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