Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reciting the Pledge Every Day

This is a duplicate from one of my other blogs, but I think it is relevant here, too, so I am reposting.  

As a substitute teacher, I get to visit many different classrooms in many different schools.  In many of these schools the students are given the “opportunity” to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day, usually at a designated time announced over the intercom.  This gives me the chance to observe what children of many ages do when reciting the Pledge.  Most stand; most put their hand over their heart – until you get to middle school and then the hand starts to sink lower and lower, until, in high school, it is much closer to the top of their chair.  Most say the Pledge.  Some just mumble in the correct rhythm.

I think reciting the pledge every day actually leads to complete disregard of its meaning. I am pretty sure that most of the younger students have NO IDEA what they are saying or why. And the older ones, who should have a clue, just mumble so that they appear to be patriotic, but they are really not thinking about it at all.

Yes, they do learn the words.  But I much prefer mindfulness in this regard.  If you are going to say the Pledge, you need to say it in circumstances where you are actually thinking about what you are saying.  It is much like the idea of praying for me.  If it isn’t done mindfully, it isn’t worth the time spent.

I stand, but I don’t say the Pledge.  I don’t say it, in order to respect those people whose beliefs don’t allow them to say it.  I don’t say it, because my mind is actually elsewhere, making sure the students are being respectful.  I don’t say it, because I don’t accept the inclusion of the “Under God” clause.

On the other hand, I love singing the national anthem.  Part of that is because I like to sing, but part of it is because I do so rarely enough that I can really think about what it means.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Do Some Capture Us?

As a substitute teacher, I see WAY too many kids in a week to remember them all.  In fact, if I am in a particular class for only a day or a half day, I often have trouble REALLY noticing quite a few of the students.  This is especially true of the quiet ones, the ones who seem to become part of their chairs.

One of my ongoing questions of myself is why do I notice some students and remember them and why do others completely fade from my mind?  If I come back to that same classroom weeks or months later, which kids will I remember and which ones will I have no idea about who they are or what they are like?

As one might suspect, the naughty ones are memorable.  And the class clowns.  The kids with special needs that make themselves known to the sub.  Those are easy reasons to remember particular students and they are all reasons why I remember some students.  But that isn't the entire cast of the ones I remember.  I am thinking back over the class I had just yesterday and trying to think of which kids I still can bring up faces or names for.  Interestingly, many of the kids do not fit any of those categories. 

Kids who speak to me personally are more memorable - even if it was just to ask to go to the nurse.  Kids who help me with some piece of equipment or some unique classroom procedure are also memorable.  Kids who display some part of their character are also memorable.  Sometimes even the especially quiet students are memorable. 

But, there is one category of kid that I remember especially well.  It is the kids who ask memorable questions.  And, yes, for me, the obviously gifted kids.  Weeks ago, I wrote about one young man I interacted with and felt especially drawn to.  During the literacy block, when the rest of the class was busy, this young man had told me all about a book he was working on - about American heroes.  For some reason, he and I really connected.  I was sorry when the day ended that I probably would not teach him again.  He is in a grade that I normally do not sub for, but I like his school, so I had taken the job for that class.

I was wrong that I would not teach him again.  I was in the grade one higher than his at that school a couple of days ago and he came into the math class that I was teaching.  This confirmed my assessment of his probable giftedness - kids are rarely accelerated into a math class higher than their own grade, unless they REALLY need it.  And, wonder of wonders, he was also delighted to see me - in a very quiet way.  He is not a loud, assertive kid.  But he did come up during a transition time and ask me if I remembered him.  I did.  Again, that mysterious and wonderful connection.  But too short. 

If I could teach kids like him every day, I would do it for free.  They are that intriguing to me. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Half Day Subbing Jobs

It seems to me that half day subbing jobs getting to be more and more common.  My guess is that school districts are specifically scheduling their training sessions so that the regular teachers need to only take a half day to get their training.  That cuts down significantly on sub costs.  But it also means that subs are getting even less overall pay than the miniscule amount they were already earning.

Sub pay where I work is around $95 per day.  $95/day X 180 days = $17,100.  Subs don't generally work 180 days, so that amount is really a maximum.  If half of the jobs are changed to half day jobs, that cuts the potential pay for subs to $12,825.  Theoretically, one-half day plus one-half day would equal a full day, but in practice this is very difficult.  School schedules differ and there is time needed to drive from one location to another.  It is rare to find two jobs for one day, unless it is for a teacher who normally works for two different schools anyway. 

I don't blame schools for doing this, but it does make it harder to feel good about subbing.  And it is already a difficult choice. 


I am not sure why, but Blogger seems to have little formatting glitches that I can't seem to get rid of without more effort than I am willing to spent on such trivia.  There are odd spaces here and there, indenting, when I didn't indent in the original.  It is almost annoying enough to switch my major blog to WordPress.  Any ideas why?

Ideal Class Size - Opinions

On Linked In, in the Elementary Education group, there has been an ongoing discussion of what the ideal class size would be.  This question hasn't addressed, for the most part, funding or teacher quality, but simply the straightforward question, about IDEAL class size.  Interestingly, the answer seems to hover around 12 students.  As most people know, this number is between one-third and one-half of the currently common classroom sizes, which range from 20 to 36 students. 

My own comment was, "The best classes I have taught have had from 4 to 12 students.  What fun they are!  You can actually talk with the kids and enjoy the teachable moments.  You can treat each child as an individual and not just as members of a huge group."

The key for me is the teachable moment.  In a class of 24 or more, there is little opportunity to take advantage of the teachable moment.  Teachable moments are directly applicable to individual children.  Sometimes these teachable moments extend to quite a few individual children at a time, but the real focus is on getting individual children excited about their learning.  Children are quite different in what really excites them.  Novelty, of course, will excite many of them at a time, but true interest in something usually is much more specific.  With classes of 20 or more, this becomes a time and classroom management issue, especially when there are specific curricular goals to cover - and there almost always are specific learning goals mandated for the day.  

Intuitively, I think most classroom teachers know that small group instruction is better than large group.  That is why most classrooms I have subbed in have small reading groups for reading instruction.  Very rarely, is reading taught as whole group instruction.  A bit less frequently, but still often, math is also grouped.  And sometimes spelling lists are individualized or grouped.  But rarely does grouping extend to any other subject areas.  This is especially noticeable for science and social studies.  The most content-oriented (as opposed to skill-oriented) subjects are the least likely to be taught in small groups.  

What is so great about 12 students?  12 is enough to provide a lot of variety.  4 probably isn't - variety in terms of viewpoint, gender, personality, background, etc.  12 is a good number to provide interaction.  It is also a good number for dividing into even smaller groups, pairs, triads, quartets, and hexads.  12 means that talking is manageable.  12 children talking all at once isn't an aural assault.  A class of 24 or 36 is.  A class of 12 means that the teacher can talk to each child in a reasonable time, close to when they need it.  In a class of 12, you are dealing with individuals as often as you are dealing with a group.  There is time for the teacher to ask questions that will excite specific students, but not, perhaps, the whole group.  The teacher can ask a student about a project and go in depth, where this isn't possible with large groups.  The whole quality of the classroom changes.  

I think groups up to 20 can operate like this, but with groups larger than this, the instruction seems to change.  What do you think?