Tuesday, January 5, 2016

TALES OF A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: Last Minute Jobs



Today I am not in the classroom. I am home, working from here, nursing a cold, still in my pajamas and soon to make chicken soup.

At 11:55 a.m. I received a call from Broward County SmartFind Express, the automated phone system that pairs up subs with classroom openings. As the call comes in, I quickly go to SmartFind's website to see the job. The automated system takes a while to get to the heart of the matter and so if it is an undesirable job, I can swiftly hang up rather than hear the recording in its entirety.

The offer is for a job that starts at 12 and goes till 4. It is a middle school science class at Lyons Creek. The job will entail trying to keep 3 or 4 classes tame until the final bell. Lyons Creek is about 6 minutes up the road if I breeze through every light. Did I mention that it is 11:55 AM and I am in my pajamas) If I arrived at 12:20, I would make about $35 dollars after taxes for the effort. Somehow, I'd rather list something on eBay and take a chance.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am quite fond of subbing. And when my favorite sub coordinator calls and begs me to take a job that isn't quite up my alley, I usually say "Yes." And, I love the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when Pierce Brosnan is choking and Mrs. D runs to save him, declaring, "Help is on the way!!" But I won't be playing class rescuer today. There's just not enough reward in it.

I might have been incentivized if...(and I'm dreaming here):
a.  the kids were nice and respectful to me and thanked me for filling in for their teacher
b.  subs hired at the last minute made time and a 1/2. ($50 seems like a more respectable sum)
c.  subs got points on an "frequent subbing card" and could redeem them at Starbucks.
 The school board could have an effect on # 2 and #3 - #1 is way beyond their control.

 FYI, it is now 12:32. I was called at 12:05 and re-offered the job. And I can see that the job is still "in callout" mode.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: SEVENTH GRADERS PROPOSE CHANGE THAT'S MOSTLY PREDICTABLE


Today's lesson in 7th grade civics focused on "how a bill becomes law." Using short skits to demonstrate the process,  here's a brief look at what life would be like if they ran Congress.

Less School Hours
Only school for a minute
Free period for middle-schoolers
Schools should start later in the day 
(so kids can be more rested and eat better breakfasts)
Less Homework 
(so they can spend more time with family and have less stress)
Fewer Standardized Tests 
(too much pressure for kids)
Outlaw Science Fair Projects
Kids should get paid to go to school
School should be on weekends not weekdays
Kids 12 and older can get a job
Lower the driving age to 14
No more gas vehicles
All cars must pass emission tests
Your living environment must be inspected before owning an animal
(to cut down on animal abuse)
Can't smoke cigarettes until you're 30 or 50
Fudge should be in all ice cream

It was no surprise that most of the proposed bills would relieve these 12 and 13-year-olds of the incessant and unnecessary stress that public school seems to put them under. I was personally relieved to see that there were at least a handful of adolescents who were cognizant of the world beyond themselves.  And while I am not a big fan of fudgy ice cream, that idea was my favorite because it was just so random.


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Monday, October 26, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: The Early Bird Catches the Worm





Sign the petition: A lesson in speaking up for what you want.

Today I could, should, would have been starting my first real-ish, albeit temporary, teaching job. I thought I was perfectly suited to act as interim sub for a 9th grade English teacher at Monarch High School, while she went on maternity leave. And she thought so too. But a lack of communication between teacher and administration compounded by me not listening to my gut, cost me this plum opportunity.

I wanted it badly. It was the perfect job at exactly the right time. It was coming at a moment when I was reconsidering my career and looking for a stream of revenue to sustain my family. As much as I adore the world of home furnishings and interior design, my friends know that I frequently feel the pull to shift gears and teach. This two-month assignment would have given me a more realistic picture of the teaching experience than what random substitute teaching has provided so far, and it would have paid a lot better too. (see my previous blog about substitute teacher pay.)

My mistake was not going directly to the principal at the earliest possible time. I was aware that the principal had to approve the selection, (Broward Schools's Substitute Teacher Handbook, page 9) yet I waited patiently for the English teacher and her administrator to introduce me. I nudged her every 7-10 days to make sure I was still on track for the job. And I totally seemed to be.

Their mistake was not recommending me to the principal at the earliest possible time especially when, to everyone's surprise, the teacher took leave 4 weeks ahead of schedule. On Monday October 12th, I sat in her classroom, getting the skinny on the curriculum and daily routines. She thought I was taking over, but then, got a phone call telling her the position had been filled by someone else...a person she didn't know. The pregnant teacher apologized but there seemed to be no recourse. I was deeply disappointed, and cried intermittently throughout the day. I'm just like that.

Two days later, I got a call from the principal. He was responding to an email I had written the night before asking for an explanation of interim sub protocol. He told me how important it was to find the right person for a job of this scope, and that he had no idea about me until it was too late. The woman he had approved was a former Monarch teacher whom he already knew and trusted to fill the job.

Gianna (left) and Sammi en route to deliver the petition.
Two days later my daughter, Sammi, and her friend Gianna walked into the principal's office with a petition requesting that I be the substitute for Ms. Freeman. They had gathered almost 120 signatures in two days. I had suggested the idea to her. "It  might not change the course of events," I said, " but it is a way to show that you care about your education and who's involved." As the principal was going into a meeting, they handed it to him with a brief explanation. He didn't say much, they reported.

As a parent and storyteller, I imagined that the petition delivery scene might have unfolded in a more dynamic way. I envisioned that the principal would have been genuinely touched by their desire to challenge the system and the peaceful and organized way in which they went about it. I was hoping he might have offered some acknowledgment, such as, "Wow! I am sure that you mom is a great teacher, and I am impressed by your persistence. But because of several factors, it just didn't work out. I spoke with your mom earlier his week, and hope to meet her soon."

The interim sub starts today. For the past 8 school days since the teacher took leave, however, there was a different substitute, who according to my daughter, was a self-confessed non-language artsy guy. He began each class with the vocab and grammar warm-up as instructed by the teacher, and then told the students, "The rest of the period is yours."   "So what did you do?" I asked Sam. "We mostly played on our phones, talked quietly, and listened to music."  I calculated this as 5 hours of wasted instructional time.

For my daughter's sake, I hope this interim substitute teaches, inspires, and carries forth in a way that would make Ms. Freeman proud.







Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: The Economics of Substitute Teaching



a sample paycheck for a regular substitute teacher
If everything had gone according to plan, on Monday I would have started a two-month interim sub stint as a 9th grade English teacher at Monarch High School. The timing for this opportunity could not have been more perfect. But due to a miscommunication between teacher and administrator, I did not get the job, and it was officially offered to someone else. 

It is no secret that I have been contemplating a career in education for years and became a sub mostly to get the public education experience, observe it, and share my passion for learning. My other freelance work has enabled me to step into the classroom when desired, and this interim post would have given my the first taste of real consistent teaching and the ability to sustain my family while doing so.

The interim sub job pays good money. It pays 240% above what a normal substitute teacher earns. According to the Broward Schools "Substitute Teacher Handbook" which is available publicly on-line, the daily rate for an interim sub is $204.07. If the average school month has 20 instructional days, then that sub earns about $4,000 a month. That is a respectable income.

Average substitute teacher pay is a different story. A single person cannot make a living as a substitute teacher. At Broward Schools, substitute teachers make $11.27 per hour, approximately $80 for a full day's work, and $1,690 per month or what it costs to rent an average two-bedroom apartment in my town. This hourly amount  is $3.22 over the Florida minimum wage and $5.71 below Florida's living wage for a single adult. The gap between earnings and the living wage naturally widens as you add in children or a non-working spouse.

There are certain upgrades in the substitute teaching arena, but it still won't translate into a livable wage. A "pool sub", for example, shows up to one school everyday and earns $95.03 for the daily commitment or $1,900/month. If you have a bachelor's degree and choose to work in a special school reserved for students who are emotionally, behaviorally, or intellectually challenged, you can earn $116.17 per day or $2,323 per month.  I have never sought to work in one of these facilities but am going to try this out one day and report back.

The economics of SUBstitute teaching support the meaning of the prefix which is "below, beneath, under and less than".  They are also aligned with what so many middle school and high school students think and say when they see a substitute teacher in their classroom, that you are "just a sub"...a placeholder, babysitter, someone to make sure students don't cut class and hurt each other. But I am certain that even 12-year old babysitters make more money an hour.

My daughter is in 9th grade. She has had a sub in English class for the last 7 school days. She reported that the class was expected to do ten minutes of vocabulary and grammar exercises daily and that once that was done the substitute teacher said, "The rest of the time is yours." Her class talked quietly, went on their phones, and listened to music.  I calculate roughly 4 hours of instructional time lost. As a parent this irks me greatly. As a substitute, I understand that teaching "The Odyssey" can be daunting, but there certainly could have been other language artsy things to do.

I write this blog and share my experiences because I hope I can have some impact raising the standards of substitute teaching and thus the compensation for doing the job.

Up next: The Interim Sub Job, Part II

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Project That Wasn't: Jazz's Room TRANSformation

Jazz in her colorful room. Photo courtesy TLC.
In a few hours, millions of people will tune in to watch "I am Jazz." (airing at 10 PM on TLC). For about 3 days, during the shooting down here in Florida, I was being considered for the part of  "the family friend/decorator." Bringing me into the storyline was not random as I, for the last 2-3 years, on and off, have been trying to redo Jazz's room with some help from others in the design industry.

Quite simply put, my idea was: 
Amazing girl needs amazing room to match.

With her family in the pride parade several years ago. Photo swiped from Facebook.
I thought it would make a great before/after story for a magazine or TV show. After all, here is this incredible tween (this was 2012) beginning to shine in the limelight,  an LGBTQ advocate, breaking barriers, speaking on behalf of transgender youth at conferences and awards galas, forging a non-profit, TransKids Purple Rainbow, to help other trans kids, an extraordinary girl, with a strong and supportive family, facing challenges and surmounting them. With adolescence approaching fast, I wanted to help create a most incredible retreat for her that would adequately reflect the vibrant powerful young woman that she was swiftly becoming.


In her own words and images: Jazz envisions her new room.  I admire her modest requests and crafty nature.
I visited Jazz one day when she was home sick, but not too sick, from school. We made a little video that I hoped would foster the re-design cause. She was OK with it, but I knew I could help make it "jazzier." I approached a few people.

First up... David Bromstad. He was based in Miami and when I learned he too loved mermaids,  I took it as a positive sign. But with Design Star and such and his relocation to L.A., his handlers turned it down. Not enough time.

Then I took it to Ellen but I'm not sure how deeply the request infiltrated her organization because it went through a friend whose son is a producer for the show. My idea was that in return for Ellen's support, Jazz would gift her with a portrait. I imagined they'd have a sweet rapport but... nada.

So I introduced the idea to Mitchell Gold of MGBW Home, and he was the most responsive of all. I also gave him Jazz's book for Hanukkah last year. Not surprising, the forward-thinking man who made his mark with beautiful slip-covered furniture has a generous history and involvement with LGBTQ that runs deep and is well documented. Mitchell was so cool about it. "Let me know what I can do," he said. But for a couple of reasons, it never materialized.

Screen shots from my secret Jazz Pinterest board: I started pulling it together, using the colors she loves, but also mixing in lots of white and shimmer.
 And then along came TLC, and I got in touch with Jazz's mom who put me in touch with the producers and for a moment it all felt doable Then they decided it would just be a better story line (and less complicated) if the project went in-house. I heard there was a spatter paint party.

Supporting Jazz and TransKids Purple Rainbow at a Florida fundraiser.
Tonight I shall pay particular interest to the scenes shot in Jazz's room. I've caught glimpses in previews...the blue ombre chest, spatter-painted dresser, jewel-toned bedding, and cheery turquoise walls give the space a teen friendly energy. In a year or two if she wants something a bit more sophisticated and pulled together, I will gladly offer my services again.





Friday, May 22, 2015

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: Damn, Those Boyz Can Dance!



video

Yes, I know. I substituted a "z" where there should be an "s". I made a creative choice that just felt rightly urban for this group of limber 7-year old boys who could, via the merit of their fancy light-as-air footwork, make a fortune as street entertainers in NYC. Let's move on.


I subbed 2nd grade today.. After a year's hiatus, I returned to Winston Park Elementary, my girls' alma mater. Pulled into parking space #47 (part of my lucky number), waved to Mr. Dave, and rolled into the administration building. Big hellos to many of the teachers and hugs for some more. Unlike some schools where I wander aimlessly down halls looking for adult conveniences, here I already knew where the teacher bathrooms were located. An all around win-win.
Hey, Mrs. Trotter (sung to the tune of "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby") 
"At 12:45 your class will go to the school fair," said Mrs. Trotter, an inspiring teacher and, later I learned, excellent dancer. The Student Appreciation Fair happens every year. Sponsored by the PTA, there is an array of old fashioned mostly wooden carnival games plus sno-cones, popcorn, cotton candy, and spin art. This year there was a DJ, a very funny one, who was not satisfied until I got up and danced...which I did and it was fun. We were all sweaty and quite happy.

Last year I spent most of my time subbing in the middle schools. I liked the challenge of converting serial disrespectors and staunch apatheticists (first misspellings, and now made-up words! Hey - it's my blog!) to listeners and learners. I was mildly successful; they are a very tough crowd. It gets really tiring.


When I returned to elementary school, I felt a distinct vibe of optimism. Here children are open, curious and eager to please. Their smiles and willingness to share is rewarding, even though those stories about the dog that their father's uncle's mother's friend found on the street can get a bit out of control. (I actually tell them "I love to hear from you but because I will probably never meet your father's uncle's mother's friend or see her dog, it would be so much more interesting to learn something about you.") We had a great day talking about Benjamin Franklin and practicing triple digit subtraction that demanded extensive borrowing. I left with some second grade swag: drawings, notes, and two Loom Band bracelets which I am told will glow in the dark..


P.S. Dear Ms. LaClair,  I hope you are feeling better. If you are reading this blog, I left my unfinished Starbucks coffee in the classroom. It's on the desk by the white board. Sorry!

Friday, April 24, 2015

TALES OF A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: Cinderella Stories


Cinderella found here
Today at Westglades Middle School, I took on an advanced 6th grade language arts class.While I don't have any wild stories or major epiphanies from the day, I did read a few student essays that were lying around. They were both reinventions of Cinderella, and I did enjoy them.

The first one was an optimistic rewrite, where the major theme is kindness and everyone "goes to the ball together." The second, slightly darker version, imagines that Cinderella dies of starvation and dehydration in a basement. And then the stepmother dumps her body in the ocean. The end.


In addition to the Cinderella stories, I found 2 fun post-it notes.

and spied good humanistic hall art.

And one student, showing me a tangled purple rubber band, professed to be the "Queen of Crazy Knots."
 

Happy weekend, y'all.