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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Piggy Wants a Cookie

School is out for the rest of 2011. Today's in class movie is about a hungry pig...enjoy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Substitute Teacher Book Idea?

I recently received an email:

 “…I was thinking of writing a book on what it's really like to be a substitute teacher… Would you be willing to contribute stories- the good, bad, and ugly?”

I responded with the links to a few of my more “memorable” experiences.

That got me wondering about readers of my blog. Are there any of my posts you feel would be useful for this book?

My personal subbing experience is in relatively low key schools here in San Jose, Calif. I have heard that subbing in some of the tougher intercity schools elsewhere might be a bit more “interesting”.

Have you come across any "tales of the substitute teacher" that might be of interest for this budding author? If so, use the comments section to list your favorite/interesting true tales of the substitute teacher experience.

Links to relevant individual blog posts (mine or others) are encouraged. Links to non-related material will not be displayed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fake Credentials...

I occasionally get email requests to advertise essay and thesis writing services to "help" you get that coveted advanced degree but never anything this blatant:

"...Buy fake/novelty university diplomas and degrees online.
We design our Degree or Diploma Certificates and Transcripts to look 99.99% identical to world famous originals including identical security grade transcript paper, identical water markings, raised-ink crests, embossed seals, correct card stock weight (60-100lb depending upon institution specifications). Most post-secondary institutions available."

If  you ARE interested in "buying" one of these degrees, don't contact me. I'm not gonna help you. Talk to the U.S. Treasury Dept about fake "novelty" $20 bills that are 99.99% authentic and see how far that gets ya.

P.S: don't contact me about any thesis writing services either. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Tryptophan Turkeys...

There are only three school weeks between the Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. I had only three half-day assignments last week.

Half day assignments are usually a breeze. There usually isn’t enough time for the 2nd graders to wind up to total craziness before I lose it altogether. By the time they are, it’s over and I go home.

I don’t think I could have survived any more than the assigned three hours in any one of these classrooms. I was worn out and dead tired after each assignment.

The funny thing is that these were classes I’ve had before. They were all classes I’ve had for full day assignments. Second graders are polite, fun, bright, inquisitive and follow directions.

It must be the overdoses of tryptophan turkey that turned me into a tired crotchety old man and the kids to hyper-excited insanity.

Let’s try middle school tomorrow and see if I can make it through a full day in Science class.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Word Problem Committee…

Third grade math text books must be written by “socially correct (SC)” committees without regard for clarity. That’s the only possible explanation I can fathom when you come across examples like problems #2 & #3 below:
(click to enlarge)

 First draft: There are 28 people camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many people slept in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Member #1: Since this is for 3rd graders, shouldn’t we somehow make it relevant and inclusive for them?

SC Member #2: Ok, sure. How ‘bout this:
There are 28 students camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many students sleep in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Safety Officer: Hummm, 28 unsupervised kids in the woods at night? I don’t think that sends the correct message. Remember these are 3rd graders and that might give them the wrong idea about being safe.

SC Member #1: Ok, Ok…Let’s do this:
There are 28 students and their chaperones camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many people sleep in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Member #2: Wait a minute, doesn’t that change the answer? I mean if each tent has 4 kids and one chaperone, that makes 5 people x 7 tents = 35 people not 28! Right?

SC Member #1:Oh! Good catch. Let’s change the answer to ‘5’.

SC Member #2: I’m not sure that’s the best thing. Everyone knows that 3rd graders don’t really “read the words” in word problems. They tend to automatically take the numbers they see in the problem and divide: 28 divided by 7 = 4 as an answer.

SC Member #1: Well technically, it could be read “28….studentsandchaperones” if you read it really, really fast and that means that the “28 people” includes all the students AND chaperones together, right? Maybe we could annotate the Teacher’s Edition (TE)  reference to make the following notation:

Note to teacher: There are 28, not 35, total people out in the woods that night. If you misinterpret the wording at this crucial point in the word problem sequence and get an answer of ‘5’ instead of ‘4’, you’re screwed when you attempt to answer the next question since we haven’t gotten to fractions yet.
      Sincerely, The Socially Correct (if not necessarily grammar literate) Committee

SC Safety Officer: What are the chances that the teacher will be out for the day and the substitute teacher doesn’t have the TE Math book with the “clarification notice”. That could be a problem!

SC Member #2:  Let’s not do the “Note to teacher” notice. It makes us look incompetent not being able to write a simple 3rd grade math problem. Besides, the teachers will figure it out on their own if we give them the correct answers to work backward from.

Dear reader: For the next one, you’re on your own as to how they came up with this one. I couldn't see any reference as to how many total booths there are.

The indicated answer is"10".  That would mean 10_rows x 10_booths x 100 people = 10 THOUSAND people in the balcony??.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


It might not seem like it judging by the drop off in new blog postings lately but I HAVE been busy with subbing assignments. 

My last assignment was a three day assignment with 3rd graders at the newest school in the district. I’ve managed to only get assignments here once or twice until this year when I picked up five assignments and had to turn down three more due to personal conflicts.

To emphasize just how new this school is, look no further than the men’s restroom. No other school in the district has two urinals AND two stalled toilets. All other schools in this district are “single service”, which makes the timing at the end of lunch break an Olympic class race for male employees.

This school, being the newest, has the latest in high tech gear including document cameras, SmartBoards and high end Apple computers in every classroom.

It was the Apple computer that unexpectedly shut down just before class began on the third day of my assignment making the SmartBoard an instant Dumb&DeafBoard. I attempted to restart the computer, but I had problem with this particular version of Crapple Computer.

It had no “ON” button. In fact, I couldn’t even FIND the computer. I started with the big screen monitor and followed all the cables hoping to find anything that looked like a computer without success. Class was starting and I didn’t have any more time to futz around with it.

Fortunately the DocCamera still worked and using the Teachers Editions and practice books, we plowed away with the lessons as best we could without the fancy popup graphics and animation planned lessons.

After class, I resumed my search for the hidden Crapple computer. Again not finding one, I turned my attention to the big screen monitor. Again, finding NO controls on the front, bottom or top or sides, I moved around the table to the back. After moving a pile of books and folders, I saw it. On the lower left side BEHIND the monitor there was a single power button. Evidentially the big screen monitor WAS also the all-in-one computer. Have I already mentioned I’m not fond of Apple computers?  

This experience hasn’t altered my opinion one bit.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Free book drawing - Michael Vey

The publisher sent me three copies for review.

For a chance in this free drawing for your own free hardcover copy of Richard Paul Evans book, "Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25" just use the comment section and include a name and email address (will not be displayed publicly) or email your entry to on or before Monday, November 14, 2011.

The storyline is targeted for young adults, so with that in mind I read the book this last week and found it fast paced, a pretty good story line and an easy read. At 325 pages, it is bit short but as this is the first in the "Michael Vey" adventures, it leaves some unresolved issues "to be continued" in the next book(s) of the series. It reminded me a combination of those short lived TV series "Heroes" and "Kyle XY".

The main "hero", Michael Vey, is your typical 14yr old teenager with the usual teenage problems and some unusual abilities. Michael has a secret ability to control electricity and uses it as a defense mechanism to the chagrin of some teenage bullies. Unfortunately, demonstrating that ability draws the attention of some pretty bad people who know more about Michael and others like him.

Because I'm pretty far removed from the target audience I thought a better review from an actual "young adult" would be more appropriate at this point. I gave one copy of the book to the daughter of some good friends of ours.

Jillian is 14yrs old and in the 9th grade. According to her parents she is an avid book reader.

Michael Vey 
Prisoner of Cell 25   
            Whether you like this book or not depends on how well you notice unique details about it. From looking at the basic plot, you see a typical fiction book these days. The main character is discovered, someone needs to be saved by the main character, and then the happy ending. But when looking at the small details of the plot like the characters, settings, and dangerous and risky situations you notice new exciting detail on every page. The author throws you curveballs every chapter and it's exciting all the way to the last page.    
 --- Jillian

Drawing entries to date: 8 (...odds are good!)
...and the winner is: Dustin in Boaz, Alabama!!  Congratulations!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Band & Choir…

The substitute teacher system called late last night offering me a ½ day assignment for Band & Choir class. I don’t know how to play any musical instruments, nor do I know anything about singing.

But, I didn’t know anything about art earlier this year, so I assumed that the teacher wouldn’t expect me to actually “teach” either band or singing.

The lesson plan called for showing a video about practice and technique staring featuring Wynton Marsalis & Yo-Yo Ma. The kids were to write 20 facts or comments about the video with the admonition that a comment like: “There was a guy talking” would NOT be acceptable.

What I DIDN’T expect was SIZE of the classes. The middle school attendance sheets can accommodate 30 names per page. If I have a class with two attendance pages, it’s a big class.

First period had 41 students (a page and a half) but it was the second period when I saw the hoards arriving that I noticed the three full pages listing 85 students!

I did a quick count to see if I had 85 bodies, as I knew that calling out all those names would take up most of the available class time. I came up 4 short.

Asking who was missing didn’t work as I don’t think any one student knew ALL the names of the people in the class. I had one of the students call the attendance and identify the missing while I set up and began the video lesson.

Band kids tend to be the more "reliable side" kind so my day went pretty well for "trying something new". Someone suggested that my next "outside the comfort zone" substituting assignment might be girls P.E.

...I think not.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book – 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents…

I took the 4th grade class to check out books from the school library. Everyone except one boy seemed to making progress in selecting books for the week.

Me: Have you found a book yet?
Bored Boy: No, I don’t know what to get.

Me: What kind of books do you like to read?
Bored Boy: I don’t know.

Me: Mysteries, adventure, animals…?   
Bored Boy: Nah, no, ummm nuh-uh. I don’t think I want a book.

He then went to sit out for the rest of library time.

Since I had twenty-eight other kids to monitor, I turned over the assignment of “book finding” to two 6th grade girls working as librarian assistants, with the instructions to locate a book a boy his age might like to read and bring it to me. I didn’t really care if they were successful. I had nothing to lose.

The girls returned just as I was rounding up the kids to return to class. They couldn’t have chosen better. I congratulated them on their excellent find and handed “bored boy” his book choice.

Bored Boy: I don’t think I like this book.
Me: Trust me. YOU will.

Back in class, the lesson plan called for 20mins of silent reading (SSR). This is one of my favorite times in that I get to lead by example, relaxing and reading whatever book I’m currently into.

Bored boy was the only one who hadn’t started when I caught his attention and pantomimed, with my hands, opening and closing a book while giving him “THE LOOK”. He started reading.

Every couple of minutes, I’d check on the class and in particular “Bored Boy”. Amazingly, Bored Boy was still reading. After a while, I heard him giggle a couple of times, saw him share a page with the kid next to him.

After a while, I glanced up and saw that Bored Boy and two boys on each side of him were reading 101-ways, pointing at different pages and trying not to draw my attention.

I pretended to not notice and at the end of SSR. Bored Boy couldn’t help himself and came up to show me several “things” they found that were funny and “he was going to try it at home”.

With a wink, my final comment at the end of the day was, “Remember now, you didn’t get that book from me, RIGHT?”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bottled Water Dilemma…

I never understood the bottled water craze. Maybe that’s because it didn’t really exist for the first half of my lifetime. As kids, we even drank from the garden hose and miraculously not one of us neighborhood kids died from drinking it.

Given that background, I could never justify paying $2/bottle for “better water” in preference to the stuff that was delivered to the house via city plumbing for pennies per gallon.  

But that’s not the point of this post. Every kid in every class I’ve been to seems to have one of those 16oz clear plastic bottles on the desk that originally contained French, Alpine or some such glacially pure “better water". The 3rd grade class I had yesterday is no exception.

I had recess duty with the 3rd graders when one of my half pint students approaches to ask if I will open the classroom so she could fill her water bottle from the drinking fountain in the classroom.

“I’m real hot and thirsty!”

The classroom is only 50-60 feet away, but I’m reluctant to cede her request when there was a perfectly good drinking fountain right behind her as I pointed out.

“Oh, I can’t.  My mom only allows me to drink bottled water!”

I could have pointed out that the plumbing to the OUTSIDE water fountain was the same as the one INSIDE the classroom and therefore had the same water. Also, refilling the bottle after she had already consumed the “better water” didn’t really make it "bottled water" any longer. Actually, it was probably worse depending how many times I suspect that same bottle has been refilled over the course of several classroom days.

Instead, I opted to open the classroom so she could fill her bottle and saved myself the panic that might ensue if the rest of the class (…and maybe the rest of the school?) found out.

It will just have to be our little secret that drinking fountains in the school don’t deliver “better water” than what kids 50yrs ago consumed and that drinking it won’t kill you!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The First Answer is Free…

I always get a positive response when handing out quiz and test materials with the standard promise:

“I’ll always give you the first answer for free!”

That always seems to accelerate the process of getting tables cleared, a pencil out and their undivided attention toward the front of the room in record time.

With dramatic pause and thirty pencils poised to snag a freebie answer, I direct their attention to the top of the page where the first question is:  


"The first answer is: your name"

Varied responses:
…Ha, Ha, I get it, Good one!
…And let me guess, the answer to the 2nd question is: Date?
...I don’t get it! (…from slow on the uptake group still looking at QUESTION #1)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Chain Gang Elementary...

One important item I carry in my subbing bag is a book to read at break, lunch and even in the classroom when the kids are doing “silent reading time”. It’s good to set an example in the classroom. 

I recently received a book in the mail detailing the “fictional” tale of an idealistic newsletter writer who gets drafted as the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) president at his son's elementary school.

The opening paragraph hints that his idealism isn’t going to prevail…

“…In the twelfth year of his marriage, sixteen months before the shooting, twenty-one shopping days until Christmas, and eight hours before he reckoned for the tenth time that his wife didn’t love him, Richard Gray met a woman who would have roughly the same effect on his life a tornado has on a trailer park.”

I have to admit that I had a hard time reading the book. Not because of the fast paced and well written storyline but the cover art seemed to draw more than a few double takes from fellow educators passing through the teachers' lounge.

Save some money, the awkward stare and get the Kindle version on Amazon...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roving Substitute Essentials…

My bag of “Substitute Teacher Essentials” or “Bag of Tricks (BOT)”, as some subs call it, weighs about 12lbs. I only have to lug it once from the car to the classroom and then back again at the end of the day.

Evidentially, the substitute call system has a hard time finding takers for the generic unstated “Vacancy” assignment. In this district, “vacancy” is synonymous for the word “roving sub”. After only one month into this New Year, I’ve already had two roving assignments with six future assignments on the books.

Roving, as opposed to aimless wandering, is simply covering for teachers that have scheduled meetings with school functionaries during school hours. It could be as few as four teachers to as many as eighteen in a single day. It’s an easy assignment but not very exciting for those who sub in hopes of gaining experience for that hopeful full time teacher position…(of which I’m not one)

Roving, obviously, requires a lot of walking around the campus from classroom to classroom. That’s when carrying that bag becomes a real burden, literally! There is also the real possibility that I could forget which classroom I left it in.

Now, when I have a “roving” assignment, the BOT stays in the car. I take only my “roving substitute essentials” which are: reading glasses, a book to read during break time, a whistle, sun glasses and a hat. You’ll need the whistle, sunglasses and hat because frequently the teacher you are covering for has the class outside at recess or doing P.E.

If you are blessed with good eyesight and hair follicle genes, you might be able to trim your list to just the remaining three essentials.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Math: Ten More, Ten Less

I subbed three 1st grade classes at the same school the first week of the new school year. The kids are starting to learn the concept of words problems and number placement in Math.

Their workbook pages were concentrating on organizing number groups of adding and subtraction by 10’s in the form: “What’s 10 more? What’s 10 less? What’s 3 more? What’s 1 less”…etc

Skipping the coloring questions #6 & #8, Take a couple of seconds and answer problems 4, 5 and 7.

(click to enlarge)

 Did you get 24, 14 and 34?

Imagine my confusion when first two kids I asked replied with: 22, 12 and 32. It was then I knew something was wrong.

The kids dutifully followed the first instruction by counting each letter in the picture where I “saw” two rows of 10 with four extra.

Did the publishers intentionally try to make this a trick question or was it a screw up in the art department that depicted the first two rows of NINE letters and one row of four?

You can vote your opinion in the comments section.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Air Swimmers

These would be great in the classroom for some downtime entertainment!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Don’t Panic…

My job assignment starts exactly 30mins before the kids enter the room. Most of that time is used to review the lesson plans, locate all the material on the plan and try to make sure that I know how to work all of the in-classroom “technology”.

This doesn’t portend a good start to my day with 5th graders when I don’t know what the definition of “shortly” means.

Also, I don’t want “access”. All I desire is the printed hard copy, please. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Friday, September 02, 2011

What a Difference a Year Makes...

Last year’s change over to the new substitute call system seems to have changed without notice. For the first time, I was able to go online and view eight new available assignments going out as far as Feb/2012.

I took them all…

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Trying Hard to Remember…

I’ve completed two of three assignments in 1st grade this week. If tomorrow is anything like Monday and Wednesday, I’ll be glad when 3:00pm rolls around. I’m trying to remember to tell myself that these guys are just 10 days out of Kindergarten and not yet in “school mode”.

All the 1st grade teachers are on campus this week doing individual student assessments while substitute teachers are have the rest of the class for the day. My daily report for Monday listed two names that pretty much used up 85% of my voice, energy and fortitude.

Meeting with the teacher at the end of the day, she said she was not surprised they didn’t behave any better for me than they do for her.

Wednesday’s class was more of the same with twice the number unfocused still-stuck-in-kinder-mode tykes. The only calm moment realized was during the reading of the next two chapters of  “Flat Stanley”. Their teacher wasn’t surprised by her class behavior report either!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Totally Wrong Answers…

Glad you could stop in for today's “F In Exams” book tour.
Your next stop tomorrow is over on: Blogging through the Fourth Dimension

The book titled “F In Exams” by Richard Benson claims to have “The very best totally wrong test answers”. While the A’s in the Q/A’s are pretty wrong, they are also pretty entertaining

Click here for sample Q&A pages

While it IS wrong, I’d have to give partial credit for the following math test answer because it made me think more about the question.

The author displays his own humor pointing out “wrongness” by publishing a book with a table of contents while omitting the actual page numbers in the book ;)

Anyway, if you’d like a chance for a free copy of the book, use the comment section and be sure to include your first name and email address or send an email with your name and return email address to: on or before September 14th. One winner will be selected Sept 15th

One entry per person please.

(Entries via the comments section will not be displayed publicly.)

Drawing entries to date: 10 (...odds are good!)

...and the winner is: Darren from California !!  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Procrastination Means Work for Me…

My assignment was for two days in 6th grade this week. It came with an addendum note that stated: “…class will be held in the library both days”. When I arrived Monday morning, the office clarified what was going on.

It seems that 6th grade enrollment had dropped over the summer. As a result all five 6th grade classes were under populated. The decision was made to disband one of the 6th grade classrooms and re-absorb the students into the remaining four.

Coincidentally, the 1st grade classes were over populated and the, now the newly surplused, 6th grade teacher was now going to be the teacher for the “over quota” 1st graders.

The “new” 1st grade teacher, under contract, is allowed a two day transition period to dismantle the old 6th grade classroom and setup her new 1st grade classroom. My job is to cover those days and be with her 6th graders until they disperse to their new class assignments.

All this was finalized by the school district on Friday, the third day after the start of the new school year. I found out later via “teachers lounge scuttlebutt” that the district has been “grappling” with situation since mid-summer.

The uncertainty and apprehension among the kids was obvious as I was asked several times both days if I knew which classes they were going into. I had no answers. It was Tuesday afternoon when I delivered them to the 6th grade wing when they finally had the answer while meeting their new teachers.

I can’t imagine that the situation will be much better over in the 1st grade wing come tomorrow.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Unlike Last Year…

This school year is off to a fast start.

Three days into the new school year and I’ve been offered 18 ½ days of work for August/Sept.

…so far.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Start of School Year 2011/12

The school year started yesterday. I’m waiting for that first assignment call.

Well…technically that’s inaccurate, because there was a call on Tuesday but I missed it.

My “California Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit” expires Aug 1 of every year. I submitted my $57 renewal payment mid-July before the expiration date and one week later, the state renewed my status for one additional year.

With a freshly printed copy of my permit, I turned it in to the district office the next day to have my status updated for the 2011-12 school year. Two weeks later, the district substitute assignment system still has me listed as “expired”.

With only two weeks left before the start of the school year, I call the district office to find out what’s up.

“We’ve been busy, haven’t had time to enter the data. We’ll have everyone updated before the start of school”. Another couple weeks pass with no updates.

Tuesday, the day before school starts, I’m still “expired” and a personal visit to the office (…this is the 3rd attempt) is warranted. As soon as I entered, she knew exactly what I was there for even before I asked.

“Sorry, sorry we just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ll do it right now.” …and she does.

Leaving the district office, I completed a few errands and lunch before returning home.

That’s when I discover a missed call from the district subbing call center indicating that I missed the first assignment call for 2011-12.

I may have to re-think my money conservation choice of not paying for a cell phone.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Notes On Teaching...

That’s the title of the book I received in the mail from the co-author. It is a concise guide of 184 notes in 100 pages that will neatly fit in a backpack or glove box for teachers wondering: “Why they didn’t tell me this stuff before I got the job?”

While targeted for teachers in upper grades, there are more than a few tips that can be used at any level. Some even a substitute teacher can use.

#104Be unexpectedly forgiving
Give a disruptive student’s desk a gentle touch while focusing a smile on his neighbor. Refrain from the tongue-lashing he expects. Your tap will alert him to his own behavior, and your apparent detachment will allow him to save face. He knows you’ve noticed and can correct the situation without fuss. Class goes on. Never throw chalk.

(…I haven’t actually seen any chalk in the last seven years but somehow it sounds better than “Never throw a Dry Erase Marker”)

#18 – Prepare to be unprepared.
(…isn’t this the actual definition of “substitute teacher”? Sounds like it to me)


#105 – Keep extra materials.
Paraphrased: “People forget things. Don’t let it ruin the flow. Request collateral deposit in exchange for borrowed materials to make sure they will be returned.”
(I request a shoe in exchange for borrowed pencils, erasers, crayons, etc. Works every time.)

The book is available at Amazon, probably other book stores and at

If you’re cheap like me and don’t wish to pay for a copy, you can enter a drawing for a free copy of the book here. Just use the comment section to include your first name and email address or send an email to: on or before Aug 15, 2011
One entry per person please.

(Entries via the comments section will not be displayed publicly.) 

Drawing entries to date: 17 (odds are good!)...and the winner is:

Congratulations, Erin from Northridge Calif! She is the winner of a free copy of the book "Notes on Teaching". If you didn't win this time, check back often as there might possibly be giveaways for other stuff.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

MS Substitute Teacher Report

Working at the middle school level, I immediately discovered that my standard substitute teacher report needed a total overhaul. After a a few tweaks, here's what I came up with...

(Click to enlarge)

Fortunately I have a double sided printer to fit it on the front and back of one 8 1/2" x 11" page.

Again, as with the elementary school version anyone is free to steal, copy, edit, adapt, adjust, duplicate, replicate or photocopy mine for their own use. Also available in MS/Word format via email.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Risk a Bad Thing?

In reading the New York Times article: Can a Playground Be Too Safe?

I had a flashback while reading the following excerpt:

"...After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights..."

It's one of my earliest memories of "school". It must have been the early 50’s and the neighborhood school had a typical playground with the tall, all metal slides, steel igloo domed jungle gyms and those old style merry-go-rounds where the object was to spin it fast enough to fling everyone off.

We got bumps, bruises and even a few bleeding, scraped knees and elbows. No big deal. It was part of the “learning” process.

Anyway, my flashback memory phrase trigger in the above article was “handling dangerous tools”.

I’m not sure the girls in Kindergarten were encouraged to use tools (remember this was the 50’s) but the boys got to use real hammers, nails and saws to make stuff.

I remember that I wanted to make a boat by sawing the corners off 3 or 4 planks of wood and nailing the shorter planks on top of larger ones to make a boat with decks.

In the process, I acquired a pretty good cut on the arm when the saw blade slipped. I got sent to the school nurse, had it bandaged, and sent back to class to finish my boat. My finished project looked more like an off kilter pyramid.

I couldn’t wait to show it to mom and dad. It didn’t matter that the boat didn’t float upright when I tried to float it in a tub of water. I was proud that I had made it myself.

I don’t remember my parents making any big fuss over the injury except to check it and put a new bandage it before I went back to school the next day.

...Things sure have changed quite a bit since the good old days.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Getting Ready To Go…

School starts sometime in August (I think). I’ll probably have to figure out exactly which day at some point but first things first.

I logged on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing site to pay the yearly renewal fee that allows me to work for the 2011/12 school year. I work ½ the first day assignment of the year to recoup that fee and it isn’t even tax deductible.
Ready to go…

I got one of the cars back after getting some needed repairs. That’s another 10 days of subbing to pay for.
Ready to go…

I browsed a few of my favorite edu-blogger sites to see if I should read up on stuff I should already know. Joanne Jacobs had something interesting about geography for 4th, 8th and 12th graders. It’s been more that 40yrs since I was in a geography class, so I took the all three tests to see if I still knew anything. I got 100% on all three.
Ready to go…

See how you rate here:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Minor Celebrities…

I was at the local Costco food court last week having the $1.50 bargain lunch, when an older fellow sat and shared the table with me. We were casually commenting on the crowds and got to the point of “casual guy introductions”.

The “casual guy introduction” consists of exchanging first names followed by answering the standard inquiry: “So, what do you do for a living?”

Al said he was in the ice-cream business. I’m thinking maybe a manager at a 31-Flavors shop but he elaborated that he started making ice-cream in 1939. He is the founder and owner of Treat Ice Cream in downtown San Jose. He asked me if I’ve ever heard of it.

Of course, anyone who’s lived in the area more than a few years knows that Treat’s Ice Cream is the best but hard to find because it’s only available at select local markets.

Al is still running the company at 92 years old!

Then there was the time I was helping a friend clean up a vacant house he owned near Santa Cruz, Calif when a watchful neighbor wandered over to check on who was at the property.

Again we did the “guy introductions” and discovered that Robert ran a sports shop business in Calif and also had outlets in Hawaii.

Since we’ve been to Hawaii several times, I asked the name of the shops and discovered that my friend owns the house next door to Robert Wintner aka: the famous “Snorkle Bob”!

You CANNOT turn on the TV or radio in Hawaii and not know “Snorkle Bob”. I even called Claudette and Bob was kind enough to say “Hi”.

Now, while it’s not unusual, for kids to recognize me “out of context” at the local Costco or McDonalds, it is extremely unusual for their parents to do so.

The most recent was when a guy at McDonalds in the next booth asked if I was the “Mr. Homework” his daughter talks about at home. She had evidentially pointed me out the last time she saw me there.

Overheard, a fellow sitting at a table nearby turns and says: “Hi, Mr. Homework! My boys told me all about you!”

While I’m certainly not a "minor" celebrity like Al or Bob, I’ll settle for all the fame and fortune that comes with being a "micro" celebrity.

…I’ll have to practice signing my autograph!

Friday, July 08, 2011


 Contest Winner: Congratulations to Kris in Kansas City, Mo

(...In case anyone is wondering how the winner was selected, check out It's a nifty random number generator that can be used for picking  winners from a range of entrants )

School is out but my job monitoring young children continues.

Daughter and SIL went on a week vacation to Kauai a couple weeks go and left the grandkids with us. Two on two is doable, but when Claudette goes to work, it’s just me with a 2nd grader and her younger brother the Kindergartner for 5-6 hours. Coincidentally, that’s about the same time span as a daily substitute teacher assignment.

Whether it’s two or twenty, it can be exhausting when “they” are in a different environment/routine and every response starts with: “Yea, but…”

Request: ”Let’s (insert whatever you want them to do next).”
Response: “Yea but, Mommy/Our teacher doesn’t do it that way.”
Response: “Yea but, I’m not tired.”
Response: “Yea but, I can’t find it.”
Response: “Yea but, I can’t do it.”
…and the ever popular
Response: “Yea but, I don’t want to.”

So, I made a new rule during their stay: "No YEABUT’s allowed!”

Every time they started a response with a “Yea, but”, I’d interrupt to remind them of the rule. After constant reminders, it was interesting to watch them try and think of another way to rephrase their response.

I’m thinking of putting it on a T-Shirt for the next school year…

What do you think!

P.S. the folks over at gave me one $25 gift certificate as a give away for my blog readers. The random drawing opens today and the will be open until Friday July 8. Email or use the comments section to enter. First name and email address required. One entry per person, please.

Meanwhile visit and start designing your own custom shirt.

Current # of entrants for the drawing: 6 (...odds are pretty good!)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lemon Yellow Pee…

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but being around lots of kids in a classroom sometimes seems to fine tune the subconscious brain’s alert system into high gear at the weirdest times.

In the last class of 2nd graders I taught this week, I thought I heard:

“Lemon Yellow Pee…”

ATTENTION, ATTENTION, ALERT, LOCATE, ISOLATE…until the small sing song voice continued:

“…Q, R, S, T, U, V…”

Emergency alert canceled…

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Final Tally: 2010-2011

No calls on this final day before the summer break. My last day was yesterday for a late morning, half day 2nd grade assignment to close out the school year.

Final totals:
This year 2010/2011 I worked 87 of 180 days in the classroom.
Last year 2009/2010 I worked 80 of 180 days in the classroom.

It seems that my doubts about not having as much work this year because of teacher layoffs and the changes to the resulting assignment rules did not come about.

Now, I DID add subbing at the middle schools as part of “willing to do” preferences. It turns out that it isn’t all that different from elementary and in some cases, much easier.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reindeer Games …

The phone rang at oh-six-dark-hundred this morning and that could only mean one thing.

Fumbling in the dark, I answered and accepted a half day subbing assignment starting at noon, then happily went back to sleep until 09:00am.

My three hour assignment commenced at the start of lunch for the 3rd grade class. That meant a quiet 40min paperback reading period for me. A book to read in any spare moment is one of the subbing essentials I carry in my backpack.

The lesson plan for the remainder of the day was very light. With only four days until summer break the day was shortened even more by a final hour break for the whole school to attend the annual, end of year “Teachers .vs. 6th Graders” kick-ball/baseball game.

That cut my “in class” assignment to little more than a single hour. What could be easier?

At the appointed time, I had the class pick up their chairs and haul them out to the ball field as every other class was doing. My class quickly disappeared into the mix of other classes lining the field. The teachers not playing in the game were monitoring the boundaries to thwart anyone from wandering off school property or onto the playing field during the game.

The teams gathered on the sidelines and it was immediately apparent that something was wrong. There were only seven teachers on the field. The teachers were outnumbered by a factor of almost 4-to-1.

There was an announcement calling for one or two more teacher “volunteers” to play that went unheeded. All the male staff, including the principal, were already on the field. Some of last year’s female players were on the sidelines in various stages of pregnancy or injury.

Now, substitute teachers are kinda like Rudolphs. We usually aren’t invited to play in any reindeer games with the rest of the herd and I’m happy with that arrangement. I have about 20yrs “advantage” over the oldest of the teacher players. Sitting on the sidelines enjoying the warm sun is AOK by me. But, it wasn’t to be.

I was gently coerced and eventually agreed to play the catcher position to minimize any “running” participation in the game. The teachers then drafted one of the sixth graders to act as pitcher and fill out the rest of the team.

The rules of the game seemed to be a bit free form and biased in favor of 6th graders. The rules are:

Three outs and done for the teachers. The 6th graders get one pass through all of their players and at least three outs before switching sides.

Teachers had eight playing positions including me as catcher.
The 6th graders had twelve outfielders (four in each field), two on every infield position and the rest sprinkled throughout the rest of field.

The game was tied nine each when time was almost gone but the teachers had “last ups”. The principle suggested ending it in a draw, but the guy teachers overruled him to play out the rest of the inning.

Teachers prevailed -- 10-9.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Winding Down...

After a week off for a short vacation in Las Vegas and only nine school days left in the school term before summer, I was doubtful about getting much work in the classroom.

I was wrong.

I missed three calls Tuesday night (I’m not at home Tues nights before 9:00pm) but did get a history class assignment at the middle school for Wednesday and two 1st/2nd grade combo-classes for the rest of the week.

The “history” assignment was pretty much a do nothing day. It seemed like half of the entire school was gone on the “Honors Fun Field Trip” to the beach. I was told that “honors” is considered grades “B” or better.

The left behinders were assigned to write a class/teacher evaluation followed by movies for the remainder of the period. The only thing “history related” about the movies was when they were last viewed in theaters.

Very low stress assignment for me but pretty boring for everyone else involved.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day - Joe Convey

While on our visit to Red Rock Canyon last week, it was the flash of red on a desert background of brown and green that drew my attention. I walked out to pick up what I assumed was a bit of visitor dropped litter. The "litter" was a small red, white and blue American flag.

So it was quite by accident that I came across this memorial plaque and flag for war veteran Joseph Convey.  I don't know who Joe was or how he came to be at this final resting place but I think it's fitting to share the following images on this Memorial Day - May 30, 2011 in peace Joe and thanks for your service.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


I haven’t been online lately because Claudette and I drove to Las Vegas for a five night “kinda free" vacation deal.

One of the advantages of working as a substitute teacher is that I don’t have to ask for or get approval to take time off. I’m just “not available” to the calling system.

As we aren’t frequent visitors to Vegas (this trip makes twice), it’s always interesting to note differences from our usual environment.

  • Don't take any cards from strangers on the street -- especially if your wife is with you.
  • Alcohol seems to impair hearing because drunk people talk loud.
  • Buy tobacco stocks, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of smokers.
  • I played $3 in the slots. Lost it all. Maybe it's a rip off.
  • There appears to be more pawn shops per square mile than anywhere else in the country.
  • People seem a lot more normal as distance from the Vegas Strip increases.
  • There really IS a desert out there. Red Rock Canyon is beautiful this time of year.
  • Almost everything is a dam joke at the Hoover Dam.
  • Dam that bridge is high. We walked across it both ways. We had to. The eastern end is a dead end.
...and finally:

The world didn't end as predicted the day before we got there

Friday, May 20, 2011

Odd Sub Types...

The following is a guest blog submission from the freshmen H.S. team bloggers  Phil & Ted and their take on "odd substitute teacher types" -- Mark


You walk into class.  All of a sudden, you’re back outside class.  You walk in again.  Then the same thing happens.  In the class is a teacher.  It’s not your teacher.  Then, you wake up, but you’re still in class.  Then you wake up again [to a clock radio], and again.  It turns out you’re falling off a bridge.  Then you wake up again, and you realize the point of this lengthy introduction was to make fun of the movie “Inception.”
 But what if you’re teacher didn’t show up for the day?  What if it was someone else?  In that case a substitute teacher takes over. While most subs are normal, there are basically five slightly less-normal substitutes. They are detailed in this scholarly article (along with common introductions).
            The Musically-Oriented Substitute Teacher

“Hello, students [Gmajor7] isn’t the world just full of [changes to a C chord] music?  [Breaks into “The Hills are Alive...”][Catches self]  Ooo-oooo-ooops [hits D, F#, and A on the “oops”], I forgot to take attendance!  [Breaks into “My Favorite Things”].”

This substitute teacher loves music.  The classic give-away is carrying an instrument case or in extreme situations, yodeling.  The best way to handle this substitute is to play some popular music, which will thoroughly ruin any sense of rhythm and melody the sub possessed previously.

            The Inexperienced Substitute Teacher

“Hi, it says here...introduce self...introduce self?, my name is Mrs. Someone-needs-to-show-me-the-ropes (my family has gone through a lot of divorces/remarriages). 

Now-please, don’t do that, I think the lights are supposed to stay attached to the ceiling (although it isn’t clear in these directions)-who wants to take attendance?”

Due to rising oil prices, some schools grab substitute teachers from their posts at the gas station (…except in Texas, where people stick a tube in the ground to fill up their car.  There, schools grab inexperienced subs from college, because, after all, if they got that far, they might as well stop).  Needless to say, this sub has no idea what to do, and begins to worship the teacher’s directions, which often include complicated words such as “cabinet” and “desk drawer” (unless, of course, they accidentally picked up the attendance sheet, in which case they worship Andrew Anderson, or whoever else is at the top of the list).

             The Last-Minute Sub

“[Panting heavily] Hey, students [breath], sorry I’m late, there was a six-car pileup in my garage.  When the helicopters tried to get the news footage, they crashed into my house, so I had to stop and save my California Condor pet, which was glued to the set in the living room watching Fox News.  I didn’t get the call to come in until last month, so it was kind of last-minute.”

These subs can be identified by their tie which is suspiciously, meticulously tied in a .5673 Windsor knot (conflicting with their story of being ‘last-minute’.  Clearly, they weren’t in traffic, they were stuck in front of a mirror).
            The Cheerful

“Hiya, students! So glad to see your bright and shiny faces.  Just for kicks and giggles, let’s be great friends!  I’m supposed to take attendance.  Do you guys like attendance? No? Then let’s not take attendance.  What’s that, you say? Tuesday is always graffiti practice day? Let’s do it!”

Contrary to popular belief, these subs are not extremely happy.  Instead, it is their extreme fear of the students that drives them to attempt to befriend the students (these are the people who attempt to respond to all of their 6,743 Facebook friends every week).

            The Story-Teller

“Good morning, students.  Oh, speaking of students (and good mornings), did I ever tell you about the time I was caught in a Chilean Mine? No? Well-oh, I have to take attendance first.  Speaking of attendance (and first), there was this one week of my life where I got my arm caught in the toaster, seven consecutive days in a row!”

When growing up as a child, these subs had the type of parents who always listened to their child, because, after all, they were “special”.  When tossed into the real world (on March 14th, 1987, for you readers keeping track), these subs naturally assumed that everyone would love to listen to them.  
These are the five oddest types of substitute teachers.  Remember, though, that these are the exceptions, and the substitute that's the norm is more-well, I'm not going there. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Government Offer...

I got the following notice enclosed with my tax refund...

(Click to enlarge)

Pardon my skepticism in taking any financial advice from an organization that's over $14 TRILLION in debt.

Might I suggest that we can eliminate all demonstrated, ineffective "commissions" like the Federal Financial Literacy and Education Commission as a minuscule step in the right direction?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Subbing a Popularity Contest?

I recognize other subs, if not by name, by sight fairly often after a year or two on the job. So when he entered the staff lounge at lunch time and I hadn’t seen him before, I assumed that he must be relatively new.

I invited him to share the table as we exchanged the customary first time meeting introductions. It turns out that we have very similar histories in how we both arrived in the role of a substitute teacher.

We are about the same age; both came from computer programming backgrounds and ended our careers in much the same manner. The only difference was, his was a layoff five years ago while mine was seven.

I was a bit surprised to find out, since I hadn’t seen him before, that he’s been on the subbing list for this school district for most of those five years and yet we hadn’t run across each other until now.

I originally enrolled in three districts when I first started and quickly reduced that to only a single one after a couple years. I assumed incorrectly that he must have been working other districts and just recently signed for this one.

In comparing “assignment frequency”, he was surprised to hear that I’m averaging 2-3 days a week in this single district we both share while he is having problems getting 2 days a week despite working for four separate districts. Next year, his plan is to enroll in one additional elementary district that has a reputation (not a good one) but has a higher pay rate to increase his assignment chances.

With several newer-hired subs and last year’s change in assignment procedure priorities to favor unemployed teachers, I’m surprised that I’m still working about the same frequency as normal but at fewer schools.

His parting comment: “Doesn’t seem to make any sense…must be a popularity contest.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Hate Paint…

Spring break ended two weeks ago. My personal “Spring break” continued for an additional week as there were no calls.

With only 20 days left in this school year, I should take all the assignments I can get before the summer income drought begins. So of course, as fate dictates, the first call this week is…Kindergarten!

Now, normally I wouldn’t take this particular class for one reason. This Kinder teacher is the only one I’ve encountered (so far) that has “painting” as a free choice activity at the end of the day. The before class preparation is a time consuming and messy process with the added bonus that some combination of shirt, pants and/or shoes will not escape an inadvertent color makeover before the end of the day.

The tri-sided art station, containing six color pots on each side, meant replacing all 18 pots of paint and cleaning all 18 brushes while attempting to avoid ending up looking like a cast member in a production of “Joseph and the Multicolor Dreamcoat

As per lesson plan instructions, I discarded the 18 old plastic bags of paint and grabbed the box of new plastic bags…There were only four Ziplock bags left in the box!!!

I suddenly realize that I’m at a crossroad with two choices. Do I persistently scour all the cabinets in the classroom looking for a new box of plastic bags or employ the old standard “…can’t find the pencil/book/homework in plane sight” student excuse.

There was no “free choice art” activity today.

Monday, May 09, 2011

HS Intern Interview...

From my online interview questions for the high school tag team bloggers Phil & Ted 

1) At what point in your academic (pre-academic?) career did you realize that you had a talent for writing?

While I’d love to capitalize on the “pre-academic” part and say that I actually wrote a few pieces while I was still in the womb, I don’t think you would believe me. Basically, I’d have to say that I started to seriously develop my writing due to my fourth grade teacher. Then, in seventh grade, I had a very funny English teacher, so I began writing humorous pieces. Recently, as a high school freshman, I started publicizing my humor writings in many ways, and was told that my writing, in terms of amusement, was just below watching a cat chase a laser pointer (so, of course, I started a blog). I suppose some of you would call this a talent, but for all I know I can blame both this and my bad teeth on genetics.

2) Do you write for any other media other than the blog? (School newspaper, English composition class, paid essay-writing services for fellow students, wall graffiti...)

Yes, there is a portion of the US federal tax dollars that is allotted to professional graffiti artists, and I think I have really found a niche in train boxcars. Ha ha, not really. So far, I’ve only written for my English class, speeches, my school’s annual literary magazine, and my blog. I would love to write for many other venues, such as my school paper, community paper, and marketing venues (such as advertisements. Something like, “This product has been recommended by your doctor/dentist/favorite celebrity, and is everything you need in life [insert guy, talking fast, with legal disclaimer] except for the various upgrades and other products we sell”).

3) Why blogging? Class assignment, experimentation, fame, fortune, just for fun...?

Well, one of my various classes used a blog, and when I participated, I thought, “Wait, this is online? So, like, anybody could read this? Like, even the life forms that may or may not exist on Mars could read this (assuming that they have a cafe with free wi-fi)? That’s horrible! We must have totally ruined our galactic reputation!” So, naturally, I set out to remedy this (using the principle that too much of a bad thing will eventually become a good thing). It’s an enjoyable experiment, because it provides readers for my writings and uses all sorts of technological skills. I’d love the fame and fortune, but unless the aliens are controlling our minds and don’t mind being the butt of jokes, I don’t think that is too likely at this point (except for, “Alien spaceship descends, fries teenage blogger, and leaves!”).

4) Any goals to turn this into a future career and if so, what area?

I have no definite goals for my career as of yet (aside from not being a technical writer, but, as you, Kauaimark, pointed out, the pay is good), but I would certainly enjoy making humor writing, or another aspect of original humor, a career (such as comedian, author, or politician. You know, “I promise to fix the federal deficit,”-what a knee-slapper).

5) (Just curious...) How are your grades in the other non-literary subjects?

Well, I’m not sure if I should tell you this, but my school adopted a system where all of the grades start with an  A: Amazing, Above average, Almost above average, Average, A bit below average, A fair amount below average, and Are you joking? 

Seriously, though, I have a 4.0, and I’m in some pretty difficult classes (such as: P.E., DA (department assistant or district attorney, I forget which), and lunch).

6) Any questions you might have for me?

Well, I noticed you started blogging way back in 2004. How old ar-I mean, what got you to start blogging, and why/how have you kept it going for so long? On a different subject, what are three things I absolutely have to do before I leave high school?

From me:
Well the exact number isn't important but there are enough clues in my blog to guess that I'm older than your parents but probably younger than your grandparents.

When I got married (to my H.S. girlfriend, BTW) after graduating college, I started a handwritten journal of our life together. I think the journal lasted a couple weeks and forgotten after a couple months. Too many other things happening with life, work, kid on the way, etc.

Fast forward 30 or so years and I received an invitation to try out something called "Blogger". At the time I was just checking what "blogging" was. It's turns out that "online journal" was an apt description. My original attempt was to revive the personal journal concept when life happened again and I wandered into a totally alien career change.

...and so my life as "Just a Substitute Teacher" was born.

On a different subject, what are three things I absolutely have to do before I leave high school?

1) If you haven't already, learn how to use credit cards responsibly. If you can't pay the balance(s) at the end of the month, don't use the any credit cards until one month after you've repaid all the balances in full. Pay with cash or go without. It will save you loads of grief in the future. Trust me!

2) Realize that your parents are probably smarter than you think they are. Don't think you can't ask for and get good advice. 

3) Everything else should be pretty well covered by #1 & #2

7) ...and finally, is there really a "Ted"? If so, his writing style is indistinguishable from yours. Very suspicious.

Yes, there really is a Ted. I, Phil, run the technical aspects of the blog, but Ted is a great humor writer that I knew of from school, so I brought him to the blog, and, rather than creating another blogger account and author, simply added his name to mine to keep things simple. Normally, I would have entertained your theory, but I could come up with no motive for taking on two pseudonyms. It’s hard enough remembering that have to sign comments and e-mails as Phil, and I’m sure I’d mess up if I had a third name to keep track of.

8) Is there anything Ted would like to contribute to the interview or would he rather stay the silent partner?

Hello world. It is I, Ted. I exist, and stuff…Well, I considered ending it right there, but I guess I have a little more to say. My story ismuch the same as Phil’s. I really began to enjoy writing during elementary school. 

Additionally, I have always had a hunger for some good humor (I mean, those guys on C-SPAN are the best comediansaround. They can keep me entertained all day). Soon, I realized thatif you mix writing with a little humor, you get something that people(or at least toddlers, family dogs, vegetables, etc.) like to read.Therefore, I thought Phil had a great idea when he mentioned creatinga humorous blog about high school. So I joined in as a co-writer, and,since then, it has been my goal to write deeply philosophical pieces regarding the important issues of high school life. However, I do not quite have Phil’s prioritization skills nor ability to write substantial amounts of work at high speeds, so I am a rare compliment to the rest of the blog. But looking forward, I hope to write much more, especially considering that millions of people around the world spend their time clicking the refresh button on our blog-page. So that’s me, but please, just call me Ted.

This is also from Ted, but is not part of his answer to the question:

Thank you for taking an interest in our blog! I have had a lot of fun looking around your blog, and I'm glad someone enjoys reading Some High School Blog as much as I enjoy writing for it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Tips for a Substitute Teacher…

The high school blogger team of Phil & Ted offers the following: 100 tips For The Substitute Teacher

It’s really, really long but I have personally used #’s 1, 2, 3, 26, 30, 34, & 84.

(Note: I might have Phil and/or Ted as guest bloggers, so your comments would be useful in determining that decision.)