Monday, March 09, 2009

Stories from Substituting

"Too often, the role of the substitute teacher is overlooked."
-Scott Smith

So, I completed an 8-week long-term substitute teaching contract last week. I taught a computer science (really, computer literacy) class to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at a local middle school. It was a wonderful experience, giving me a much-needed taste of the classroom, before I was responsible for my own class.

And, to tell you the truth, as crazy as it was (and, some days were especially crazy!), there was never a day that I hoped I could go back to my old desk, and my old office, and my previous design job.

Some quotes from my first teaching adventure:

  • "If I go back in there, I'm gonna beat him up."--Friday of my first week, I had to call the administration to my room to escort two sixth grade boys to the office, after they threatened to beat each other up. When the assistant principal arrived, she knew both boys, and told me that it was unfair to me to have them in the same class. (She was able to transfer one of the boys to the other computer science class.) It was my first experience with extreme discipline--and I probably didn't handle it as well as I should. At least, I was able to wait until class was over for my tears to fall.
  • "2 minutes until games."--Unfortunately, the free-time activity for the students (for after they had completed the classwork) was to play games at educational websites. I was constantly battling students who wanted to play games BEFORE they had done the work. However, by the end of the 8 weeks, I'd learned that the promise of games was an excellent way to motivate them to actually get the work done. I would walk around the room, giving the countdown until they could play games.
  • "I wish my counselor was..."--One day the school counselors asked my students to complete an online survey about their current offerings. I had to read the questions out loud to one of my special ed 7th graders; I explained, "Z, finish this sentence." She thought about it for a second, and then looked up me and proudly said, "was my mom!" I said, "Sure, type that!"
  • "Can I take my haler?"--One of my 8th graders left each day to go to the clinic five minutes before class ended. One day, he asked me "Can I take my haler?" I had to ask him to repeat himself several times, because I really wasn't sure what he was asking. Finally, he asked, "Can I take my 'haler at the clinic? I have asthma." Oh... your inhaler, yes, you can go take your inhaler.
  • "J, why are you punching me?"--One of my 7th graders liked to joke around with me, and usually I appreciated his humor. One day, I was standing next to him, helping his neighbor, when all of the sudden he "punched" me in the arm. I spun around and said, "J, why are you punching me?" He said innocently, "I just wanted to see your muscles." I had to explain that next time, he should possibly give someone a warning before he punched them.
  • "No visitors during bus call." and "Get out of the doorway."--My most challenging group of students was one of my seventh grade classes. There were 18 girls and 6 boys, and man, was there drama. They talked so much that they couldn't complete their work (or even hear the directions for the assignment!). In particular, it was difficult to keep them under control during bus call (which is really just baby-sitting time until they are dismissed). I was constantly reminding them of the rules, once even drawing a boundary around the door with tape on the floor.
  • "How were they?"--One of the great things about this teaching experience was meeting and getting to know the teacher next door, Natalie. Although she is a veteran teacher, this is her first year working with middle school aged kids. She became my mentor and good friend. After each class, she was come over to ask me how it went. We used each other to vent, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off of each other.
  • "Once upon of time..." and "That's a great metaphor!"--One of my responsibilities was to sit in an 8th grade English class in the mornings for academic support. While at first I looked forward to the opportunity to observe another teacher's teaching style, I quickly got very frustrated as she often taught the students things incorrectly. Sometimes all I could do was to walk out of the room.
  • "You did a good job encouraging students to work with their teams."--In my last week, I was surprised to see my assistant principal come into the 8th grade class to observe me. I panicked, given that we were playing "Jeopardy" to study for their computer vocabulary test, and it was a little bit chaotic. In the previous class period, I had to stop the game in the middle because they could not control their behavior. However, Dr. A gave me a surprisingly pretty good review, checking off that she had observed over half of the possible teaching strategies. And, in my face-to-face review, she told me how pleased she was of my success and said she wished that she could hire me right there. Hopefully other people will feel the same way.
  • "We had a blast when you were our teacher. You shall be missed. P.S. You should get a teacher of the year award."--My favorite class made me a card to tell me goodbye when I left. They used software that I had taught them previously to use, and the whole class signed it. What a special treasure to keep from this awesome experience!


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