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.