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Day 110: Math subbing

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Day 110/180: algebra II classes

I’ve subbed for this teacher before, and he requested me this time (after I did something smart: I went to visit him in person when I was in the building for another job). The kids in every class exclaimed “he’s never gone! It’s the first time this year!” This tells me a few things: 1. That I didn’t screw up last time, 2. That I wasn’t particularly remarkable last time, 3. That the classroom teacher approves of me enough to request me for his only day out. 
I’ll take it. 

For classroom teachers: please, please, please be sure what kind of schedule the day has, especially at the end of the year with lots of testing schedules and field trips and stuff. 

For subs: be sure to have something in your back pocket for when the lesson plans only cover a couple of classes because the teacher thought it was a different day (and/or ask a neighboring teacher for help). I got to give the kids a work day, and (minimally) help a number with their chemistry homework. 

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Day 105: Chemistry and Math Subbing

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Day 105/180: subbing for chemistry and algebra

It’s so cool to sub for something I know. I love seeing how other people do chemistry, and how the kids process things. I mean, I know how my students sound when answering my questions, but I like hearing how other teachers’ students respond. It’s different keywords, different emphases on process, different overarching concepts (or discrete topics). Fodder for me to think about for coming years.

I always liked observing other classrooms. When student teaching, I loved watching how other people loved their subjects, especially non-science classes. I distinctly remember going to math classes, orchestra, and an immersion Japanese class. I’ve also found invaluable lessons from how other teachers treat their students, and how they show the wonders of their subjects.

Day 96: More Math Subbing

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Day 96/180: geometry and algebra subbing

It’s been a while since I’ve had block periods. For what’s such a boon in science labs, geez, that’s a long period to do math. I was able to get around to all of the kids who needed help, but that’s a long time for anyone to focus. 

I did something smart today, too: I went to check in with a teacher for whom I’d subbed a few weeks ago. I mean, I think I do a good job, but no one has contacted me after subbing to say “hooray” or even just “thanks”.  He took another business card, so hopefully, I’ll get more calls from him later. 

Day 87: Meeting Expectations

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Day 87/180: subbing for math, thinking about what’s expected of a sub

Subbed for algebra II classes today. Kids were pretty good, mostly focused. The teacher had left very detailed sub plans with plenty of stuff for the the students to work on, including checking old homework, a guided introduction of new material, making their own “graphical organizer” (which was really a fill-in-the-blank notes sheet) of found patterns in exponent expressions, and starting a new homework assignment.

What was different about this day was that the teacher, without knowing who his sub would be, assumed that I’d actually teach. Usually, most teachers assume that the sub will know nothing of the subject matter but can manage a class (and probably the DVD player). One of the reasons I take mostly math and science assignments is that I can actually teach much of the material. I now have a few teachers who request me because they know I can teach their material, so they don’t lose a class day. This vote of confidence is nice, but I know most teachers can’t bet on their random subs to do much.

Similarly, students assume that subs know nothing, and expect a movie day with relatively lax classroom management enforcement.

This isn’t to say that today’s students did nothing during the period; to the contrary, they’re pretty trained to work on their assignments. However, they didn’t trust me to help them, even when I asked how they were doing.

I’m sure these students are doing just fine in their class. They have a known schedule with known daily procedures, and seemed pretty content. But, this type of compliant-yet-repetitive class makes me wonder just how far these kids could go if they had a teacher like Justin (who works like crazy for his kids) or Fawn (who’s amazing in her kids’ discussions) or Julie (who has great “lab” ideas), Sam (for his depth and thoroughness)… or other MTBoS peeps as the regular teacher.

…but then, I probably would have a tough time subbing for a missing, beloved teacher.

Postscript: Based on one day of subbing for this teacher, it is completely unfair of me to say any or all of the above applied to this particular teacher: I don’t know what the normal class looks like. But it’s a pattern for many, many classes in a high school.

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 78: Subbing for Math at the STEM School

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Day 78/180: math classes at the local STEM school

I’ve worked in large public high schools and in a one-on-one environment, but not a magnet-type “choice” school. I see the benefit of taking kids of a particular academic-persuasion and putting them in one building: they encourage each other because of automatic similarities. A whole school of techy-nerdy kids was interesting for me.

I sat in on geometry and algebra classes, mostly freshmen. There was far less brand-name clothing, and far more brand-name technology and gadgets. Even though it was Friday before the Super Bowl, and this was their fifth day in a row of substitutes, the kids were basically on-task. One group of boys was bored with the worksheets, and broke out a game of chess instead of texting friends or web-surfing. This “academic maturity” was also apparent in the demeanor of the kids: They were all very polite and focused on the assignments, and they went straight to work. It’s something I usually only seen in honors/advanced classes. It makes me wonder about the standards that these kids are accustomed to, and whether they’re used to it because of this school, or because of something at home, or something else. A chicken-and-egg issue, perhaps? Not that other kids are rude and/or unfocused, necessarily, but every kid in the building had this same all-school-business attitude and work ethic.

That being said, the emotional maturity of those freshmen was… well, sophomoric. And age-appropriate (or age-expected?)