Adventures in Subbing #5

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“I just wanted to know what it felt like to be someone you look at.” – Ove, from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I was witness to a modern day middle school dance. I use the term dance loosely. It was more like a sweaty, sugar high, hormone fest. I never attended a dance until the Prom my senior year, unless you count square dancing in fourth grade.

However, some things don’t change. We all want to know what it feels like to be the one someone else wants to look at. To be someone that a special someone else wants to be with.

(edited/reposted)

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Adventures in Subbing #4

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He could steady a one-hundred-and-eighty pound man by himself, fold up and carry a wheelchair one-handed, but that didn’t count on the basketball court or in grammar or much of anywhere. – from Stand Tall by Joan Bauer 

There are skills that are sometimes taught, sometimes caught, that often go unnoticed. I saw this last year in a fourth grade classroom. I was standing in the back of a room while another teacher was reading a story about Rosa Parks to the students. A chubby, red faced boy in the back was kind of sniffling and putting his head down. I wasn’t sure if he was ill or sad or if I should approach him. Before I could decide, a student just acted on his instinct. I watched a sharply dressed young black student walk all the way across the room, put his hand on the blubbering boy’s shoulder, and speak kindly to him. I was so touched. I thought how proud Rosa Parks would have been to see that moment.  I finished up reading  to the class for the other teacher. I read about Mrs. Parks, and her struggles and we had a wonderful discussion.

A short while later, I saw the boy smiling broadly who had before been so sad. Seems he thought he’d lost a watch and was going to get in a lot of trouble, but he found it way back in his desk.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to the kind boy, but I wish I had. I wish I had told him I noticed.

(edited/reposted)

 

 

Adventures in Subbing #2

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“…but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film teacher. That’s not social to me at all. “ – Clarisse, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse is the student we all wish to have in our classrooms. She is bright and curious. She wants to ask questions. She wants to be social in that she wants to talk of things of substance. How many students, like Clarisse, are stuck in classes where the teachers run facts and information by the students, but don’t explain or discuss the ideas? How many sit for hours under “film teachers”?

Sometimes being a sub is like being the fly on the wall. I see things that make me cringe. Yes, sometimes there are facts that just need to be memorized, like addition and multiplication facts. And, yes, films can be very enlightening and can add understanding to a lesson, but they should not replace the lesson. However, sitting for hours and having answers thrown out – bing-bing-bing- is an all too common occurrence in many classrooms.

I don’t know what the answer is. I was not a perfect teacher, but I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel if all day every day I “ran the answers” at the students without explanation and guidance.. That’s not teaching.

 

(edited/reposted)

Adventures in Subbing #1

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I am in my fourth year of substitute teaching here in Alabama and I’ve come to look at it as more than just a job. When  I was a full-time teacher, I had so much on my plate and so much on my mind that many days I was too exhausted to think much past the next set of papers I had to grade. Now I’m looking at things from a little different perspective.

Some days I just sit and don’t do much more than take roll and pass out an assignment. Other days might be jammed packed with instruction and discipline. The variety is usually enjoyable. I have learned to be an observer and I try to make connections with students when I can.

From time to time I’ll be sharing my thoughts, observances, and tidbits from the classroom.

“A circle was ugly without you.” -from Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

 

Being on the outside of a circle, looking in, is a lonely place to be. I’ve felt that way over the years, but fortunately not too often. It hurts, no matter how old you are. But, the middle school years are the hardest. If you aren’t in a circle, your outsideness really shows.

One day I saw a pretty young girl sitting all alone in a room full of kids who were talking to each other and laughing while they sat together. I didn’t know her or her story, but I wondered. Did she choose to sit alone? Did she just not have a friend in this particular class, but when the bell rang would she meet up with her BFF as she headed for her next class? I sure hoped so. That’s what I wished for. I wish everyone had a BFF waiting somewhere for them. A person who was interested, a person who cared. But, I know that isn’t always the case. So, all the more reason to be kind. And to remember how ugly that circle can be when you are on the outside.

(edited/reprinted from April, 2016)

They Won’t Let Me Teach

 

“I’m a teacher, but they won’t let me teach – not the way I can. It’s just not worth it.” – Miss Shaw, the Wonder Years, Season 5

I recently binge watched the entire Wonder Years series. I’d say I teared up during about 80% of the episodes. But, I must reveal that Kevin, the main character, was just two years my senior. I’m talking the character, not the actor. So, all that 70s stuff, all those family issues, the clothes, the culture – that was my world.

Instead of my teen-self, one episode got to the heart of my teacher-self. Miss Shaw was an unconventional teacher. She loved what she was doing and it showed. The kids knew it and her fire lit them up. I’m not saying I agreed with all her methods. But, when she said, “…they won’t let me teach – not the way I can”, I felt like she was speaking for so many other teachers. I recently talked to a teacher who is certified and experienced in one thing and has a desire for it, but she is being forced to teach something else. That’s just sad.

I’ve been in four different school systems in the past few years as a substitute and I’ve seen the mindless test prep and the daily wasted hours in “study hall’ where maybe on a good day five kids were studying. I’ve been in middle schools where seventh graders can’t write a lucid paragraph; in high schools where students spent more time “googling” an answer on their phones than it would have taken to read the article in front of them to find the answer.

I’m not saying there is no good teaching. I have come across pockets of creativity and solid math lessons; I have met some very caring teachers. It’s not usually the teachers, but it’s the system, the “they” that Miss Shaw referred to, that is killing education in our country. And every June, there are teachers who decide, like Miss Shaw, “it’s just not worth it.”

 

“…So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way…” from Both Sides Now by Judy Collins

 

I’ve seen teaching from both sides now; as a full-time teacher and as a substitute. I wish I knew how to make a change.

 

Little Snippets

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In my day-to-day life as a substitute teacher, there are little snippets here and there that give hope. It may be seeing a kind child who does something nice for a fellow student without being prompted or acknowledged. It may be the words of appreciation given me when I am able to help with a math problem or give away a pencil.

Even, on a rare occasion, I find a gem in a textbook. The eighth grade World History book gave me some things to think about recently. The kids were in the section on ancient Israel and I came across these words about David (King David) :

“…David was admired for his military skills and as a poet…”

Now, David certainly had military skill, no doubt about that. He was also a great poet – just read any Psalm in the Old Testament that he wrote. Yet, I wonder if any kids who had no background knowledge of David would wonder at the combination of military skill and poetry. And, if those who did have some background knowledge would remember all the other aspects of David’s life. Did any of them know that he was in the lineage of Jesus?

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. – Acts 2:11

Or that he is described as a “man after God’s own heart?”

… He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ – Acts 13:22

Another excerpt spoke of Ruth, also in the line of Christ.

“…Ruth, who left her people to care for her mother-in-law, was seen as a model of devotion to one’s family”

Yes, Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. – Ruth 1:16

Snippets, little snippets. I keep looking for them.

Simple

Back in October I had a substitute job at a local high school. My assignment was to stay all day with a young man who was in a wheelchair. I took notes, assisted him in little things, and had some good conversations with him. He had quite a sense of humor. In English class they were working on a “found poetry” project. I’ve done this before in my own English classes and I love it. So, while he was working on his, I made a little one in my notebook. I came across it today. Maybe I need to apply the “real simple” message to myself.

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