Search This Blog

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)