Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Substitute Diaries - The Teacher Gets Schooled

My mother always told us that she had eyes in the back of her head. But I've learned that a substitute teacher must far surpass that standard, especially at the middle school level.

I've learned quite a few things since I started substitute teaching.

I can spot a teenage girl surreptitiously texting from her cell phone from way across the room. Honestly, do they think I don't know what they're doing when they sit with their hands in their purse?

The rattle of a candy or gum wrapper brings me to full attention. Likewise, I can hear a whisper all the way across a classroom.

I've learned which bells to ignore and which ones to heed. And I know where to go during a fire drill and what to take with me when evacuating the building.

I've learned that anytime a girl says she feels sick you should send her to the nurse's office as quickly as possible.

I've learned that it's okay to let a kid sleep through your class. It's the path of least resistance and sometimes that's the right choice.

I've learned that some teachers don't think substitutes are actually capable of teaching anything ... or they're just too lazy to put together a lesson plan.

During a test, I can spot a roving eye without even trying.

I've learned that, in the hands of a teenage boy, a rubber band is, at the very least, a huge distraction and, quite possibly, a weapon of mass destruction.

And pencils ... don't get me started on pencils. I could write volumes about pencils ... sharpening them ... coming to class without them ... breaking them ... stabbing people with them ... yes, I said stabbing. I once had a classroom of first graders who sharpened every pencil in the room (probably more than 40 total) down to less than two inches over a two-day period.

And along with pencils come sharpeners. Pencils and sharpeners are so abused and disruptive that I usually ban the use of electric sharpeners completely. If you must sharpen a pencil, you better be okay with using a small hand-held sharpener. That's all you're getting in my classroom.

And writing instruments in general ... I can't believe how many high school and middle school boys come to class without them day after day. Really, how do they expect to get any work done without anything to write with? Oh, I get it; that's the point isn't it?

There are things I say over and over again: Where are you going? Where are you supposed to be now? Do you really have to go? You're supposed to take care of your personal needs during passing period. Sit down! Stop talking! Turn around! Tuck in your shirt. I swear, some days it would be better for me if I just had a recording that would play these things continually over and over again. Sometimes I feel like the grand inquisitor.

I have also learned that the most powerful thing you can say to a kid is ... What is your name? Those four words, asked in a stern voice while making effective eye contact, strike fear into the heart of a kid. This is especially effective with boys ... for some reason they think you're going to leave the teacher a note with their name on it or write their name on a referral to the back office.

So, yes, I've learned a few things since I went "back to school."

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