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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Standard Substitute Inservice...

The last two days in a 5th and 2nd grade were really great. The kids had a good time, I had a good time and things got done.

Even though the 2nd grade assignment was a last minute call and, of course, didn’t have a lesson plan (…the teacher was in a car accident on the way to school today), it was a pretty mellow class and we even got some math in before the minimum day dismissal bell sent them home at 12:45pm.

It was a REALLY short full payday from 09:00AM to 12:45PM which included a school assembly, two recesses and lunch!

The only real downer of the week was the annual substitute teacher in-service seminar at the district office.

I was hoping to learn some stuff related to student discipline techniques, classroom management, how to turn off the substitute system caller after I already turned down an assignment because I said I was sick (…he was too sick for that 3rd grade class today, but let’s see if he’s well enough for the kinders)

No such luck. Instead we had a presentation of the FOCAL / CTAG (Closing the Achievement Gap) students and how it relates to us. (…We didn’t find out what FOCAL was a acronym for)

For the non-academically affiliated, FOCAL and CTAG are programs supposedly implemented to focus more teacher/class attention to the under achieving and/or slacker students with the goal of getting them to kick it up a gear and buckle down to business. (…my simple minded interpretation, not theirs)

The obvious question was asked: “How does this relate to us? We’ve never seen a list of CTAG or FOCAL students on any lesson plan or what we’re supposed to do with them.”

There’s a Catch-22. For confidentially reasons, the teachers aren’t allowed to disclose kids identified for CTAG/FOCAL to the substitute teachers. We’re supposed to figure it out for ourselves and do the best we can.

Doing “the best we can with minimal info and preparation” is pretty much the job description of a “substitute teacher” anyway, so this in-service was pretty much a waste of time.

Maybe I should change the post title to: “Sub Standard Inservice...”

Monday, October 23, 2006

Yes, No, Hello, Goodbye, Trashcan...


While I have subbed in classes where some of the kids don’t speak or understand much English, but there have always been other bilingual kids there to help translate instructions and questions. Not so with today’s class of thirty-three 6th graders. I had one very shy Thai girl, “J”, that didn’t speak or understand English.

I asked the kids if there were any other bilingual Thai kids in class. No!

I asked if there were any other bilingual Thai kids in the school. “YES! She has a sister in another class, but she doesn’t speak English either.”

I evidentially didn’t emphasize the “BI” part of bilingual. Surprisingly, her parents didn’t send her to school with a “Thai-English” dictionary either.

“How does your teacher communicate with J.?”

“She knows the words ‘yes, no, hello, goodbye and trashcan’… For everything else the teacher uses hand signs and gestures”

With few alternative solutions, we began our day of classroom assignments. The little Thai girl could handle most of the math assignments well enough until we got to “mean, mode, median and average”. Try to explain those concepts with hand gestures.

The rest of the assignments were a total loss for her. She sat quietly watching the other girls at her table during class.

During the writing assignment, a cart of thirty-five wireless Apple laptops was wheeled in from the computer lab. These laptops are available for the kids to access the internet for informational research.

This gave me an idea. I asked one of the other girls at J’s table to do a search for an online “English to Thai dictionary”. Surprisingly, they found a pretty good one that allowed English words and phrases to be translated into Thai. Unfortunately it is a one way process as the laptop has only the English keyboard character set.

But this allowed J. to hunt and peck English words and learn the meanings. I checked and got permission from the computer lab to let her keep one of laptops for the rest of the day.

I feel like I accomplished something useful today!

“Hello. Goodbye Trashcan!”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Substitute Union?...


"...The workers who fill in as teaching assistants, special education assistants, clerks and custodians reached an agreement with the Santa Clara County Office of Education on Sept. 18, winning the right to collectively bargain for improved wages and benefits as members of SEIU Local 715."

Interesting to see what category of "substitute" isn't included.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sony Bravia, So Cool...

Not school related but this is so cool, I had to share...

Video link here

Seeds Week...


A couple of weeks ago, our TIVO “suggestions feature” picked and recorded the PBS Nature series: “The Seedy Side of Plants”.

It’s all about seed propagation, plant cycles, seed dispersal and…..bats and aardvarks pooping fig and melon seeds. Perfect addition to my backup activities bag for that unplanned dead time in class.

This week was ALL 4th graders. Two different schools, two different districts, totally different atmosphere.

The first two day assignment at the country club school was with 24 very well behaved, intelligent kids. It all went pretty easy. They were running through the assignments so fast, that they were becoming bored with all that extra silent reading and down time between lessons.

Me: “How many of you have seen the movie “Holes”?
Them: “Yea! It’s really funny! Are we gonna get to see the movie?...”
Me: “No! You get the sequel about what goes into holes. It’s all about seeds.”
Them: “GROAN!”

By the end of the video, the class comments seemed pretty evenly split between:

1) Eeeeewwwww! Grossss!
2) This is so awesome!

The third day was with a class of 35 kids. Lesson plan included a “Halloween art project” involving paper, scissors, glue, crayons and black paint! This turned out to be more or less partially controlled chaos.

No matter how carefully you explain what parts to cut and what not to cut, they cut wrong, painted wrong, colored wrong. I had a mess of paper parts and paint mixed with glue on tables and carpet.

After lunch, the lesson plan indicated a science project on.......“Seed identification and dispersal”!!!

The lesson plan explanation was an entire page, included worksheets, six little cups with different kinds of seeds to be passed from table to table, magnification lenses for seed examination that the teacher was very worried about losing. I was also directed to do a reading from a book about “Plant Sex”.

I looked at all six delicate little seed cups, the precious magnifier lenses and then at the art project debris on the back table that I would have to clean up after class and saw visions of seeds dumped all over the floor in the paint and glue mix.

The temptation and video topic convergence was too tempting to ignore. I bagged on the project and science class got the video instead. First time viewing for them, second time this week for me.


1) Eeeeewwwww! Grossss!
2) Oooohhh!
3) This is so cool!

I penned a note the teacher report that I wasn’t confidant about doing the seed project the way I knew she would want it done so I showed the video instead.

I hope she understands.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Matters of Compelling Importance...

The automated substitute calling system is a great tool for any school district that can afford one. The sub can set a “not available” date range to tell the system not to call for assignments. Likewise I can indicate certain days of the week I’m otherwise occupied.

The system accurately tracks which assignments are still open, which assignments were taken, which assignments were canceled by the school, and which assignments were declined by the substitute.

The last feature, declining an assignment, requires the substitute to provide a reason for turning down the assignment. The choice has to be selected from a carefully researched and significantly important list of district reasons for ducking an assignment.

Presumably the data is collected and carefully analyzed to determine trends or problems with the quality of the substitute labor pool or schools using the system. Presumably, reports of epidemic illness among substitutes could be quickly detected and a response team would be activated to deal with the crisis. Assignment turndowns for all assignments at a particular school just might indicate a problem that the district might want to investigate.

All in all, it’s a pretty neat tool if correctly used. So what am I supposed to make of the following list of “significantly important” reasons to decline an assignment from one of the districts I work?


Reason you are declining this assignment is…

Press 1 – Illness

Press 2 – Vacation

Press 3 – Jury Duty

Press 4 – Matters of Compelling Importance

Press 5 – Medical / Dental

Press 6 – Legal

Press 7 – Graduation

Press 8 – Paternity Leave

Press 9 – Maternity Leave

In the three years I’ve worked for this district, I’ve only used codes #1 and #4 when declining an assignment. The rest don’t apply to any real world statically useful purpose.

For example:


If I’m on vacation, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be around to answer the phone to decline the assignment and enter this code.

#3 & #6

Subs don’t get compensated for jury duty. Anyway wouldn’t “legal” include “jury duty”?

Also, if I’m going to be away for a sentence of 2 to 5, I’d use the “vacation” or “matter of compelling importance” reason.

#5 & #7

I have an important appointment. Medical, dental, legal, graduation, I wanna see my kid’s first soccer game. It’s all the same to the school district as to why I’m not available for the day. To me it’s all a “matter of compelling importance”.

#8 & #9

Oh, come on! Maternity OR Paternity leave? Isn’t this just splitting hairs just a bit TOO thin? We don’t get paid for either so I believe this should fall under #2 or #4


So what would I propose instead of the current “reason to decline” list? It would certainly contain some useful information that a school district might make use for one thing. As a first attempt, how about:


Reason I’m declining this assignment is…

Press 1 – Sick.

Translation: real or imagined illness, sports injury, one too many TSINGTAO’s last night, mental health day after yesterday’s disaster of a class.

Press 2 – No transportation.

Translation: School car is in need of repair again. Suggest I’ll work if you send a ride or pay me more so I can keep my car in good repair.

Press 3 – Not available.

Translation: Not sick and I don’t want to give you a specific reason.

Press 4 – Scheduling conflicts.

Translation: Medical, legal, parole officer or other appointments I need to keep.

Press 5 – Working in a better paying district today.

Translation: All else being equal, you guys are always going to be second choice.

Press 6 – Won’t work in that school again.

Translation: self explanatory. Call me if you want details.

Press 7 – Won’t work that particular class again.

Translation: self explanatory. Call me if you want details.

Press 8 – Won’t work for that teacher again.

Translation: self explanatory. Call me if you want details.

Press 9 – Personal business.

Translation: Matters of Compelling Importance


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lack of Planning...

Whoever said: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" wasn’t a substitute teacher. Lacking or getting the plan last minute certainly DOES constitute an emergency on my part.

Arriving for my classroom assignment, I have exactly 30min before class to go over the plan for the day, locate all the materials indicated and try to make sure I know when the recess, lunch , dismissal important stuff is supposed to be happening.

This class assignment was arranged more than two weeks ago, so I wasn’t expecting the teacher to be in the room hacking away on his computer when I arrived.

“I’m just finishing up your lesson plan for today. Just a couple more minutes…”

I’m polite and say: “Sure no problem…” but quietly, I AM concerned. Last minute plans even if nicely data processed aren’t going to be checked for accuracy and that’s guaranteed to cause an emergency problem for me.

The “couple more minutes” actually lasted more like “all the minutes”.

He printed off the plan and got it to me about two minutes before the first students hit the door. As a result, I messed up the very first student assignment after the roll was taken.

xx:xxam “Handout worksheets for Mountain Math & Mountain Language. The kids know what to do”

I dutifully handed out worksheets and the kids started working on them.

Then hands started rising and I was informed that they had already had these two worksheets yesterday. That’s when I checked page two of the plan and found:

“Before the students enter the room, please turn over the colorful cards on the wall”.

Not knowing that “colorful cards” was part of the “Mountains” assignment and not having advance time to figure out exactly what “colorful cards on the wall” was all about, I of course lost about 15mins of class time flipping the f-ing cards and having the kids erase the part of the worksheets they had partially filled out.

xx:xxam “State capitols test”

Before handing out the test papers, I checked farther down the plan where I found a last minute note

“also, have D. roll up the United States rug with all the capitols listed before handing out the test”.

I’m beginning to catch on quick to this stream of conscious lesson plan format.

The day progresses and we have a break a few minutes before dismissal. I ask the kids if they had ever had a sub in this class before me. They inform me that I was the first one for a whole day. The last sub was only in to cover for an hour.

I met with the teacher after school and went over some of the disconnects I had with the lesson plan. He profusely apologized numerous times for the last minute planning and some of the not so clear plan directions. Evidentially, I was his first “real” substitute.

I’m sure this experience will benefit the next substitute in his class.

It might even be ME!...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wondering About Being Paranoid...

Sorry for not posting much lately but as it happens I’m taking a short sabbatical from the classroom in order to care for granddaughter #2.

Both were born on the 13th of the month and at 18 months, she is exactly 6 months younger than granddaughter #1.

While the little pistol naps, I get some “online time”.

I’ll be back in a 5th grade class on the 12th.

While browsing the statcounter blog statistics, I saw that someone in Admin. Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C. spent 13 minutes reading 18 of my blog posts.

Does this mean I’m about to get tagged for jury duty?

Just wondering about being paranoid...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tooth Fairy Inflation...


Lots of substitute call activity this morning:

1) 05:50 I missed this first call. By the time I fumbled the phone off the hook and realized the phone was switched to the second line, the answering machine downstairs had taken a message and sub system had hung up..

2) 06:30 First grade class assignment would have been “ok” except the teacher attempted to leave a verbal sub plan on the special instructions part of the recording which included the first three digits of her cell phone number to contact her if I needed anything before the sub line recording cut the rest of it off. I interpret this to mean there is no written lesson plan available today. Pass.

3) 06:40 Call from my shit listed school. Hang up before even finding out what class assignment it was.

4) 07:10 Duplicate call for #2. Evidentially all the other subs turned down the “audio lesson plan” teacher and the system had run through the entire sub list without any takers. Pass for a second time.

5) 07:30 Call for the same school as call #2 and #4 but for grade 3 starting at 08:00am. Does this indicate an attempt for a “bait-n-switch”? Show up for grade three and get the phoned in lesson plan grade 1 assignment?

So today after passing on the first four calls of the morning, I had a great day with this third grade class. The only thing of blog worthiness was the dark haired girl in the front with a loose tooth giving me hourly updates on its attachment status. She finally pushed it loose toward the end of class.

I asked what the going rate for tooth fairy collections was; she told me it was $5 !! This was a shocker. I was expecting maybe fifty cents.

I took an informal poll with the rest of the kids asking what the going rate was at their house.

A good number of kids informed me that they get $10/per!! Others informed me that they get $20/per if it’s a “silver tooth”!!

This last rate coming from kids whose dental work seems to have been done outside the U.S. as I don’t think silver caps are done here anymore.

Most of the kids verified that $1 was the median going rate for dental exchange in their home.

This must have a shocker of a news bulletin for the one little girl who told me she only gets twenty-five cents.

Monday, October 02, 2006

JMHO - Half Day...


If you have a choice of taking the morning or afternoon session of a half day assignment, take the afternoon. The pay rate is the same.

With the afternoon session, you can sleep late and it usually includes your 40min lunch.

Seats Up or Down...

...just when I thought some of OUR government laws were getting a bit too intrusive, along comes News From Norway.

(Reprinted here anticipating the story will age off the net soon...)

"...A local decision that schoolboys must sit on toilet seats when urinating has provoked political debate.

The head of The Democrats Party, a splinter group of former Progress Party hardliners, Vidar Kleppe, is outraged that boys at Dvergsnes School in Kristiansand have to sit and pee.

Kleppe accuses the school of fiddling with God's work, and wants the matter discussed at the executive committee level of the local council, newspaper Dagbladet reports.

"When boys are not allowed to pee in the natural way, the way boys have done for generations, it is meddling with God's work," Kleppe told the newspaper.

"It is a human right not to have to sit down like a girl," Kleppe said.

Principal Anne Lise Gjul at Dvergsnes School would not comment on Kleppe's plans to make political waves and regretted if anyone was offended by the ban on standing and passing water.

Gjul told NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) that the young boys are simply not good enough at aiming, and the point was to have a pleasant toilet that could be used by both boys and girls.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Girl-On-Boy Fight...


I spent another Thursday/Friday stint in grade six this week. This two day assignment started out great the first day, but ended in a fight in the classroom only two hours before dismissal on Friday.

The class was great all day Thursday and most of Friday. They were on track, attentive, doing the required work. We had just come back to the classroom after P.E. I was looking in the teacher’s history text for the indicated afternoon lesson, when a chair was overturned. I looked up to see two students exchanging a couple of wild punches with each other.

The surprising part was that it wasn’t boy-on-boy or girl-on-girl but……girl-on-boy!


Was that ME who said that? I surprised myself by immediately ejecting the pair from class. It was reflex.

I wasn’t surprised that the boy was involved. He’d been giving me just a touch more attitude than anyone else in the class, but the girl surprised me. She hadn’t appeared anywhere on my radar as a possible problem.

I guess after last week’s G6 assignment, I didn’t want bother to find out what the fight was about, who started it, who was right or wrong. I just wanted them gone. Let the office sort it out and inform me of the results if they want.

Over the next hour, three calls from the office, and four different student witness visits the principals’ office evidentially sorted out the guilty culprit(s).

I don’t really know the outcome. I’m only the sub. I’m sure the teacher will get a full accounting of who did what to whom first and the imposition of any punishment to be dealt.

But…when the sub line called tonight to work in another tough reputation of a school for yet another sixth grade assignment tomorrow morning, I didn’t hesitate long in declining the job.

I need more time to forget…