Substituting is like a box of chocolates…

I did quite a bit of substitute teaching in the public schools in Massachusetts and started up in Wisconsin a few months ago. It was a bit of a process to get on the sub rolls here. In MA you only need a college degree; in WI you need to get a substitute teacher permit. If you are not a certified teacher, the school district in which you would like to sub has to OK your permit. In Verona the qualifications they are looking for are either Spanish/English bilingual speakers (not me) or experience in special education (again not me). If you are the parent of a student in the district, however, they will also consider you (me). I had to fill out lots of paperwork for the Department of Public Instruction, get fingerprinted, send in my college transcripts (really? they’re so old I can’t imagine they mean anything at this point) and be interviewed. They are actually short on substitutes so once I met with the sub coordinator and she called my references I was in. They use an automated sub service which allows you to easily indicate which days you are available and also to be contacted by text or email when an opening comes up. This mostly eliminates the dreaded 5:00 am phone call saying they need you that day.

I have mostly worked at the high school. I think many people avoid high school because it scares them but as a sub, it is the easiest level in many ways. The students are mostly self-directed, working on assignments or projects at their seats. I haven’t had to actually teach a chemistry lesson yet, thank goodness! It can be a bit boring so I always bring my laptop to take care of some work of my own and something to read. At the elementary level you are “on” all the time. You rely on students to tell you how things are usually done, which may or may not be helpful depending on what grade you’re in. (It’s amazing to me that first grade students at this point in the year disagree on what items we need to attend to during morning meeting!)

It’s fairly common in high school for a sub to show a movie that relates to the class subject – although sometimes somewhat peripherally. So far I have seen “Batman Begins” (completing literary analyses for film and how it differs from that for books), an ESPN documentary on major league athletes who gained and lost millions of dollars (for a finance class), an episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol (veterinary science) and Dirty Jobs (Tech Ed). They were all entertaining and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have watched them otherwise.

Last week in veterinary science the students were allowed to get the baby bunnies from their cages and snuggle up with them during the movie. It’s pretty endearing to see a 6 foot tall boy with an 8 ounce baby bunny on his shoulder. The bunnies were adorable, the rats not so much so.

The day I was in the ceramics classroom was fun. I wished I could have joined them at the pottery wheel!  Playing games with kindergarteners to teach them the alphabet was cute but spending a day with seventh graders was a challenge. I got lucky with middle school Family and Consumer Education (we knew it as Home Ec). One class was working on a sewing project and boys and girls alike loved using the machines. The next class was learning about nutrition and the one after that had an early childhood project – all subjects of which I am fairly knowledgeable. I promised my girls that I would not sub in any of their classes except for band, which hasn’t come up yet, and I dutifully avoid eye contact if I’m in their school, so they haven’t been too embarrassed yet. It is a bigger district than Littleton so there are plenty of jobs I can accept without seeing them.

A day where you feel like you’ve made a difference is the best. I’m not sure I’m all that effective in front of the classroom but I do enjoy walking around and working with students individually. Recently when the district was desperate I reluctantly filled in for a Special Education teacher. I was reluctant because I don’t have any training in this area and not much experience. My job was to pull students out of the classroom to work with them on assignments. It was difficult to motivate some of them and just getting started is hard for others. Behavioral issues were a concern too but being a mom does put you at an advantage! It gives you a wide repertoire of approaches. I wasn’t sure I was accomplishing much until late in the day when I worked with a student on writing two poems that had been assigned weeks ago. He had lots of unfinished work but these seemed doable and had clear instructions. We picked a topic he was interested in (his phone) and I coached him through it. He completed the poems and I accompanied him to hand them in (he’s not allowed to be in the hall by himself). The English teacher seemed quite pleased which in turn gave him a sense of accomplishment. (Did I see a slight smile?) When I saw the teacher later she said that was the most work he had done in weeks. Yay!

Today I mostly watched while the student teacher tried to teach dangling modifiers to 10th grade English students. !@?!# OK, before today I couldn’t have given a good explanation of them but to paraphrase that Supreme Court definition of porn, I know one when I see one. The student teacher was struggling and the kids were struggling but I’m just the sub and I didn’t want to undermine her authority so how much should I chime in? I ended up giving a few suggestions, we had them work on some examples and then class was over. Wednesday, on to Health class…

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5 Responses to Substituting is like a box of chocolates…

  1. CenturyLink Customer says:

    Great story, Carolyn!  You are anazing!!  Eben though you miss Littleton and it was truly a wonderful place filled with so many really neat and friendly people,  who made me feel welcome when I visited, you seem to be making your mark in Wisconsin!  Not surprising at all!  I love you!

  2. Sue Carrai says:

    I admire you, Carolyn! You have courage, and you bloom in the garden you are planted in. OMG! Did I dangle? 🙂

  3. Diane Kortz says:

    Loved reading this. I did not know you were a substitute teacher in either state! Emma occasionally has a sub who is assigned just to her building and floats around as needed. Come to find out, his dad works with Rich. Small world. Emma is taking FCS right now and has finished the sewing portion, now she’s on to cooking. Sounds like it’s very interesting and I would probably enjoy subbing as well. Don’t know if I have the qualifications. I may see what PA requires!

  4. ANNE PAYE says:

    Carolyn, you constantly amaze me! You have the teacher genes of your Mother and Peggy.
    Love, Anne

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