The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Eighth Grade

A Day for Shorts

Today I was an 8th grade science teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. I had been requested by the teacher, which is kind of odd, since I have only been in her room once, and then it was just to collect a couple of students who were being pulled out for supportive services. Somehow I managed to leave a positive enough impression to be listed as one of her preferred subs.

I was only there for the afternoon today, and all of the classes were doing the same thing: watching the Pixar Animation Studios Shorts. I’m not sure how this video really fit in with an 8th grade science class, but it is the end of the year, and I think the teachers just wanted to do something fun. Of my four classes, three of them watched the oldest shorts first, making it about as far as For The Birds (2000). It was fun to watch the progression of quality by the Pixar crew. We also noticed that most of John Lasseter’s story ideas are surprisingly depressing. I have no idea why this is the case, though. The last period, which does not have class tomorrow afternoon for some reason, opted to watch the more recent shorts, starting with For the Birds and going through to Lifted (2006).

There was only one down-side to the day: the room I was in was incredibly hot. I think the temperature was somewhere around 80ºF, with doors and windows open and fans on. It was one of the few days of this entire academic year that I found myself wishing that I was not wearing slacks, dress shirt, and tie. However, I was wearing them, and I survived. But the slacks, dress shirt, and tie were replaced with shorts and lighter shirt as soon as I got home!

Tomorrow is the last day of school in Champaign, with students reporting to school for roughly an hour or two. Mahomet-Seymour will continue on until Thursday, but it is highly unlikely that I will receive any assignments for the last two days of school. And so it is that today was (most likely) my last day subbing for the academic year. I will be giving a lot of thought to what I want to do with this blog over the summer, and will be posting a poll tomorrow to see if any of you faithful readers have a preference.


Technical Difficulties

Today was my second day as a band teacher at Edison Middle School. Yesterday we watched short podcasts because it was a half day and the students didn’t have much time in the room. We were back to the regular schedule today, though, so the plans allowed for starting a much longer video.

We were to watch the Walt Disney adaptation of Mary Poppins, because the bands had just featured several of the songs in their recent concert. The teacher had the DVD ready to go, the computer set up, and everything should have been hunky dory.

Despite my apparent anti-technology aura whenever I get near an LCD projector, everything was working fine. The first class of the day (7th grade woodwinds) got started on Mary Poppins and everything seemed to be okay. Until we got about 10 minutes into the movie and it froze up. Completely.

Okay, no problem. Take the disc out, make sure that it doesn’t have any smudges, put it back in, and away we go, right?

Not quite. We made it a few more minutes and it froze up again. So I took the disc out again and examined it more closely. It was scored and scratched and marred so thoroughly that I was surprised it was working at all. Then I noticed what I had failed to take into account: it was from the public library. I love the Champaign Public Library. It has an awesome collection of everything you could want from a public library. But the patrons don’t take very good care of the DVDs. So we had to stop.

This was quite problematic, as I still had four other classes for the day. I had no clue what to do. There were no back-up plans and, since this was a band class, it wasn’t like I could just have the students take out some other work–most of them didn’t bring anything with them, anyway. So they had free time for the rest of the period, as did the second class of the day (6th grade woodwinds).

During this class, though, I did a check and found out the library had at least one other copy of the movie on DVD. The CPL just happens to be across the street from Edison. Except there was no way I could leave the building. So I texted my wife, but she was far too busy at work. So I texted her dad, who is done with his classes for the year (he is a college professor). He was able to get to the library, check out the DVD, and navigate his way through Edison Middle School to find the band room and deliver the movie just in time for my third class of the day!

Victory!

The last three classes (7th grade brass, 6th grade brass, and 8th grade band–or maybe it is 7th, 6th, 6th, 7th… whatever), were able to watch the movie.

Well, kind of.

This disc was also scratched. But, fortunately, I only had to skip two  chapters and everything was back on track. Thank goodness! We will watch more of the movie tomorrow. Hopefully nothing else will go awry! But I may bring a musical DVD of my own. You know, just in case.


The Music Man

Today I was the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I am also going to be there tomorrow and Wednesday, which is incredibly awesome for me, as the days remaining in the school year and ticking by faster and faster (or so it would seem).

Now, I’ve been in bands for a long time. I first started band when I was in 5th grade (about 19 years ago), and I’ve been in them in one way or another ever since: In middle school, I was in concert band and marching band. In high school I was in concert band, jazz band, marching band, symphonic winds, and a smattering of small ensembles for state music competitions. Upon enrolling at the University of Illinois, I was a member of the university’s Concert Band II-A, which was pretty much the lowest-level band available, but I was neither a music major nor an incredibly skilled musician, so I was just happy to be in band. I stayed with II-A until the end of my junior year, when I had to leave due to student teaching and then graduating. After finishing my university studies I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Parkland College Wind Ensemble, which is a smaller group composed primarily of community members and a few college students with a high school student or two rounding things out. In addition, I have occasionally helped with smaller ensembles at church when needed, although the need for trumpet players is not as great as, say, pianists, organists, and various string-ists. Added to all of this is my shorter history with vocal ensembles, such as my high school prep chorus, concert choir, and various church choirs, not to mention all of the musicals I’ve helped with as a spotlight technician. All of which is a very long way of saying that I’ve been around music ensembles of one sort or another for a long time.

As substitute teacher, I’ve been fortunate enough to sub for grade school music teachers a handful of times. They have generally been fun, albeit pretty simple, experiences. (Such as this, this, and this.) Added to this is my ongoing pursuit of subbing for as many teachers at Edison as possible this year. (I’m now up to 18 out of 51–not going to reach the 50% goal I’d set, but oh well; I got close!) So I grabbed at the chance to sub for three consecutive days for one teacher, leaving me with just Friday left to fill. (I’ve been scheduled for this Thursday for several weeks now.)

What I didn’t seem to take into account was the realisation that bands are big. I mean, really big. Grade music classes always consist of just one class at a time, so I am used to those numbers. The strings program at Edison is a small division of the music program, so it was small. But band… Oh, did I mention that Edison Middle School happens to have one of the highest rated middle school band programs in the nation? Many of the students at Edison are there for the band program.

I’ve had big classes before. But today was quite a shock. I had five classes total: two 6th grade groups, two 7th grade groups, and the entire 8th grade band. In each of the first four classes, there were between 32 and 35 students. Okay, that’s a lot, but it is manageable. I’ve had big classes before at Edison. The 8th grade band, though, consists of 52 students. Fifty-two! They have more students in the program then there are regular teachers in the building! The class roster was two and half pages long! Yegads!

Fortunately for me, the students at Edison love me. I mean, they really love me. Remember the picture they made for me? So even though I suddenly found myself in the midst of two score and a dozen eighth grade boys and girls at the end of the day, things went pretty well. Or, rather, things went pretty well after they all got settled. It took about ten minutes to do so. Oh, and today was a half-day, so that means class periods were only 30 minutes long. Of course, following the long-standing tradition of band teachers the world over, the students were not doing anything band-ish. In fact, they were barred from touching the instruments. Instead, we spent the period watching a Yamaha podcast about the making of either the saxophone or the trumpet, depending on the class.

Tomorrow and Wednesday we will be watching Mary Poppins, because they just had their last concert and much of the music from the Disney film had been featured. Hey, it is the end of the year, anyway. Fun times ahead!


When the Going Gets Tough…

Today I was a 6th grade history teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign. I have subbed for this teacher once before, back in October. This was before I started this blog. I’ve only been to Jefferson one other time since then. (In case you missed it, the experience was not a highlight of my substituting adventures.) Still, I rarely pass up an assignment if I am available, so I decided to give Jefferson another shot.

I had four classes during the day: three history classes and one FLEX period (guided study hall). My experience has been that study halls tend to be the least organised and most unruly periods of the day. Yesterday was a bizarro-land exception to this. Shockingly, today was another. But in order to really appreciate what my FLEX period was like, you need to understand what the history classes were like.

I was warned that the first period of the day was the roughest. This was kind of an understatement. While I have not yet broken my record of 28 Discipline Referrals in one day (a sad, sad day in my teaching career, incidentally at Jefferson two years ago), I did have to send three boys to the office with DRs today. The class was very noisy and rather unwilling to do their work. I told them to work quietly. They talked. I said, “Stay in your seats,” and they got up out of their seats. Just about the time I was about to lose it, I told three boys to sit down and start working. One of them stood up and started dancing around. BOOM. Discipline Referral #1. Later on, two boys were talking, running around the room, and stealing other students’ pens, pencils, markers, and whatever else they could get their hands on. BOOM. BOOM. On the way out, one of the boys muttered something along the lines of, “Send me to the office? I’ll shove my pencil up his curly-haired…” Yeah, the office heard about that one, too. Threatening a teacher? Not cool.

Period two was better: no Discipline Referrals were made, but of the 19 students, 12 of them were talking throughout the period. They did their work, too, but they were not following expectations. The third period was actually pretty awesome. Jefferson follows a block schedule format, so the core content area classes are all 80 minutes long. For the first hour, everyone was working on their assignments, not talking, and staying in their seats. At the beginning of class, I told them that if they worked throughout the period, I would give them the last ten minutes to talk freely amongst themselves. Alas, an hour was about all they could give me. As an aside, I am shocked that they have 80-minute classes without any breaks –  conventional wisdom places the attention span of the typical middle school student somewhere between 8 and 14 minutes. For an interesting look into the criticisms of block schedule, I recommend this page by Jeff Lindsay–just ignore the awfulness of the site design!) Still, I was disappointed that the entire class erupted into chaos during the last 15-20 minutes.

The schedule for the FLEX period was quite different. For one, they were only in the room for 40 minutes, seeing as FLEX (by the way, I have no idea what that stands for) is not a core content area. For another, the schedule was pretty simple: 20 minutes of silent reading, followed by quiet study time. Today was the fourth time in my professional teaching career that this actually happened: the students sat in their seats, read quietly, and then quietly worked until the bell rang. I thanked all of them for their work, and left the day realising that, as frustrating as it can be to work with students who make poor choices, there are always those young men and women who are willing and capable of showing that they understand what is expected of them.

As I always do, I found myself changing my approach as the day progressed. I started laying down the most basic expectations with the first class. When that was not effective, I was more specific with the second. That still wasn’t what I hoped for, so I laid things out and made a deal. That almost worked, but it still wasn’t great. So I decided a new tactic: I asked the class what they were supposed to do, and then I modeled what was expected. While they read, so did I. It worked. Their teacher has done the same thing, and, as he put it, he has “trained them pretty well.” Whatever it was, it worked.

So, what is my response to the first half of the adage I used for my blog title?

Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but the smart change paths.


Like a Gummi Bear

Today I was a floating substitute teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School. In Champaign, the floating substitute usually goes to three or four classes over the the course of the day. In Mahomet, though, the floating sub is usually assigned one classroom for the duration of the day, depending upon the need. What will happen is the school knows that several teachers will be out on a particular day, but they may not know which teachers will be gone, so they schedule me as a floater and give me the assignment when I arrive.

Today was definitely different, though! (more…)


Outsmarting the System

Today I was an 8th grade science teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I am now just 9 teachers away from subbing for 50% of the teaching staff at this school! I am not sure if I’ll be able to pull it off, with less than 30 school days remaining in the year, but it is still pretty awesome.

The students I worked with were pretty good, and they were all working quite hard, even the ones who typically slack off in every class. There was only one class in which I had any problems, and that was an afternoon “FLEX Period” which is kind of like a focused study hall. I don’t know what the focus was supposed to be when I was there today, though, but we went to the computer lab where the students were given the following very clear instructions from their teacher:

No music sites (videos or audio), no random web surfing, and no inappropriate sites (i.e. sites that should be blocked by the school’s CIPA filter). The only sites they should be on were Study Island, Google Earth, or FreeRice. It is also generally acceptable for them to go to school-appropriate game sites like Fun Brain or Cool Math Games.

What is not acceptable is to circumvent the filters to get onto Facebook.

So of course the students at Edison Middle School have learned that just because http://www.facebook.com is blocked by the filters, there is no reason to assume that https://www.facebook.com is, as well. Which, for some silly reason, it isn’t. Which, in turn, led to me repeating telling two students to get off of Facebook.

So they closed the window and, as soon as I was out of view, opened it up again, but kept it hidden on their screen.

Silly children. They really think I don’t know their tricks? I told them to close it again, and then positioned myself in a spot in the room where I could see their screens at all times, and still see what everyone else was doing. Unless, of course, I happened to turn away for a moment.

When I did, these children once again tried to sneak it open. So after three warnings, I told them that if they went onto Facebook again, they were going to the Discipline Office. One of them took me seriously and actually stopped playing around. The other, though, waited about fifteen minutes, then went right back to doing what she wasn’t supposed to be doing. I immediately buzzed the office and told them what was going on and why she was being sent up.

Funny thing: apparently the students didn’t think about the fact that telling me how they are outsmarting the system would result in me passing on this juicy bit of information. Which I did. So now, hopefully, the secure-server version of Facebook will also be blocked by the filters. Sure, these bright young men and women who can’t figure out how to turn assignments in on time will probably figure out another way to circumvent the filters, but their teachers will still find out and will still put more blocks in place. Even though the teachers would love to have access to these sites. But when the students can’t show self-control, the harsher restrictions have to be put in place.

Sigh.


Tattletale

Today I was an 8th grade math teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. Much like yesterday, I was in a room with an excellent student teacher who was totally prepared for the day. She also had a very strong handle on classroom management, so my day consisted of sitting at a desk reading while she taught and then helping the few students who had questions about the work they were doing. Incidentally, tomorrow is going to be much like yesterday and today. Thursday and Friday will be the days when I am actually teaching again this week. However, my days have not been that boring. In fact, I had a great time watching a gifted young prospective teacher working her craft.

One of the strangest things to happen today was when another substitute was in the room. One of the cross categorical special ed teachers, for whom and with whom I have subbed a couple of times now, co-teaches in math room I was in today. She was gone this morning, hence the reason she had a sub. Because the student teacher was doing a take-over, the special ed sub needed to be working with the student teacher. Alas, this is not what happened.

The other sub came in, sat in the back of the room, and then left about half-way through class. I knew for a fact that she was supposed to be there for the whole period, so I was rather confused when she didn’t. At the end of the day, the cross cat teacher came in and was talking with the student teacher about plans for the next few days. I brought up the fact that the other sub left and found out that this had happened in another period, too. I wasn’t really trying to rat out a colleague so much as I was wondering if what seemed odd really was what I thought. It was, and then even worse. The cross cat teacher decided to leave a negative review for this other teacher, which doesn’t happen that often. So I was a tattletale of sorts today. Although not really, since a tattletale is more accurately a person who shares idle gossip, rather than sharing important information. I hope this review will be used to help the substitute teacher improve in her work, though.