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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Day 85: Clearing Out the Backlog

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Day 85/180: cleaning out email links, watching/studying lots of links

There’s a thing about keeping your inbox at 0. I’m kinda in the opposite mindframe. My email houses lots of things for me to look at later. Today is for housekeeping.

I finally watched Casey Rutherford‘s BigMarker talk on sense-making through physics. His ideas on making sense of an event, versus questioning why (and how) the event happens is a pretty big shift for students. I need to think more about incorporating this consciously into my curricula.

I also finally watched Moses Rifkin‘s talk on social justice in science classes. I’m super interested in doing this kind of (necessary!) conversation in class, even though I’m not comfortable with leading discussions (having never led them before, as well as being an introvert). I’ve signed up for the Science Teachers for Social Justice group, and find it interesting that all the teachers (so far) work at independent/private schools… no public. Hmm…

Uff da. So much thinking needed. Processing time kicking in…

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Day 84: More Math Subbing

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Day 84/180: subbing at another high school

It’s interesting what a difference a few miles makes across the same district. The kids wear different clothes (long hair for girls, hoodies for everyone at this school), there’s different degrees of technology, and the language is different. While I’m used to hearing a few bad words from students, there seemed to be a plethora of blue-words at this school. It’s all part of the general school culture and mood. I don’t have a particular difficulty with this, it’s just fun to play at anthropology.

Today, the office-person who usually takes care of subs was also absent. Lesson plans were stuck in her mailbox, so I had to find another teacher to ferret them out. It was also a special schedule because of a whole week (!) of SBAC preparation today. Not the actual test, just a week of getting kids used to the idea of taking them and making sure their district-issued laptop would run it. As a sub, I had no access to any of the digital things I was supposed to show students, so another teacher had them all update things while she read off the digital slides (which really sounded like a presentation/justification for parents, and bored the kids).

I need to add a few things to my Daily Sub Advice:

  • Check that the attendance list is up-to-date. Get it fixed if it’s not. Attendance is a legal document, not just silly notetaking.
  • Bring a game or two for students to play with, if they’re not going to work on the ever-popular “just do homework” thing that many teachers assign for subs. Especially something slightly off-the-beaten-path, to catch interest (I brought Swish).

Day 83: Alternatives and Responsibilities

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Day 83/180: A half-day at an alternative school

I got to spend a half-day at the local alternative school. All of the classes I saw had single-digit numbers of kids, so I got to chat with them all a bit. Super nice kids. Many of them have had problems in the past (and some in the present), but everyone who was there was pretty focused on getting work done.

I noticed a few things about this school. There’s very clear expectations of students and student behavior, but there is also a lot of (what might be seen as lax at other schools as) freedom. Everyone was on a first-name basis. There were no bells. Kids can come and go, but will be held accountable for their actions. Standards-based grading is the norm. Instead of two semesters, the school is organized into eight “sessions” per year. Kids are free to meet up and work or chat in the hallways. They can listen to music if it helps them concentrate. They all were in different places in assignments, but they all knew what needed to be done next. Kinda Montessori-ish, actually.

Sometimes I wonder if “normal” schools would be better off this way. I think giving kids more responsibilities, rather than more punitive punishments, is a better way to go.

P.S., if your school district has several schools all named after the same famous person, please clearly detail which school to attend on the sub system. Thanks.

Day 82: Supplemental Subbing

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Day 82/180: filling in for a few hours

A teacher had a district-level meeting in the middle of the day, so I got to play at physics for a little while.

It’s humbling to watch an expert teacher work (and his students absorb) in a subject with which I’ve personally had many problems. I can do math, I can understand the concepts, but I really have problems combining the two for physics.

Day 81: Describing Myself

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Day 81/180: editing resumes

You’d think I’d be good at resumes by now, since I’ve applied for new jobs for almost 10 years. I think, however, that I’m terrible at cover letters and putting my accomplishments into words.

I started work on an application for a local community college, as well as some work on a digital resume, a la Sam Shah (this is soooo cool!) But while working on my digital version, I realized that I’m having a hard time putting my stuff into a format for someone else to view and (digitally) consume.

For me, it’s a personal thing, putting my teaching-self online. I don’t like much information about me online (although I’m fully aware that my info is out there). I guess I need to figure out what I’m okay with as bragging points, and what I’m particularly proud of, and what I’d rather keep closer to my chest.

Day 80: Daily Sub Duties

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Day 80/180: Things a Daily Sub Should Do

I got to sub for a science teacher today. Got to see a few of my old kids too. Getting hugs when I go to work is totally addictive!

I’ve already written my advice on Things A Long-Term Sub Should Do, so here’s a contrast with what a daily sub should do.

You know you have to take attendance and maintain some amount of order. But please also familiarize yourself with the classroom. Know where the following are located: extra pens/pencils, the sharpener, hall passes, tissues, and paper towels (especially if you’re in a science room). Also know where emergency plans and medical information is, as well as what you do in the event. Also, get to class early enough so that you can figure out where supplies are for today’s assignments and/or how to log onto a computer or work the video player (leave enough time before class to ask neighboring teachers for help, if necessary).

Do write your name on the board. It’s cliche, but helpful.

Go through the sub notes, and have a notion of what students should be doing. Even if you’re not knowledgable in the subject area, know whether they should be taking notes, cutting out paper slips, or searching the web. This also give you something to ask kids about: “Hey, how’s that diagram going?” And it keeps them on-track too. Especially know when this thing is due.

Give students the goals for the period at the beginning. “Your teacher says you should be able to finish most of this today.” “Check the online assignments for more info.” “You’re to finish through problem 18 today, in class or for homework.”

Don’t help kids too much. Just as if this were your normal classroom, you shouldn’t be doing the work for the students.

Consider giving yourself some cred, if you do know something about the subject. “I don’t usually teach math, but I do teach science, so if you need some help, let me know.” They may take you up on the offer.

Leave comments for the classroom teacher on a class-by-class basis. Note anywhere kids had difficulty, or were confused. Also note anything you did that might be out of the ordinary or not on the lesson plan.

Remember good behavior as well as misbehavior. Strange inside jokes are funny too. I still remember when I was in a high school, and we’d all finished the assignment early. The sub just listened while we talked about how hungry we were and where to go for some really good Mexican food. The next day, our teacher asked us what the sub meant by “very well-informed class”.

Thank the classroom teacher for letting you sub. Remember that many systems can allow teachers to request you, as well as request not-you! Leave a business card, especially if your name is spelled strangely.

Day 79: Membership

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Day 79/180: Public school chemistry and AP chem, and belonging

Subbing at my old school, for not-my-class. I got three hugs again today (man, I miss them!)

Along with my last post on academic maturity, today’s students were dialed-in for their work. Set/clear expectations? Doing the school-thing? Getting homework out of the way? Or something else?

One of the interesting things I heard about today involved a discussion of classes, and having to take “membership courses”: the classes you just have to sit through to obtain the requisite credits. This is sort of what I knew as “easy As” or “jumping through hoops”. But I’ve always thought of having a common goal (or some sort of investment in the group) as a characteristic of membership.

So what does it mean to be a member of something? During the same class, a few kids were disgruntled with the proposed “red out” at the game next week (wearing red to promote heart disease awareness), because red is the color for a rival high school. Some were just irritated that they were supposed to promote awareness rather than actually do something.

Being part of The Club is kinda fun. I mean, beyond the exclusivity of it all. Classes can be like mini-clubs, where “outsiders” may not get all of the inside jokes (or course content). Some experiments are only done by kids in AP, and that privilege has to be earned. And I like the idea of kids wanting to be in the club. And a whole school is also kind of a club. If you meet someone, and you find out they also attended your school or college, there’s an automatic camaraderie, even if you didn’t attend at the same time.

And it’s kinda nice to know someone else had similar experiences, even if you’ve never talked with them before. The familiarity is comforting and friendly, kinda like an ally. Allies, however, can mean drawing battle lines with rivals. It’s a strange construction to make sure that the school-club isn’t so exclusive that it keeps others out, but makes the club desirable for everyone.

The kids I saw today were members of their school, of chemistry and AP chem classes. But also of English 12 Honors, cliques, particular sports teams, leadership teams, the band, and college-bound friends. It’s my job, even as a sub, to make them all like being in class, and hopefully learn a thing or two.