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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Last Tursdays Assignment: 6th Grade Frozen District (30 kids)

The power of the pen is quite the experience. Well in this case it’s the power of the whiteboard marker pen.

I arrived at this school and was told the sick teacher came in specifically to do the lesson plan for me and that I could meet with her in the classroom. Thank you Lord!

Ms. S was completing the lesson plan when I met her. She was deleting a couple items of work she felt she had to monitor and was substituting SSR intervals. SSR is teacher lingo for Sustained Silent Reading. This is where the kids are supposed to read anything they want as long as it’s done SILENTLY.

She had three entries in the lesson plan where SSR was prescribed.

I queried her about her procedures for classroom discipline (each class and teacher does it slightly differently), and she pointed to the word “HOME” at middle of the whiteboard.

She then explained that if she felt she wasn’t getting the cooperation she felt was warranted, she would add another letter until the word “HOMEWORK” was complete.

The class would then be assigned some horrendous homework project that she had planned for such occasions.

After she left, I had about 20 mins to review the plan for a day that concluded with, of course, SSR.

The kids arrived and attendance was taken. I asked them about the funny partial word at the top of the board and they verified that they knew what “HOMEWORK” meant.

I picked up a blue marker pen and twisted the cap which made a distinctive “skrittching” sound and asked them if I should practice my spelling of the word “WORK” a couple to times “just in case”.

The response was a lot of “No’s”

First half of the day was a dream. The first SSR was, indeed, silent. Not a sound other than the occasional cough. Great!

I’m thinking good thoughts about this class. The plan is actually going according to plan. Math, literature, homework correction were complete and done.

The second SSR in the plan occurred just before lunch. The natives were getting a little restless. I gather they didn’t get this much SSR in the normal daily routine.

All I had to do was go to the board and “skritch” the marker top and a wave of silence spread across the room. Amazing! When a couple of kids in the back were still “bapping” at each other, I popped the cap ALL THE WAY OFF the marker and held it up for all to see.

The “bappers”, informed by their neighbors, suddenly became model students and the SSR returned to “silence”.

The cap went back on and the marker returned to the tray just below the unmodified word “HOME” at the top of the board. This only had to be repeated a couple of additional times.

Ahhhh….the power of the (marker) pen.

The afternoon assignments, again, were accomplished according the plan when we came to the last SSR of the day. Thirty minutes of “complete unfinished work, homework if you want to start or SSR”.

Ten minutes into it, they’d had enough, the noise level steadily rose, kids started to wander around the room re-sharpening already perfectly sharpened pencils, tapping those newly sharpened pencils on tables, rolling and dropping stuff on the floor and other undesired noisy activities.

The magic marker pen had lost its power. Appending additional letters to “HOMEWO” had only a temporary effect.

So I fell back to my, now popular, “Guess the sub’s previous job” exercise. I emphasized that this had to be done orderly and quietly otherwise I’d just erase all the guesses and call it a day.

They all wanted to participate. I guess this beats SSR any day. I allowed them all one guess each and wrote them on the board.

So watching the clock to have the climax occur just before the end of day bell, I would walk in the front of the classroom and surreptitiously erase one of the guesses.

I would hear whispers. “Look! He erased one! What was it?”

When my back was turned, I could see out of the corner of my eye one or more kids approach the board to read the faint tracing of what I erased. This continued as the time passed. Sometimes I’d even erase 2-3 at a time.

With 3 minutes to go till the bell, the choices are down to “Retired Cop” and “Computer programmer”. I had the kids all come up and split into two groups and “vote” with each group choosing their choice for the “correct” answer.

There is a LOT of noise and animated excitement at this point, but there is also only two minutes left so I felt it was a good trade off.

At this point I turn around and there at the back of the classroom sitting in an empty student chair is……………..THE PRINCIPAL OF THE SCHOOL.


Recovering, I explained to THE PRINCIPAL what was happening and added that it was kinda, sorta related to an election year civic lesson. Yea, that’s the ticket! (I don’t think she bought it).

I asked the kids if THE PRINCIPAL could have a vote and they agreed. THE PRINCIPAL said she didn’t have any facts to vote on so she asked the “retired cop” group what make them think I was a cop?

One kid said, “Well when he went by Henry’s desk during SSR, he said ‘You have the right to remain silent, and I think you should exercise it’. That sounded like a cop to me”

She then asked the smaller group “Why a computer programmer”. The response was that it "..was so different than all the other guesses, it must be it”

Glancing at the clock, I then told THE PRINCIPAL she had about 30 seconds to choose. She picked the majority vote saying, “Against my initial intuition, I’ll go with cop”

With a dramatic flourish, I then took the eraser poised it above “computer programmer” and as the bell rang, I quickly erased “Cop”.

The kids exploded!

I turned and looked to the back of the room where “THE PRINCIPAL” was applauding and smiling.

I talked to her after the class and explained about the kids getting restless and she told me she understood perfectly. Her comment: “Whatever works”


I then erased “WO” from the word “HOMEWO” and left the building.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Yesterdays assignment: Back to Kindergarten (20 kids).

This job was pretty easy even though a good half of the kids did not speak English as a first language. I was subbing ½ of a K-team with Mr. H. This class even has a long term aid and an ESL language aid to help out.

Four people for 20 kids really does lighten the work day.

The difference in language and reading skills in different schools in the same district was demonstrated in this class.

Mr. H. explained that most if not all of these kids in this class did not have the benefit of the pre-school experience.

I would say that at least 25% of these kids did not speak English. Fortunately, Mr. H is bilingual in Spanish and at least one of the kids can translate for the newest immigrant from Vietnam.

This was their first experience with the “school routine” and it was definitely evident compared to the “country club” Kindergarten.

Mr. H said the Vietnamese boy is picking up Spanish AND English pretty fast from his classmates.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

No Plan...

Yesterdays Assignment: 4th grade (30 students) local country club school.

Tuesday, 4th grade assignment, stormy weather like last Tuesday and NO LESSON PLAN. OMG! It’s deja vu all over again from a week ago!!!

I called the office to ask if there is a special place the lesson plan might be located, wishing like hell this wasn’t going to be a repeat of last Tue.

The office called the teacher at home and hooked us up. She said the “general plan” was in the plan date book and that the kids all knew what/when to do stuff.

With crossed fingers and a little prayer, I met the incoming class at the door.

Sure enough, I was more of a “conductor” instead of a “teacher”. One kid took the role, a second did the homework check and 2-3 of the girls guided me to the location of the teacher’s books for the lessons to be done.

The work day pretty much petered out about 45 mins before the end of class and the noise level started to get out of hand.

I decided to try the “guess my old job” exercise that worked so well with last weeks 6th grade class.

Surprisingly they all got into it with the pretty much the same list as the 6th grade. One kid floored me with “I think you worked for Applied Materials, am I right?”


I couldn’t figure out how this kid knew where I had worked, so I asked her how she came to that conclusion.

She had spotted the logo on the pen in my shirt pocket with the stylized company logo of an “A” on the clip. These country club kids are pretty sharp to spot that logo AND know the company name it goes with it.

She then rattled off several names of people she knew that, evidentially, work for her Dad and sell stuff to Applied.

Gotta stay on my toes around these kids.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Dodge Ball..

Yesterdays Monday Assignment: 1st grade (20 students) Frozen district school

Walked into this classroom and was visually assaulted by “STUFF” on every square inch of wall and floor space. It looked like a teacher supply store exploded and left this classroom crater.

I had to maneuver through the maze of stuff to find the teachers desk behind a wall of cardboard file drawers. It’s obvious this is her retreat from the kids. She certainly can’t teach from this corner kingdom retreat.

Hand written lesson plan and well behaved kids (mostly), had the day going pretty well till late afternoon P.E. that called for “dodge ball”. This game in the other district is banned.

I now know why.

The game, at least as 1st graders do it, is mostly taking the ball and run away from all the other kids trying to take it away from you while all of them scream “It’s MINE”.

A half hour of this is more than enough.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Combo Class...

Assignment: 1st-2nd combo. ½ day afternoon class

After last Tuesday, this was a welcome respite. The kids were enthusiastic, well behaved, and polite. This allowed me to function with the minimum of classroom control required.

Almost makes up for Tues. .............Not quite, but almost.

Met a teacher that taught my daughter when she was Elementary school.
I forgot to show her, her former student’s new baby. I bet that would have made her feel old.

P.S. Every job should have a recess…….

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

No Control...

Assignment: Tuesday 4th grade (32 students) in the south county district late morning call.

Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Ms. R’s 4th grade class. What do these three have in common? They were all bombs of large magnitude.

After Monday’s success, I was looking forward to today’s assignment.

I arrived at the school an hour after the start of class, was handed the teachers lesson plan that she phoned in that morning. Very sketchy and short on details. Not a good sign but I felt after yesterday’s success, I could handle this class.

I even got a break in that it was class picture day (0.5 hour) and Native American Indian Assembly presentation (1.0 hours) and a 40 minute lunch break. This six hour class was down to about 3 hours worth of actual class assignments.

These were the LONGEST THREE HOURS I’ve ever spent.

From the minute I walked in to the minute after I left, I had NO control whatsoever with these kids. Constant talking, throwing things, upset seats. You name it, they were doing it.

They didn’t seem to mind the “consequences”.

I took away “table points” until they were all in the negative and had at least 4 names on the board.

I let them know that I was supposed to write a report about the class progress for their teacher. I asked THEM what they think I should tell their teacher. At least some were honest enough to say they’d probably get an “F” for the day.

I take back the “I think I got this job down…” comment from yesterday.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Consequences List...

Yesterdays Assignment: 6th grade students (27 students) in the newest district.

This is the “top end” of my risk taking in the sub business. Everyone had been telling me that this would probably be the toughest job to deal with because these guys are “almost junior high”.

I wasn’t too reassured when the top item on the lesson plan was the “Consequences List”

Five levels of discipline starting with “name on the board” to “Principal’s office”

What am I getting myself into?

I decided the “Kindergarten” friendly grandpa persona wouldn’t work with this age kids. I decided the straight forward no nonsense approach should be the order of the day.

To my surprise (and relief) this worked pretty well. They were under control for most of the day. One of the kids was asking me what job I had before being a sub. “I bet you were a teacher”.

I let it slide and completed most of the teacher’s lesson plan. We had a few minutes left when some of the kids started pestering me for the “What I did before…” answer.

I thought it would be more interesting to see what they “thought I was” rather than simply telling them.

I had them guess what my old job was before teaching them and the list was interesting to see how they saw me.

The guess list:
Military (2 guesses Army, Navy)
FBI/CIA (2 guesses)
School Principal

I told them that one of these guesses was right and I’d erase the wrong answers one at a time to reveal the right answer just before the end bell was supposed to ring.

There were moans and gasps of mock dismay as I erased each guess until it got down to “School Principal” and “Computers”

Since this was an election year and “voting in class” seemed to be the order of the day, I had them “vote” for which job they think I did.

School Principal – 21 votes
Computers – 6 votes

I think I got this job down………….

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Friday’s ½ day job turned out to be the easiest day yet.

I didn’t even have to teach as my “job” for the day was to assist the afternoon Kindergarten teacher with whatever she needed doing for her class.

Now in my previous Hi-Tech job, I very often would have to generate programming specifications, test plans, proposals and other documents using the latest Hi-Tech tools comprising thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment.

The process would take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks of cut and paste editing from various accessible sources. The end result would be viewed by probably fewer than a dozen people.

My Friday assignment was also a cut and paste project using tools worth, maybe, less than $5. One pair of blunt nosed scissors, Elmer’s all purpose white paste and 20 sheets of construction paper dominated my 3 hour project.

The end result would probably be viewed by 50 to 100 people if you count all the kids, parents and possibility Grandparents.

Puts things into perspective, don’t ya think?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I heard from the “frozen district” office that my prints checked out and I’m ready to sub for them as well as the two I’m working with already.

Tonight I got called from that one AND the south county district to sub for tomorrow.

How about that? All week nothing doing and all of a sudden I have my choice of 3. Well I already accepted the ½ day job offered for tomorrow two days ago so that’s where I’ll go.

When it rains, it pours.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

No sub jobs this week till Friday so I thought I'd post this little story that someone sent me:

According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington recently was faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom.

That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints.

Every night the maintenance man would remove them and the next day the girls would put them back. Several memos were posted about this.

Finally the principal decided that something had to be done.

She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man.

She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required.

He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

Moral of the story!!

(There are teachers, and then there are educators.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

Back to Kindergarten.

Back to the same school and class I had my first sub job at last month.
Wow. Most of the kids actually remembered my name. I'm impressed.

No problems with bathroom breaks. These kids only ask when they actually need to go.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to respond to some of the comments from readers of my blog.

“…No bathroom or water breaks until recess or after-school, are you crazy??? You could get in a lot of trouble for this if one of the students had an accident!..... It's actually against the law where I am to deny them that right…..”

Crazy? No, I don’t think so. Alright, I’m open to changing it from a “rule” to a “guideline”.

I consulted a few other teachers about their handling this situation and this is what they do.

This is in reference to 3rd graders and it did seem to cut down on the traffic in and out of the classroom.

Also, if it really is an obvious situation, I’d certainly make exceptions to the rule. It’s just that I don’t buy the story that groups of five kids all have the urge at the same moment.

Now “bathroom as a legal right” is an interesting concept. I’ll have to look that one up.

“…Offering them money to finish an assignment??? I have never heard of such a thing…. it's inappropriate.”

Point taken. I guess they learn the “work for money” lesson much later in life.

“….And the fact that you lied to the students...that's not the role model you want to be.”

Lie is such a strong adjective. They at least learned that not all problems in life have an answer.

“….I wouldn't be surprised if you begin to have problems with parents if you continue to run a classroom like this when you sub….”

I have a fast car……

Thursday, October 07, 2004

No assignments for today. For the benefit of those who have asked the specifics on “how my area” assigns subs, I offer the following:

I got a call from the “frozen district” office to come in for, yet again, another set of finger prints so I can get enrolled in their automated subbing system for their district. I guess they burned through their existing stash of available sub’s and are willing to sign on a few more.

All the district offices, of which there are several, in this county seem to be using the same automated “sub notification” system. Once registered, you are assigned a unique pin number for each district you wish to sub for.

Teachers can request a specific sub if they have the pin or phone number of their favored sub. If not, they can post the job with a short description of assignment on the automated system for any sub willing to pick it up.

Sub’s can call any time during the day or night and listen and accept any available assignments. Evidentially prime time for subs to call is about 05:00pm for the next day's assignments.

The system will begin calling the sub list at 07:00pm the previous night till about 10:30pm and start up again at 05:00am to about 10:00am or until all the jobs are assigned.

As a sub, you have the option of accepting or rejecting the assignment. Once rejected, you can’t change your mind. The system will not call you twice for the same assignment.

The latest I’ve been auto-called was 09:30am for a 08:30am assignment the same day.

I got a call directly from the local school up the road to sub tomorrow’s Kindergarten. This is the first direct call I’ve had from a school. I’m subbing for the teacher I worked with on my first sub job.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Half day 1st grade...

Today was supposed to be an easy day. The regular teacher needed a sub for just the morning half because she was supposed to monitor a neighboring class next door.

I was half way to the school when I realized I forgot my watch. Not a biggie. All the classrooms had clocks and the schools had bells or sirens for recess and lunch calls.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the classroom at 07:50am was that the clock was stuck at 09:00.

This should have been a forewarning of how this half-a-day was going to progress.

The teacher’s lesson plan was annotated with her own private acronyms. The line item “SW complete BAT assignment” had me searching every book and pile of papers on the desk looking for something labeled “BAT” or with a title that might be the “BAT assignment”. I didn’t even try to find out what “SW” meant.

The teacher arrived shortly thereafter to translate this entry to mean: “Student Will complete the assignment on what they learned about bats yesterday”.

This prompted a further review by the teacher to do some additional translations of her lesson plan that evidentially her “usual sub” was trained to handle.

With the teacher in the next room and an ear cocked to hear what’s happening in my class, the day progressed to recess time. The teacher had to let me know what time that was because this school also had no bells for recess or lunch time breaks.

This school’s yard duty comes with a clipboard with yellow and pink citations to hand out for various infractions of the school yard rules.

The yellow citations are for misdemeanor offenses by kids who call other kids names like “loser”, “poo-poo head” or don’t share the balls etc.

The pink citations are for the BIGGIE felony crimes like: “issuing ethnic slurs”, using the “F-word and others in the same league”, fist fighting, etc and ……………chewing gum.

I guess the janitor unions at this school have a lot of influence.

So with my clipboard festooned with yellow and pink citations I wander the blacktop looking for evidence of wrong doing.

One little girl came up to me with a crushed plastic bottle. I pointed to the trash barrel and she left.

The second time it was a boy with a handful of papers and trash. Weird but again I pointed to the trash barrel.

I started wondering if I was supposed to exam the trash CSI style to uncover evidence for issuance of a pink or yellow citation.

The third kid clued me in that I was supposed to hand out a “green” ticket for good citizenship for each piece of trash properly disposed of.

I had no green tickets. I did offer either a yellow or pink one but got no takers.

The other yard duty person festooned with clip board, whistle and a watch was about to leave for her break before the end of recess when she noted I was short two of the required yard duty items.

In addition to a watch to know when recess is over, I also needed a whistle to command the little tikes back to the classroom. Without these, the students, evidentially would get to have the “Never ending recess of their dreams” if left to me to perform this task.
She took pity on me by saying she’d be back to call them in after her break.

(This is turning out to be the longest four hours of my life)

The post recess day progressed to lunchtime where in I escorted them to the cafeteria and bid them farewell.

Note to self: Get a watch and whistle. You never know when you’re gonna need them.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Day 2 of the 2-day assignment to the 3rd grade...

Day 2 of the 2-day assignment to the 3rd grade.

Well, they had my number this time. Since this was their second experience with me, they were pretty loose and knew I wasn't as fierce as I look. Their regular teacher would be back tomorrow.

The first order of business was the new bathroom rule.

“No bathroom or water breaks until recess or lunch”.

That got a lot of groans and “Ohh! Mannn”s but it seemed to work. Only one kid tested the rule before the rest of them gave up and didn’t try. I had them all repeat it twice to re-enforce the rule.

Much more work for them to do on Mondays than on Fridays. I made a mistake by finishing the work to be done for the morning session about 15 minutes before lunch.

Telling them to “read quietly” didn’t work.

I then asked them if they would like to try a “logic puzzle”.

That perked them up I think basically because I don’t think they had one of these before. I even upped the interest factor by offering anyone who could solve the puzzle a cash prize of $10/ea

Boy, you should have seen the rapt attention THAT statement got. Lot’s of questions like..”You really gonna give us $10 in REAL money if we get it right?”

The puzzle itself is too hard to diagram here, but to suffice it to say, I wasn’t in any danger of laying out any hard cash. They worked like little ants lunching on a fat bug and none of them coming up with a successful solution.

I guess it was a little mean, but I was desperate! I also promised to tell them the secret of the puzzle after lunch.

After lunch, I had to come clean and tell them the puzzle was not solvable and then showed them the simple secret of why it wasn’t.

One kid said he was going to show it to his Dad to try and finagle $5 from him to make up for the “trick” I had played on them.

Post lunch progress went pretty well until the lesson plan got to an item called “Voting basics”. I guess this being in the news lately; it’s got some lesson value.

I asked them if they knew who was running for president next month. I got some interesting answers that included “Jim Carrey .vs. George Washington!!”

The lesson included a part where I was supposed to write a question that they could vote on by holding up a “YES” or “NO” card. We’d then tally the votes and see if the result.

Things like:

“Shall we have coffee instead of milk for lunch?” got voted down by a resounding vote. A vote on a question that included “Ice cream” got a lot of favorable response.

The last and final vote for, “Do we like Mr. Perry for a sub?” got a close 7-5 positive response. The other 6 abstainer’s chickened out.

I should mention at this point that I had NO control of the class or the noise level. They were shouting voting slogans and running around drawing “Vote for Me” signs. Nothing I did could get about half of the class under control.

Surprisingly, there were two or three of the girls actually trying to help the situation by starting my “Count to five trick” to get the class quiet and complaining to the rowdies that they “..wouldn’t be doing this if Ms. N was here!”

Thankfully it came time for P.E. at the end of the day and I turned them all loose.

P.E was finally over and the class day ended. I was beat, tired and wondering how I could have avoided that last “control failure”.

I was also thinking to myself that the assignment was now over and I could go home to a nice cold diet Pepsi and then crash, when one of the girls came up and surprised me with a hug before going off for her ride home.

I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Movin' up in the big leagues. Got called to do a 2-day (Friday and Monday) sub for 3rd grade. After the 1st-2nd combo fiasco, I was a little skeptical that I could handle older kids.

The office didn't seem to know the teacher called in "sick" for both Fri AND the following Monday. Must be the Vegas weekend flu. These kids seemed a little too happy to see a "sub" in the classroom.

Eighteen kids with what must be the tiniest bladders ever. During the morning session they constantly danced with crossed legs claiming "I gotta go BAD". I began to suspect I was being scammed after saying "Not now" where upon they then starting asking for drinks of water.

Note to self: "New rule for Monday, NO bathroom or water breaks till recess or after school."

Other than that things went pretty well. Monday might be another story