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

Second Grade

Interview IV

Today I had an interview at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign. I was interviewing for a 2nd grade (gifted) position that is, in many ways, a new position.

In past years, the gifted program at BT Washington has been two classrooms: 2/3 and 4/5. This year, there will be three: 2, 3, and 4/5. Another change is in the school itself. BT Washington has long been the only bilingual school in the district. Many kindergarten students come in speaking only Spanish and learn English as they go through the grades. There are also English-speaking students who learn Spanish every other day. The district is moving (or just closing–I’m not clear which) the bilingual program, and turning the building into a STEM magnet school – Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

All of this means that they are really looking for a candidate who has expertise in gifted education, science, technology, engineering, and math. (Although they would be okay with someone whose expertise is gifted and one of the four STEM classes). Alas, I have none of the above.

As a substitute teacher, my expertise is a mile wide and a fathom deep. It is deep, but it covers a vast array of topics. I am a generalist educator, first and foremost. I am very pleased with my broad knowledge base, and actually consider it to be a strong selling point for my qualifications for a full-time teaching position. It is a rare day when a student asks me a question and I don’t know the answer. Even rarer is when I can’t find the answer. So, honestly, I don’t know if this position really is the best one for me.

But we shall see. I have another job interview tomorrow morning for a 4th grade position in Richton Park (a Chicago suburb) and will hopefully have an interview in Urbana soon for another 4th grade position. Lots of interviews this summer. Gretch and I have already decided that, since I am only applying for jobs that I would actually accept if offered, I should take the first offer made. So it’ll be an exciting week!

Update: I apparently never blogged about my third job interview, which was for a 3rd grade position at Thomasboro Elementary just north of the Champaign-Urbana area. Thomasboro has a nice school and a great teaching staff. The principal and superintendent were both very supportive and I could tell that they work hard to work with their teachers to improve their school. I had the interview on June 21, not quite a week after my interview at Woodland. I sent the superintendent an email the following morning with a question and an additional letter of reference and got a reply back that, while they were very impressed, they selected someone else. Sorry about forgetting about it!



Today I was a 2nd grade (gifted/talented) teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. With just 7 1/2 school days remaining before the end of the year, it is also quite possible that today was last day this year that I will have been with this class. In case you are new to the blog (hahaha – yes, I like to think that I have new people coming by), you can read my previous adventures with this class here, here, and here. I went to this assignment with an expectation that we would have another great day. Alas, I forgot to factor in the fact that the school year is almost over.

To be totally honest, the day wasn’t that bad. Compared to some of my other experiences at Stratton, the class was quite well behaved. But I have come to have higher expectations for them because I know what they are capable of doing. Still, I was somewhat disappointed that so many members of the class were constantly getting off task, talking when they were supposed to be working independently, and the petty arguments.

Oy vey, the arguments!

“He stole my pencil!”
“She took something from my desk!”
“He won’t work with me!”
“She’s making me do all the work!”
“She hid my shoes under the cubbies two weeks ago, and now I found them, and she was going to write on them, but she didn’t!”
“She kicked me in the gut! Well, okay, actually, my back, but she kicked me!”

Sure, the complaints were legitimate. Nobody was making things up. And yes, these boys and girls are only in the second grade. But they have spent a lot of time this year on conflict resolution. I mediated each complaint as it came to me. The boy who stole a pencil? He had already given it back. The girl who took something from a boy’s desk? All she had done was look at it; she didn’t actually take anything. The boy who wasn’t working? Well, okay, this was actually a legitimate problem, and the final solution was to just have his partner work on her own, with the promise that his mother was going to be getting a phone call later. The girl who was making her partner do all the work? They needed to come up with a division of labour. The girl who hid the shoes? It was two weeks ago; nothing I can do about it now. Nothing had happened to them, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. The boy who got kicked in the gut (actually the back)? It was an accident, and the girl had already apologised.

By the end of the day, I had most of the class working on their projects the way they should have been all day. I was thoroughly exhausted, but it was a good day. Who knows… maybe I will be there again before the end of the year. If I do, I fully expect to have a great day. And, knowing now that the class is becoming somewhat more whiny, I will address it from the beginning of the day. You live, you learn, you move on.

I find out about my job interview tomorrow afternoon! Wish me luck!


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!

Walking Home

Today I was a 2nd grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign. I haven’t been to Kenwood very much this year, either because the teachers aren’t gone much, or they just have their own preferred subs. This is one of the few “balanced calendar” schools in the district, which means that the students have shorter summer breaks but longer winter breaks. This is about as close to a year-round school as you are going to find in the area.

It is also the only school in the district where I have had more negative experiences than positive ones. I did my early field experience as a university student there, where I observed in a kindergarten class. Suffice it to say that it was not a particularly great experience, culminating in my supervising teacher kicking me out of her classroom after I didn’t have an evaluation form for her to fill out that she was supposed to have. Early in my subbing experience, I was in a class that was absolutely horrific, and holds the distinction of being one of four classes in three years that I have requested NOT to be assigned to again.

Of course, I also had a great experience there this year, despite having to wing it. Today was a fairly good day, as well, and was, coincidentally, also a day in which I found myself improvising. The teacher had not planned on being absent, but she had fairly detailed lesson plans, so I was able to follow what she wanted done. The improvisation came when the class wasn’t able to handle a couple of the activities, so I had them do other things (mostly silent reading, which they actually did quite well).

By the end of the day I was exhausted and ready to head home. Because Kenwood is fairly close to where I live, I decided to walk home, rather than have my wife leave work to pick me up. This turned out to be very fortuitous, because some friends of ours who live just the down the street were moving today. I learned that they have been packing for the past three days without any help from others and had been spending the day loading the U-Haul. I insisted on helping, so I went home (I seriously live about two blocks away), and then came back and spent the next five hours helping them pack, load, and clean. In exchange, they let us have first dibs on the items they weren’t able to take. (But, just to be clear, I would have helped them anyway).

It was a nice end to a nice day. It gave me an opportunity to put into practice the principles that I find myself teaching in one way or another every day. Now I am going to spend the rest of the day fretting about the job interview I have tomorrow, and trying to figure out how to answer the most difficult question any interviewer asks: “Tell me about yourself.” I never know what to say. Hopefully I’ll figure it out by tomorrow afternoon!

Wish me luck!

A Warm Welcome

Today I was a 2nd grade teacher at Sangamon Elementary in Mahomet. I have only been to this building a handful of times this year, but each experience has been an incredibly positive one. I continue to be amazed at the intelligence and engagement of students who are as young as they are. I am also impressed with how well the faculty and staff have taught the students to treat guests in the classroom with the utmost respect.

This is, of course, something that most teachers pay lip-service to, at the very least. I’ve even been in classrooms where the students are asked to sign a contract to agree to act according to specific guidelines with a substitute is present. But, honestly, most students don’t think anything about these contracts. That isn’t to say that they are crazy hellions, or anything like that! Far from it, in fact. But it would be a lie to say that substitute teaching is often a matter of quickly establishing limits and then hoping and praying that the students will not set fire to the room, tie me up, or both.

Needless to say, I have never experienced either of those situations, and thus I continue to enjoy my work and my adventures. Each day is full of new surprises, even when it is a room I have been to several times in the same year. What is always fun is to see what happens when students recognise me, especially when  I’ve never been in their classroom. (more…)

Brutal Honesty

Today I was a 2nd grade (gifted) teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. I had known about this assignment for about a week, and I had been looking forward to it quite a bit. After all, my last experience there, back in February, was one of the best days I have ever had teaching at Stratton, and probably ranks pretty high on my list of over-all awesome days. Due to the nature of how the assignments are placed online, I only know about the teachers’ absences if I am available that day. And since I have been teaching nearly every day, it is possible that there has been another sub in the room since I was last there; I don’t know. Regardless, the students were all quite happy to see me again, which always serves to boost my ego a notch or two.

The day went really well, as expected. I told the class about how impressed I had been with their dedication to reading last time, and that I was looking forward to seeing if they could do it again. This time, though, they had no interest in reading for 45 minutes. No, sir, 45 minutes was simply not enough time! They begged me to give them a full hour to read! I told them that if they were all reading for 45 minutes then I would give them the extra 15 as a reward. I love being able to reward students with time to read! They all did it. Needless to say, it was awesome. (more…)

Bathroom Breaks

Today I was a 2nd grade teacher at Sangamon Elementary in Mahomet. This was my second time teaching 2nd grade in Mahomet, and it went really well, despite the near-constant talking that went on throughout the day. In an odd sort of way, I was actually glad that the students had been so talkative. In discussing my experiences in Mahomet with others, I’ve had some friends and colleagues comment that the district seems to have a Stepford Wives kind of feel to it. Today was a good reminder that the students in this district are “normal kids” (if you’ll excuse the use of the term). They were fun, they were eager to participate, they were respectful, but they were also bursting with energy and had trouble controlling their enthusiasm–something that should not be a surprise to anyone when you take into account the age of these boys and girls.

So, one of the things that teachers are constantly dealing with is the need for students to use the restroom. As they get older, they are better trained to use the bathroom at limited times, but younger children are not as capable of waiting for bathroom breaks. I still remember the day in first grade when one of my classmates needed to use the restroom and our teacher refused to let him go until after the math lesson she was teaching. He ended up wetting his pants, his desk, and the floor surrounding him. Instead of finishing the lesson, she had to stop in the middle and let us all out for an unplanned recess so that the janitor could clean up the mess and the classmate could get new clothes. As a result, I am somewhat lenient on allowing students to use the bathroom, provided they do not abuse the privilege.

What is more difficult, though, is planning my own bathroom breaks. Typically, I am able to pace myself to line up with my break periods. After several years of this, I thought that I had this down to a science. But every now and then, something happens with my body’s chemistry and I find myself having to use the bathroom more frequently than normal. Today was one of those days.

Despite using the restroom during lunch, I found myself needing to use it again about 45 minutes later. I had 45 minutes remaining before my afternoon plan period, so I thought I’d be okay. 15 minutes later, I was getting worried. 15 minutes after that, I realised that there was no way I would make it. Not only was my bladder practically bursting, but I also had um… other pressure… building. This was not a good combination. Finally, with just ten minutes to go before the break, I ran next door, asked the teacher there if she could keep on eye on my class, and booked it down to the restroom.

I barely made it on time. But I did make it, thankfully! I got back to my class and, to be honest, I don’t know if the students even noticed if I was gone. Still, I was glad for the teacher next door who saved the day for me. I would have been forever scarred if I had managed to wet my pants while teaching. In the future, I will be ever diligent in planning my bathroom breaks!