Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Student Teachers

I've been subbing all week for a bunch of teachers who have student teachers.  Tuesday I was in a science class and the student teacher was fabulous.  It seemed like he had been teaching for years.  He was teaching about genomes and alleles and genetics, and kept using "Let's say your parents mate and blahblahblah" as an example for how the offspring would turn out with blue eyes or red hair or whatever.  I LOVED how every single kid flinched every time the guy said the words "your parents mate."  I mentioned that after the first class and he was totally aware of it and was doing it on purpose.  Brilliant.  Despite their squeamishness, the kids loved him.  All I had to do all day was sit in the room and play Angry Birds.

Monday was a tough day because I was in one of my favorite third grade rooms and their student teacher was horrendous.  One example:   She said she wanted to teach math because it is her specialty. (At this point she should be teaching everything all day, but her cooperating teacher won't let her.) It was a lesson on multiplying and dividing 5s.

The first thing they were supposed to do was copy down these words: division, divider, divisor and quotient.  This was written up on the smart board and she told them to copy it.  She didn't tell them where to copy it (on a blank sheet of paper? in their math journals?) but to give her the benefit of the doubt, I'm guessing they copy vocab on a regular basis and knew where to put it.  But they didn't do it.  Nobody copied it because she barreled ahead with the lesson.  They didn't even have time to get out paper to write the stuff down.

She rushed through a few boring word problems, never once using the words division, divisor, divider or quotient; only stopping long enough to occasionally bitch at someone for not paying attention.  She wouldn't listen to them if they had questions, and she said things like, "Don't come ask me how to do this later because I won't tell you."  You won't?!  Nice TEACHER.

The kids were DONE with math after that lesson.  The scheduled time for math was up and it was clearly time to move on.  She tried to forge ahead with another lesson but the kids simply couldn't do it.  The first lesson was too torturous to even think of starting a new one.  The teacher sat up at the front of the class and pouted and said, "Oh great, now I'M going to get yelled at because we didn't do this lesson.  Thanks a lot, guys."

Who does that?!

The highlight of the day was when the kids were doing a phonics worksheet on homophones.  They were supposed to choose the right word to put in the blank in a sentence.  One girl called me over because she was having trouble with one of the problems.  The homophones were "hare/hair" and the sentence was "Gladys washes her __________ every day."  The little girl said, "I don't know what to put." and I thought she wasn't sure what a hare was so I told her it was a wild bunny.  She said, "I know what a hare is, I don't know which one to put in the space because they both make sense."  I almost collapsed from the cuteness.  I can't express how much I love the image of a little girl bathing a jackrabbit every single day.  I said, "Well, I suppose you could wash a hare every day but I bet you'd have a lot of scratches!"

("What? I always walk like this.")

Friday, March 16, 2012

Math Class

I subbed in a math class this morning.  There was a student teacher in there and he was wonderful.  He was patient, kind, and knew his material backward and forward.  (I think I may have learned the distributive property!)  Of course even the best student teachers don't feel the confidence that they need to completely master a class, and you can't blame them.  It's not their class to master, the teacher is usually sitting right there watching (which is ominous and intimidating even if you have the best cooperating teacher), they are not that much older than their students, and the students can sense all this and take advantage of it.  Every teacher knows that on days when you are not feeling your best, students sense it; much like sharks smelling blood in the water, and go in for the proverbial kill.

When I find I'll be working with a student teacher I ask them how much they want me involved and I offer myself up for anything they need.  Most of the time the student teacher is happy to have an opportunity to be the lead teacher in the class.  That's how I felt when I was a student teacher.  I was so relieved when my cooperating teachers were gone and there was a sub.  Now I'm the sub and I tell them they are the ones who know what is going on, so I am there as their assistant, willing to help in any way I can.  Need me to play bad cop to your good cop in classroom discipline? No problem.  Want me to correct papers?  Give them to me.  Need a break and want me to teach?  Sure thing.  Usually they say they want to do it all.  That's my favorite because then I can sit back and read a book.

Like I said, the teacher I was with this morning was very good but the kids could have been nicer.  They did some of my absolute worst pet peeves and because this man hasn't seen it ten thousand times already, he dealt with it with too much patience and kindness.

Pet peeve number 1:  A student wanders in to class just as the bell rings.  He has NOTHING in his hands.  He sits down at his desk.  The teacher gets started with the lesson saying something along the lines of, "Today we are going to correct your study guide and then have the chapter test.  You may use your notes on the test." The teacher tells everyone to get their study guide out and get ready to correct, and waits a minute or two so everyone can get ready.

As the teacher is reading out the first answer, the boy who walked in with nothing meanders up to the front.  He interrupts the correcting by asking the teacher, "Can I go to my locker and get my study guide?"  The patient young teacher says yes.  The kid leaves, the teacher continues with correcting the test.  They finish correcting.  The kid who left meanders back in with a blank study guide.  The rest of the class is getting ready for the test.  The kid with the blank study guide, who missed all the answers because he took ten minutes going to a locker a few yards down the hallway, wants the teacher to now take time out of class to give him the answers on a study guide he didn't even attempt to do.  The nice teacher says they really don't have time to go over the whole thing again, sorry, they have to get started on the test.  The kid acts put out and slumps back into his desk.

The test is passed out and the kids are told to begin.  The same kid wanders up to the teacher again and says, "I don't have a pencil."  That scenario drives me crazy.  Why would anyone come to math class without his work and  a pencil?  It would be the same as a house-builder going to work without his ladder and his toolbox.

Now I stand at the door between bells and tell anyone coming in to make sure they have their materials and something to write with.  I still get kids who come up to me after class starts asking to go to their lockers for materials, but I usually say no.


Pet Peeve Number 2:  The patient young teacher gives the kids ten minutes at the end of class to get started on their homework assignment.  He wants them to use this time to look over the assignment and get started so they can see if they have questions about anything.  The kids work on it (or at least pretend to work on it) for five minutes and then pack everything up and stand by the door.  Why are they standing by the door?  What's the rush to get into the hallway???

The patient teacher asks them to sit back down and they accommodate him by walking a lap around the room, pushing their friends around as they go and then beeline it right back up to the door as soon as the teacher is preoccupied with someone who is actually doing their assignment.

They won't be satisfied to simply stand by the door either.  They get tired of standing by the door after about 30 seconds so they say, "Can we go?"  No. Wait for the bell.  They wait another 15 seconds and say again, "Can we go?  NO.  They wait another 45 seconds and say, "There's people in the hall.  Can we go?"  No, I said wait for the bell!  They watch the clock like it is a starter's pistol and then ten seconds before the bell rings they run out into the hall.

If you let them do that, then they will pack up a few minutes earlier (and run out into the hall earlier) every day. My method for dealing with that now is that I address these things at the beginning of each and every class.  I tell them that if they crowd around the door before the bell rings, they will be sitting at a desk and have to wait until the very last person leaves before they are excused.  I still get kids who try it anyway and they get so mad when they have to sit and wait until after every slowpoke has left the class.


Today while the teacher was going over their warm up problems that are on the board when they come in every day, one kid was totally ignoring what was happening in class and was talking and laughing loudly with his friend.  The teacher tried to wrangle the kid back into the fold by asking him a question about the problem they were working on.  The kid said, "I don't know, you're the teacher, you tell me," which got a big laugh from his buddies.  Do you know how hard it was for me to bite my tongue, stay seated and not jump up, disrupt the class, (effectively undermining the teacher) and yell, "ZACK!  Apologize to Mr. D. and if you don't get your assignment out and follow along RIGHT NOW you and I will go to the referral room and CALL YOUR MOTHER!"  It was really really hard.  But I held my tongue and Mr. D., although briefly flustered by the unnecessary rudeness, handled it well.

What do you do when you sub in a class with student teachers?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sixth Graders

I taught a wonderful group of sixth graders recently.  The middle school is enormous and there are almost a thousand kids who go there, which in my opinion is way too many, but I have to give them credit for how the powers that be have handled the sixth grade.  The kids are mainly in their own wing and there are three teams.  Each team has four teachers and about a hundred kids.  The kids on the team have one of the four teachers as their homeroom teacher.  The kids in the same homeroom stay with each other for their core classes so they get to know each other pretty well.  The four teachers on the team keep each other abreast of any problems or issues going on with kids on the team.  There is a clipboard that goes with each of the four groups of kids to every class.  On that, teachers can make notes for other team teachers concerning the kids.  They also make notes for students who are absent.  It's a pretty good system.

Anyway, I was teaching for the math teacher on one of the three teams.  I had the homeroom group for reading, language and math, and then the other three groups on the team for math class as well.  Reading class starts with a read aloud book.  I was about to start when someone said, "Are we supposed to sit in our assigned seats?"  I said, "Are you usually supposed to sit in your assigned seats for read aloud?"  They said yes so I said, "Then you need to sit in your assigned seats."  Someone else asked, "Can we draw while you read?"  I said, "Can you usually draw while the teacher reads?"  No, not usually.  So no, they couldn't draw today either.  Then I was about to get started.  I half-sat on a table at the front of the room and just as I opened my mouth to start, the sweet-looking boy sitting at that table said quietly, "She doesn't usually sit on my table when she reads."  I gave him my best pseudo-scathing look and dramatically slid my rear off the table.  The kids laughed.  I laughed.  They were fun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Yesterday I took a kindergarten job.  I don't know why I do it.  I guess it's like a challenge, and also the teacher likes me and asked me specifically to do it, so I took the job.  I'm a sucker.  Those kids are SO CUTE, but teaching kindergarten is like simultaneously managing a room full of cats and putting out fires - all day long.  Occasionally I have to take the cats out of the room to the library, or the lunchroom and that is a total fiasco.  Getting the cats to put on all their winter clothes to go home is another fiasco.  Cats don't care if the bus is going to be there in 5 minutes.  Cats don't care about anything but what they want to care about, and you can be sure it's nothing you want them to care about.

My class
We got through most of the day with no major problems.  We had reading centers and did a pretty intense math activity.  That took the whole morning with me running around helping, solving problems, picking stuff up off the floor, resolving conflicts, tying shoes, buttoning pants, listening to tattles, etc. etc.  I was, for every second, either being talked to or talking.  I didn't have one minute to sit, go to the bathroom, or take a drink of water.  I don't know how kindergarten teachers do it day in and day out.  It is exhausting. 

Finally it was lunch time.  I gave them 15 minutes to get ready with all their winter clothes for recess afterward.  Some kids were ready in one minute, some kids still hadn't even put their snowpants on when it was time to leave.  So I brought the first wave down and then came back to get the second wave.  When I finally got back to the room to eat my own lunch, a parent came in with a kid that wasn't there in the morning.  I told him the kids were down at the cafeteria for lunch, thinking he could bring his kid down there himself.  He stared at me.  The kid stared at me.  I said, "Joseph, put your stuff on for recess and go to lunch."  The dad said, "He has to wear all his stuff just to go to lunch?"  Yes, Mr. Underminer, because if he doesn't put his boots and snowpants on now, he will totally miss recess because of how long it takes a five year old to put their boots and snowpants on, not to mention the fact that if he isn't wearing everything he needs, he will lose half of it on the short walk to the cafeteria.  I didn't say all that.  I just said, "Yes."  Then he stood there while his kid sloooooowwwwwly put on his stuff and griped about why the kids have to go to lunch wearing all their stuff.  He finally left and I had about ten minutes to myself where someone wasn't poking me or crying about something.

Then I went to get them.  There must have been a bee on the playground because every single kid told me there was a bee on the playground.  Then one kid said he got stung by the bee.  I asked where and he didn't have an answer.  Another kid heard the first kid say he got stung so he said he also got stung.  Then everyone was saying they got stung. They lie.

The afternoon was much less intense than the morning; they had library, which left me with a merciful 25 minutes to pick up the room and get ready for them to come back, and then when they came back it was story time (my favorite), and then free play time.  During free play time a group of them wanted me to read stories to them.  They LIKE me!  They made me sit on the carpet and then they piled around me like a bunch of puppies and listened to me read.  It was pretty sweet, but while I was doing that, there was another group of kids who silently FILLED the water table to the tippy top. They did it by filling and re-filling a four-cup measuring cup.  I bet there was fifty gallons of water in that table, and the kids were soaked and the floor all around was soaked.  I made the water-table people help me clean up the mess they made, which had the exact results as it would if you told a bunch of cats to help you clean up a mess.  It was more work getting them to grab paper towels and soak up the water on the floor than it would have been to just do it myself, but we finally did it.

Then the sub notes said to gather on the carpet and talk about our day.  "Hey cats, I want all of you to sit in the same general area at a specific point in time!"  It eventually happened, but I had to chase and cajole and plead with five or six of them to go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, can't you see everyone else on the rug?  go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug.  Let's go to the rug!  Wouldn't going to the rug be fun?  go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, you don't need to check your backpack for your toy shark right now, go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, you can get your water bottle after you go to the rug, go to the rug, go to the rug, don't worry that your shoe is untied for the 800th time right now, just go to the rug, go to the rug, yes, it's very intersting that you have scabs on your leg that vaguely form the letter Y but right now go to the rug, go to the rug, no, I didn't know your teacher usually says "carpet," does it matter? oh, it does? okay, go to the carpet.

go to the rug
Finally, time to go home.  This brilliant teacher has set things up so a bunch of fifth graders come and are assigned to certain kindergarteners, and they help them get ready, gather their things, and then walk them to their bus.  I was so grateful to see those fifth graders that I could have cried.

Today I'm subbing for a woman who teaches AP social studies.  I have not had to tie any shoes or button any pants (so far).  Nobody has tattled and I don't expect to hear any tattles.  If they miss the bus, I won't even know about it, much less be responsible for it.  Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.....