Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Back to the Classroom

Will Sub for Experiences - Nov. 30, 2011

In my presentations I am proud to tell the participants that I try to return to the classroom and teach on a regular basis. I’ve been a long-term substitute on several occasions over the last five years. Sometimes I am asked to be a “guest” teacher or we arrange for me to do model lessons and we film it. I’ve always found that by returning to the classroom, I am able to keep my skills honed, as well as experience first-hand the kinds of issues facing teachers on a daily basis. Teaching students helps me be a better teacher trainer and staff developer. This Fall I had several jobs cancel or reschedule due to funding shortfalls – surprise! I found myself not working out on the road for several weeks. I went to our County Office of Education and dusted off my “Substitute Teacher” file. My fingerprints were up to date and there were no recent felonies on my record, but I did have to go get a TB test. I notified several of the local school districts where I have taught in the past. I wasn’t willing to be on the 5AM computerized emergency call list, but I immediately had several requests come in and I started my 2011 Substitute experience.

The night before I was to sub in an 8th grade class in Santa Cruz, I began to prepare myself. By that I mean I carefully selected an outfit to wear that wouldn’t scream, “I’m an old out-of-date-teacher,” or “I’m a white upper-middle class English-speaking, culturally-insensitive Gringa,” or  “I’m totally overdressed for this job (and out of my comfort zone).”  I also took time to double-check that I didn’t have any whiskers growing out of my chin, as they tend to do these days. There’s nothing that an insensitive middle-school student likes better on a sub than a few physical flaws to point out. In the morning I brushed my teeth and packed breathe mints – I was not leaving anything to chance. I brought along my Singing Bowl that I use as an attention-getting chime, the Recessitate Box of quick energizing and relaxing activities, colored popsicle sticks in case I needed to randomly get students into groups, my green-red apple response cards, and just in case things got ugly, a bag of mini-Tootsie Rolls.

My first assignment was for two days in an 8th grade class. Day one I was doing a lesson of my own design on “Growing Smarter Brains” This is a presentation on neural plasticity  (how neurons and dendrites are prompted to grow and connect when one is in an enriched stimulating environment) and how to develop a “growth mindset,” (the belief that with effort and perseverance, one can get better at anything they work at) as described by Carol Dweck. These lessons include novel information, humorous video clips, group and partner activities, brain-teasers, optical illusions, and provide time for students to relate personal experiences – all ingredients for successful learning! Day one went well, but I was exhausted.

On day two I was following the teacher’s carefully planned lessons. They included a variety of activities and tasks for two 90 minute Core Classes (Language Arts and Social Studies) and an Advisory class. I added a couple of my own lesson strategies for learning and identifying the “four kinds of sentences” (declarative, imperative, interrogative and exclamatory). Classroom management was tricky, but I held my own. Everything got completed in one class, and all but one task got done in the other. My personally best learning experience happened in the last class on the last day.

Just after the bell rang, a provocatively dressed student entered the room, looked around and sashayed her way to a table group and plopped down. I quickly checked the seating chart and realized that she would have been the fifth student in a four-person group. I asked her if that is where she was supposed to be sitting and she sighed, “I don’t know…” and rolled her eyes a bit. I asked her name and she told me. I quickly found her assigned to another group and asked her to go to it. She made a pretty big deal about picking up her stuff and slowly moved to her group.

Later the class was supposed to get out the novel they were reading. She didn’t move and just stared at me. When I asked her to get out her book, she said she didn’t have it. I said, “Where is it?” “I don’t know…” she shrugged. I inquired if it might be in her locker. “I don’t know,” she replied again. Now I was getting frustrated. This young thing wasn’t cooperating at all! The other students were starting to smile at her continued lack of interest and participation. I took another approach. “Do you have your “Free Reading” book in your backpack? Maybe you could just read that during this time?” Again, “I don’t have one.” I rolled up my sleeves.

I marched the student over to the bookcase and told her that this was a silent reading time. She needed to be reading something.  Since she apparently didn’t have her required books with her, I had her choose anything she wanted from the shelf and asked her to go back and silently read. She selected a picture book about the Renaissance and went back to the table. She still continued to fix her hair, adjust her clothes, and rummage through her backpack… avoiding reading at all cost. Now I was intrigued! And irritated!

During the last few minutes of class, students were asked to get out their Planners and write down the homework for the day. Again my nemesis failed to move. When asked to get her planner out, she said, “I don’t have one.” I snapped. I got down on one knee and looked her in the eyes. “Look, I’m not sure what your trip is today, but you need to get a piece of paper – any piece of paper, and copy down the homework.” And after a dramatic pause I said sincerely, “WHY DON”T YOU HAVE ANY OF YOUR MATERIALS???”
And she said,
“It’s my first day.”
“This is your first day at this school?” She nodded.
“This is only my second day here,” I said.
“You’re not the teacher?” she asked.
“No, I’m just the sub.”  I told her I was so sorry, but I just didn’t know. I did also mention that she could have told me that she was a new student. But, as she said, she thought I was the regular teacher and I can only imagine what she thought of my lack of understanding!

So what did I learn? After teaching for over 30 years, I still profile students (and I don’t mean this in a good way!). She looked, acted, and responded just like a student named Ashley did in my first 10th grade class. She immediately pushed my buttons and I reacted. I’m going to have to not jump to conclusions so fast in my next subbing class.  So do YOU have certain student-types that push your buttons? Who do they remind you of? This is different than racism or ethnic stereotyping, these are behaviors, attitudes, or mannerisms that cause you to react differently. Take time to think about this. Until you do – they will keep showing up in your life!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I remember teaching 8th grade. 4tn grade now.... Martha, you are one of the rare experts in this field who takes the trouble to test your "stuff" on the front lines, with real kids in a real classroom. Bravo! -- Yusuf Toropov