Saturday, May 7, 2016

Back in a middle school for a day

I haven't set foot in a middle school in any kind of "teaching" capacity in 12 years.  I would argue that being a sub in a middle school isn't "teaching," but it is more so than working a couple times in the bookstore and having 0.3% contact with students (which has, up until Thursday, been the extent of my involvement).

When I left for the day, one of the counselors asked if I had a good day.  I said, "It's middle school, and I'm able to walk out the building.  I think that's a good day."  She laughed and said, "Yes, you're right."

I saw a number of kids I knew from their having gone to N's elementary school.  It was a nice "hook" to be able to tell the students that I knew some of their put them on edge a bit.  They asked if I was friends with the principal (apparently, this is what their teacher had told them).  I clarified that he and I have mutual friends in common.

It was better than my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience, but it wasn't a walk in the park.

I felt good that I could hold my own, but I didn't set the world on fire.  That is an unrealistic expectation for myself, but it is one I hold anyway.  Maybe that is how you know you have the heart of a teacher?  That even when you know reality and can see it for all its ugliness, a part of your heart believes that for at least one kid, even in your minimal capacity as a sub, you can make things better, different or give them motivation.

One of N's friends was in one of the classes and said I was a good sub.  When N told me, I incredulously asked, "Really?"  Surely, this student was just being nice.  Either that or she has had some really terrible subs.  Or maybe middle schoolers just have low expectations in general?  More likely, my expectations for myself are just far too high.

I spent about a half hour "helping" in a BD class, which was equal parts terrifying and good for me.  I had been warned that I would hear all kinds of language, and I did.  I cannot make a judgment on what I saw based on this sliver of time, although I admit that my initial and final thought was, "This is like prison prep."  All of the students in that room were boys; 80% of them were Black.  I admire the teachers who work with these students because it has to be the absolute hardest job in the world.  Whatever they make each year should be doubled or tripled.  Whenever I hear policy wonks talk about how to change things, I think to myself, "You need to hire extra teachers for freaking one-on-one education!"  Or if I'm being generous 3-to-1 ratios.

When I hear parents from my kids' elementary school complain about a "problem" child or a teacher who "yelled" at a kid, I always want to laugh because they are so ivory-towered they don't even know it.

I am ivory-towered, too, as evidenced below.

I cannot make snap judgments about public education or administrators or teachers or parents.  Because I'm subbing, I am not seeing a true picture of any of the classes I subbed in.  Sub days, even if they run ok, are still sub days.  The students act differently.

None of the classes I subbed for were AP classes.  Most were honors and some were comprehensive (they probably use different terminology now, but this is what we called them back in the day).  Immediately afterward I had the fear in me:  "Oh God, what if G or M isn't AP?  How will they learn?"

But then I thought back to my own honors/comprehensive classes, and those students did learn.  D was in honors (he intentionally got out of AP because he couldn't handle the pressure), and he managed to go to engineering school and be a productive human being.  Lots of people do all the time.  I was never there to see what a 3-ring circus sub days were for my honors/comprehensive kids.  So my perspective as a sub is not a real picture.  MY perspective can't be trusted.

It makes me sad that sub days can't be more than just worksheet packets.  It makes me long even more for that perfect 2-day a week job working with a group of kids in the same school.  It makes me hope that I can sub there more frequently so that I become a familiar face and, perhaps, a trusted adult who can make sub days more productive than what they usually are.  

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