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

Grade School

Interviews VI, VII and VIII

I don’t know why I didn’t blog about my interview on Wednesday, nor do I know why I have put off blogging about today’s interview, but I guess I should do it to keep my running record of my professional life going. Because this is a bit over 1,400 words, I’m going to put a break in here, just to keep my home screen from being overwhelmed by this post.


Interview V

As you are probably aware, I have applied for well over 1,000 jobs at more than 300 schools/districts/consortiums across Illinois. Nearly every one of the applications has been submitted using the AppliTrack system, which is an excellent bit of software that allows districts to collect and sort job applications online. Last year, I discovered, which is an aggregate site that culls all of the AppliTrack sites in the nation and puts them in one place. This has made it incredibly easy for me to apply for jobs, particularly since I can import applications and thus skip the tedious task of filling out all of the information each time.

The vast majority of job postings in Illinois are grouped near Cook and Lake counties, which are essentially what is known as Chicagoland–all of the districts in the greater Chicago area that are not part of Chicago Public Schools (they are a separate entity from the rest of the state). Alas, this also means that everyone wants to work there. For example, I applied for one opening in the North Ridge area. I received an email that informed me that, regrettably, I was not selected among the more than 1,000 applicants.


But I’ve continued to apply for every self-contained, general education (SCGE) teaching position I could find from 2nd to 6th grade (I don’t really want to teach kindergarten or 1st grade and few schools have SCGE classes after 6th grade). Which is why I applied for a couple jobs in Matteson School District 162 on June 16 and again on July 1. According to my records, I applied for a 5th grade opening and a 6th grade opening.

Two days ago, on Sunday (July 10) I received an email informing me I had been selected to interview for a 4th grade teaching position at Sauk Elementary School in the Matteson district. I was informed that the principal would be conducting interviews today (the 12th) from 8 am to 1 pm and to contact him to schedule a time. I wasn’t at all concerned that I hadn’t actually applied for a 4th grade position, mostly because I had indicated an interest in any intermediate position available. So something about my application caught his attention.

At the same time, I was already scheduled to substitute for one of Champaign’s high school summer school classes on Tuesday. (More on this later.) I determined that it would take me approximately two hours to drive to Ricthon Park from Champaign, and I didn’t want to pass up one more subbing opportunity. So I did what any sane, rational, job-seeking person would do:

I asked that he schedule my interview for the first time slot.

So I woke up this morning around 5 am, ate, dressed, attended to hygiene, kissed my wife goodbye, and headed off around 6 am to fill up the gas tank before making my trek to Richton Park. The drive actually only two about an hour and a half, so I got there much earlier than necessary. I killed time by driving around the immediate neighbourhood and checking on Twitter updates. At 8:15, I went in and was seen by the principal immediately.

The interview went very well, I think. The principal (a former teacher at Champaign Centennial, coincidentally), asked me about my approach to standardised tests, classroom management, repeat offenders, parental contact, and differentiation. He was brief and to the point, and my responses were in kind. Then he told me about his school district: 98% African-American, pure chaos when he arrived six years ago, with test scores in the bottom 70%. A year later, he suggested that students wear navy or black pants and white shirts (but no formal dress code or school uniform was made). Everyone complied. Discipline problems have gone way down, academic success has gone  way up. The parents are extremely supportive, too, but they also work a lot, so they can’t be there every day. However, the school hosts an annual Dads’ Day, in which over 250 fathers in the community attend, some of whom don’t even have kids in the school! The test scores are now in the low-to-mid-80s, but they need to go higher. The focus will be on literacy and mathematics (woo hoo!) but without excluding science, social studies, health, etc. Literacy will be taught across the curriculum (double woo hoo!) and the teachers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to reach their students.

This is where I want to work. A district with challenges, but the resources to tackle the challenges head-on. No excuses, take no prisoners, give it all you go, go big or go home. It isn’t about machismo or teaching to the test, or anything like that. It is about helping the boys and girls in this school become young men and young women, literate and ready for the challenges ahead of them. It is awesome, it is enthusiastic, it is positive. It is what I want to be a part of.

Is Matteson 162 the only district in the state like this? No, of course not. But their principal gave me the chance to interview and to discuss how I might be an advantage to his community. As with some other districts, I would be thrilled to work there. He said I should hear back from him on Friday. I am praying I get a phone call from the 708 area code on Friday that will have good news!

(Oh, and we would be much closer to many of our friends in the prevention field–always an added bonus!)

Interview II

I have been busily applying for full-time teaching jobs all over the state. At last count, I have applied to over 300 districts/consortiums in the past year, probably approaching the 1,000 mark for the number of actual jobs I have applied for. It has been quite the journey. It has also been frequently disappointing, with most jobs getting filled within a couple of weeks. I have received a lovely collection of emails informing me that I was not selected for a given position but that my application will be kept on file for the next year. I also have a smaller collection of letters that were sent in the mail informing me of the same thing. At least one job had over 1,000 applicants. For a single job opening. So, clearly, I am up against a lot of competition.

I had started to get to the point where I was wondering if my applications were even going through and/or being seen. But I kept applying. If it was a self-contained general education class for second grade or higher, I applied. And I’ll admit, I was starting to lose track. Hundreds of job applications will do that to you, I imagine.

So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call about a week and a half ago from the principal of a small school in a tiny community! She wanted to know if I was still interested. All I actually caught was that it was a school, so I said, “Yes, absolutely!” and hurriedly searched my emails for an indication of what job I was going to be interviewing for.

I figured it out rather quickly, fortunately. A fifth grade position at Woodland Elementary in Woodland, Illinois. The school has about 180 students, give or take, with two grades, fourth and fifth. It is part of a large district that includes Watseka and the small communities nearby. Woodland Elementary happens to be the only school in the district not in Watseka. Woodland is a lovely hamlet of 350 people in the middle of the woods. An aptly named community, for sure! It is also about an hour from Champaign, which means that it is a perfect location.

My interview was this past Wednesday. I met the principal and we talked about my philosophy of education (so glad that I took the time to figure that out!), the role of technology in the classroom, my ideal literacy program, classroom management, and collaboration. We also talked about education policy and the role of research in the classroom. Then she took me on a tour of the building. It is small and old, but it has also been very well maintained over the past hundred years or so that it is has been around.

I know the interview went well. All of my interviews go well. I have no idea how many people I am up against for this job, but I do know this: I would absolutely love to work at Woodland Elementary in Unit 9! The grade level is exactly where I want to be, the school is doing exactly the kind of things I want to do, and the principal is amazing! She is innovative, she is well-read on research and best practices, and she really works with her teachers to provide a high quality of education for each student. I am hoping and praying fervently that I left a strong impression!

I find out on Monday! Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!


Today I was a candidate for a teaching position at Lincoln Grade School in Washington, Illinois. As such, I did not accept any assignments for today, so that I could focus on preparing for the interview. Regarding the interview, I will only say at this point that it went very well, and that I was given many opportunities to share some of my fundamentals beliefs about education. Ironically, though, I was not asked the standard “tell us about yourself” question that I have been stressing out about for weeks. Maybe next time!

I had been preparing for this interview for several weeks now, and was very excited about the opportunity. For those who don’t know, I grew up in Washington, and it was at this very school, when I was in fourth grade, that I first knew that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. My fourth grade teacher is still at Lincoln Grade School, although she has been teaching third grade for several years now. The open positions at the school are first, second, and fourth grade (one of each). I officially applied for the second and fourth grade positions, but I may be considered for the first grade one, as well.

The interview was very brief; only about fifteen minutes. The purpose was to allow the superintendent and his two principals to screen roughly 10% of the over 530 applicants for the positions, so the fact that I was selected at all says much. I will find out on Friday if they would like me to come back for a second, longer, interview. Needless to say, I would be delighted to do so. It has been a childhood dream to teach in the very building that first started me on the path I am on now. I love the school, I love the district, and I love the community. There is much I have to offer, and much I can learn.

Thanks to everyone who has kept me and wife in your prayers and thoughts! I’ll be sure to let you know what happens next!

Waste Not, Want Not

Today I was the music teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. If I were to ever take my adventures in substituting and attempt to self-publish them in a mass-market format, I think I would use the working title Today I Was… with the subtitle The Adventures of a Substitute Teacher. Just in case you were ever wondering. This has caused me to ponder a question: what are some quality professional books about substitute teaching or for substitute teachers? There seems to be a number available for purchase, but I have no idea whether or not they are worth buying and/or reading. If you happen to know of any you’d recommend, I’d be glad to hear about them!

Anyway, my day went pretty well. There was a student teacher with my class who was super well prepared for teaching today. She took the lead in the lessons for each class, and, until she told me at the end of the day, I would have been certain she had been taking the lead in every class for a couple of weeks. In fact, today was her first day doing so, and she was incredibly worried about it. There was no need to be, of course, and I let her know. This was even more impressive when one considers that the 2nd grade class we had today was the class that holds the poor reputation as being the worst class I have taught this year. But even they were not totally unmanageable over the course of the 40 minutes or so they were with us.

There was one part of the day that did disappoint me, though, but it had nothing to do with teaching. It was during the 15-minutes of lunch duty we had supervising the 5th graders. The vast majority of the boys and girls were eating the lunch provided by the school. There are quite a few of these students who qualify for free lunches, but whether the district pays for it or the students’ parents do, someone has had to pay for all of the food that is served to them.

Which is probably why I was so annoyed to see so many students not eating. If I were to guess, I would say that there was close to 10 lbs of food not being eaten during this lunch period. The food services staff confirmed that this is fairly typical, and it is true for all the grade levels. As this is a K-5 building, that means that there is about 50-60 lbs of food wasted each day. Even if it is just 50 lbs, that is 250 lbs of wasted food a week, which adds us to 9,000 lbs of wasted food each school year. It is quite possible that my estimates are way off, and that there isn’t such a gross amount of wasted food each year, but I worry when I continue to do the math. There are 11 grade schools in the Champaign district, and I have a feeling that there is about the same amount of waste in each building. 99,000 lbs of food that goes in the trash each year.

The boys and girls in the area have not learned the wonderful maxim of old: waste not, want not. Another great maxim that applies is use it up, wear it out, make it do, or make without. Instead, though, we have young people who don’t seem to appreciate what they have. I think I’ll make an effort to point out provident living concepts when the opportunity arises. I may not have a full-time job teaching, and I may not be with these students all the time, but I can try to make a positive impact wherever I am upon whomever I can.

Update: Thanks to my oldest brother, Tom, I’ve been made aware of this story out of Chicago about kids throwing away food because it is unpalatable. I don’t think that this is the case in Champaign, but it does bring up an important issue about whether or not food should simply be nutritious, and how the quality of taste/texture/etc. impacts a student’s decision to eat all of (or even part of) his or her school-provided lunch.

Well, That Was Poorly Timed

Today I was a supportive services (special education) teacher at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Mahomet. I was happy to return to Lincoln Trail because a) I have had a two wonderful experiences there in the past, b) I have applied for one of their many job openings and am eager to have my name and face known around the school, and c) this guaranteed that I will have worked every day for the first three weeks of this months (since I am already scheduled for the rest of this week and all of next).

While working, I had the opportunity to teach with a very skilled student teacher and a teacher’s aide who does her job very well. The students were eager and participatory today, which was an added bonus. When it comes to special education, it can be kind of a crap shoot: some days are great and some days are not. I was glad to have a good day, and I know that the other teachers were glad, as well. It was also a fairly laid-back day, since the students at Lincoln Trail are finishing up ISAT testing this week and the teachers are, consequently, not loading them up with too much extra work. So, all in all, I had an easy and pleasant day.

Of course, this would be the day that the principal comes by the room to check up on things. And of all the times for her to come by, she just had to visit when the aide was texting the teacher for whom I was subbing (assuring her that all was going well), the student teacher was reading magazines with some boys who had just finished their mornings work, and I was on my phone looking up the etymology of a word that had come up in conversation with the boy who was working with me. (As an aside, the word butcher is not a word with a root and the -er ending. That is to say, a butcher is not one who “butches”–rather, the word butcher comes from French for bouchier, which came from some other word meaning the slaughter of goats. Go figure.)

Anyway, so the principal walks in and sees the substitute teacher doing something on his phone, the aide texting, and the student teacher reading a magazine. Not exactly the best timing in the world. Oh, and none of us realised she was there at first, so she walked in and stood there for a bit observing all of this. Whoops. Fortunately, the aide explained what she was doing, at least. Unfortunately, especially for me, I didn’t even know that it was the principal, so I missed my one opportunity to introduce myself and leave a good impression.

Hopefully this will not reflect poorly on my attempts to secure full-time employment at this school!

Student Writing

Today I was a floater sub at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. I was assigned to three different classrooms, for about two hours each. Unfortunately, the first part of the day when awry when I arrived about five minutes later than I was assigned, and found out that I really should have been assigned to be there at 7:40 am, not 8:00. Fortunately, the secretary assigning us was able to quickly adjust my schedule and things well fine. I was a first grade teacher, then a fifth grade teacher, and, after lunch, finished up the day teaching third graders in the gifted/talented classroom.

Surprisingly, all of the teachers had real work for the students to do. In fact, you never would have realised that it was the day before Thanksgiving if you didn’t know in advance. I had relatively few behavioural issues, which was a nice break from what I have often experienced at Stratton. During the last class of the day, the students were working on writing expository essays. Each one had come up with a thesis sentence three supporting statements. Many of them had selected issues relating to health or the environment. I read over some of their writings, and I was impressed by the structure and order they used. Of course, some of them had statements that repeated themselves or didn’t make any sense. Some were kind of funny in the voice used. I snapped a picture of one of these last examples of writing.

Get real, people!

If you click on the picture, you can see the full-size image. But here’s what it says (to the best of my ability to transcribe, and without any changes in spelling, capitalisation, or punctuation):

Go ahead! litter! I’m not going to be the one who dies because of liter. Bad air, dirtey water. Death because of littering? Get real, people. Pick up trash [missing] throw away! recycle! It’s not hard. Take a few secends to find a trash can! Wait, would you rather drop stuff and be comfertable and die or hold your trash and not die?

I would rather litter [  ]1   2[  ]Im not a litterer.

check a box if you chose box 1 Stop reading. (or change). If you chose box 2, read on.

great! You can help by picking trash up, throwing away, recycle – even make crafts with garbege.

[Last line got cut off]

I don’t know if I have any samples of my writing from when I was in third grade, but I can only wish that I was as creative in my writing as this girl was. I love her tone of voice and the way she makes her point by making the choice be between life and death. It was definitely a fun way to end the week!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American friends. I’m not sure if I’ll be updating on Thursday or Friday.