Friday, April 21, 2017

Adventures in subbing

I have been re-employed by the district for a year now as a substitute teacher.

What began as deep-set fear walking into a new school has become a more comfortable "I can probably handle today" feeling.

What began as a "how in the heck am I going to find jobs?" feeling is now a pretty consistent buzz of my phone with people asking me to sub.

I often hear remarks from teachers that I am a very good sub, which a part of me finds perplexing until I see other subs.

I have worked with subs who really should be retired or possibly in their graves (stroke victims who walk with canes and/or walkers and are basically seen as the lame impala to the hungry lions of middle school).  I have worked with subs who are young enough to be my child, who have never taught, who are ignored by the kids and who cry, which is like being the lame impala to the hungry lions of middle school.

Subbing has reminded me that middle schoolers are some of the biggest jerks on the planet. They are also some of the neediest, most fragile human beings on the planet.

Subbing has reminded me that middle school kids often take a day to warm up to you.  The first day subbing may be a bloodbath, but if they see you again on day two, they are suddenly more respectful.  Unfortunately, sometimes day one is so bad subs don't return for day two.

Subbing has reminded me that kids want you to engage with them, and if you do, they are more willing to offer up that respect on day two. That doesn't mean they are going to do exactly what you want on day two, but you will see more respect out of them.  As long as you engage.

And by engaging, I don't mean complimenting their clothes or hair.  I have seen subs do this, and I don't understand it.  I suspect it is an attempt to develop camaraderie with the kids, but I have only witnessed it fail miserably.  Kids can smell b.s. in adults from a mile out.

I am a big proponent of getting the lay of the land because nothing is going to get you attitude more than yelling at their regular teachers might...when you have been in the building all of 15 minutes.  I can't blame the kids. If someone walked into my house and started yelling at me about how to write my freelancing article, I'd get up in their face, too.

I have found that quiet and close gets me a lot further.
But not freakishly close.
Middle schoolers don't like that either.

I strive to be helpful in the classroom if I am in as a resource teacher, and that doesn't mean holding up the wall.  If a teacher begins to pass out papers, I go up and grab some to assist.  I walk around the classroom, peeking over shoulders, asking "Do you need help?"  If someone is losing focus, I quietly try to refocus them.  I do not do this because I want teachers to tell me what a great sub I am.  I do this because I could not sit there or stand there and do nothing the entire day.

If I have a classroom unto myself, I always introduce myself and apologize in advance for mispronouncing the students' names....noting that I understand getting a name mispronounced because of my own 3-syllable last name.  Students are often amazed that I get their names correct.  I don't know if this is a result of having taught before or being a linguistic phenom.

I then lay out the expectations and assignment, making note that I understand that having a sub in the room is not normal and generally sucks.  I get it.  They are usually given busy-work, and I hate busy-work myself so I can totally sympathize.

If I am in an elementary class, and sometimes middle if I have been with the students before, I try to work in my favorite game, Stump the Chumps, which is me asking them questions about what we read or discussed.  Listening to Car Talk frequently has been good for something.

I never, ever sit down when I sub, unless I'm in a resource capacity working with individual students.   I probably get 10,000 steps because I am on my feet the entire time, walking around, checking how they are, not giving them much of an opportunity to do anything ridiculous.

When I taught full-time, I really felt like I built a special rapport with my kids, and subbing has reminded me that I still "got it."

I mean, when I walk back into places I've subbed and middle schoolers I don't really know hug me.
That is some serious props.  

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