Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guide to Being a Substitute Teacher: En Español

If you don't use it, you lose it, right? I subbed for a Spanish class today, and it was muy difícil. That means "very difficult," I learned. Languages have always been hard for me to master, but not for lack of effort. I mean, I am a Language Arts teacher, after all. I have more breadth than depth when it comes to foreign languages. I grew up with Urdu, studied Spanish and French in junior high and high school, and tried my tongue with Irish (not to be confused with Gaelic). The results? When I try to speak in any language other than English, it comes out sounding like a radio being tuned by a schizophrenic. I throw Spanish into my Urdu. I mix French with my English. When I try to pronounce something in Urdu, I use an Irish accent on all the wrong syllables and inevitably end up (unintentionally) insulting someone's mother or dog or shoes.

Not actually me. Might as well be.

So, I teach English. At least, that's what I was trained to do. I'm beginning to worry about losing my ability to teach at all, because, hey, if you don't use it, you lose it, right? While that phrase is typically associated with learning and practicing foreign languages, it seems like it might apply to any acquired skill, like knitting, or painting, or... teaching.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Guide to Being a Substitute Teacher: Bring a Book

I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I'm not cut out for teaching. See, I have all of these amazing skills, like being able to connect to different types of learners, see what sort of support they need, and craft engaging lesson and unit plans for them. I'm also pretty darned good at analyzing how successful or unsuccessful my teaching methods are, and then making the necessary adjustments. I pay attention to national standards. I pay attention to school policies. I pay attention to what other teachers are doing.

With all of these skills present in a substitute teacher, including the motivation and need to be useful, what do you think CPS does? They assign me to cover 2 periods in the morning and nothing else. Yep, I spent my day assisting a scheduled guest speaker for 2nd and 3rd period, then scrambling, no, begging, for someone to give me something useful to do. I approached teachers, security guards, and janitors, but everyone told me, "Why don't you just relax? It's an easy day for you, so enjoy it." I don't want to relax. I don't want an easy day. I want the stress, the challenge, and the satisfaction that comes with the territory. I want to work, dammit. Why else would I have struggled through two years of graduate school? So I can relax?                                  

I ended up spending 5 hours in the library, scanning and labeling textbooks. Oh, and I read.

So, maybe I'm not cut out for subbing. What is substitute teaching? At this point, I'm going to loosely define it as a waste of everyone's time. It's not like babysitting because students aren't babies. They're young adults, struggling to grow up. They need role models; adults they can trust and rely on to steer them in the direction they want to go, or very often, provoke them to think about where they want to go by asking pertinent questions and challenging them in ways they hadn't thought of. I tend to believe that everyone, regardless of age, wants these things. I sure do, but subbing doesn't allow for those opportunities.

CPS is looking to shut down 54 schools due to "inefficiency," but maybe they need to take a closer look at how they're utilizing the resources they actually have first.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Guide to Being a Substitute Teacher: Know That You're an Idiot

I'm an English teacher, or at least that's what my certificate says. "Type 09, 6-12 English/Language Arts with a Middle School endorsement." That's me on paper.

I know a LOT about English -- as a language, a subject, and how to teach it. I know the most current instructional practices for a 21st century teacher, I know how to read a linguistics tree diagram, I know how to motivate students (thanks to this guy), and I know I'm not an idiot.

But here's the thing: I am an idiot.

I spent my day subbing at a high school that I would like to work at, but I was stupid enough to assume that I would be subbing for another English teacher. Nope. I was assigned to cover an Advanced Algebra class of sophomores, and I was totally unprepared.

Something I understand
Something I don't understand

When I got to the classroom, class rosters in hand (by the way, if you're subbing, invest in a clipboard), I found a stack of worksheets under a note that read, "Have students complete worksheets." Seems simple enough, right? Explain the assignment for the day, take attendance, and monitor students. Glorified babysitting, at best. Let's look at my day in the form of a word problem:

The teacher enters the classroom with a roster sheet indicating that there should be 27 students in the class. After the bell rings, the teacher counts 22 students. 5 minutes later, 3 students walk out of the classroom, claiming that this isn't their class. 8 minutes after the bell, 4 students walk into the class, but only 2 of them have passes. Before the teacher can explain the assignment, 6 students ask to use the restroom. 15 minutes after class begins, the teacher spends 5 minutes explaining the assignment. 8 students claim that they did the assignment the previous day. 5 students claim that they do not understand how to do the assignment. 6 students are playing cards. 2 students are sleeping. 4 students gather their belongings and leave the room. 

If you are the teacher, WHAT DO YOU DO?

This is how I attempted to solve the problem:
1) I divided the remaining class time into thirds and explained that I would allow students to leave the classroom one at a time during the second third, with a pass, but no one was allowed to leave during the first or final 20 minutes of class (block schedule). 
2) I encouraged students to work together on the assignment, to learn from each other, as long as they could keep the noise level down. 
3) I chased after the students who left, found them hiding in a bathroom, and called security to handle it. These kids scared the crap outta me, and said some awful things that made me wonder if I would find my tires slashed, but once security arrived, I went back to the classroom to find
4) Utter chaos.

Looking back on the day, I still don't know what my primary objective was supposed to be. What should my objective be, as a substitute teacher? Attendance? Discipline? The lesson? For now, I'm going to make my primary goal "don't cry," because I can feel like an idiot all I want, but I can't let these kids know it. They have more important things to learn.