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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.