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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas - 2009

Merry Christmas - 2009!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nonsensical Nickname Nominations…

Well, school is out until the first week in January. I managed to get four days subbing in for the whole month of December.

In my personal quest to curtail the tattling issue when school resumes, I need your help. Trying to play “Judge Judy” to determine who called who “booger brain” or said a “bad” word first is a losing proposition for all parties concerned. Having the offenders say “sorry” and shake hands just doesn’t do it for me.

Last May I gave two incensed little boys (it seems to be ALWAYS boys for some reason) my own nicknames they could call each other and sent them on their way.

Last update I received from “Ear Wax” was that he was still friends with “Nose Hair”. I haven’t been back to Toe Jam & Arm Pit’s school to see if it had the same success there.

It occurred to me that if this method of “bickering resolution” continues to be successful, I’m going to run out of pre-thought out nicknames to use. I suppose I can mix and match from my current list but I thought I’d solicit some additional candidates from my reading audience.

Remember, these are 6-11yr old boys but in case I have a situation with girls, lets keep it clean and gender neutral. Use the comments section for your “nonsensical nickname nomination” and I’ll append it to the list if I think I can use it.

My List So Far: (red ones are my favorite reader picks so far)
  • Nose Hair & Ear Wax
  • Toe Jam & Arm Pit
  • Chin Strap & Knee Cap (has a nice rhyme to it)
  • Elbow and Ear lobe (Thanks Ricochet!)
  • Toe Nail & Nose Bone (Thanks Mrs_Dem)

(…totally unacceptable submissions will be deleted. Let’s keep it clean)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Physical Education (PE)

I picked up surprise assignments for Thursday and Friday. It was a surprise because it was for one of the schools I rarely see on the sub system. In six years of subbing, I’ve been to this school exactly twice before.

I’m not sure when PE was instituted for class levels below middle school, but it was sometime after I last attended. In High School we had PE clothes to change into for class. You could get out of PE class if you had a medical excuse or you were a member of one of the sports teams. In all cases, PE meant you were supposed to exert yourself enough to soak your PE clothes with sweat.

From personal observation, PE means “Pathetic Enthusiasm” when it comes to any kind of organized exercises for elementary school kids. Even the obligatory final “take two laps” is taken at a leisurely walk by a good number of the kids.

When I was informed that, because of the rain, the PE class for my 4th graders would be held in the cafeteria/common room with the three other 4th grades I wasn’t expecting anything more than the usual “Pathetic Enthusiasm” of non-exercise.

I was wrong.

A sound system was rolled out and a video on the 12 foot projection screen started. “Tae Bo Kicks for Kids” had over a hundred 4th graders kicking, twisting, and moving to the beat. It was actually fun to watch them.

No, not all were in sync all the time, but at the end I did see more than a few sweat stains.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Must Be Nice…

I subbed two 5th grade classes on Monday & Tuesday this week. The first was a tough day, the second pretty easy.

Those were the only subbing days I’ve worked since the Thanksgiving break. Five days of vacation break followed by an additional seven days of no calls.

“Must be nice”, she said going out the door to work while I’m lounging in my PJ’s.

My wife has one of those regular jobs where they expect you to show up for work on a regular basis. She’s also into a ton of extra curricular, non-paying activities that most times make for some real long days away from the house.

She’s tired and stressed. She’s got too much to do and not enough time to do it all. I understand completely what she’s feeling. She’d like to have more time to herself. She’d like an unscheduled day, week or even a month off. I know I enjoy it!

I don’t have to ask for a day off or “get it approved” by anyone. I don’t need a reason. I don’t have to prepare for someone else to do my job for me in case I have to cancel at the last moment. It’s actually pretty stress free most of the time.

While regular teachers DO get a lot of time off, I get even more. I get the three months of summer plus 3-4 weeks during the school year for the scheduled holiday weeks. I also get any days that I can’t work due to personal commitments and days where I simply “don’t wanna go”. Add to that the days I don’t work because I’m not needed and it sometimes seems like I’m not working at all!

So when she says: “Must be nice”, I know I’m supposed to feel guilty. To assuage that guilt, I simply state that she could have all those same benefits (plus low pay) that I have. All she has to do is quit and start substitute teaching too!

But…she reads this blog and “must be nice” doesn’t much come to mind compared to her current job.

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!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

In a Rut...

I’ve gotten myself in a rut.

Teachers prefer bypassing any automated “random sub” assignment system in favor of a short list of substitutes they personally know. This is why new substitutes don’t get much work at first.

There are thirteen schools in the school district I work, but the last couple of years I seem to be getting 95% of all my assignments from only two schools. After five years on the job, I’m one of the first substitutes they call when they need a substitute and as a result I’m rarely available to work any other school.

That’s good and bad.

The good is that the kids all know me in those two schools and I “know” most of them even if I can’t remember specific names. The bad is that I’m probably missing out on other assignments when these two schools experience lulls in subbing assignments.

One way to “break out” of such a rut is to accept half-day assignments at schools I rarely hear from.

Most subs don’t like taking “half days” because it’s only “half pay”. It seems hardly worth the effort when the possibility for a full day and full pay assignment might have been the next call.

Last week I took a “half day” from a 1st year 6th grade teacher I didn’t know at a school I rarely hear from.

I was even able to double end this assignment with a 2nd “half day” with one of my regular schools because the teachers at both schools arranged it. It seems they had to observe each other in the classroom as part of some teacher evaluation assignment.

This week the 1st year teacher called on Monday to ask if I would take her class on Thursday. She said her class had a very positive response to my short time with them and she didn’t know any reliable subs to call.

If this works out right, I might have increased my “regular schools” pool by 50%.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Operation Christmas Child 2009

Another worthy public service project...

Our church, several others and the local high school have participated in this project each year for the last few years now. Claudette had fun taking the grand-girls out shopping for little toys to fill four shoe boxes. We'll be down at the church this Saturday morning wrapping and packing several hundred boxes to send out.

I'm sure there is a church or organization in your area if you wish to help with a shoebox donation of your own.

Thank You!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Donors Choose...

A public service announcement:
I've heard more than a few good stories about "Donors Choose" so...

For the month of November, if you post a "thank a teacher" video to, you will get $25 to give toward any special project or classroom supply request posted to

Also, you can give a shout out to your favorite teacher on twitter -- just post #MyTeacherMyHero Teacher Name, Subject, School, City, State.

The teacher as well as the school that tallies the most mentions on #MyTeacherMyHero during American Education Week (that's this week) will each be awarded a special donation of $1,000 toward the supplies or project of their choice.

Whether it's books or beakers, for second graders or sophomores, in Honolulu or Hartford there are thousands of classroom needs represented. Since launching in 2000, has channeled over $40 million to 2.6 million students in classrooms nationwide.

A social video website, My Teacher, My Hero came together to honor those teachers who have touched lives -- with the hope that their stories will inspire others to pursue the teaching profession (if we cannot change the pay scale, then we can at least acknowledge teachers' important role in our society).

Details can be found online at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Odds & Ends

I was informed by one of my loyal readers that it’s been more than two weeks since I’ve written anything related to actual school stuff. I was told that posting videos and math problems don’t count.

So, Gary…from the “Odd things I noticed while at school” diary these last couple of weeks:

3rd grade: Be sure to remove the headphones plug from the cassette player to make the speakers play. I should have tested the player before school instead of the instant I needed it at the start of the reading lesson.

4th grade: Assigned nicknames for a different pair of tattlers – “Toe Jam” and “Arm Pit”

4th&6th grades: Subbed two classes at two different schools in a single day. The 6th graders were better behaved.

The teachers were required to observe each other in their respective classrooms for some kind of teacher evaluation process. I got paid for a single full day instead of two half days which would have paid more.

5th grade: First time I’ve ever seen two sign in sheets for substitute teachers in the office. Twenty out of twenty-seven teachers out in a single day!

1st grade: Dealing with the little Khan man again. I see a little improvement. At least he isn’t pretending not to know English any more.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jack Webb on Healthcare

I wonder how many followers of this blog are old enough to know the "Jack Webb" reference?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Brain Twister

(From the same 5th grade test...)

This is the other question I missed on the test. Actually, I gave up because we ran out of time. You have 10 minutes. GO!!

(Click pink to enlarge...)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

How Many Squares?

What does a substitute teacher do during 5th grade math tests? Sometimes he takes it himself. It's embarrassing if he can get only four of six problems correct.

This WAS a tough little practice test. Six questions and 30minutes to complete. The best student score was 4 correct...same as mine. Take the test to see how you do. Then "comment" with your answer. No cheating please!

How many squares do you see?

(I missed one !!**%$&^% square! ...had to look on the answer sheet to find it)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Inclement Day Session...

I’ve heard rumors about some areas of the country where they cancel school due to heavy snow and impassable roads. I say rumors because I’ve never experienced one. Here, in Silicone Valley California, we rarely get snow. The couple of times in the last 40 years when it actually did snow on the valley floor, it was gone in a few hours. We do have the occasional “rainy day” session where recess and or lunch is held in the classroom but in reality, the weather here rarely interferes with school activities.

That’s why I was surprised yesterday by the office noon time announcement that due to the “cold windy conditions”, teachers should decide if they want to allow the kids to eat lunch in the classroom as there wasn’t room in the cafeteria to eat indoors. Half the cafeteria had been taken over by the Halloween Haunted House they were running this week. I stepped outside to see what “cold windy conditions” the principal was talking about.

The classroom is situated near a small curved stadium like seating area outside the classroom door. It’s in bright sunshine and must have been in the mid 60’s with just a bit of a breeze reaching the bottom steps of the protected seating area.

Eat inside because of rain, falling snow, raging floods, freezing temperatures or even typhoon force winds, I might relent. But, a little bit of Calif breeze? No way!

“But it’s so COLD!!” says the kid standing in front of me dressed in T-shirt, shorts and shoes without socks as I’m locking the classroom door.

“Remember this moment when you get dressed for school tomorrow morning”, was my reply as I lead them off to get lunch.

Coming back to the classroom after lunch, I see that the door to the classroom is wide open and no one around. Evidentially, someone had talked the janitor into unlocking classroom door to allow some kids to eat inside. I don’t know if there was any adult supervision while I was away, but no one closed the door after they left.

Fortunately, the teacher’s laptop computer, portable document camera and, more importantly, my personal subbing bag looked to be unmolested.

I see that it isn’t just kids who seem to be lacking some common sense.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Old School in the Hi-Tech Classroom…

I’m in the same classroom, for the same teacher, in the same HI_TECH classroom where I had a brain-fart, screw-up with the SmartBoard.

Everything that went so smoothly last time, didn’t work so well this time.

He was in the classroom when I arrived doing last minute preparation to configure the applications and lesson plan on the computer. After he left to make his jury appointment, I discovered:
  1. The lesson plan on the hard drive was the old plan I used last week. Fortunately he printed a hard copy for today’s class.
  2. The application files on the hard disk were the ones for last week’s lesson also and useless for today.
  3. The flash drive with the backup lesson plan and application files disappeared. I think he had it in his pocket when he left.
  4. Yard duty and library time were not indicated on the lesson plan. I missed both until it was too late to do anything about.
  5. For some reason the audio on the Apple Notebook computer was not functional so that meant the planned instructional video was useless unless all the kids could read lips.
Fortunately all the teacher edition books were still there and we conducted class “old school” style with pen, pencil, paper and real books.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Walk Don’t Walk…

At the elementary school, yard duty is actually pretty boring duty. Be the adult presence in the yard. Walk around and keep the peace. Attempt to have the eyes in the back of your head to see that errant basketball before it hits you in the back.

“Walk! Don’t run!” is the order of the day even though it seems counter productive to not to encourage a healthy activity like running just for the fun of it.

Someone might fall and hurt themselves is the explanation. But we’re sending mixed signals, commanding kids to “RUN! Don’t walk!” laps during P.E. class. These are the same kids who would willingly chase after each other at tilt-a-whirl speed for the entire 20min recess if we let them.

The playgrounds we had when we went to school were all concrete or asphalt. Yea, there were some skinned knees and sore elbows, but it was part of the risk of having fun. You quickly learned the limits of your gymnastic ability.

Now the school playgrounds, where all the climbing bars, swings and slides are located, have a spongy rubber matted surface underlay to cushion any fall. Does this reduce the risk of injury? My informal observations seem to indicate that kids tend to jump off swings and climbing bars from much higher heights than I ever remember doing.

I guess I’m supposed to discourage jumping off things any higher than a foot or so but they don’t seem to be injuring themselves, so I let it slide. They’re having fun.

(…Why is that teacher with the horrified look running over here? Should blow my whistle and yell at her to “WALK, DON’T RUN?”)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking For Nose Hair…

I was on recess yard duty today when a kid walks up: “Hi! Do you remember me?”

Honestly, the only kids’ names I remember are the ones that are memorable for all the wrong reasons. This kid didn’t jog any of the incidents I usually write about so I asked for a hint.

EW: I’m Ear Wax! Remember? You gave me and (another name/face I don’t remember) the nicknames Nose Hair and Ear Wax!! That was REALLY funny!

His new buddy standing next to him is nodding his concurrence about the funniness factor of that day.

Me: Ahhh! Yes, I DO remember that. How are you and Nose Hair doing this year? Are you still friends?

EW: Yea! We still are friends except he’s in a different class this year.

He then ran off, I assume looking for Nose Hair.

Friday, October 09, 2009

SmartBoard Clean-up…

I just finished a week long assignment in a 5th grade classroom that had THE total Uber-SmartBoard setup. This teacher is hot into the new tech classroom equipment.

SmartBoard Keyboard, SmartBoard tablet, SmartBoard stylus, SmartBoard mini-mouse and Doc-Reader.

All lesson plans, books, worksheets, videos, student selector applications, lesson videos; EVERYTHING was on the computer for use on the SmartBoard. The amazing thing was it all worked!

(He also had hard copies of the lesson plans and the teacher’s manuals for backup…just in case.)

This isn't the first time I've encountered SmartBoards. I've used them in several classes over the last couple of years. Every time I encounter one of these SmartBoard setups, there are written precautions in the plans about not treating it like an ordinary whiteboard.

Don’t use Sharpies on the SmartBoard!!
Don’t use pencils on the SmartBoard!!
Don’t use crayon on the SmartBoard!!
Don’t use ballpoint pens on the SmartBoard!!
Don’t use Dry Erase markers on the SmartBoard!!
Don’t use ANYTHING except SmartBoard pens on the SmartBoard or…ELSE!!

(See Rule #1)

So...on that LAST day (today) of the assignment, I was using the whiteboard to write something just to the left of the SmartBoard when one of the kids asked me about a question on the worksheet displayed on the SmartBoard.

You know what comes next…

I turned and wrote the number "2" while starting to explain the problem in question and…I knew it as soon as I did it. I was holding a black DryErase pen.

I didn't need the chorus of "Noooo's" from the classroom to tell me that I had just royally screwed up. I’ve never broken Rule #1 since these things started showing up in classrooms…until now!

While looking for something that might be used to clean the screen, I found a container of germicidal wipes. Luckily almost every school classroom is H1N1 phobic these days and has these things on hand to wipe down desk tops and sinks. It had a familiar odor.

Fortunately from my previous employment in HiTech, I know that Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) is used to clean electronic equipment without using abrasives or leaving residue. I hoped that it might work on SmartBoard screw-ups without damage.

I tested a wipe on just a small spot on the screen and the marker came right off. I verified that the screen still worked over that area before erasing the rest of my dumb blunder. The board was working fine for the rest of the period.

Now, I might have gotten away without the teacher knowing how bad I screwed up but there was the small matter of those 28 little witnesses seated behind me.

I added my confession to my end of day report.

I may not have a future at this school come Monday morning.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


We've been on vacation this last week so that's the reason there haven't been any blog updates.

Even though I had notified the district that I wouldn't be available for a week, I still had four SubFinder call attempts and two teacher calls waiting for me when we returned Friday night.

I don't take a computer on vacation and don't have a cell phone or email access but through a convoluted set of connections, a teacher was still able to contact me to ask that I take his 5th grade class for a week starting Monday.

While talking to the bellman at the resort we were staying at, I discovered that he is a teacher at the local high school and works at this second job on weekends.

When I told him that I was a substitute teacher back home, he said I could probably work every school day on the island of Kauai at $175/day even though the school district has implemented "Furlough Fridays" and cut the school year by 17 days.

I declined the offer...

(Guess which beach this is to win a virtual piƱa colada...)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good Class In a Not So Good Neighborhood…


I sub at this school maybe 3-4 times a year. I believe that the last time I was here, the police had just nabbed a guy that lived in the apartments bordering the school for murdering his girlfriend and dumping the body at the city landfill.

As we were coming up to the first recess, a man entered from a connecting classroom and ran out our door.

“Uhh…Who was THAT?”, I asked the kids. “That’s Jesse the janitor”, they answered with no further explanation.

A bit later there is an announcement that recess will be delayed until further notice and that the teachers are to keep the kids in the classroom until otherwise informed.

It seems that a kid (teenager) from the neighborhood was kicked out of his house and decided to take a nap…on the school field. When asked to leave, he replied: “That ain’t gonna happen” and went back to sleep. That was when the police were called to haul his ass away.

I found this out in the teachers lounge at lunch from the teacher that tried to get the kid to leave without involving the police. He told me that police actions like this happen on campus two or three times a year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Odd Questions and an AARPH…

Just an odd collection of questions and new information I learned in the 1st and 4th grade classes I had last week.

“Aren’t you too old to remember stuff?”

Kind of a rude question but I WAS wondering if I had left the garage door open when I left for school this morning.

“Where’s my pink jacket?”

I’m betting this comes up a lot about other items of clothing that this kid may or may not have worn to school. I thought she was asking to volunteer an answer to the math question I asked the class.

On a 1st grade sentence board: “My dog says “Aarph!”

Maybe in some other weird English speaking country they do but here in America, dogs say “Arf!” Just ask Little Orphan Annie or her dog Sandy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 20?

The StatCounter has been running a bit higher than normal.

Investigating a bit, I discovered that I'm listed as #16 on a list of Top 20 Teacher Blogs on the Scholastic Resources web site!

Who Knew?

Friday, September 18, 2009


Today I took a bold step into the unknown. I subbed a half day, pre-algebra class in middle school.

Up to now, I have limited my subbing experience exclusively to the lower grades (k-6th). Seeing how 6th graders act at the end of the school year, I could just imagine how bad they’d be as 7th and 8th graders. This year I toyed with the idea of just trying out to see how different it might be to sub in the upper grades.

This assignment was perfect for getting a taste of what subbing was like at this level. A half day assignment in the afternoon that included a prep-period had me exposed to only two sections of pre-Algebra class.

Since I hadn’t been at this school before, I arrived early, checked in and went out to my classroom already in progress. The knock at the door was answered by a face that displayed the expressions of surprise, incomprehension, confusion and a blurted “What are YOU doing here”?

With that comment the rest of the class turned to see who the kid, that I know as a “troubled leader” since the 3rd grade, was talking about.

About half of the class recognized me and greeted me with “Hi! Mr. Homework!!” while the other half suddenly seemed very curious and perplexed about this stranger with the odd name.

Now that I had unintentionally interrupted the class, I signaled that they should pay attention and get back to work. After they had been given a math quiz to start, the teacher came over to go over the lesson plan for the day.

“I guess a lot of these kids already know you Mr. Homer?” She said in greeting. I introduced myself as Mr. P while correcting and explaining the misheard nickname.

While the class quietly worked, she went over the lesson plan and answered the few questions I had about how to do the roll since I didn’t have access to the online roll system the teachers use. At the end of the period, she and the class exited the room and I waited for my first introduction to a middle school class.

Both classes were clones of each other.

The first few kids arriving early expecting to see their regular teacher instead saw a “Blast from the Past” as Mr. Homework was standing at the front of the classroom. A few even did double takes before a smile of recognition appeared.

I knew about half of the kids in each period and of course the other half wanted to know what the deal was. Even though I had written my real name on the board, “my” kids kept referring to me as Mr. Homework. A few of the new kids asked about the name but time constraints didn’t allow the telling of the full story. I replied that they should ask one of “my kids” to tell the story after school and left it at that. Both periods ended really well. I had no problems and the kids didn’t act up at all.

I think I like middle school…so far.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Say "Yes" to "No"

I SO want to try this with my granddaughters to see what happens...

Also...How another group of kids did. One even looks like one of my granddaughters...

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

(HT to Alexander Rosso over on "This Week in Education")

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Criers and a Khan Man…

Finally back in the classroom after a slow start for this year. The assignment was 1st grade and the teacher warned me that I had two criers in class. She told me that she would be on campus in training and would check in later in the day to see how things were going.

I’m pretty good with little kids. Kids this age don’t hold anything back. Feelings, thoughts, idle curiosity, random urges, everything and anything will eventually be articulated at unexpected times.

They don’t mean anything bad or nasty when they blurt out what might be considered inappropriate or rude comments coming from older kids or adults. It just means they are observant and stating an observation. Situational restraint is a learned behavior. It’s best to acknowledge their comment and try to divert attention to something else.

A little hand goes up in the back row.

Me: “Yes?”
Li’ll guy: “You have no hair on your head!”
Me: “You’re right. Ok, let’s finish taking roll call”

Before she left, the teacher informed me about the criers.

“The girl will quietly sob all day wanting to ‘go home’. The boy is extremely insecure and not at the level of the rest of the class academically. He will probably be hysterically bawling his eyes out before the first recess as he has done every day since school started. Just have the principle come get him as he has done every day since school started.”

My goal today was to see just how much crying I could stand before calling in the heavy guns.

She didn’t warn me about little Khan.

Khan simply ignored me in favor of wandering the room, bugging other kids, getting into stuff that wasn’t his. If there is one thing that can irritate me, it’s a kid that thinks he can ignore me when I call his name.

“He doesn’t speak English” was the explanation from the other kids.

I don’t care if you can’t speak the language. You CAN recognize your own name spoken loudly by the only adult in the room. I know a little “Khan-Man” when I see one.

Even if you can’t speak the language, you can get the idea that you’re supposed to be seated quietly on the floor if I use gestures indicating where you are to sit like every other kid in class is obediently doing.

And for a kid who doesn’t know English, he certainly can communicate, IN ENGLISH, with other kids in class and on the playground when he thinks adults are not paying attention. He also seems to understand English when I mention it’s time for recess, lunch, bathroom, computer lab and cleanup at the end of the day.

When the teacher came back after class to inquire how my day went, she was surprised that the criers made it the whole day without too many tears. She was even more surprised that the principal didn’t have to baby sit the bawler boy today.

I told her that whenever I saw either of the criers start to lose it, I’d call on them to come up and help me “do something” and it was enough to temporality turn off the waterworks. That had to be repeated several times today.

I also told her about my problems with her little “con man”. She related that Mom insists that he acts that way because he doesn’t know English. Mom is in denial and that’s not good. The teacher knows different. She’s seen the same things with his little “con-man” act that I saw today.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I've been fascinated with this aircraft since I was a teenager. Now you can own one...sorta

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

California Native Landscape

This post has nothing to do with substitute teaching.

Claudette decided that my eco-friendly, water saving, dead lawn look had to go so...
From here:

To here....
Our California native garden landscape transformation!

(...No! we didn't do it ourselves. We hired professionals)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Working or Not Working?

Working or not working? That is the question for the start of this school year.

The normal process for getting an assignment starts with a computerized call to sub a particular class. If I accept, the computer issues the assignment number. Sometimes the school secretary or teacher can enter assignments and get a number directly if the job has been pre-arranged.

I don’t get paid if I don’t have an assignment number.

It’s rare that I don’t have the assignment number before the day of the assignment. On those rare occasions, the school secretary will have an assignment number before end of class day. It’s a risk to work without the number. It all comes down to trust in the teacher and/or the school secretary to not screw up.

The first three calls this year failed to get me a number before class day. The first was corrected the morning I showed up. The teacher called me late the night before asking me to take over for the sub who also got sick that same night. The school office didn’t know there had been a switch but corrected the number to my account.

The second teacher was a definite “maybe” but never followed through. I called the office the day of just in case and was told no absence was requested for her. No harm, no foul. I went back to bed. I didn’t work that day.

Last night, I got an email requesting me for the next day (today). She said she was feeling ill and would put the number into the system if she didn’t think she could teach. As of 11:00pm last night it wasn’t there. As of 6:30am it wasn’t there. Again, I went back to bed.

Logged on the computer at 7:15am and saw an email in the inbox with the lesson plan attached. I would have to shower, shave, dress and be at the school in less than 45min.

I checked the system again to get the assignment number. The district system still says I have no assignments. No one is answering the school office phones either. Go or don’t go?

The teacher evidentially expects me to be there but hasn’t followed through about calling it in. I assume the school will correct the situation and get me the number I need after I get there.

So I arrived at the school a couple of minutes late to check in and explain why I’m there. The secretary informs me that the teacher is absent, but the lady standing next to me at the counter has the assignment number for the class. I’m not working today.

I hate when that happens!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Assessment Test…

Well that didn’t take long!

I posted on Monday morning that I didn’t expect to be called to sub for at least a week into the new school year. Monday afternoon, I got a call to sub a 4th grade class the next day.

Judging by the assignments, this first week of school is reassessing to see what the incoming 4th graders retained over the summer vacation. They were given two hours to take a math assessment test.

Unfortunately, my use of the word “test” was very upsetting to some of these kids on their 2nd day of school.

“I can’t remember anything!” was the common complaint as I handed out the math assessment sheet. I explained that this wasn’t really a “test” but just a “math assessment” so your teacher can find out what you do and don’t remember from last year. Don’t worry about it!

I then had to elaborate on what the difference was between the phrase “math assessment” and “math test” and reassured them that it was “ok” to skip the problems they couldn’t do.

They weren’t buying it.

“I don’t remember how to divide numbers! What’s “rounding” mean? Can’t you help us do the problems?”

Trying to explain that “my helping” would defeat the purpose of the “math assessment” didn’t go over well either. I repeated the mantra that it was “ok” to skip questions that they couldn’t do.

That worked for almost everyone. One boy broke down sobbing that he couldn’t remember ANYTHING from last year. I think he turned in his paper with only his name at the top and only a few of the math problems attempted.

Exactly the kind of assessment a teacher needs to know.

Monday, August 24, 2009

School Is Back In Session…

…but not me. I don’t expect to get any calls the first week of school, but you never know.

Instead, I'm watching the landscapers do their bit and wondering how they'll deal with the water pressure issue to the new irrigation system.

(FYI: normal residential water pressure is supposed to be 50-60 psi not 150+ psi)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Never Too Old to Learn Something New...

Learning new stuff doesn't ever stop. I tried this the other day and while I was skeptical, it works!

The easy way to peel a banana...

HT: to Carpe Diem for continuing my education on all kinds of stuff

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview with a Kindergartner…

My granddaughter started school today in Kindergarten. I thought it would be interesting to “interview” her about her first day in real school:

Paige: Hi grandpa!!
Me: Hi Paige! Did you do anything new today?
Paige: No…

Me: Did you go to school today?
Paige: Yes...

Me: Was it fun?
Paige: Yes...

Me: Is your teacher a boy or a girl?
Paige: A girl…

Me: Is she pretty?
Paige: Yes…

Me: Did you do anything fun today?
Paige: Yes…

Me: Did you meet any new friends?
Paige: Yes…

Me: What else did you do in school today?
Paige: I got books.

Me: What kind of books?
Paige: I got a book for the teacher to read.

Me: Was it a funny book?
Paige: Bye grandpa! (…hands back phone to Mom)

Mom: Well…that’s a lot more than I got out of her today!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where’s My Credential?

Each year I have to renew my substitute teacher credential to be allowed to work.

Each year I send the state of California $57 for which they send me an official numbered document containing the validation ID and expiration dates needed by the school districts to activate my status as a substitute teacher for the school year.

Each year I take the official document to the local district office and have them make a copy for their records. Only then will they reactivate my status as a substitute in good standing in the district for the current year.

With school starting in less than two weeks I had yet to hear from Sacramento about my credential document renewal for the 2009-2010 school year. Calling the school district I was informed that, due to budget cuts, the state was no longer mailing the credential copies but a copy can be printed from the online website.

Was that information on the application renewal form, verification of payment form or any other form of useful information? No! Maybe I’m expecting too much for my $57 fee to include the cost of a single sheet of paper, an envelope and a stamp?

Now that I knew what I needed to do to work this year, I logged on to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website to view my credential information.

Sure enough, there was a button to select a “Printer Friendly” copy of my credential suitable for obtaining employment in school.

Notice anything missing? The “Printer Friendly” version seems to be missing all the useful information the district wants to see on a substitute teaching credential!

Information like: issue date, expiration date, document number, official state seal of California and official signatures from the govern-ator and teaching commission executives.

The local school district was not gullible enough to accept this bogus “official credential document” that looks like it was made using a Kindergarten “Good Citizen” award generator program.

The district finally settled for a computer screen shot copy of the “Details of Selected Credential” page on the state website.

I think I deserve a partial refund of my $57 credential fee since I don’t even get a copy of the credential anymore.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

City Council Meetings Are Boring?

Could be the basis for a new reality show? I'd watch!

As one commenter on the video says:
"...i live in Santa Cruz...City Council meetings are NEVER boring! I always watch them on tv just because of kooks like this"

P.S. I live about 40mins from Santa Cruz and it has always had a "colorful" reputation. Maybe she should not have smoked some of the farmers crop before speaking at the city council..."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dave Barry Banned On Campus?

Dave Barry is one of my favorite humor writers. While I might, at times, try to mimic his writing style the only thing Dave and I share is attending colleges a decade before PC stood for "Personal Computer" instead of "Political Correctness".

The following quote was deemed "subversive" by the Marquette University PC police:
"As Americans we must always remember that we have a common enemy, an enemy that is powerful, dangerous and relentless, I refer of course to the federal government."

Dave Barry responds: "Universities have become intellectually constipated."

Nothing funny about that...

HT: JoanneJacobs

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mountain Lion Sighting!

It's been a few years since this sign first went up. Claudette and I always take a look at our surroundings when we are out walking but we've never seen anything...

...until today.

I was walking through the park at the end of the block. I crossed the rusty bridge over the creek from the park on the way to McD's for lunch. As I was walking the path along the top of creek bank out to the main road, I saw a mountian lion meandering in the creek bed about 20ft below.

I watched it walk away around the next bend in the creek while silently cussing myself for not having a camera.

Google Maps Coordinates: 37.298945,-121.769012
The cat was just about between the green and red pointers in the picture (click to enlarge) below:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You Might Be a School Employee If...

Attributed to Jeff Foxworthy:

1. YOU might be a school employee if you believe the playground should be equipped with a Ritalin salt lick.

2. YOU might be a school employee if you want to slap the next person who says, 'Must be nice to work 8 to 3:30 and have summers off.

3. YOU might be a school employee if it is difficult to name your own child because there's no name you can come up with that doesn't bring high blood pressure as it is uttered.

4. YOU might be a school employee if you can tell it's a full moon or if it's going to rain, snow, hail....anything!!! Without ever looking outside.

5. YOU might be a school employee if you believe, 'shallow gene pool' should have its own box on a report card.

6. YOU might be a school employee if when out in public, you feel the urge to snap your fingers at children you do not know and correct their behavior.

7. YOU might be a school employee if you have no social life between August and June.

8. YOU might be a school employee if you think people should have a government permit before being allowed to reproduce.

9. YOU might be a school employee if you wonder how some parents MANAGED to reproduce.

10. YOU might be a school employee if you laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the staff room as the 'lounge.'

11. YOU might be a school employee if you encourage an obnoxious parent to check into charter schools or home schooling and are willing to donate the U-HAUL boxes should they decided to move.

12. YOU might be a school employee if you think caffeine should be available in intravenous form.

13. YOU might be a school employee if you can't imagine how the ACLU could think that covering your students chair with Velcro and then requiring uniforms made out of the corresponding Velcro could ever be misunderstood by the public.

14. YOU might be a school employee if meeting a child's parent instantly answers this question, 'Why is this kid like this?'

15. YOU might be a school employee if you would choose a mammogram over a parent conference.

16. YOU might be a school employee if you think someone should invent antibacterial pencils and crayons...and desks and chairs for that matter!

17. YOU might be a school employee if the words 'I have college debt for this?' has ever come out of your mouth.

18. YOU might be a school employee if you know how many minutes, and seconds are left in the school year!

...and as a substitute teacher, I can identify with: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 16.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Don't Get Sick on Sundays...

I've said my bit about personal dealings with health insurance companies but I'm pretty ok with the doctors and actual medical services provided -- except the cost, of course.

But I don't think I want to change to anything resembling this...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seabreacher for the boys...

My sister lives on a lake in Georgia. I'm hoping she'll buy one of these before we come to visit next year.

Hey, Sue! Don't ya think the boys would love this thing?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Atlas Shrugged Finally Done!

I started reading Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” several months ago. It’s taken me several months to read because at 1168 pages, it’s a large book. It doesn’t help that I had to return it to the library every three weeks and try to check it out again as they would not allow renewals because there were always several people “on hold” for the same book of which they have only seven copies.

With several weeks delay between checking the book back in to the library and waiting for the next available copy to continue the novel, I was able to complete the last third of the book this week with only six days left before I have to return it.

Who is John Galt?

That’s the main catch phrase of the book revived by popular current day Conservative radio and TV personalities commenting on the apparent direction our US government is leaning.

In the book, John Galt starts out as a legendary myth that later turns out to be very real. John Galt seems to be Ayn Rand’s alter ego whose political view seems to be somewhere to the far right of extreme Libertarianism.

At one point in the book, John revels himself in a hijacked radio address to the nation with a three hour speech explaining his belief system and actions. I started reading the first few pages of Galt’s speech and noticed a recurring theme. I skipped several pages and picked up reading the same theme. Skipped more pages and found the theme continued.

Ayn Rand had become Ayn Rant which pretty much boils down to: “Government! Leave me the hell alone!”

It was only because I skipped much of that 60 page radio speech that I was able to finish the book by the library deadline.

I’m tempted to checkout her book “The Fountainhead” but I hear there is movie that I can complete in about 2hrs.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

No New Friends…

In the five years I’ve been subbing, I had no idea what she looked like.

“Oh! Hi there Ms. E! Are you working this week?”

This was from one of the teachers in the teachers’ lounge the last week of school. I was eating my lunch at the time and when I heard her name, I had to turn around to see who she was. Ms. E is one of the very few subs I hear talked about (favorably) at the schools I work.

Overheard in the office:
“See if you can get a hold on Ms. E if she’s available…”
“We need someone reliable for Ms. X’s class. See if we can get Ms. E”
“Ms. E and Mr. Homework are already booked, who else can we get?”

I picked up my sandwich and went over to introduce myself.

Me: “I just wanted to come over and introduce myself since I’ve heard so much about you from the teachers here. The kids here call me Mr. Homework but my real name is Mr. P.”

Ms. E: “So YOU’RE the Mr. Homework all the kids talk about. It’s finally nice to put a face to the name.”

It turns out that we started subbing about the same time five years ago. We traveled the same school circuit but never seemed to cross paths until today. Comparing notes, we both realized that neither of us could recall the names of any subs in this district except each other.

In the five years I’ve been doing this, I can recall the names of only two substitute teachers in the schools I work. One of those is a guy I’ve never met face to face. We only communicate via email. After finding my blog, he figured out from clues that we work the same schools. He quit the first year.

The other is Ms. E.

That is one aspect of substitute teaching that is different from any other profession, at least from my personal experience. You do not easily get to know others in the same profession. The infrequency of contact doesn’t sustain familiarity.

Other than the initial meeting at the start of the year where the newly minted subs and retreads like me get the mandatory job safety and rules of conduct training, there are no “meet and greet” type events where you can easily get to know your fellow subs. There are no “Sub Club” after school hangouts where you can down a few Diet Pepsi’s and swap war stories.

Unlike some work friends from some of my previous professions:

I’m still in touch with a guy, currently in real estate, that I knew from our pre-teenage days as paperboys.

My once a week racquetball partner is a guy I worked with over 30+ yrs ago on a private software project.

A twice a month “anyone up for lunch” friend is a guy I worked with for three years at a defense contractor company some 20+ years ago

A friend I don’t’ see enough of is a guy I met at my very first job at Fairchild Corp just out of college in 1970. That was in the days before Intel and Microsoft were invented.

…On the other hand, local anonymity sometimes has its advantages as the author of an online blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Know What We’re Gonna Do Today!

"...There's 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it!"

Unlike Phineas & Ferb who ALWAYS know what they're going to do on this bright summer day, the substitute teacher is out of a job until the next school year starts in August.

What does a substitute teacher do during the summer? Well today I attended the Yahoo stockholders meeting (...we own 40 shares) in Santa Clara to see what the new CEO Carol Bartz is like in person.

I have to say I'm impressed. Very personable and engaging. I don't know if she can do anything about improving the situation with Yahoo but time will tell.

In addressing a question from the floor about Yahoo's decision nine years ago to turn over IP address information that was used by the Chinese government to imprison a Chinese national named Shi Tao, she responded in a serious subdued tone: "We made a mistake 10yrs ago but it's not our job to fix China"

A leader that admits a mistake without blaming her predecessor is a refreshing change these days.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Silver, Gold, Diamond, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Laptop?…

Women can always tell you what the traditional anniversary gift is supposed to be when that special date rolls around. We guys can’t remember the last time we changed our socks.

So to celebrate our wedding anniversary, Claudette told me “39” is laptop computer and wireless router. What could I say? We’re not much into sharing one computer anymore.

Now if only I could find someone with Goggle’s video chat feature, I could try out the web cam …

Update 6/23/09: Video chat works (kinda)! Daughter installed it and "called" us. The audio and video not synchronized too well. Probably a result of the speed of our ISP. It's still pretty nifty!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Perpetuum Jazzile

Cool choir provides their own "passing storm" sound effects...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Final Tally:2008-2009…

This is the last day of the eight day assignment in this classroom. It’s a minimum day.

Some of the teachers tried to warn me. I just didn’t quite believe how tough a final “fun day” could be.

I’m walking out to my classroom in the portables at 08:00am to find workmen boarding up the windows with 4x8 sheets of plywood.

“Securing the classrooms against the summer vandals” was the given explanation. The entire row of classrooms looked like foreclosed, abandoned housing units.

I thought it must make quite an impression for the parents of the graduating 6th graders to see the slum dwellings where their kids got their education. Couldn’t they have “secured” the classrooms for summer AFTER school?

The final day lesson plan:
  • Clean the classroom
  • Go the 6th graders “clap out” assembly
  • Recess
  • Show movie
  • Lunch
  • Stack desks and chairs
  • Pass out report cards
  • Go home at 1:20pm

This should have been an easy day and for the most part it was. The problems came during the movie in the classroom. Everyone was laying out on the floor because I had the kids stack desks and chairs right after recess. With the windows boarded up, the classroom was pitch black, movie perfect atmosphere. I turned out the lights and started the video.

Once my eyes adjusted to night vision, I noticed a couple of boys standing over by the teachers’ desk in the back of the room. Knowing that they were probably up to nothing good, I made my way back to where they were, only to see that one kid had my sunglasses that used to be in my backpack!!

“WHAT THE F-(remembering at the last fraction of a second that the next syllable would probably get me fired) ARE YOU TWO DOING! GIVE ME THOSE! HIT THE LIGHTS! TURN OFF THE VIDEO!”

“YOU!”, pointing at the kid with MY glasses, “GET OUT OF HERE NOW! OFFICE RIGHT NOW!” as I grabbed my glasses back.

I was so mad, I surprised myself. I could hardly talk to the office secretary to describe why I was sending the kid over. I was stunned that any kid would be going through my backpack in class. Even more stunned that he would do it while I was in the room. On the last day of school, even! I was so stunned that I even forgot about the second kid that was with him!

I went by the office at lunch time. Almost every chair available was occupied by a kid evicted from one classroom or another. The school secretary said it happens every year.

“The kids just go nuts the last week of school. We tried to warn you!”

Final Total: 78 of 180 days subbing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Anthem Apathy…

It’s the same starting routine every day. Take attendance, take lunch count, stand up, sing the national anthem, salute the flag, sit down and begin the school day.

Unless exempted due to philosophical or religious reasons, every kid is required to follow the plan. Unless I hear a good reason, every kid is going to at least lip-sync with the rest of the class the salute and anthem.

Almost every class has a clown that likes to go against the flow and act up during the song or salute. All it usually takes from me is a hard stare from my location at the front of the room to get the clown back into sync with the rest of the class. If that doesn’t work, a hand gesture (no, not that one) usually gets the point across. But sometimes I need to escalate the situation to get my point across.

So it was with one 5th grade boy this last week of school.

The stare was enough to get him to stand with the rest of the class but executed with the vacant stare of defiance.

The escalation gesture step was noticed by everyone around him but had no affect on “mute boy”. A second silent request to get with the program was met with a blank expression.

My final “persuasion” technique was to walk over and stand directly behind him and sing the anthem as loud as I could. The other kids were starting to crack up and even the clown was trying not to break character. He ultimately gave in and completed the anthem with the rest of the class.

The next day, all it took to get the clown into gear at anthem time was to walk over and stand behind him while he sang with the rest of the class. In the afternoon, the class attended a school-wide spirit rally in the front of the school. The kids are grouped around the flag pole, school mascot, and principal with featured cheer leaders. The rally, of course, opens with the flag salute and singing of the national anthem.

At the start of the anthem, clown boy leaves his class group to come stand in front of me at the back of the crowd to sing the anthem.

A clown with an attitude is one thing but a clown with a sense of humor is ok by me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Do You Know About Girls?

I’m in the last week of the current school year subbing in a 4th/5th combo class. I’m riding herd on 28 kids with no lessons being given. Indoor movies or outside field games dominate the lesson plans for this final week.

During one outside activity with three other classes, one 4th grader boy from a different class comes up and asks: “Do you know about girls?”

I’m pretty sure I misheard his request and asked him to repeat the question. I’m not sure why he’s asking me about this subject. Maybe I’m the oldest adult he knows at school and figures age wise, I might be the best source of “girl information”.

There are a lot of potentially problematic mine fields with a loaded question like that but until I know more…

K4: Do you know about girls?
Me: Uhhh. I know some things. What specifically do you want to know?
(If it’s what I think, he’s going to have to ask ‘Mom or Dad’ or wait till they cover that next year in health class.)

K4: About dancing…
Me: Ok, What about dancing?

K4: I’m supposed to dance with a girl.
Me: …and?

K4: Do you know how to ‘Tango’?
Me: Actually, no. Does your Mom know how to ‘Tango’?

K4: Yea, she does.
Me: I suggest you talk to Mom when you get home. I'm sure she'll help you out.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Water Park Field Trip…

Part of the motivation in writing this blog is to answer the question: “What’s it like being a substitute teacher?” Sometimes, it’s not actually teaching anything!

I worked on Monday to stay at school with the “left behinders” from two of the 4th grade classes. I had approximately twenty-five kids, while the rest of the 4th grade classes went on a field trip to the local water park for the day.

Status: Minimal inconsequential busy work. Boring day!

Yesterday, I subbed for the teacher of a 4th grade class from a different school on their field trip to the same water park. We walked to the park from the school and back with about 200 kids and six teachers. We didn’t get back until two hours after school let out.

Status: Longer workday. I sat in the shade reading a book, while the park personnel performed one lifeguard rescue, one vomit victim cleanup for our group. Relaxing day!

Next time I’m taking the swimsuit and getting wet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Snubbed Sub…

“You’d think that seniority would count for something…,”
she said exiting the teachers lounge.

I didn’t know who she was when she came in, but she initiated the conversation by asking for whom I was subbing today. I replied, assuming that she was one of the teachers at the school. It never hurts to establish a presence in the teacher’s lounge that might lead to future assignments.

“It’s pretty tough getting assignments this time of year, isn’t it? I’ve only received a few calls all this month…,” she told me.

I agreed that in previous years, the assignments pretty much dried up the last two weeks of the school year, but this month and last was an exception for me. In fact, I told her, I’m subbing the last week of school in a 4th grade class and handing out their final report cards.

“What school district did you work for before retiring and subbing?”

When I disclosed that I hadn’t ever worked in the schools before, she seemed a bit surprised.

“How long have you been subbing since retirement?”

My reply that I had five school years subbing experience under my belt didn’t impress.

“I’ve been subbing for nine years now and even did some long term assignments for several months! You’d think that seniority would count for something...”

I was so dumbfounded by that remark that I didn’t say anything. My tape delayed brain kicked in as the door closed with a mentally conceited rejoinder: “Well, maybe I’m better at it than you! Na Na Na Na Na!!!!”

It was only on the drive home that a different reason came to mind. Maybe it’s not that I’m “better”, but I sure might be “cheaper” to hire than she is.

As a lowly “30-day Emergency Credentialed Substitute”, I am not allowed to work for any single teacher any more than 30 days in any single school year. That means I can’t work any long term assignments in excess of 30 days.

Her comment about long term subbing indicated that she holds an actual teaching credential. As such she most likely gets, as the rumor has it, a higher daily pay rate than I do for ALL subbing assignments.

All else being equal, which would a perpetually, funds-deficit school district prefer to hire for essentially the same job?

Yep, I win…(kinda)!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sub for the Sub for the Sub…


Subfinder, the automated substitute teacher system, described the assignment as a 5th grade class for “employee name not listed” so when I arrived at the school, I couldn’t answer the question: “Who are you here for?”

When I explained what details I wasn’t given, the office secretary looked it up and informed me that I was “the sub for the sub for the long term sub for Ms. Teacher”.

It seems that teacher was out on maternity leave for the rest of the year and her “long term” was out on a couple weeks vacation while HER sub was out today.

So they get me.

I knew it was going to be a long boring day when I saw the lesson plan:

Play Practice: Crowd control while the other 5th grade teachers conduct play practice.

Math: Strategy and probability. (Let them play card games.)

Silent Reading: 30 minutes

Social Studies: In groups of 2-3, select one of the "First Amendments to the Constitution" and make a poster illustrating what it means.

The Social Studies book did not have the actual wording of any of the Constitutional Amendments. Instead, the book had only a short summary version of each one. Most of the kids selected the amendment summary with the shortest description.

Writing: Write a formal letter to your teacher to about how this year in class has helped you succeed. (I’m not sure exactly which teacher they were supposed to write to.)

PE: Volleyball

The teachers have checked out for the year and so have the kids. In fact I’m already scheduled to work the whole last week, including the last day of school, before summer break.

Let the fun and games begin!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Update: The API scores for all California schools have just been been posted. Even the one this post is based on...

I’ve signed nondisclosure agreements, submitted to security background checks and memorized codes used to access restricted facilities in my previous profession. It never occurred to me I would require anything approaching that level of security while subbing for 3rd graders.

When I was informed a few weeks ago that I would be giving the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) tests for a 3rd grade class, I didn’t anticipate any big deal. I’ve handed out tests and monitored test taking with several classes before.

But, when the principal handed me a twenty page “excerpt” for the three sections of STAR tests I was to give over the five day assignment, I should have gotten a clue.

The first thing I had to sign was a nondisclosure agreement that said I wouldn’t reveal, copy, publish or disclose in any manner or method any of the test questions or answers.

I was required to maintain the integrity of the test booklets in my possession for fear that someone else might take one or copy it for what ever reason unknown.

I had to sign a daily check-in/check-out sheet for the latched booklet carrying case. I was required to count and verify the number test booklets twice daily make sure I had them all. I was required to monitor and record any instances of cheating during the test taking process.

It was almost like I was a the star character in my favorite TV show…

(My advance apologies to the writers and producers of “24”)


(--The following takes place between the hours of 08:00am and 10:50am--)

Agent ‘H’ (me): I’m the STU agent (Substitute Teacher Unit), code name “Homework” you sent for. I’m here to interrogate the suspects.

Security (Office) Secretary:
Sign in here for your secure room key and assignment folder. Your controller, code named “Principal”, will fill you in with all the details. I’ll let him know you’re here.


P: We had an advance team go in and sanitize the target area for you.
H: Yes, that should help. All those grammar rules posters and multiplication tables of secret data would be a deterrent to getting accurate intel from this group.

P: We’ve also set up isolation cells for each suspect. There is no possible way for any of the suspects to communicate with each other. The “privacy folders” are made of state of the art, sound suppressing cardboard!


H: What else we know about this group?
P: All we know at this point is that it is a terrorist cell of 28 individuals known as “The Third Graders”. We don’t know what kind of intelligence they have but we do know that they are reluctant to divulge any information at this point in time.


P: This canister contains restricted questions that we want answered. We have a time commitment to obtain those answers. We cannot fail! Do you understand? Are you sure you can do this job?

H: It might take some “enhanced interrogation” methods to get at the truth, but yes, I’m sure it can be done. A little water hoarding should help things along. No drink or bathroom breaks during the test usually gets to the truth.

H: If that doesn’t work, can I shoot a few in the knees?
P: Unfortunately, no. That would be against school policy.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Went to the Doctor and the Doctor Said…

Health care is a problem if you aren’t independently wealthy or don’t have access to employer subsidized insurance coverage.

Substitute teachers aren’t included in the school system I work for so we pay for our own coverage. We had to switch from a PPO system five years ago to a HMO system named after a famous cement mogul.

I don’t visit the doctor very often so I’m still trying to get into the groove with Kaiser’s online process. With our old PPO system, I’d call for an appointment and usually see the doctor in a day or two. The new HMO system has an online appointment feature that’s faster and pretty easy to use. I like it.

I’ve been bothered by a blocked ear that’s been driving me nuts for a couple weeks. Since I didn’t have any subbing assignments until Friday, I logged on and requested the first available doctor appointment for any day/time hoping for one today or tomorrow.

I was pleasantly surprised to find several appointments available for Wednesday morning and selected one that allowed me two hours to get ready and be there with time to spare. It was mid-morning and the waiting room had only two other people waiting. GREAT!

It wasn’t until I tried to check in at the clinic that the “first available appointment” the system had offered me was not for today but the middle of next MONTH!

“But, all I need is to get my ear cleaned out. Is there any way you can squeeze me in today?”

She said she could probably work me in but sent me off with a medical technician to record the usual vitals like blood pressure, weight, oxygen levels, and answer questions about allergies and other physical complaints.

After answering all the usual symptom questions that had nothing to do with clogged ears, the guy asks:

MedTech: Age?
Me: uh, 60 (…thinking the system should already be showing him that information. Why is he asking me the obvious?)

MedTech: Who’s the President of the United States?
Me: What? (…completely caught off guard)

MedTech: Do you know who the President of the United States is?
Me: Well, unfortunately it’s Barack Obama.

MedTech: You know what year this is?
Me: (…WTF??? and wondering what this has to do with stuffy ears) “2009”

I suppose that failing to correctly make an online doctors appointment might qualify me as a future Alzheimer's candidate but…come on!

Sure, I don’t remember the names of all 32 kids in class after taking attendance but I WILL know the names of the jerk-offs by the end of class.

It’s not like forgetting to pay your taxes on April/15 before accepting a government job in finance or claiming that you don’t remember being in CIA briefing meetings where they told you secret stuff!

Don’t I get some points for actually operating the computer to make an appointment (even it WAS for the wrong month) and successfully driving a car to the correct address to be there on time?

I suspect that it’s more the fact that I’m officially “old” at 60 that prompted the memory tests, but it’s still shocking to encounter them for the first time.

At least I can still put on my own adult diapers!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

No Pee in the Soap Dispenser…

Crisis of the day:
Three of my 5th grade girls came running back to the classroom after the start of recess. “Mr. Homework, Mr. Homework! Someone peed in the soap dispenser in the girl’s bathroom!”

This was a first. While I don’t know the soap situation in the girls’ bathroom, I know the dispensers are mounted on the wall above the sinks in the boys’ room. I couldn’t even imagine, if it WAS true, just how someone could have managed to accomplish such a physical feat.

Me: How do you KNOW it’s pee in the soap dispenser?
Girls: It’s supposed to be pink soap and it’s all orangey, yellow and icky!

Maybe custodian just filled it with different color soap today.
Girls: No, no, no, come see!

Well, I’m not venturing into the girls room for soap viewing, so instead I notified the school office and reported the “pee in the soap dispenser” situation.

Result? Due to swine flu precautions, the school district is requiring all the soap dispensers to be filled with anti-bacterial (anti-viral?) soap. Why it had to be pee yellow, I don’t know but…

There is NO pee in the soap dispensers!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's Half of a Minimum Day?

Substitute teachers like substituting on "minimum day". It cuts the school day by as much as 1.5 hours. Since we're paid per day rather than per hour, it's one of the few substitute teacher job perks. Same pay for a bit less work.

Conversely, some substitute teachers don't like half day assignments (...because it's half the daily pay). Personally, I don't mind half days as long as it's the second half. You don't have to get up early and usually the lunch period is included as part of the afternoon half of a school day.

Therefore a "perfect storm" for me in subbing is the afternoon, half day assignment on a minimum day. I haven't ever experienced one...until today!

My day started at 11:30am, went to lunch at 11:45am, in the classroom from 12:15pm to 01:15pm when school ended.

One and a half hours work for a half daily rate works out to better than $40/hr.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Independent STAR Test Thinking…

California STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) testing is in full swing this week. Three days of the five assignment in 3rd grade, had me doing STAR testing for Math and Language Arts .

The test questions are all multiple choice. Everyone knows how to use a #2 pencil to fill in the circle next to the answer selected.

Even so, my job was to read a script, as written, about identifying the list of possible answers to the questions provided and directing the proper handling of the provided #2 pencil to completely fill in the circle bubble next to the desired answer.

This same “fill in the bubble” instruction was repeated at the start of each of the three sections of the test I proctored. I was also instructed to make sure that every question in every booklet had at least one selected answer properly #2 penciled.

What the STAR test instructions didn’t tell me (or maybe it did but I missed it) is what to do with the “independent thinkers” in class.

You know, the student who might:
  • Carefully draw a line through each of the test provided multiple choice answers and write in “None of these answers” above the list.
  • Carefully mark an answer she added to the list of provided possible answers that included an amazingly proper sized circle bubble to mark.

In both cases, I exercised a common sense interpretation of the rules and instructed them to choose only from the provided test answers listed and erase anything they added to the test booklet.

(…I’m expecting to be hauled away in handcuffs by the STAR police as soon as this confession hits the blogosphere.)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nose Hair and Ear Wax…

One of the more annoying situations a substitute teacher has to deal with is the constant tattling in the lower grades. The serious stuff we DO have to come down hard on, but the petty stuff really drives me to distraction.

I’m in my second day of a five day assignment when one 3rd grade boy confronts me with an intense attitude and seriously troubled look. He’s tattling about another kid who called him a name. The suspect in question was only three paces behind and chiming in that the first kid had shoved him.

My usual tactic in these situations is to deliver a short lecture about proper behavior at school and have them say “sorry” while shaking hands.

This time I decided to do something different.

Guys! I don’t know who did what first and I’m not going to try and find out. What I CAN do is put both your names on my report for your teacher and let him sort it out when he gets back or...we can settle this in a different way. You decide what you want me to do.

They both decided that “different” was the choice they wanted.
“Ok guys, here’s the deal. From now to the end of the school year you are best friends!”

(…both glaring at each other but not saying a word)

And as best friends, I’m going to give you nicknames to use when talking to each other.

(…both now looking at me with a suspicious look)

Pointing to the first kid I said: From now on your nickname is “NoseHair” and your nickname, pointing to the second kid, is “EarWax”. Now shake hands and apologize to each other using your new names.

Kid1: I’m sorry, EarWa…
(He couldn’t finish because he was laughing.)

Kid2: I’m sorry too, NoseHair!
(He was trying REAL hard not to laugh.)

They then ran off laughing.

Seemingly, whatever problems they originally had with each other appeared forgotten. If it lasts to the end of the year that's great. If not, at least they won't be bugging me again for the rest of the week.