Friday, June 6, 2014

Tales of a Substitute Teacher: End of Year Summary

Fruit of knowledge.
As the Broward Country public school 2013-2014 year ended yesterday,  I was reflecting on my time as a substitute teacher. I like being a part of the education system. I relish the intellectual and creative interaction with the kids (if given the opportunity), welcome the chance to refresh my knowledge about taxonomy or Romeo & Juliet, and of course, I enjoy checking out the decor in each classroom and the art projects (or lack thereof) hanging in the halls.. And, I also welcome the reliable, albeit disproportionately low, paychecks. (FYI: Substitute teachers in Fort Lauderdale make $11.27/hr. and subs in Long Beach, CA make $22.34/hr).

Notice Column 1's "Spending Time" response on this middle school project
This year I subbed at 9 different schools, for about 30 classes, and got a bunch of hugs, some respect, and the finger. Here are some random thoughts about my year as a substitute teacher...
The sneaker parade never ceases to amuse me.
  • You can learn a lot about fashion while subbing. 
The little things matter.

  • I so wanted to LOVE teaching middle school, but most middle school kids LOVE having a sub so they can especially goof off. Consequently, I fell back in love with teaching 2nd-4th grades. In those classrooms, I get hugs, notes, free art, and respect.

  • Lucked out one day while subbing at West Glades Middle. There was a special anti-bullying assembly starring Brooks Gibbs and he drove home the "sticks and stones" message really well. When he said, "Words are just words," Jane the writer's ears pricked up in a "Oh, really????" kind of way as I thought about all of those times I carefully selected just the right word. But I get what he meant in the context of his presentation.
  • I was totally unaware that "I don't feel like doing this" was an option. One day while subbing for an 8th grade science teacher, I handed out worksheets about skin cancer and most 8th graders handed them back incomplete before the end of class because they simply weren't in the mood.  
  • Yo, teachers, this can be a lifesaver: When a unisex name and an androgynous appearance have you confused as to the gender of a student, refrain from using pronouns and simple call that student by their proper name. I once used "he" when referring to a girl...and trust me, you do not want to suffer through making that error.

Dream rooms on display
  • They have Interior Design 101!!
  • Some science classrooms have a backdoor which opens to a common faculty area where there is a near-private clean bathroom. If you have ever subbed at West Glades Middle, you know what I am talking about. This year I had a renewed enthusiasm for subbing science.
  • While subbing for 9th grade English, I discovered that the answers to worksheets are readily available on the internet and that if not watched closely, students will access the answers and cheat.
  • Keep your iPhone in your pocket or out of site.
  • In middle and high schools, cell phones are a clear obstruction to learning even though kids will tell you music helps them study and that their teacher says it's ok.
My favorite gifted drawing yet.
  • Kids always try to guess my age. Most guess younger, much younger, and I am flattered. Middle schoolers have referred to me as "the cool surfer sub" and a third grader has drawn me as a sprightly young thing. 
  • There are silver linings even to the most challenging substitute teaching gigs. While the morning that an 8th grade student at Forest Glen Middle School told me to basically "F--- off" was a tearful disaster, later that day, one of my students played the violin for me. That was also emotional, but I did not bawl. So, clearly, the day ended on a high note!
  • I have come to realize that I still suck at deciphering traditional poetry.
Subbing high school English on V-Day was a visual treat.
  • The student body can be a wonderful source for socio-cultural enlightenment. Not only am I there to teach, but I come to learn! Hence..."The Vocabulary Lesson".
Let's just call this: Embellishing History.
  • If you teach middle school, you will undoubtedly meet Mr. Dick Page, and just know that during class, when a student discovers a drawing of a penis in a text book, there will be 5-10 minutes of unruly behavior that follows.
While my year as a sub has ended, my interest in education continues and I will be doing little things throughout the summer that will make me a better sub next fall. I already found one article on replicating Van Gogh's ear that can be an interesting addition to a discussion on genetics or 3 D printing (7th grade and higher). I believe that even a sub can improved the quality of education and am doing what I can to support my theory!

happy summer y'all.

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