Yes, I am writing this post in response to another hard day of substitute teaching. 6th graders! Aaargh!
But the real point of it is that most of the problems I had are due to every teacher’s daily nightmare… discipline management.
Teachers, even substitute teachers, are expected to keep an orderly classroom. But the truth is, no adult human being can make a twelve-to-eighteen-year-old member of the monkey house do anything… or refrain from doing the most harmful thing that occurs to the immature monkey brain.
It is just as Carl Sandburg once suggested in a clever poem. If you tell them not to put beans in their ears, the only thing they will definitely want to do is put beans in their ears.
So, this post is my list of excuse-a-mes for why the classes I taught yesterday all had bean-filled ears.
Excuse number one; 6th graders! Aaargh! Yes, I had four classes to teach, and three of them were made up solely of 6th graders. They are the squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey house. Unable to sit still and be quiet on their best days, they were super-stirred and hormone-activated. It is, after all, February, a week before Valentine’s Day, the hormonal-monkey holiday. It was a writing class and they had a writing assignment that they are supposed to be working on for the next week. And the generally accepted rule among monkeys; Do no work for substitute teachers, no matter their educational backgrounds in English and writing.
Excuse number B; To maintain discipline you have to know the kids. Here’s the most pernicious problem that substitute teachers are saddled with. I had never seen over ninety-five percent of these squirrel monkeys before… not in their natural habitat… not even in cages at the zoo. Boy, do the nerd-like teacher-pleasers who are actually classroom comedians and attack-monkeys in disguise really mount up in that particular saddle and ride you for the rest of the monkey-rodeo you thought was going to be a writing class.
Excuse-a-me Three; There are too many monkeys in the monkey house. Especially the Avid class of 30 super-heated seventh and eighth grade warm bodies that I had to teach as a bonus-penalty for being a “good” substitute. AVID is a special program for troubled and at-risk kids where you put them together with a good teacher and treat them like gifted students and set their lovely little monkey-feet on a path to college. Except, this under-funded special program that works spectacularly well in some schools, is basically misused and abused across Texas where practically all kids who are not white or not wealthy are at-risk for one reason or another. I got to walk into a classroom cold with these thirty high-risk monkeys because no other sub had signed up for this particular nightmare job. No lesson plans were available. No attendance sheets were ready. And it was a science lab, so the room was filled with kids who had helped themselves to rulers and yardsticks with which they were conducting sword-fights. The teacher next door who was giving a test found for me a stack of worksheets to give out. I located a class list to use for attendance. And then I proceeded to put them into seats with work to do and threatened several lives and put one overly-aggressive girl in temporary time-out and denied restroom privileges to scores of kids who probably weren’t going to actually explode into showers of pee. And I didn’t keep them quiet, but when the bell finally rang 50 hour-long minutes later, no one had died a horrible death. And they all had their clothes still on. And it appeared that the structural integrity of the classroom was still sound enough for one more class period. And I, of course, had to quickly rush back to the 6th graders for the worst class of the day.
Excuse-a-me Finale; The sub in the room next door was more incompetent than I was on this particular day. That isn’t really an excuse for my poor showing, but it at least made me feel sorry for someone besides myself. Some of his students came to me as their next official class, already charged up for a super-fun murder-the-sub day. Some of the students who came to me had to go to him for their next period and tried to stay in my room instead. Some of his students went for extended tours of the parts of the campus where they knew no assistant principal or security guard would be. There were fights in that class. They were banging on the the walls. They were noisier than my classes. The poor young guy had none of the substitute survival skills that I had, and I was too pressed to help him at all. But he was young and healthy. He had apparently been there for a couple of weeks as he was doing a long-term job for a history teacher who was having a baby. So, he will soon learn that he does not want to become a Texas public school teacher in his future.
So, as a disciplinarian, I was really dumb for a day. I do know how to handle these things correctly, and I will make future posts about the How-to-s of that. But for today, it is enough to say that I survived to teach another day.