Friday, December 12, 2014

Poll: Have You Ever?

It occurred to me this morning, not for the first time, but rather strongly, that many of the students I sub for have very different childhood experiences from what I had.  That isn't necessarily bad, but it needs to be taken into consideration when we teach them.  So here are some questions that stem from my childhood.

1) Have you ever climbed a tree and sat in the branches a few minutes?

2) Have you ever played in a creek and made a dam across it?

3) Have you ever made a tunnel in snow?

4) Have you ever raised a farm animal for food?

5) Have you ever helped preserve food from your family's own garden for the winter?

6) Have you ever known everyone who lives on your street?

7) Have you ever blown the seeds off of puffy dandelions?

8) Have you ever sat on a teeter totter?

9) Have you ever camped outside with no tent?

10) Have you ever spent most of the day outside without parent supervision?

Note: I am not saying these things are all necessary or worthwhile experiences - just different.  My own children would probably answer no to most of these questions.  Very different lives.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hair Cut

I got my hair cut yesterday and this time, I went back to the inexpensive quick cut store that I had gone to back in August.  When I had been there in August, I knew that they had written down the information about my hair cut and I thought it would be easy now for them to just repeat the same hair cut.

I swim four times a week and, because my hair has just enough wave/curl to it that it manages to dry rather bizarrely, I generally blow dry it at the gym.  I tried growing it really long, so I could just let it dry by itself, but, at my age, long hair looks rather scraggly, so in August, I had had the long hair cut off.  Seven inches of it. 

[Did my husband notice?  No, but that is a topic for a different post.] 

At any rate, I had liked the August cut.  Long enough that I can tuck it behind my ears to get it out of my face, but short enough to turn under in the back.  So, I told the woman cutting my hair that I wanted the same cut that I got in August.  Imagine my surprise, though, when she said that the note about the hair cut in August said "cut 7 inches".  At this point, cutting off seven inches wasn't possible in most places and in others would have left VERY short hair.  Not exactly an appealing hair style - even for one as style-challenged as I am. 

So the question is, why would any hairdresser write "cut 7 inches" as the description for a hair cut?  How is that a helpful annotation?  Don't they usually write the target end product, e.g., ear-length bob?  At any rate, the hairdresser managed to figure out what I wanted and the hair cut is fine. 

I hope she wrote a better annotation than the previous person.  This hair cut cost $17 for me, since I am now a senior citizen.  The salon I went to a couple of years ago cost $85.  My needs are simple - I will stick with the inexpensive hair cut, even if I have to describe it for them each time. 

Women's Pajamas

OK, I know this isn't a normal topic for this blog, but I am thinking about it, so this is where it is going.

And, before I get too far started in this post, I want to mention that I am not talking about nightgowns.  I don't care for them, as they always end up twisted in a doughnut around my waist.  I am talking about pajamas, with some sort of top and some sort of pant-like bottom.

When I look for pajamas in catalogs or in stores, they NEVER have what I am looking for and I can't quite figure out why not.  In the summer, they show spaghetti strap tops with shorts; in the spring and fall, they show spaghetti strap tops or short sleeved tops with long pants; in the winter, it is long sleeve tops with long pants.  What I never see is long sleeved tops with shorts - and I am not sure why, because that is exactly what I want.   

There have been times - when our house wasn't air-conditioned, when I was grateful for spaghetti strap tops, but most of the time, I REALLY want my arms covered.  They are the part of me that is most likely to lose covering when I am sleeping.  My legs almost never stray from under the covers.  I have different bed coverings for the season, but I choose them so that they are the right weight for me, when I am under them.  This means, I don't need long pants in the winter.  Like nightgowns, long pants tend to wind up twisted in a doughnut - only this time around my knees.  The comforter keeps me nice and toasty and long pants also end up being too warm. 

But I need my shoulders and arms covered, for when the bed coverings slip down or I roll over.  How do women in spaghetti strap tops keep their arms warm? 

Years ago, my older sister mentioned to me that she bought men's boxer shorts for sleeping in.  I thought at the time that that was rather strange, but I now do exactly that.  I get men's boxer shorts, preferably knit, and a loose long-sleeved top.  I have found women's sleep sets where you can buy just the shorts, but the shorts are too skimpy - designed to be sexually enticing and not comfortable and durable. This is a solution, but I sometimes wish, just for my own perfectionism, that the two parts matched and were pretty. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Why Class Lists Are So Important and Why My Ranting about Them Is Now Validated

I had an "exciting" half day today.  It started out routine.  I got there at 11:00 and the teacher went through the day with me and the kids.  They don’t eat lunch there until 12:45, so they still had a long time before lunch.  They spent it working on two different things on the laptop computers and were actually quite well behaved.  Then, just as I had taken most of them out to recess (the one before their lunch) and I was near the front entrance, watching the stragglers, the fire alarm went off.  This was a real fire and not just a drill.

Fortunately, there was one girl from my class still nearby and I got her to tell me where we were supposed to go.  Also, fortunately, I had both my clipboards with me - the one with the day’s schedule and the one with the class list.  There wasn’t time to go back to the classroom for the emergency folder, so we just headed out the door.  At first the kids on the playground had no idea what was happening, so it took a long time to gather them up - and even so, it seemed that we might be in the wrong place, because we were randomly next to some second graders.  (My class was 5th grade.)  As soon as a lot of them found our group, I started calling the roll and telling the kids whose names I read to sit down.  Even so, I was missing 6 kids.  One teacher whose kids were all there handed me the emergency red card that is supposed to signal that you are missing some students in the class.  I had had no time to go back to the classroom to get the emergency folder, so I had no signalling card.

Then the second grade teacher started yelling at my class, because they weren’t in a straight line.  I was so busy trying to check to see which kids were missing that I hadn’t had time to make sure they were in a straight line.  Sigh.  (Note: she didn’t yell at the next class over, which was another 5th grade.  They were worse than my class, but their teacher, also a sub, didn’t get the behavior lecture.)

Then, since I was holding up the red card, the assistant principal (?) came over and wanted to know which kids were missing.  I showed her the list.  She point out two of the kids in the special ed group.  I hadn’t met them in the morning, so I had no idea who they were.  She told me another student was absent (the regular teacher had, of course, taken morning attendance, but I had no idea).  Finally, they called over the walkie-talkie and said that they had found 3 more of my students with another teacher.  So they were all accounted for.  Whew!

It turned out that there was a fire in one of the microwaves in the lunch room.  It was significant enough to cause some smoke and set off the automatic fire alarms, but there was no real damage.  Lunch and recess were shifted to be about 20 minutes later than usual.  On the way back in, I remarked to the assistant principal that it was sure good that I had the class list with me.  I then got another lecture about how I should ALWAYS have an extra class list.  I have REGULARLY complained on this blog about not getting class lists at every school I go to if they don’t give them to me, so I was a bit resentful about being lectured about class lists.  Sigh.

But then, after I had calmed down from being lectured twice, I realized that this experience actually validates what I have been saying about class lists.  SUBS MUST HAVE ONES THEY CAN TAKE WITH THEM FOR EVERY CLASS.  This means that, not only can I legitimately insist on getting a second copy if it is required that I sign the original and send it to the office for attendance purposes, but I can also insist on copies of class lists if teachers "switch" kids for math or literacy classes (or any other classes for that matter).  This may not make the school secretaries terribly happy, but I understand why I MUST.

This was not a serious emergency, but you never know when one will occur.  It is better to be prepared.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Keep Going, or Not Complete Chaos

I took a job at a school that isn't a huge drive from me.  I got there in plenty of time - early, in fact.  The person who normally checks subs in wasn't there, but the woman who helped me knew how to check me in.  But she was confused when I told her the name of the teacher I was subbing for.  I didn't get the name quite right, but I knew she taught 4th grade.  Only the teacher, whose name I recalled no longer taught 4th grade, which is what the sub caller had said she taught.  This year, she teaches 2nd grade.  Only I don't normally teach 2nd grade.  Sigh.  I will do it today.

She gave me a sub tag (no key) and showed me on the map of the school, where the room was.  Only the door to the "pod" was locked.  I had to walk around to another entrance (one she had told me to avoid) to get to the room.  Only the room was locked.  Back to the office to get someone to open the doors.

I might mention that my back has been really hurting me.  I took Friday off, because I was afraid that I couldn't stand for even part of the day.  Standing and walking cause me the most pain.

Back to the room.  She unlocks the door.  A neighboring teacher comes in about 5 minutes later.  I have found the teacher's desk, but no lesson plans.  The other teacher finds the emergency folder and the sub folder.  She says she will check for lesson plans.  On the desk is a note saying that the teacher I am subbing for has morning outdoor duty.  I still have time to look for the safety vest for outdoor duty and to look through the emergency folder and the sub folder.  Yay!  A class list!  Two kids have severe nut allergies and epi-pens are available - where?  I have no idea.  There is nothing in the emergency folder.  There is no emergency bag by the door.  Assumption: epi-pens must be in the nurse's office. [Questions:  where is the nurse's office?  where did I put the map of the school?]

The other teacher has not come back with lesson plans.  It is time to go outside for morning duty.  Put on vest; head out the door.  Teacher comes to me on the way out with lesson plans.  Yay!  Grab lesson plans and head outside.  There is another teacher there who tells me what to do.  Help keep the drop-off line moving: pull forward; drop kid(s) off quickly; watch for other cars exiting.  No time to look at lesson plans.  Finally morning duty is over.  I can't get in the door, because my tag doesn't open that door.  Have to walk around.  (Back hurts.)

Special education teacher comes by.  She has other assignment for today, so she can't take the kid she normally takes for special classes.  She will tell him.  

By the time I get back to the classroom and talk to special ed teacher, it is time to get the kids to come inside.  Fortunately, it looks like there is some "morning work" on their tables.  Maybe I will have a minute to look at the lesson plans.  The first instruction says to copy some emergency lesson pages in the sub folder.  Only, it is too late to go to the copier, because the kids are already there.  The sub plans list a block of time but I can't tell what the students are supposed to do during this time.  I look on the board.  There is a schedule, but it doesn't quite match the times on the sub plans.  Wing it.  "Spelling" is on the board.  There is a folder with spelling words for each kid.  No idea what to do with them.  Ask the kids.  They need special paper to copy the words.  Search room for special paper.  One kid finds it.  Students start copying their words.  Some finish quickly.  What do they do now?  They supposedly need a different kind of paper to practice writing the words.  Can't find the other kind of paper.  Wing it: just quiz each other on your words.

After spelling is over, I call them to the rug to talk a bit.  We have time before the next thing on the schedule, so I read a book that I brought:  Diary of a Wombat.  Kids enjoy it.  Parent come in while I am reading.  She is supposed to help.  I ask her to copy the pages I need for the rest of the day.  She comes back later with one page done.  The copier has broken.  She leaves while I am reading.

I still can't decipher lesson plans.  Check the board again.  Reading.  Kids say Daily 5.  OK, we will try Daily 5.  Only it is too long for one session of Daily 5 and not long enough for 2 sessions.  So, one session and a bit of extra time for snack.  Then recess.  Ah, time to see if I can get the pages for the rest of the day copied.  Send kids outside.  Big copier is still broken.  Small one works, but is out of paper in the default bin.  Can't see any paper to refill it.  Decide to use second tray of paper.  Wrong orientation - try again.  It won't feed from the top.  Try again.  It won't double side.  Sigh.  Decide to waste paper - only 5 minutes of recess left and I still don't have the math papers copied.

Back to the room.  Get kids.  Another round of Daily 5.  Too early for math.  Third round of Daily 5.  Parent comes to help with math.  Middle school student comes to help.  High school student comes to help.  I am trying to figure out what to do for the lesson and what to do with all of the helpers.

Math time.  I haven't had time to look at the worksheets, but they look fairly standard.  Start to teach the first one.  It is good, but takes different kids different amounts of time.  A bit chaotic.  I teach the next two.  They are completely bizarre.  Kids don't really get them - neither do I - they are poorly done.  Not sure if they are the correct level for these kids. Go with it anyway.  Kids who finish early can do math games.  Which ones?  I have no idea.  Which games do you usually play?  They don't know.  Sigh.  They find flash cards.  Sounds good to me.  It is now almost 12:45.  Time for lunch and recess.  Finally.  No wonder snack is important to them.

Find teachers' restroom.  Teacher is standing in front of door, so I can't get by.  She is talking to another teacher.  She sees me; she doesn't move.  They finish; she goes into restroom first.  Sigh.

Back to classroom for lunch.  Read lesson plans for afternoon.  Still using plans from the emergency sub folder.  Back to copier for more worksheets for afternoon.  Grade a few math papers.  Time to go get kids.  Only, they aren't where I expected them.  Back to classroom.  Kids already there; they came in another door.  Another read-aloud.  Take kids to PE.  Whoops, I forgot to take afternoon attendance.  I think everyone is still here.  Tell office verbally.  One girl is leaving early for dentist's appointment.  Long walk back to classroom.  (Back still hurting.)

Look over emergency worksheets.  They seem do-able.  Go back to other end of school to get kids from PE.  (Back hurting.) Teach Venn diagrams related to one read-aloud.  They do another one on their own.  Almost time to go home.  Yay!  I may make it.

Clean up, stack chairs.  Send kids out the door.

Whoops, I almost forgot - I have afternoon outside duty, too.  Go out, direct traffic again.  Doors are locked.  I have to go in the front door again.

Back to classroom to write up the day.

Sigh.  I lived.

P.S.  If you think this is the whole day, you are sorely mistaken.  I left out the squabbles, the pencil problems, the sitting next to me problems, the ice pack for a bumped head, the special ed teachers who took random kids at random times, kids telling me that I was doing something wrong, no logins for the computers, the kid who insisted on a reward ticket for doing something nice, the inability to get the projector and overhead focused, the asking me about my Halloween costume (and retrieving my Medusa hat from my car to show the kids), etc., etc.

And, there was the boy who came up to me at the beginning of the day.  He introduced himself and asked me my name.  Then he said he was a little nervous about me, because he didn't know me.  But he did give me a hug, anyway.

See, it wasn't all bad.

All for $94.50 before taxes. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Taking Up Writing in Retirement

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook posted someone's comment about being a writer.  The professional writer was offended, because the person said that, after their retirement, they planned to try writing a book.  The professional writer thought that was akin to them reversing the tables and saying that, after retirement, they wanted to take up brain surgery. 

I understand the reason for the feeling of offense.  The professional writer has taken years to master a very difficult craft.  They feel that those years are devalued when the newly retired person claims that they can write a book, too - as if all of those years of work by the professional are worth nothing. 

But, I feel the sting of the criticism, too.  5 years ago, I started writing music.  To the person who has been writing music for many years and honing their craft, this might be perceived as devaluing the number of years it took for them to get where they are.  But, for me, it just doesn't feel that way.  I am astounded that I can actually write a song.  I realize all too well that my songs, so far, have been simplistic and unlikely to appeal to a wide audience.  I am amazed that some of them have actually been enjoyed by several different audiences.   Rather than making me devalue the years professional song-writers spent to develop their craft, it has made me appreciate MORE how difficult it is to write a song that is really good. 

So, to the author who is offended that some totally inexperienced writer thinks s/he might want to write a book, I say:  let them go to it.  They will soon realize that good books are hard to write and they will appreciate your skill even more.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Re: Washington Post Article by Jay Mathews about Gifted Education

Washington Post's Article by Jay Mathews about Gifted Education

The article is a critique of the book Dumbing Down by Jim Delisle.  I am in the middle of reading the book, so I cannot speak to the ending of the book as Mr. Mathews does, but I would like to turn one of his main arguments on its head.

He asks about the kids who do not qualify for gifted education service, missing cut-offs by a few points, or not having enough of the qualifications for a specific program.  This is not a problem that is unique to gifted education.  This is a perennial problem with special education services across the board.  What happens to the child who is struggling to learn to read, but doesn't quite qualify for literacy intervention?  What happens to the children who almost qualify for other special education interventions?  Do we stop offering special education because there is a cut-off for services?  In most cases, this last question would be answered with a vehement "No".  We do not stop offering special education classes just because some students don't quite qualify.  Most people recognize that as an absurdity.  Classroom teachers would be urged to "differentiate" for these students.  There would be a whole group of specialists who could be consulted to assist the regular teacher.  Materials, for example, high interest - low difficulty books, would be provided in the school for use with students needing extra supports. 

Regular classroom teachers, in my experience, can handle ability ranges of up to two grade levels above or below the nominal grade level of the classroom (depending on the ages of the students).  Textbooks are generally written with more material in them than what is actually needed to master the concepts.

So what happens to the students who do not get accepted into the gifted program?  What happens to the students who do not qualify for special education services?  Teachers continue to monitor them and to provide support.  The students who do not quite qualify for gifted services often do reasonably well.  These are the students that teachers often enjoy - good learners, sometimes leaders.  Those who do not fit those descriptions are watched for other needs.

We do not eliminate the selectivity of the special education programs just because some kids don't quite qualify.  We continue to monitor the needs of those who don't quite qualify and see if they, in the future, might need such interventions.

I will concede a point by Mr. Mathews, however.  We need more definitive study of the effects of gifted programs, including gifted interventions of all types.  The studies, however, shouldn't just be confined to those who barely qualified for gifted programs and those who barely did not.  They should also include studies of the effects on students in places that have gifted programs and compare them to places that do not - if we could just find enough places with good gifted programs. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cancelled Jobs

The telephone.  I hate it.  The school districts start calling at 5:00 a.m.  They don't stop calling until 10:00 p.m.  I put up with it, because sitting at the computer, pushing the refresh button every 15 seconds is incredibly boring.  I know there are apps to use that will monitor the postings and notify you that a job has been posted that you are likely to be interested in, but I don't want to be tied to my cell phone, either.  When I am subbing in an afternoon job (which is when most of the new jobs are posted), I feel professionally constrained against checking my phone for jobs.

But the ultimate pain is the cancelled job.  First they call to offer you the job.  Then an hour or a day or even a week later, they call again to cancel the job.  This week, I took two such jobs.  They were each cancelled a day or so later.  Twice as many stupid phone calls; twice as many times listening to the whole repetitive message until you can push the correct buttons to acknowledge the message. 

Even my house guests were sympathetic about the annoyance of the phone calls. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014


So, now I am pondering some questions about me and writing music.  Is it worth doing something that probably no one will ever listen to?  Is it worth working at something when you will probably never be really good at it?  Is the enjoyment of actually doing it value enough?  What if that enjoyment is tinged with doubt? 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Dear Professional Fundraiser

Dear Professional Fundraiser,

I know it is your job to ask for money over and over again in any possible way you can imagine, but I have a suggestion for how your fundraising efforts might be more effective:  thank people for contributing and leave them out of your blanket emails for a while.  Your automatic thanks after contributions don't count.  Those aren't real thanks, they are just an acknowledgment of the contributions.  Do NOT follow them up immediately with requests for more money.  That makes the contributions seem worthless, as in, "We know you gave all the money you felt you could afford, but our cause will go down the tubes if you don't keep giving and giving and giving.  You are only good for us if we can keep begging you for more and more money."  I know the causes are urgent, but I, at least, already give more than I can afford - and I am giving less now, because I feel unappreciated.

And, be careful who you sell your lists to.  Good causes tend to proliferate.  I contribute to one cause and, like a hydra, three causes spring up in the same beast.  This actually dilutes your contributor base.  I cannot contribute as much to each one, so you get less or I may decide that your cause isn't as important as one of the other ones and you get nothing.

Email makes it easy to reach a lot of people quickly and easily.  Don't take advantage of it to bombard people with messages.  They may do what I have to do now - just delete them all.  Yes, I still believe in your cause, but I can't deal with all of the requests.  Be more selective.

Respectfully yours,

No, The Sky Is Not Always Falling

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sub Pay, Yet Again

The class that I had today had 31 fourth graders.  31 is simply too many for me to deal with effectively.  There is no time to develop any sort of relationship with the kids.  On top of that, the two fourth grade classes mixed up the students for math classes and they traded groups entirely for social studies and technology.  So, there were 62 kid faces to deal with.  There were also a significant number of helpers.  Several parents, high school and middle school aides, and a sign language interpreter for the two girls who were deaf/hard of hearing.  I felt like I was behind all day - not quite ready for the next thing on the list.

Which is all not too unusual for subbing.  But one thing that really interested me was talking with the sign language interpreter.  She was actually not the regular interpreter for the two girls.  The regular interpreter was out of town, so this woman took the job for the time she was gone.  In other words, both of us were substitutes.  The difference:  she was paid $250 per day.  I get $94.50.  Yes, she has skills that I do not.  But it seems odd that a substitute teacher, who had responsibility for teaching more than 60 students should be paid THAT MUCH less than a sign language interpreter, responsible for 2 students.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Teachers' Manual - Math Differentiation

I taught a 4th grade math lesson the other day and enjoyed it a lot.  I don't know how the particular group I had was chosen, but I suspect that they were selected on the basis of their above grade level achievement.  Since I have been on the look out for explicit instructions in the teachers' manuals for dealing with kids who have no trouble with the grade level material, I looked carefully at the teachers' manual for this lesson. 

In this particular lesson, there were instructions for how to deal with students who could readily do the types of word problems the lesson was addressing.  "Give them multi-step problems to solve."  The problem is, the teachers' manual did not include any examples of such multi-step problems.  And the question I have is, why weren't example problems included in the teachers' manual or perhaps an extension worksheet?  Why does each teacher need to re-invent the wheel for their gifted students? 

The teacher I subbed for teaches some remedial reading groups, in addition to this math class. There are huge boxes of materials for use with students with reading difficulties.  There are step-by-step goals for these kids.  Why aren't there analogous materials for kids who can do MORE than the standard curriculum?

Why is the only help for differentiating for gifted kids, "Give them multi-step problems to solve." with no indications of what such problems might look like?


Monday, September 22, 2014

Money and Politics

My mother, who is now 99 years old, has been a Republican for most or all of her adult life.  Now that she is no longer able to take care of her own finances and is residing in a nursing home, all of the mail that used to be delivered to her former residences has been sent to me, since I pay her bills.  This includes the mail sent to her by the Republican Party.  At first, I tried to tell them to take her off of their lists, but this just seemed to encourage them.  I got more mail and phone calls wanting her support for Republican candidates and the Republican party in general.

I, on the other hand, am very liberal.  Back in my college days, I protested the war in Vietnam, even though my brother served there, and I supported the civil rights initiatives and women's liberation.  Until recently, I considered myself independent, because I am not much of a joiner, but I have been startled by the politics of the Republicans, and have recently become a Democrat.

As a result, I have, in the last month or so, gotten questionnaires from both political parties and other groups on both sides and have found it very interesting.  The questionnaires for both sides claim that they want you to return them, even if you don't send a contribution, but the wording of the questions is so slanted that it cannot be true that they are really interested in the answers.  When all of the answers favoring "their side" have positively worded phrasing and all of the potential answers that might be for the "other side" are negatively charged, you know they are just trying to get you to agree with them - and send money. Both sides are guilty.  The only thing they are really interested in is your money.

It is discouraging to me that this is the level of discourse relating to the very important task of governing the United States.  We don't talk fairly or in depth about issues, we just slant everything our way and try to trump up more fear of the other side.  And it works.  I am as polarized as anyone.  I almost automatically reject with suspicion anything proposed by the "other side".   Personally, given the very real laws passed by Republican state legislatures, I feel my suspicions are completely justified.  I just wish that I counted, even if I don't have money to give. 

Thus, I say to both parties and to anyone else with a political agenda:  if you really want my opinion, you have to send me a questionnaire that absolutely does NOT ask for money at the end of it.  And, it would be great if you actually had reasonable answers that might differ slightly from the party line.  Or, even leave room for real answers from the people you are questioning.  I know it is your job to keep asking for money, but I don't make much money and I can't support all the causes I would like to. But I do have significant ideas.

It is a shame that only money talks. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Damage to Possessions

They are just things, but when they are damaged, somehow I feel as though I am damaged a little, too.

A couple of days ago, when I was backing out of a parking space, I turned too quickly and backed into another parked car.  I caused about $2000 damage to my car and probably at least that much to his.  It makes me feel very stupid to have done this.  I was careless.  I suppose it happened, in part, because I was very tired, but really, it was just basically stupid. 

The weirdest thing about it, though, is that I feel that, even though it was just my car that was damaged and I am completely fine, I still feel damaged myself.  I feel almost as though the hurt of my car is a physical hurt for me, too.  I am damaged a bit, too - mentally, but almost even bodily.

I am too close to my possessions.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Power of Silence

There is a poster that is making the rounds on Facebook,   Talking.  
It says:  

"TALKING (verb): Your mouth is moving and there is any kind of sound coming out. This includes talking to yourself, talking to somebody else, whispering, singing, or sound effects."

I replied to the posting:
It always astonishes me that some kids seem totally unaware that they can be heard, talking all of the time. I have taken to telling the younger ones (I start subbing 3rd grade up), that they should learn to talk inside their heads and not out loud.

I have had this conversation with far too many kids:
Me: Would everyone stop talking for a minute and listen to these instructions.
Kid: Yes. (Kid continues talking to his neighbor.)
Me: That includes you.
Kid: Yes, I know. I was just telling him .........
Me: Do you know what STOP talking means?
Kid: Yes, I was just telling him ......
Me: (Thinking: Should the whole class just wait for you to tell him about your ....?) 

I have asked before why it is that kids can't seem to keep quiet for ANY length of time any more.  Then someone followed up, saying that adults have the same problem.  And, now that I think of it, many do.  

The question is WHY?  Why are we so unable to keep silent?  I should note, that not all people are afflicted with this problem.  Some of the kids in the classrooms I sub in seldom say anything.  Some adults that I see, for instance, at games nights, seldom say much.  But, by far the larger number of people are more talkative than not.  And, I am, unfortunately, including myself.  I remember being at a teacher workshop with a friend.  We were required to attend a session that each of us could have easily taught ourselves.  We had gone over the material many, many times in the course of our work.  So, what did we do to keep ourselves amused?  We whispered jokes to each other during the training session.

Thus, one of the reasons for the abhorrence of keeping quiet: boredom or the activity of busy brains when outside stimuli aren't as interesting as internal ones.  

But, I think there is more to it than that.  It seems, as a culture, we have gotten so used to sound that we almost require it in order to feel comfortable.  People leave the TV on, even when no one is watching it, just so that there is some background noise.  Same with radio.  When people are out running or exercising in the weight room, they often have earplugs in their ears and are listening to something.  There are even a few people who have waterproof sound systems that they can listen to when they are swimming.  Restaurants and elevators have background music.  

Recently, my music teacher recommended that I listen to more music - music of all types.  I need to listen to more music to discover things that I like about various songs and types of music, so that I can incorporate some of them into the music that I am writing.  She is right, but I am reluctant and stubborn.

See, I have discovered that I like silence.  I like how my mind can wander around over all of the things I might want to think about - without the distraction of background noise.  Silence has the power to let me think.  To think my own thoughts and to figure out the world.  

True, not everything I think about is profound - or even interesting, but it is interesting to me.  I currently find it more interesting than the various types of music I should be listening to.  And, it isn't as though I am completely without music.  I often am singing one of my own songs as I work and think.  Lately, I am feeling very selfish.  I like my own thoughts - and I like the power of silence around me.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Another Cost of Subbing

It just occurred to me that there is another relatively hidden cost of subbing: the time it takes to find and accept jobs and to inform other school districts that the sub may work for that s/he isn't available for that day.

I work for two different school districts and two charter schools.  The school districts both use Smart Find Express and the two charter schools use AESOP.  This means that, in order to check for jobs, I have to log in to three different computer sites, two different Smart Find Express sites and one AESOP site.  At least the two charter schools have combined their access points, so that I don't have to log in to each separately.

Jobs are typically posted any time during the day after around 11:00 a.m.  This means that, if I don't have a job for days that I might want one, I have to keep checking all three sites during the day.  The best jobs are taken quickly, so it helps to log on to each of the sites multiple times during the day.  I know one sub who stayed logged in to a particular school district site, where he preferred to sub, and he just kept hitting the search button every 13 seconds until he found a job he wanted. All of this costs the sub time.

And, even when a job is accepted, there is still more to do.  I have to log back in to the other two sites and make myself unavailable for the time period of the accepted job.  If I don't do this, I may still get phone calls from those districts.  Phone calls start at 5:00 a.m. and don't stop until 10:00 p.m.  In addition, if the school district calls and you don't answer the phone, they consider it a refusal.  Some districts place subs with three "refusals" at the bottom of their call lists.

Managing subbing systems takes time.  And I am not even counting the time that it takes me to keep track of subbing jobs in my calendar or to check up on payment information.  Checking payment information for subs is more difficult than for regular teachers, since the payments vary substantially from month to month and have to be cross-checked against personal records.  It has happened to me several times that I was paid incorrectly, so it is necessary to check.

All of which means that there is a significant amount of unpaid time that is really a cost of subbing. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Letter to Designers of Airport Restrooms

Dear Airport Restroom Designer:

If you have taken an airplane recently, you know that airlines charge extra to check luggage.  This has led to much longer loading times, since people are bringing much of their luggage on board the airplane.  What you may not have realized is that this and the concept of differences of anatomy for the different genders also affect the logistics of designing the restrooms.

First of all, I assume that you notice that there are frequently both a line and an amorphous blob of people waiting outside of the women's restrooms.  The line is for the women waiting to use the facilities; the blob is the group of men and boys waiting for the women and girls to use the facilities.  There is virtually never a line or an amorphous blob near the entrance to the men's facilities.  This is where you should learn that there is a difference between equality and equity.  Due to an unreasonable desire for symmetry and "fairness", the facilities for men and women generally take up equal amounts of floor space in the design of the airport.  This is not reasonable.  You see, men and women use the facilities differently.  Women ALWAYS use the stalls.  Men do not.  Women generally have to do a bit of undressing to use the facilities (which is slower).  Men have minimal needs for that.  Therefore, when you design the restrooms for airports (and other public spaces, actually), the facilities for the women need to occupy MORE room than the facilities for men.  How much more?  I am not sure, but certainly you can do some research.  My guess is that a 2:1 ratio would improve things vastly.

Secondly, the aforementioned luggage problem.  Due to increased security concerns, no one can leave their luggage unattended.  Since many people travel alone with a roller bag and another carry on, they need to take these items with them into the restroom stalls.  Maneuvering the roller bag and the additional carry on into these narrow stalls requires significant agility and planning.  Additionally, it is frequently the woman who takes her young children with her into the restroom.  Try fitting a toddler, an infant, a diaper bag, and a purse with you in one stall - without dropping any of them.  Ever wonder why the handicapped stalls are seldom empty?  It is because people actually have room to bring their luggage and/or children in with them without needing acrobatic skills.  Thus, my second recommendation is that you STOP following the example of the airlines.  They are making the airplane seats narrower and shallower.  This leads to cramped and grumpy passengers.  Please stop making the toilet stalls narrower and shallower.  We really do not want to pee on our luggage (or our children).  This leads to cramped, grumpy, and slightly smelly passengers.

Additionally, it would help if there were a visible indication that a stall is occupied.  This means something like what used to be available on stall doors: when you locked the door, a red occupied sign appeared.  Otherwise, people have to resort to looking under the stall doors for shoes, which seems rather voyeur-ish.  Knocking on the door is alarming to the occupant and is a bit aggressive.  It also hard to tell which door is being knocked on, so, rather than reply, the occupant often just prays the door closure mechanism will stay closed.   

You are doing better with the design of sinks, mirrors, and faucets.  I would like to advise you, though, that people would rather leave with wet hands than spend tedious time with the blow dryers.  There need to be better choices.  Personally, I still prefer paper, though I know that it is wasteful.  It is quick and thorough.  Too bad the cloth rollers are so expensive.  They were nice.

Finally, I know this isn't part of the design, but perhaps you could convince the airports to purchase soap for the dispensers that is relatively odor-free.  In the interests of hygiene we need to use soap to wash our hands, but the smelly, cheap soaps make us nauseous for an hour after use, so many of us skip them.

Your considerations of these suggestions is appreciated.

Female Airport Traveler

Monday, September 01, 2014

Representation of Giftedness in Recent Books

I just finished reading two books that dealt peripherally with schools for the gifted, one of which also had an important character who was gifted.  In both cases, the schools for the gifted were portrayed as places filled with mean characters and unrealistic demands.  One school was actually more like a prep school, but the main character was asked to leave the school when it became obvious that he wasn't doing well academically.

I understand that not all schools are warm and welcoming places, but it was rather painful to realize that the reason these particular schools were portrayed in such negative ways is because smart kids went there - kids who spent 3 weeks constructing their own solar panels - in 4th grade; kids who talked about science and not sports; kids who made were upset if you cost their team points, because you spent more than 5 minutes and 48 seconds in the bathroom.

And, what was the important character like?  All of the typical characteristics of "genius" good kids.  Not great at playing sports, but good at analyzing the game and the characteristics of the other team.  In free time, he reads a book.  When he plays games with a brother, he lets the brother win sometimes.

Both authors went out of their way to portray all of the negative stereotypes of schools for smart kids and the second author managed to include just about every stereotype of gifted boys, too. 

It was supremely depressing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Favorite Books

This meme came on my news feed on Facebook today:  

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way (they don't have to be the "right" book, or great books of literature, just books that have affected you). 

It made me think of this: I was subbing for a 6th/7th grade teacher on Monday and the assignment was to have the students list 5 - 8 of their favorite books and to tell why they added them to the list. While the students were at their specials classes, I wrote up my own response to this and enjoyed thinking about why they were on my list. So here is a bit of what I was thinking on Monday.

1) Ender's Game. This book has to rank as one of my all time favorites. I am fascinated by gifted children, schools, and moral dilemmas and this book has all three. Both adults and children have to confront their demons.

2 and 3) Native Tongue and The Judas Rose. Focusing on women's issues and linguistics, this book also touches on things that deeply affect me. While not a school environment per se, the methods of learning and constructing languages are intriguing to me.

4) Anne of Green Gables. This is a comfort book for me. Whenever I long for a simpler, and simply GOOD story, I turn to this book. It soothes me to see people striving to know each other and to live well.

5) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Yes, the British version. Again, there are some of my favorite elements - gifted kids, schools, and moral dilemmas. There is also the added linguistic/historical element with the names of places, spells, and characters.

6) Diary of a Wombat. I take this book with me when I sub. It is accessible to young children with the simple humor, and the unfamiliar animal intrigues them. Older children understand more of the sardonic humor of a different viewpoint that turns the tables on humans.

7) Infinity Hold. This book takes me away from familiar themes into the realm of moral dilemmas that are society-wide. The idea that there can be vastly different approaches to law was/is appealing to me.

8) The Hobbit. I taught this book once and the teaching of it opened my eyes to a structure that I had missed - the alternating chapters of light and humor with those of dark and dangerous events. Since I am not fond of dark and dangerous, the light and humorous parts make the whole journey more satisfying - a respite.

9) It's a Magical World. Gifted child dealing with life; large cat, what's not to like? One of the best cartoons ever.

10) Dealing with Dragons. I wrote a musical about this one. Feminism, tongue-in-cheek humor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Should Each Teacher Differentiate for Gifted Students?

Differentiation is hard.  It is even harder to differentiate for gifted students. (Why Differentiating for Gifted Kids Is Harder)  But a key question is also, why do we depend on classroom teachers to differentiate for gifted kids?  Why aren't measures in place in the schools to accommodate gifted students? 

When kids with a wide array of distinctly different learning needs must have different instructional support, their teachers get significant help from extensive full-time staff, including teachers and aides.  When teachers are asked to differentiate for gifted students, there is frequently NOTHING available for the teacher to use and no one to ask.  There isn't usually anything in their own education and training to fall back on.  They may have had one or two lectures in their teacher training coursework addressing the needs of gifted students.  But what do they actually TEACH when one of their students is way beyond everyone else in her knowledge of the fundamentals of biology?  And, the question for this post, why should each teacher differentiate for their gifted student(s)?  Why isn't someone in the district already responsible for drawing up objectives, benchmarks, and learning activities for these children?  Why is each teacher charged with re-inventing the wheel for each gifted child?

It is true that each gifted child might be vastly different from another one.  But, that just makes it harder for each individual classroom teacher.  School districts, on the other hand, will usually have at least a few students with roughly similar needs.  Why shouldn't the school district already have materials, objectives, benchmarks, and learning activities available for teachers to use?  Or better yet, why don't schools have teachers available who are responsible for delivering these things to the gifted students? 

Most of the students with special needs receive at least part of their instruction - the part that specifically addresses their learning needs - from a special teacher.  Gifted students should be no exception.  Their needs should be addressed specifically by a special teacher who is prepared to deal with them. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Sub's Plea as Teachers Start the New School Year

1) If you know you are going to be gone, let your class know.  This is especially important for the younger ones.  Sometimes, they get the mistaken idea that the substitute has come to take over, pushing out the regular teacher.  Let them know you will be back and that their good behavior reflects well on you, their regular teacher.  They are showing the sub that the regular teacher cares about how they act, even when s/he isn't there. 

2) Leave extra class lists.  Every time you get a student or lose a student, update your class list.  Leave a supply of class lists in an easy to find location - perhaps a sub folder.  Check after each absence to make sure there are still extra up to date lists in the folder.

3) Leave an up to date list of all of the kids who go to special classes, the times of those classes, and whether or not the child needs supervision getting to and from the class.  Does the teacher or a group of students come to pick him/her up?  Update this list regularly.

4) Leave a list of all of the health alerts for students in all of the classes that come into the room, or for which the sub is responsible.  If you switch for some subjects, include health alerts for those students as well.  Update this list regularly.

5) Leave a list of important phone numbers either in the sub folder or next to the phone.  If there are buttons that need to be pushed before dialing or answering, leave explicit directions for using the phone.  No, not all phones are alike and searching for directions on how to use the phone takes valuable time.

6) If you can find a map of your school, leave it in the sub folder.  Highlight the locations of your room, the office, the lunch room, adult bathrooms, the teachers' lounge, the copier, and any special classes.  Highlight any teachers that might be able to help, in case they are needed.

7) If there is a code for the copier, it would be great to let the sub know, in case extra copies of something are needed, or in case there is an unexpected need to fill in extra time. 

8) It would be wonderful if you could get a guest login for your computer.  This is especially important if the computer is to be used for showing movies or web sites.  Someone may log off the computer before the sub needs to use it and it is very disruptive to have to send for help to use the computer. 

9) If there are school or classroom rules or discipline procedures that the sub needs to follow or be aware of, write them up in detail and leave a copy of the writeup in the sub folder.   It also helps to have a list of things that are not allowed, e.g., drink bottles that might leak if tipped over, snacks at any time other than the explicit snack time. 

10) Leave a phone number if you are willing/able to take phone calls.  Personally, I hate to use this, as I am a phone phobic, but I know other subs appreciate it. 

Oh, and did I mention?:  LEAVE EXTRA (up to date) CLASS LISTS.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


I am not sure why this is so annoying to me.

Last year, I subbed at this particular school fairly often and I really like it.  I have been treated well there by staff, teachers, and students.  This year, they are going to a new system for getting substitute teachers.  First of all, I had to re-interview.  I was a bit surprised at that, but I understand why they wanted to do so.  Then, I had to go to an orientation session, which basically consisted of filling out about a dozen different documents.  Most of that was completely necessary - payroll forms, contract, retirement forms.

But there were more requests:  they wanted copies of my transcripts.  So I brought in my relatively fat folder of transcripts.  I am a frequent scholar.  I like taking classes.  Too bad I don't get mileage for that.  In the end, they only copied the two most important ones - my undergrad transcript and the one with all of my post-graduate degrees and a lot of the extra hours. 

They also wanted to photocopy my social security card, my driver's license, and my teaching certificate.  I don't particularly like it that they have a photocopy of my social security card, but the others seemed necessary.

Finally, came the request to get fingerprinted again.  When you are certified in this state, you are required to get fingerprinting done.  But this school wants their own set of fingerprints.  I will probably get them done, but I am not happy about it.  For one thing, it is expensive.  The place that I will go to have them done charges $11.  Then, after the school has the card, they send it off for processing, which costs $40.  The $40 is deducted from the first two paychecks from this school.  So the total cost of fingerprinting will be $51, which is around half of a day's pay - before taxes.  Subs get paid little enough anyway.  I was lucky to make $12,000 subbing one year - other years I have made less.

I almost understand why they feel all this is necessary, but it does make me feel a bit rebellious.  If I didn't like working at this school so much, I would be sorely tempted to just tell them no.  Sigh.  Off to get fingerprinted. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why Differentiating for Gifted Kids Is Harder

Every once in a while, someone, usually a parent, will complain that teachers don't care about their gifted child or else they would provide appropriate learning experiences for them.  They know that teachers don't have a lot of time, but they insist that, if they really cared, they would MAKE time for them.  While I don't disagree with the idea, the fact is, it does take time - a LOT of time.  It takes more time to differentiate for the gifted child than it does for the learning disabled child, and here is why.

1)  No Appropriate Materials
Materials for teaching are always in short supply.  Many teachers resort to buying some of their own supplies of things they find especially useful in the classroom - extra books, markers, colored pencils, rock collections for a geology unit, costumes for a social studies play, etc.  Even textbooks are often in short supply.  There is one set of science textbooks for 3 classrooms, or the social studies textbooks haven't been updated for 10 years.  Materials to use with gifted kids are usually non-existent, unless the teacher has purchased them him/herself.  This leads to several of the other problems.

2)  No Appropriate Learning Objectives
The goals and learning objectives for your regular students are published and explicit (usually).  There are resources to help with struggling students, both materials and people.  But what about the gifted students?  In my long years of teaching, both regular and substitute, I have rarely found any serious effort to address goals and learning objectives for gifted students.

Developing appropriate goals and learning objectives takes a LOT of time and expertise.  That is why they have curriculum committees and textbook selection committees.  How many districts have a "Gifted Student Standards" Committee?  A learning goal committee for gifted students?  Part of the problem is that gifted students are often widely varying in abilities and needs.  Another part of the problem is that it requires not only knowledge of gifted students, but also extensive knowledge of the subject matter.  This subject matter can be far beyond what most classroom teachers are familiar with.  They are adept at breaking down subject matter for which they are responsible.  But extending subject matter beyond what they are familiar with is far more difficult.   

I have worked with a few mathematics curricula that have explicitly developed activities for "extended" learning.  These activities are intended to be used with the gifted students.  I have never seen them used, but at least they are there.  I have rarely seen objectives for gifted students in other academic subjects. 

3)  Finding Appropriate Materials
Yes, the Internet is wonderful and yes, there are wonderful lessons out there.  Finding those lessons takes a lot of time.  Even if teachers have thought long and hard about what additional objectives they would like to have the gifted student(s) achieve, finding appropriate materials and lessons takes time.

There are a lot of bad lesson plans out there; there are a lot of good lesson plans that would be great for most kids; there are fewer lesson plans that would be great for the gifted students, but are not appropriate for everyone.  Why is it important that they NOT be appropriate for everyone?  Because if everyone in the class can do, enjoy, and learn from the activities, they should be part of the regular curriculum and should not be considered to be differentiation for the gifted student.  Too often, activities in pull-out gifted programs turn into "fun and games for smart kids" - activities that most of the kids in the classroom could have done, but they don't get to, because they are not labeled gifted.  I know, because my own pull-out classroom sometimes resembled this.  There is a danger to this.  The danger is that people will push to have kids participate in these fun activities, even if they don't really need gifted education.  Why not?  They are fun, motivating, and the results don't really matter in terms of grading or learning objectives. 

4)  Teaching and Presenting to Gifted Students
One parent suggested that, in the age of computers, just allowing the gifted students access to computers could keep them busy, motivated, and learning.  Perhaps.  Busy and motivated are especially easy.  Learning?  Possibly.  But what are they learning?  They are learning that learning is usually just fun and games.  That if they have to work hard at it, it isn't as much fun, so why should they do it? 

Perhaps it is simply from my own life, but even as a highly gifted child, I would not seek out difficult learning experiences.  I would not challenge myself.  Perhaps some gifted students do.  Many will not.  Many will not seek out appropriate learning experiences and may even rebel against being required to do something appropriate for their ability level.  Many parents and teachers will defend this as a matter of choice.  We could offer algebra to 7th graders, but if Student X, who is ready for algebra, doesn't want to take it, we will just let him stay in the regular classroom, doing work he has already mastered.  Why do we let smart kids choose to not work hard?  Do we let any other students opt out of difficult material?

If the objectives for the gifted students are well thought out and the materials and lessons planned, when are they presented and by whom?  When does the teacher actually teach the gifted student(s)?  Book groups are usually easy.  The groups can be varying in size and different objectives are generally seamlessly incorporated.  Math groups can sometimes be similarly arranged, though the most frequent alteration in presentation is that students actually switch classrooms for math groups, with one teacher taking the bottom group, one teacher taking the middle group, and one teacher taking the usually larger "top" group.  This top group is not only usually larger than any of the other groups, but it is also not really adequate for the gifted math students.  Typically, the material that is presented is just the standard curriculum that is a bit faster, so they can get ALL of the pages done, not just the bare minimum.  Sometimes, it is the standard curriculum accelerated by one year.

If, instead, the teacher is trying to differentiate for the students that are particularly gifted in social studies or science, it is much more difficult.  Typically, what will happen is that there will be projects for these subjects.  But designing projects that include both the regular curriculum and the learning objectives for the gifted students is difficult.  Instead, what usually seems to happen is that teachers hope that students will seek their own level in their projects.  The objectives and learning standards are vague enough so that they can be construed to be applicable to all ability levels.

5)  Assessing Gifted Students
This shouldn't be a difficult problem, but it often engenders great debate.  Should the gifted students be given As just because they have, indeed, mastered the regular curriculum?  Or should they be graded on the goals and objectives that were developed for them?  On what is a grade to be based?  Should it be what would be expected of any age student who attempts the given material or should the age of the student be taken into consideration?

6)  School Support Personnel
When asked to differentiate for struggling students, a teacher will generally have many different people in the school to turn to for help.  There are literacy specialists, behavior specialists, language learning specialists, learning disability teachers, math specialists, aides, and a number of other people who come to help, both at the school and the district level.  When teachers need to differentiate for gifted students, there are rarely people who are designated to help them.  There used to be a few gifted specialists, but these are rapidly disappearing from most schools.  I worked as a gifted specialist at a middle school.  I was hired for 7 hours a week.  When the specialists are rarely there and are not considered significant members of the staff, teachers cease to rely on them - or to even know how to use them.  

Differentiating for gifted students is actually HARDER than differentiating for struggling students.   There are probably other reasons than just those outlined above.  I know this won't satisfy the parent whose child needs something more and isn't getting it.  It shouldn't.  But we have to support different ways of helping teachers take care of gifted students.  Blaming them for not differentiating for their gifted students doesn't mean that they can. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sub Pay, Part II

There is a thread going on LinkedIn about how much subs around the United States and elsewhere get paid.  As I wrote about before, Sub Pay, supply teachers in Australia get paid nearly the same rate as regular teachers, sometimes a bit more, to compensate for the fact that their jobs are less certain.

Teachers around the US are reporting that sub pay here ranges from around $60 per day to around $150 in the larger cities.  This is TERRIBLE.  Even those making the higher amounts, are making less than poverty level wages in their areas.  For some substitute teachers, an increase in the minimum wage would mean that the schools would have to raise their pay as well. 

Parents:  your children will be taught approximately a full year by substitute teachers in the years between Kindergarten and graduation from high school.  Administrators:  you are paying your subs less than your cafeteria workers, your custodians, your clerical staff, and your teacher aides - are you wondering why you can't find all the subs you need?

Many of the substitute teachers who teach America's children are certified teachers.  Virtually all substitute teachers are college educated.  When they are in the schools, substitute teachers frequently do similar work to what the regular teachers do.  Why don't they get comparable pay for comparable work?  It is true that they don't have the same jobs as regular teachers.  Regular teachers have huge time investments in lesson plans, grading, parent contact, and teachers' meetings.  On the other hand, subs, as evidenced by various threads on LinkedIn, also do a lot of lesson planning, purchasing of materials for "just in case", and teacher contact, most of which is completely uncompensated.

Subs also have additional challenges that regular teachers do not.  They need to be ready to teach a wide range of subjects and age groups at a moment's notice.  They have to be able to discern and apply the various regulations and procedures of the schools they are at.  And no, they are not all alike or even similar.  Subs often have to be prepared for substantial changes in lesson plans - a cancelled assembly, an unscheduled interruption, or even the occasions when lesson plans are missing entirely.  And this is, unfortunately, NOT rare.  Regular teachers know what can fill that time - subs sometimes have no idea - they don't know what has already been covered or what is planned for the future.  

Subs have special challenges when dealing with kids with special needs.  Teacher very often do not leave a list of the children who have special needs and how to deal with them.  They don't mention the times various children leave the classroom for extra classes.  I have had teachers tell me that I don't need to worry about Child X, because she has a full time aide - only to find that the full time aide is sick and also has a sub (or they couldn't get one) and you just have to deal with it.  What are you supposed to do with a child with a ODD diagnosis, when they refuse to do anything you ask and start eating bits of dirt off the ground to see what you will do?  Especially when you have 30 other children in the class and are supposed to be teaching a social studies lesson and the teacher left no information other than the diagnosis.  

And, most of all subs have to be especially discerning about all of the students.  They haven't had weeks or months to get to know them.  They have a few minutes and a lot of students.  They don't know one child's parents are going through a divorce or that another child's grandmother just died.  They don't know the kids, but they have to understand them as much as possible anyway.  

As one other sub has commented, substitute teachers rarely get training by the district.  There is usually a substitute training session of a half to a full day at the beginning of the year - and that is it.  Subs usually are not invited to attended district teacher training institutes; they are not instructed on the use of new tools, such as white boards.  In many places, they are not given sign ons for the computers, nor keys to the classrooms, nor codes to use the copiers.  They do not get training for the new curricula. 

Finally, not only do subs not have guaranteed work or income, they also get no sick days and no benefits.  In a country where health care is frequently tied to one's job, subs are left on their own for health care, which can be hugely expensive, because the sub is not part of a larger group, such as a teachers' union.  Individual plans are typically costly. 

Subs are vastly underpaid. 

Supreme Court Buffer Zone Ruling

This is the thing I keep thinking about the SCOTUS ruling about buffer zones. You aren't infringing on someone's speech to require them to do so at a certain distance from a public passage - they can still speak as much as they want. If the person passing through wants to hear, they can, of their own volition, walk towards the people who are speaking. What you are doing is REQUIRING the person passing through to listen, since we can't turn off our ears. There is, however, NO requirement in the constitution that we have to listen to what someone is saying.  By doing away with the buffer zone, they are essentially requiring someone to listen.

Furthermore, you are NOT guaranteed an audience or forum for your speech by the constitution. A newspaper is NOT required to publish anything you wish to say. You are not allowed to address people in any public place that you want. Even libraries have rules about speech.  If you have something you wish to say, it is your job to make sure that people want to listen to you.  No one should be required to listen. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

To Label or Not to Label Gifted Kids

There is an active debate about labeling gifted kids going on right now in The Brain Cafe on Facebook.  I gave my opinion to start with and it is similar to the opinion I expressed in a recent blog hop.  (See May posts.)

I am a bit dismayed that we keep having this debate over and over and over again.  Should we use the word gifted?  Should we identify gifted kids?  Shouldn't we just give services to anyone who needs them?

Well, yes, ideally, we would just give services to anyone who needs them.  But, in case people haven't noticed, that isn't the way most schools work.  Funding isn't just allocated for some amorphous program to help kids with their needs.  That is regular school and it isn't really adequate for gifted kids.  I have complained loudly and frequently about the fact that regular teachers can't and don't differentiate enough for gifted kids.  And, no, it is NOT just a matter of more training.  You can come up with all the "should"s that you want - it isn't happening.  Teachers SHOULD differentiate for their outlier kids.  They don't.  There SHOULD be resources available for teachers to use with their outlier kids.  There aren't.  Teachers SHOULD take time to help the outlier kids with their specific needs.  They don't HAVE the time.  So which outlier kids actually get services?  The kids with labels.  BD, ESL, ELL, LD, etc.  Maybe it SHOULDn't be that way, but it is.  If you want a gifted program, you need labels.  Within those labels, there can be a huge range of flexibility. 

Personally, I am staying out of the theoretical argument now.  I can see the theory both ways.  But I want results and I want to see them across the board, not just in the best or most exemplary schools.  From what I can see, you need labels, you need specific identification, and you need specific programs - programs targeted to labeled kids.  We need specific programs to target the kids who are labeled GT, in addition to all of the other labeled programs. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Money and Politics

From my little corner of the US, I am sadly very discouraged about the current state of American politics.  The huge corporations and moneyed industries enjoy huge influence on the directions that laws take.  People without endless pockets of money get shafted over and over again.  The only hope we lesser people have of influencing policy and law is through banding together and voting, but even that hope is constantly eroding, due to gerrymandering, political advertising designed to confuse voters, and conflating religion into issues that it should remain separate from.

I contribute to progressive causes, feminist causes, and environmental causes.  Since I make very little money as a substitute teacher, I shouldn't even contribute as much as I already do.  But even with these progressive causes, it isn't my opinion that counts, it is my money.  They count contributors; they count contributions.  They pretend to count opinion, but even with the progressive fund raisers, they don't really care about your opinion, they just want your money.

A while back, I vowed that I would contribute money to any of the causes that I already support, if they sent me ONE chance to sign their petitions WITHOUT also asking for money.  So far, I haven't had to pay up.  They have a minor interest in numbers of signers - the more signers, the more people get on the bandwagon.  But what they really are interested in is the money.

Always the money.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Supreme Court

No, I haven't read the rulings and I don't know all of the details, but I am truly disgusted at the Supreme Court's recent rulings in regard to women's health care.

1) The elimination of the buffer zones around clinics.  The Supreme Court has its own buffer zone.  These clinics have been the target of significant amounts of violence, including murder.  Police have been unable to keep staff and visitors to the clinics safe.  The buffer zones were workable help.  Surely the protesters are still allowed to protest, but there is no guarantee in the first amendment that people have to listen.  Nor should the physical safety of the staff and visitors be so blatantly threatened.  Buffer zones exist in other circumstances as well.  This was a bad decision.

2) Hobby Lobby and contraceptives.  I don't want employers to be deciding on women's health care.  Period.  As Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, this is a very slippery slope.  Additional questions:  So, is it now legal to ask potential employers what their personal beliefs on birth control are?  Will they be required to disclose to applicants that their insurance policies are incomplete?  

"Still, according to studies from Columbia University and New York University, closely held corporations employed 52 percent of the American workforce and accounted for slightly more than half -- 51 percent -- of economic output from the private sector." 

In other words, over half of the American workforce could be affected by this decision.  

I am disgusted. 

Addendum:  I am still disgusted, but I also need to add that I am alarmed at how rapidly this "narrow" decision has widened.  There are supposedly 149 cases already pending that the lower courts will be allowed to use this ruling to determine.  These cases encompass not only the birth control methods objected to in the Hobby Lobby case, but additional methods and even ALL types of birth control.  This could be a major disaster for women.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I used to think I understood cyberbullying, but until these two incidences happened, I don't think I did.  I wondered why a person couldn't just block out the bullies and concentrate on all of the good things and the other support that they got.

But I have discovered that it is harder than I expected.  The first incident in which I was targeted was a discussion forum and consisted of quite a few ad hominem attacks on the views that I posted.  The problem is that I LIKE to look at things through the views of others and so I gave some credence to the attacker's views, even though I disagreed with them.  This made the personal attacks from the bully more painful than if I had just been able to dismiss him as a crank.  I had some respect for his intellect and knowledge.

This is the same thing that hurt me so much with the second attack, too.  I was commenting on the thread of someone whom I greatly respect.  I share his views on a lot of things.  But, for reasons I don't completely understand, he felt I was commenting inappropriately.  His original post was a bit vague and I was commenting on my perception of that vague post.  His attack was very personal, and, I felt, completely uncalled for.  I suppose my comments did reach beyond understanding the exact situation he was in the midst of.  But, given that there were few details and that general philosophical points are frequently argued, I didn't feel I was out of line - I just felt I was supporting my own views.  He, obviously, felt differently, essentially telling me to shut up when I knew nothing about the situation.  So, I did.

But I still feel the sting of his rebuke.  I wish I didn't respect him so much.  It would be easier to just dismiss the whole incident.

So, now I understand a bit more about cyber-bullying.  These incidences, both of them, are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of cyber-bullying.  But they happened to ME, so I now understand.  I wish I could say I understood cyber-bullying before this, but I don't think I really did.  And I probably don't even now, because I am an older adult, I have enough personal resources to retain my self-image, and I have the life experience to know that "this, too, shall pass". 

But it is a wake-up call for me to pay attention to how it can start and to try to stop it - both with myself and with others. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gifted Kids Have It Easy (Academically)

You think gifted kids have it easy - they don't have to work hard to get good grades; the teachers love them. Yes, gifted kids have it easy.

Too easy.

You think it is great to not have to work hard to get good grades?  So, while you are learning good work habits, how to study, how to fight off distractions, and how to recover from errors and mistakes, the gifted kid never has to deal with most of those problems.  And that IS the problem.  Why shouldn't GT kids have to work hard?  Why shouldn't they have to work as hard as the rest of the kids?  We don't give other kids a pass when the going gets hard - we support them in their struggles.  Why not make the gifted kids work hard, too?

Yes, all kids need a chance to get interested in things and follow their interests, but ALL kids, gifted kids included, need to know that sometimes learning something is HARD.  Sometimes it isn't especially fun.  Sometimes you make MISTAKES.  Sometimes you feel DISCOURAGED.  It isn't the end of the world and they can get through all of those things. 

No, teachers don't actually love all of the gifted kids.  GTs make them feel strangely uneasy.  The teachers know that they aren't really teaching some of the GT kids very much.  They learn the lesson too quickly and then the teacher has to think up something for the GT kid to do while the rest of the kids are still working.  They may be ready to go on to a new part of the lesson, but that would spoil the motivation s/he planned to present for the other kids, make other kids jealous, and get everyone out of sync.  They could work on something related to the topic, but there aren't any materials for that and, besides, the teacher doesn't really know how to teach anything about that, so the GT kid would just be working on her/his own.  So, usually, the GT kid just gets to read quietly while the others finish.  That is common enough that the other kids aren't jealous of the opportunity and the teacher doesn't have to find something else for them to do.  Anyway, reading is a good activity, isn't it?  It's easy.

Too easy.