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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Can I Take My Break Now?

I would have thought that after almost 10yrs working as a substitute teacher I would have heard every known excuse to spend a few extra minutes away from the classroom outside of the scheduled lunch and recess breaks. The need to use the bathroom or see the nurse is usually the most common. I am moderately lenient to most requests but they need to give me a creditable reason.

So what should I make of a fifth grader's request: "Can I take my break now?

I'm thinking, that's one I hadn't heard before. I check the lesson plan notes and there isn't anything about "special needs" for anyone in class but this was a late assignment in that I didn't get the call until about 9:30am this morning.

He's not struggling with the class work. If anything, he's already ahead of the class and bored that the rest of the class hasn't caught up yet.

I need more information.

Me: Why do you need a break? Didn't we just get back from lunch a short time ago?
Kid: I get a break when I need it.

Me: Why do you get a break? Are you on some kind of medication that requires rest? Are you supposed to go see a school specialist during break? Are you stressed?
Kid: I get to have a break every day whenever I need one.

I'm thinking this kid is yanking my chain. The class has been pretty good, working the lessons, cooperative, friendly and mellow. I'm having a good time and can't see why this kid could be "stressed". So, I push a bit farther.   

Me: Where do you take these breaks and what do you do?
Kid: Sometimes I just sit on the bench outside, sometimes I run around the track.

Me: The school allows you to run on the track unsupervised during class time? I don't think so.
Kid: Yea, they do, so can I go?

Now, I sure he's yanking my chain and I decide to call his bluff.

Me: I can't let you go outside the classroom unsupervised because I'll get fired. Why don't I call down to the office and have someone come here to go out with you for your "break"? What do you think?

(I'm pretty sure the last thing this kid wants is an audience with the principal trying to explain why he's giving me this C***&Bull story just because his teacher is out of the room. I'm pretty sure he will discover his need for a "break" at this time has suddenly passed and decline my generous offer for a supervised break.)

Kid: (shrugs his shoulders) OK!

Me: You sure?
Kid: Yea, I need a break.

I make the call, and to my amazement, they don't hesitate to have me send him down!

Now who's looking incredibly perplexed?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shorted Paycheck...

Subbing is the only job I have had where I had to check each and every paycheck for accuracy.

It shouldn't be that hard as we aren't paid "by the hour", we don't punch a time clock, we don't get overtime or vacation pay. We get paid the same daily rate per assignment worked.

In the early years, the daily assignment lists were manually transcribed from each school to the district office in the form of login sheets to for processing. Most of the time, the paycheck was correct. Unless you documented every assignment number and date, you had little chance of proving they shorted your paycheck.

The districts I worked for never erred on "over payment".

Starting a few years ago, one of the advertized benefits of going from the "manual" substitute assignment process to the SmartFinder automated system, was accurate accounting. Since the switchover three years ago, I detected no errors in my paycheck...until last Friday.

My Day-Timer log said they missed paying me for one half-day assignment. The SmartFinder online "assignment review" page for last month indicated the same thing.

That can mean only one thing.

The assignment computer is not passing data directly to the district payroll computers. There must be a "person" transcribing and counting assignments days in the middle of the payroll process.

So much for advertised accuracy.

(Heading down to the district office tomorrow...)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Numerators & Denominators

One of the hardest concepts about fractions for students to remember is the terminology of fractions. The most common question I get is "Which one is on top, the numerator or denominator?"

Why it's important to know the nomenclature of fractions isn't as critical as knowing what the numbers on the top (how many parts you have) and bottom (total same sized parts) represent. However, since it probably comes up on the test, students probably should learn it.

When the question is asked, my usual response is: "Denominator starts with the letter "d" and so does the word "down". The other one is the numerator since I can't think of a word for the top part that starts with "n".

So it was in a 4th grade class studying fractions that I asked: Does everyone know what the top and bottom parts of a fraction are called?

All (in sing/song voice): "denominator starts with "d" and so does the word "down". nominator starts with 'n' which looks like an an upside-down "u" that stands for "up".

Me: "Wow, that's pretty good! Where did you guys learn that from?"
Dude in front: "You taught us the first part last time you were here and our teacher liked it and came up with the second part".

I am totally going to steal that for the next time this topic comes up.

If you found this post searching for why they are called the denominator and numerator, Ask Dr. Math does a pretty good job of it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Fifteen Subs...

When I started subbing, I took pretty much took any assignment that was offered. After all, the school district paid the same daily rate for all schools and any grade levels. School district officials like to pretend that everything is equal but reality is quite different.

Some schools have no problems filling substitute positions while others go begging for anyone willing to show up for an assignment. The reason for this disparity pretty much comes down to one reason.

School culture at some schools is very low on classroom behavior. It's mentally exhausting trying to accomplish anything on a lesson plan.

Three or four of the eighteen in this district keep me regularly busy enough to avoid an expected disaster elsewhere. Substitute teacher daily pay should be a sliding scale based on the degree of difficulty to remain sane by the end of the day.

That said, after 9+ years subbing, every now and again, I get curious to see if anything has changed around the district.

Last Wednesday night I saw three online postings for roving substitutes at a notoriously poor performing school in the district. This school is at the top of my scale for the stress inflicted. That alone is usually be enough for me to pass on it, but this assignment is only four hours instead of the usual six.

Half-day assignments are listed as 3.5 hrs. Anything over is considered a "full day". This meant that today would be a shorter day with full pay and probably not too much time in any single classroom.

Starting this year, the school changed from a standard subjects-based curriculum to a new projects-based curriculum. All but six of last year's teachers had been rotated out to other schools and replaced with high achieving, volunteer teachers from other parts of the district. The incoming teachers had to apply, interview and train for each position.

I was curious to see if the changes made any difference on my current negative bias.

Thursday morning was a mad house checking in at the school office. There were 15 subs checking in that morning. Each of us were called in as "roving subs" to cover two hours for two teachers spread over all grade levels that day.  The regular teachers were in training seminars for the new teaching curriculum.

I had one 3rd grade assignment and one Kinder assignment to re-evaluate this current working environment.

At the end of the day, as the mob of substitutes were leaving the building, the ones I talked with were all pretty much in agreement about classroom behavior.

They still don't pay us enough to work here.