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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Did I ever throw a colleague under the bus? and other thoughts on teaching....now that I'm subbing

I subbed 5 days in April, and other than that one terrible, horrible, no good experience, the other 4 ranged between good and exceptional.

This may sound ridiculous, especially since I am just a lowly substitute, but I pride myself on being a teacher.  I am proud of having gotten my MAT and working in a challenging middle school, where over the course of a day I taught the smartest of the smart, the kids who could barely read and everything in between.  I am proud of teaching at the cottage school, where I strive to make my students think and to offer them creative assignments.  And now, I am proud of subbing because I take my degree and my experience into the classroom to work with children again.

After the terrible experience, I spoke to a number of teachers at my sons' school when I was subbing there this past week and learned that they had taught at that "difficult" school and left for all the reasons I witnessed that will make me avoid subbing there like the plague.

The thought popped into my head of whether I'd ever thrown a colleague under the bus by making him/her deal with difficult students on his/her own without support.

My first year, and maybe my second, we had a science teacher on our team who had loads of experience but was just not good at managing the kids who weren't AP.  He could teach the smart kids all day long (although I don't know if they enjoyed it; he could simply manage them without writing up a thousand slips but a puppy could probably manage AP students).  We used to hold weekly detention with the teachers rotating each week, and the vast majority of those kids were written up by him.  I would hold detention for kids who I didn't have any problems with in my class; the other teachers did the same.  When I would ask them why they were in detention, it almost always was because of the science class.

It bothered us to no end, so we agreed to change the detention system.  Each teacher would hold their own detentions every week.  If I gave a kid detention, I would stay with that child on Thursday.  If the science teacher wrote 3,000 detentions, he would stay after on Thursdays with his detention students.

How quickly his detention writing changed when it impacted his every Thursday afternoon.

I had forgotten this until I began subbing.  I ask myself now whether we threw him under the bus?

Support has to be a two way street, I think.  A person has to want support and be willing to alter his/her strategies in an effort to be successful in order to expect his colleagues to help and support.

It was difficult to support this teacher's endeavors because he, maybe intentionally or not, obviously treated the AP students better.  He held a science fair every year and only AP students could participate.  This changed when our team restructured, and I was privileged enough to work with a team of teachers who, in the past, never worked with AP students because they were so darn good at working with what we called our "neighborhood kids."

It was easy to support each other because we shared similar beliefs.  I never felt like there was "dead weight" on the team.

Another thought that has popped into my head now that I'm subbing is whether I ever cared who subbed for me when I was sick.  I only took off a day if I was too sick to function at school because my room was always destroyed after a sub was there, and I hated coming back to my desk and seeing the disarray.

I always left sub plans, plenty of work, and a seating chart, but I'm sure it was no picnic for my subs. I hope, though, since I had a good handle on my classes it was, at least, tolerable for them.

What I experienced from subs informs how I am as a substitute now.  I try to leave their desk as organized as possible.  I leave explanations in a note on the day.  I ensure the kids clean up the classroom.  I always knew I would have a ton of work to reorganize my class when I returned from illness, and I hated it.  I don't want to do that to teachers for whom I sub.

The district is in the midst of proposing both a salary freeze for teachers and a revision to the code of conduct, which I suspect feels like a gigantic slap in the face.  I'm not sure there would be as big of a kerfluffle if the two weren't happening simultaneously.  A teacher who is in a well-managed school may not feel as strongly about this as a teacher in a difficult school with hard-to-manage students coming out of the woodwork, although the teachers in the well-managed schools surely want to support their colleagues.  I'm not sure how I feel about it all.  Most things are far more complex than whatever is read about in a newspaper article.

I support my kids' teachers always, and I feel like administration at their respective schools is strong.  I guess I can only remind them that I have their backs. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I'm looking forward to summer break (but reserve the right to change my mind 2 days into summer break)

Anyone who has known me for 5+ years would think that, perhaps, an X-File type incident had happened to me.  Maybe in a cornfield, with a glowing disc hovering over my head, and tiny green men prodding me with scientific instruments?

How in the world is Carrie even suggesting that she is looking forward to summer break?  With her three children?

It defies reality.

And yet, that is how I feel.

I am tired of waking at 6 am every day for the middle school routine, and I am especially tired of driving N to school every other week.  I am tired of afternoon pick-up.

I am tired of homework for both boys.

I am tired of projects and costumes.  G had to make a small float for a horse race parade, and when I saw the info sheet on it, I handed it to D immediately.  "Here, you're doing this," I said.  No questions, no complaints.  I'm queen of costumes; he can be in charge of engineering.

I am tired of trying to figure out G's OT schedule and how I'm going to get the boys to the clinic for allergy shots in the midst of their school schedules.

And we're not even a busy family with loads of activities.  N had two weeks in a row of orchestra concerts that exhausted me.  I can't imagine our lives when all three kids will have stuff going on.  I don't especially want to imagine it.

It feels like my life became infinitely more complicated when M began kindergarten this year, but I think this is more to do with N being on the middle/high schedule and G/M being on the elementary schedule.  Plus, we had the bus situation mid-year that complicated things.  And me starting to sub has meant changes, too.

In the midst of all this, I think I finally, FINALLY got to the point where I'm just not worried about every second of my children's existence being educational or worthwhile or productive or whatever.  I think the busyness of their days at school has made me appreciate that they just sorta need down time to play games or vegetate or do what they want without me feeling guilty for not molding their brains into whatever perfect things I thought their brains should be.

Our summer will end up being busier than I expect.  The four of us will all be at Girl Scout camp in June for a week.  And I'm co-leading vacation bible school at the church for five nights.  And I'm going to do some grant-writing for a local museum.

But, we're also going to do a lot of nothing, and I think I'm glad of that.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

When life is chaotic, just go ahead and tear apart your master bathroom

I have friends who have put their homes up for sale, to which I say, "Good luck, and ARE YOU INSANE?"

Because my house, although neat and generally kept up, is not "Open House Ready."  It will not be until the last of my children has left it for good.

D and I sold our first home after living in it 4 years.  The stress of getting it repaired and ready, finding another house we liked, and packing/moving/unpacking was overwhelming, and we did that without three kids to keep everything consistently disorganized, disheveled and dirty.

So we decided that we are here for good, where we've been for 15 years.  The goal is to be mortgage-free by the time N starts college.

As much trouble as I think moving would be, I failed to realize the pain-in-the-buttness of renovating.

Here is my master bathroom at the moment:




Actually, it looks worse than this because they are reworking the plumbing so like half the floor is missing.

We're not in the middle ages over here, but we are having to be more strategic and thoughtful about bathrooming.  I have to remember to take clothes with me to the downstairs bathroom to shower.....and a clean towel.  I have to remember that my toothbrush items are in the powder room.  I have to dig into laundry baskets to find my eyeglass cleaner and my hairbrush and my deodorant.

As much as I'm glad to have that stupid Las Vegas-style tub out of here, I miss my bathroom.  I miss it the way I miss electricity when the power goes out, and I keep turning on light switches because it is just such a habit.

A part of me wonders I opted to do this now.....when I'm teaching on Fridays at the cottage school and in the process of writing two articles and starting to sub 5 days a month and still managing the lives of the children in this house?  Why?

But, really.....there is never a good time, so you just do it and know that it will get better.  And if not better, you will, at least, eventually remember to take underpants to the basement bathroom.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I subbed again and nearly tendered my resignation

My second time subbing was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.

I knew from the second I walked in the 4th grade classroom that things were not cool.  It didn't look like what I expect a 4th grade classroom to look like.  It is elementary school, for pete's sake. There should be bulletin boards made up and some remnant of sweetness.

Like this:


Ok, it is April, so it wouldn't be that neat, but there should be an indication that there is order and routine and procedure.

The classroom I walked into looked like this.  Maybe not quite this bad, but almost.


I had to hunt for sub plans.  They were not easily found....as in laid out in plain site on the desk, as they should be.  About two hours into the day, another teacher came in and said, "Here.  I forgot to bring these to you."  They were the actual sub plans for the day.  Another clue that this school sucks.

What I learned from subbing here is the following:

1. When the other teachers tell you the person you're subbing for has "checked out" and "has never had control of this class," you can pretty much hang up any notion of doing anything productive with that group of students.

2. When the other teachers tell you that when the school brings a sub in, they get "thrown to the wolves," you can pretty much count on having a really shitty day.

3. When two boys are this close to fighting and you call the office and NO ONE EVER COMES TO THE CLASSROOM to help, you know administration is useless.

The sad part is that if a handful of the kids in that class could have been removed, the rest of them would have been willing to learn, if not eager.

The sad part is that many of these kids' parents don't know what is going on or if they do, they are too ignorant or timid to demand that things change (because they are non-native speakers or don't know how to navigate the system).  Or they are too busy working two jobs to try to make ends meet.  Or they are too strung out on drugs to care.  Or they are in jail (per one of the kids in the class).  

If I ever walked into my child's school and saw that garbage, I'd be on the news protesting.

As I walked out, one of the teachers asked if I'd ever come back, and I said, "Probably not."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I subbed. I survived.

I subbed at a local elementary school on Monday and lived to tell about it.

The day was fine.  Actually, for a first time reintroduction to the public school system, it couldn't have been easier considering the teacher had no morning duty, two planning periods, and the 4th graders were on the field trip.  I taught art, which was fun, and learned some things about optical illusion drawing.  I was able to arrive, get settled and have a handle on what I was supposed to teach.

M woke up with a fever, which would have put a huge kink in the day if D hadn't planned to work from home since he wasn't completely 100% from his weekend sickness.

What I learned from this day is the following:

1. Subbing 5 days a month is manageable
and
2. There is NO FREAKING WAY I'M GOING BACK FULL-TIME (unless D dies, and if he dies, my life will be infinitely more complicated so I hope his life insurance is enough to keep me from having to do this).

I have always felt like I have a good appreciation for teachers because I have lived it.   My expectations for my children's teachers have never been like the expectations I hear come from the mouths of non-teacher friends who don't know how impossible it is to be so grossly outnumbered in a classroom.

I dealt with the professional development all-day boring meetings that prevent a teacher from actually planning for her students.  I dealt with the parents who wanted me to excuse their children's poor choices or inability to get work done.  I dealt with endless grading and papers coming out my ears.  I dealt with problem students.  I dealt with insane expectations from the district people who, perhaps, have forgotten that only so much can be done to remedy poverty and poor parenting.

But I dealt with it when I was in my twenties, before I had children.  I was younger and less tired.  My students were the most important children in my life at that time.  

I always knew I wouldn't be able to navigate the full-time professional/personal divide, and this little bit of subbing has helped confirm this.

The myth of "teaching is a great profession if you have children" has been officially debunked, at least in my book.

The truth is that teaching is a great profession if you have children and they never get sick and you never get sick and you are willing to not give 100% of your energy/devotion to anything you do.

I think this is the truth in any profession that women do.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Marriage and Parenting, version 7402

I don't know exactly how many iterations of marriage and parenting a couple goes through over the course of a lifetime, but since 1997 (the beginning of our marriage) and 2004 (the beginning of our parenting), it has certainly felt like 7,402.

I'm not sure what makes a marriage work, but like most things, I suspect it is a complex formula that factors in personality, life experiences, goals, needs, physical changes and so on.

The kids being 12, 8 and 6 is a bit of a sweet spot for our marriage right now.  We are able to go for walks in the neighborhood without the children, and while I do miss "family walks," it is nice to have time to just be with D and catch up on the day without being interrupted.  Our blood actually circulates as we walk, which is much different when walking with little people who stop to look at every worm.

As our children moved from the adorable sweetness of infancy/toddlerhood into consistent eye-rolling, endless poop commentary and complaints about the food that is stocked in the pantry, it meant a move in our marriage.  We are a united front if only because our children are more regularly a-holes to one or both of us.  At some point, as they moved from cuddly, snuggly littles into opinionated turds, I found that I appreciated and needed D's adultness.  Someone to whom to say, "Isn't [insert child's name] being a pain in the butt right now?"

This is not to say that all is glory and light all the time.  I think we both regularly would like to ring each others' necks, although we generally keep these feelings to ourselves and let them subside, as they do as the day progresses, we calm down and become distracted by other things.  Or one of us says something funny and causes the other to remember, "Aha!  This is why I like him/her."

As I've written about, I have not been entirely okay with my existence as a stay-at-home mom of kids who are no longer at home.  My desire to make a change for myself means that D will have to change a bit, and that can be difficult.  The man who ate Raisin Bran every day for breakfast for the first ten years of our marriage and is now in his Muesli phase isn't one to eagerly agree to changing the routine.

But we will adjust if for no other reason than he knows (based on being in my life for 21 years) that I sorta plow ahead.  I make small changes to my life to find happiness, and I don't ask him to make major changes in his life (but do ask for help with small changes).  Having that united front at the moment makes that transition easier, although it certainly won't be easy.   It feels (at least to me) that we are more of a "team" than we have ever been.

We have begun to talk about doing something special for our 20th wedding anniversary next year, assuming that we are still married at that time.  That sounds funny, and we do say it a bit in jest, but I think we also try to remember that this marriage isn't a given.  My parents, who are in their 45th year of a mostly happy marriage, ask every year if they want to re-up for another.  In its own way, this question requires a person to take the pulse of the marriage.

For iteration 7,402, the pulse feels strong and steady.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Got hired. Now what the F-word do I do???

I am officially hired as a sub in the district.

As is my way, I now feel frozen with terror.

What in g*d's name was I thinking?  
Why did I want to do this?  
How am I going to make this work?  
What if......

Oh lawd, the "What ifs" are coming at me, whacking me in the forehead at every turn.

What if none of the nearby schools hire me, and I have to shlep across town all the time?  
What if I work at a middle school and have an unruly student?
What if I hate it?
What if the staff at the schools hates me?

I am trying to remember all the goofy "What ifs" I had when I began at the cottage school after 9 years of not being in a classroom at all.  I worried that the students would all be smarter than me.  I worried that my directors wouldn't be happy with my abilities.  I worried how it would impact my life.

And it was all fine.  My students are bright but not smarter than me (yeah for maturity and wisdom).  My directors are happy with me.  I adjusted my life, and it is a good fit.

In my obsessive worry over this new adventure, I am trying to accept that it will be a good thing that I'm being forced out of my comfort zone, which is intensive preparation.  My need to be highly prepared is one of the reasons I knew I couldn't hack (then or now) going back full-time to the classroom.  I could not devote all the time I felt necessary to teaching, to being prepared for the next days and weeks.

Subbing is going to force me to sometimes....maybe hopefully not as much as I fear....have to just do things without much preparation.  Like the night before or the morning of.  I will have to go in without knowing what I'll be doing with students.

I don't like the feeling of any of that.

But I guess it is good to be nudged shoved forcefully out of my comfort zone.