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Friday, November 27, 2009

Classroom Landmines…

Last week in 6th grade I triggered a “classroom landmine”.

This isn’t the first time I’ve set one off and I don’t really mean to cause explosive situations in the classroom. Teachers are reluctant to inform subs on the lesson plans where the landmines are or just what will set them off. The few times I’ve asked about why I wasn’t informed beforehand, I got the “student confidentially” excuse. As a direct consequence, I’m not ready for the weird reactions I get when I accidentally stumble across the trip wires that cause reactions like Art Guy & Barking Boy.

She was like any other kid in class. Not disruptive in any way. She did use, what seemed to me, an above average vocabulary and word phrasing for a 6th grader. I wasn’t aware that she was, in reality, a classroom landmine. It happened during shared reading time.

I would read a few paragraphs from the novel they were working through and then pick a random Popsicle stick with a name from the cup on the desk to continue the story. If the kid called hadn’t been following the story, it was immediately obvious. We’d all wait until his/her table mates pointed out the right page/paragraph to continue the story. They learn quickly to follow along with the class. This keeps them on their toes to avoid being “not ready” if called.

Her name came up and the “deer caught in the headlights” look told me she hadn’t been reading along and didn’t know where to continue the story. Like several students before her she flustered a bit before her table-mates got her to the correct page and paragraph.

Then it hit.

Instead of starting to read, as others had, she started choking, making gulping noises and frantically pointing at her throat! I’m stunned. I start to panic: "OMG, The kid’s gonna choke and die right here in the classroom!"

The kids see my panicked look and one of the girls at her table informs me: “Oh! She does that when she doesn’t want to read out loud. It happens all the time”. I tell her: “It’s ok, she doesn’t have to read. We’ll just pick someone else.”

As I carefully put her Popsicle stick on the table while picking another Popsicle stick from the cup, “landmine girl” shouts: “No, no, I can read, I can!” Before I can respond she starts reading the next paragraphs so fast that I can’t understand her. I think she finished the chapter we were reading but since I only caught every third or fourth word, I’m sure the rest of the class heard just a blur.

I commended “landmine girl” for reading but I explain that most of the class probably didn’t read as fast so I suggested we re-read the section just to make sure everyone understood the storyline.

As I start to re-read the chapter, “landmine girl” complains bitterly that: “I already that part” and continues with the same complaint as the rest of the class is called one at a time to participate.

I detailed the incident on the end of day status report I leave for the teacher hoping that I handled the situation as best I could and gently suggesting that a little warning would have been helpful.

Classroom tip of the day: Watch your step!!


Anonymous said...

I subbed for a class yesterday, which ranks as my worst sub teacher experience. True, I've only been subbing since February, but much of that has been with ED kids, being a special education credentialist student. The class yesterday was not a special education class. It was a general education intermediate school class in here in the Bakersfield City school district, California.

This teacher has been out for about 20 days in the past month. He has not shown up at his kids' football games either-tragic because he is a coach. When I showed up, there were no lesson plans, and no seating chart.

I never thought I would encounter a class where I could not even take roll because they wouldn't give me their name, and outright refusals to move to a seat up in front of the room.

I refuse to yell at any student, and always try to be respectful, so at least I maintained my dignity, though at times I felt like crying. To see the looks on the faces of the students who wanted to learn (about five out of the 25 in the class) was tragic.

Administration did come by a couple of times during the day. The students could see them coming in the windows and by the time admin came into the class had quieted down, but resumed their inappropriate behavior soon after they left.

I still am not sure what I could have done differently. I always try to analyze my efforts, in order to continue to improve as a teacher, but as of right now I am at a loss. I was told by another teacher, who came into the room after final dismissal, that this teacher has tenure, so there's nothing they can do.

And it's the kids who suffer. It's a symptom of society's ills. The teacher next door stated 'these are our future criminals'. Wow.

KauaiMark said...

Wow! I feel for you and those kids.

If the teacher has been out for 20 days, they should have gotten a long term sub for that class at the very least.

I wouldn't go back to that abuse again. Now that you've experienced the worst, it can only get better.

Good luck with the next assignment.

GT Goddess said...

My district had an inservice for subs in regards to special education. It really came down to: here are all these disorders, here are all these tricks, and here is why the teacher can't inform you ahead of time of a student's disability. Good luck.