Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What I've Learned about Teaching as a Substitute

I'm not an expert about any of this. I'm just trying to learn and this is my current hypothesis. I can walk into any room and, using volume and attitude, get a measure of control of the situation in a few minutes, but volume and attitude get you only so far, even as a substitute. I actually like teenagers and I feel like this works in my favor quite a bit too... but after about twenty minutes, whatever the kids are used to is pretty much the way things are going to go.

I have been in the same schools enough to have had the same students in various classrooms and there are a lot of things that determine how a class is going to go, both for me and for the kids. The same student can be a joy or a pain, and as a substitute I've noticed that the experience varies widely in different classrooms. What seems to make the biggest difference, is how 'together' the teacher is. The teacher's expectations and the routine that the students get into in that class make a difference even when the teacher isn't there. Habit is very strong.

Some teachers have it together and some don't. I'm not a 'have it together' kind of person generally speaking, but I can get it together in aspects of my life. I want to be the teacher who is on top of things.

Teachers who have it together seem to have a few things in common. First, they are teaching something, even when it's just me in the classroom. They have a plan that's not about filling the time and keeping the students busy but about learning something. The best experience I've had as a substitute so far has been in a math classroom at the middle-school level. Middle-school is a challenging age group, so that's saying something. The teacher's plan wasn't for me to review something the students already knew or just keep the students busy. We were learning factoring which was new territory for the kids and forgotten territory for me. He had me show two videos on the subject and then gave me two examples to work on the board, which I understood well because of the examples in the video. Then the students did the practice from a worksheet. There was plenty to do and none of it was busy work, and even better, in the process I learned the material well enough to trouble-shoot for the kids who ran into problems. It was an awesome day for me and a productive day for the kids.

Teachers who have it together have a consistent procedure to deal with things like bathroom breaks and visiting other classrooms. Students expect the consistency to carry over to the substitute and tend not to push the boundaries too much. Together teachers leave instructions like, "students are not to leave the classroom without a pass and only one student should be out of the classroom at any given time". Because the teacher is consistent with this procedure, the students follow it much more gracefully with the substitute. They expect things to work a certain way because that's how the day-to-day in that classroom goes.

These teachers tend not to have empty bulletin boards. I'm not positive that this has a huge impact because I have had good days in generic looking rooms but most teachers who have it together have interesting things up on the walls that I, as a visitor, learn something from. Things are organized. You can walk into most of these classrooms and feel like the day is going to go well because the environment looks like someplace you would want to spend time in.

I'm worse than a rookie. I'm not even in the game yet, but I'll revisit these observations on down the line and let you know if I'm onto something or full of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Life: The Musical

I just thought it would be fun to pretend I'm singing this. Actually though, that would only be fun for me. Here are just some things that have been going on and have kept me busy and distracted.

I'm dating a guy. I like him. He likes me. I think we're both a little gun-shy and figuring the other shoe is going to drop. It's okay.

I'm working most days. I've been substitute teaching in a couple of districts and I get up every morning and suit up and look for a job and most days I find one. I enjoy my work. I like high school best but an occasional day with the adorable little ones is good too. I have been in some of the same classes enough that the kids know me and I kind of know them... though I seriously have to figure out how to get better at learning everybody's name.

I've been reading a lot about teaching and I'm going to take a couple of classes this summer so I can get my license again. I feel like I could be a really good teacher and that I would enjoy it and have something to offer... so I feel pretty good about my professional options. In any case, I feel a lot better than I did a few months ago.

Jasmine is about to graduate and prom is next weekend and she's taking the ACT again on the same day as prom and with all the craziness we haven't really planned well for things like hair and nails and all that girly prom stuff that we were very much on top of last year. She's planning on going to Emporia State and I'm very proud of her, but at the moment she's understandably a huge ball of anxiety and excitement.

 Oh, also, we have to move. My landlord needs this house for her son who is graduating college. I found a place and my new landlords seem like a good guys... so I won't be homeless. The new place is nicer and bigger than where we are now, so that's good. Moving in the middle of all this craziness is not so great but it will all work out.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Everyone. Yes, everyone.

You've heard somebody say everyone is beautiful in their own way. I mean, I assume you have, because I have and people say this thing. And it's kind of true, really. Even the creepy elderly guy that used to hit on me would look great in one of those coffee table books if a skilled photographer got a shot at him.

I've spent a lot of time with people from a lot of different socioeconomic backgrounds and I can tell you that everyone is not only beautiful in their own way but they are also brilliant. That's not how we are encouraged to think about it. We are encouraged to focus on the general stupidity of people. We like to bring people down and judge them because it makes us feel superior.

People do what makes sense to them and what gets results for them. It can be self-destructive, but the only real thing separating the average high school kid from Doctor Snooty Pants is time, effort, and circumstances. I spent my afternoon today listening to a group of high school kids sing skillfully in Italian (I think it was Itallian... honestly I'm not sure.) AFTER I told them they could have free time to do what they wanted.

I have a friend who is definitely smarter than I am in any way that measures actual ability to do things in the real world and I'm helping her with fractions so she can get her GED. I know people who fix things and people who make things and people who simply care for people in ways that all the schooling in the world wouldn't teach you.

I'm not sure any of this has a point. I guess I just want to say to all the Doctor Snooty Pantses of the world, "stop being so freaking judgmental". At no point in human history has the presence of straight, beautiful teeth, a tiny waist, and an immaculate wardrobe indicated intelligence and dignity. There are people you see every day that you fail to see as people and it's time for you to stop. I guess that's all.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Strange Things Happen

So, I have a friend who needs help studying for the GED and she doesn't have a computer. In order to help her, I ordered a study guide from Amazon. I was expecting it early this week so when I got a package from Amazon today, I opened it.

It was pants. Nice pants made for a skinny boy. There was a note inside telling me it was a gift from somebody named Gina. Her last name was included. It was strange because:

1. I did not know this person.
2. I do not really need navy colored pants.
3. The pants would not fit anybody in my household.

I contacted Amazon and they were very apologetic and then gave me the name and number of the person who sent them to me. I called Gina and she said that she meant to send them to her son. It's all very odd because the shipping label had my full name and address on it. I'm sending them back and she's getting her money back. The tracking information says that the book should come sometime yesterday.

I order from Amazon a lot and I've never had any problems before and they handled the issue pretty well. I hope the book gets here soon though.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

This book was a gift to my daughter from my sister-in-law, who is generally a great person and possibly the best female role model a young woman hoping to go into business could be related to. Seriously, I have a lot of respect for my sister-in-law, not the least of which is because she manages to be a great mom, have a successful career, and be married. When making the choices she made, I chose to focus on being a mom and honestly that had a lot to do with how hard it was trying to do three full-time jobs at the same time.

So, I know from graduate school how hard it can be to operate in a men's world while balancing parenthood and how little leeway we are given to do that. I expected a lot of complaining about the state of things from this book because I know there is a lot to complain about, but I also came away with some strategies for dealing with the stacked deck we are handed.

The title is the advice, or anyway the most important piece of it. If you want it, go for it. Don't sit back timidly and wait to be rewarded for being the nice, quiet, unbossy, helpful person that everybody expects you to be. Lean in to your life. If it's business or education or parenting, there's no reason to hold back. If you feel like you're going to have to leave the thing you're working on, don't back off till you have to leave. There's no surer way to fall out of love with your life than to stop working at achieving your best.

There are helpful tips and there is a lot of stuff about how we're falling short and how we need more women in positions of power so we can level the playing field. I highly recommend this book, not because it solves all the problems but because it recognizes and begins to deal with them. Now, lets all go out there and sit at the big table and do the hard work, because if we don't, it won't get done.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lara Croft is Not the Enemy

"...but remember, that it is both possible, and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media, while also being critical of its more problematic and pernicious aspects." - Anita Sarkeesian.

She actually says this at the beginning of all of the videos I've seen that she's made criticizing the portrayal of women in video games. I don't know if she says this in every video she's made, because I haven't watched every video she's made. She criticizes the portrayal of women in games in a sort of dry academic way and that seems to irritate a lot of people, but even SHE isn't saying that we shouldn't enjoy games.

There was an awesome sale on a Lara Croft title on Steam this last weekend. It had a cooperative play aspect and really great reviews but my boyfriend was hesitant to bring it up with me because- Feminism. I tried to explain that a concern about the portrayal of women in games doesn't equate to me not wanting to play the games.

I then went into a little bit of a monologue about the kinds of things that irritate me the most... like how some games don't have any option for female protagonists and that I find that irritating. To be fair, some games don't have options for male protagonists... but those are a lot less common than the former kind. I really want to be female AND the hero. That's how I like to game. Lara might be wearing a bikini and garters with gun holsters, but at least she's a female hero.

We bought the game and played it most of the day. The reviews were spot on. I don't even like shooting games that much, but this one had a great mix of cooperative puzzles and fighting. We had a great time.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Romance Rescue

I started this blog a long, long time ago on Valentines Day- Or, as I felt at the time, The Annual Day of Disappointment. Seriously though, it's not that hard and it doesn't require much money. All you need to summon a little romance is some creativity and effort. Every kiss does not need to begin with Kay and you really shouldn't head out on the morning of the 14th for flowers and chocolate, unless you're sure that's what your honey really wants. For one thing, there will be huge lines of other people doing the same thing. I know, I've witnessed it.

The key to being romantic on Valentine's Day is simply demonstrating in some kind of giftable way that the relationship is important and your sweetheart is exactly who you want to be with. Buying generic supermarket flowers every year doesn't really do that, though, don't get me wrong, I love flowers. Buying a specific flower that you know means something to him/her... that's more like it.

I'm in favor of any little things that show you were listening when she or he told you something special, commemoration of an inside joke, or heartfelt words written down. The key is giving the object of your affection something that only they would want and only you can give. That might be a paper heart with a dirty limerick written on it, a plastic "one ring to rule them all", or an elaborate scavenger hunt that ends with picnic. Effort counts a lot more than execution and thought counts almost as much as effort. If you planned it and worked on it ahead of the 14th, it will be obvious. If you threw it together at the last minute, but put some thought into it, that works too. If you ran out in a panic and bought something just so your lover wouldn't be pissed off... you're missing the point.