not accepted. The only problem with this book for me personally is that I really do not like to cook. It made me wish very much that I did.

I must also admit to skimming a lot of the latter part of the book. Still, if either of my daughters ever decide to have children, I may seriously consider buying this for them. And should I ever have a say in the matter, I would also seriously advocate for changing the eating habits of children in American schools.

View all my reviews

Tugs at My Heart

I am not sure how to post this so that there is absolutely no chance that the person in question would find it and feel exposed.

I subbed for a class the other day that was working on persuasive writing.  They were supposed to write a persuasive essay about something they would really like to have from their parents.  As I was helping one student structure the essay, the only thing that s/he could think of that s/he wanted was for her family to spend more time together so that they would love each other more and not fight as much.  I almost cried as I worked with him/her.

And, the question came to me, how could I help this child?  I am a sub and I don't have any chance for long term input.  I told the teacher next door about the essay.  And I looked for a counselor (but didn't find one).  I wrote a note to the regular teacher, but, due to many factors, she probably won't be able to follow up on it much.

So, there is this post.  Please love your family.