Sunday, October 13, 2013

19 notes from the substitute.


I began writing this first out of frustration, and then I met a student teacher who found out I was a recent grad who was subbing. She had all kinds of questions for me, and was shocked at some of my answers, my cautionary tale for upcoming graduates: subbing is not at all like student teaching [surprise!]. I student taught as a graduate student, so my experience was a little different than an undergraduate's as it was. With age comes experience; I am not a shiny faced 22 year old any more... those were the days... Without further adeu,

Notes from the Sub

I met a fair few subs while student teaching. Some examples may have included the awesome and super helpful, the "see student teacher if you have questions" note and choses to write the day off as a free pass to effectively take a nap all day, and the left the minute the day was over and saying "You will see her tomorrow; I do not need to write a note. Besides, I am a single mom and my student teaching experience was horrible so yours should be, too. Have a great evening!"

This is the sort of thing that no one [unless you have a parent that is a teacher, or an epically awesome co-op... or both] warns you about. You win some, you loose some. You might be able to talk about it to your co-op the next day. You might have to swallow it and keep your mouth shut. We have all been there. This is that part of life that some folks refer to as "paying your dues", and some of them say it with a fair amount of schadenfreude. 

If you are fresh out of school and new to this whole subbing thing, or your still in school, be prepared. You may walk into a classroom and find a pile of clerical work to do; this is how some districts are saving money on aids. And while you are about doing that clerical work at the copy machine, do not be terribly surprised if you get stopped by another teacher who asks you copy, colate and staple 25 copies of this, this and this for room 205 by 3rd period [never mind that this is your first day in this school, you have no idea when 3rd period is or where room 205 is]. It will probably happen. Again. And again.

Are you beginning to see why teachers say there are not enough hours in the day? I do not have enough hours in the day. At least as a student teacher I knew where I was going from one day to the next. As a sub you will be driving from one end of the county to another, spanning the gammut of grade levels and disciplines, and hoping that you have work secured for tomorrow or next week. So far this month I will have taught Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, 4th, Music, and Home Economic and Consumer Sciences. And  at the 12th of the month, we're not even half way through yet.

Classrooms may not have tissues because they were all used up yesterday, and the kids have to supply them - some years are tissue boon years, others are bust. Reality check. Sometimes you need a post-it note, and there is not one to be had for love or money. I can hear you saying to yourself "But none of this is my responsibility" and I am saying to you a.] districts vary in what they will supply to classrooms [office supplies is not one of those things] and b.] is it worth the stress of you not being able to find something you need? No. It is not. Plus, snot is gross. All.The.Time. At. Any. Age. Have I mentioned that? Discharge from the cranium is disgusting and likely germ infested. You probably do not have health insurance yet under A.C.A. You need this job, especially if you don't have parents that floating you along and/or a steady part time job with a reliable pay cheqye. Stay healthy out there.

Furthermore, disctricts have specific district wide policies, but each individual building within the district has different rules and policies. For example, in Cheerful Valley School District, 1st and 2nd Street School kindergartens both have snack, but 1st Street kindergarten has rest time; 2nd Street school does not. You end the day at 2nd street wishing the students had rest time. Kindergartens at both schools will have snack, but only 2nd Street 1st grade has snack. Both 1st and 2nd Street School have the same behavior chart systems for kindergarten, first and second grades.

If you are with a temp agency who has a portfolio with more than one district, let us say they service Cheerful Valley, Bethel Chapel and Lower Saint James, you will be notified of absences in all of those districts if you wish to be on those lists, but remember that the policies are different between all of those districts, you will be jumping around between cirriculum materials and behaviour management styles, and that the expectations of you from building to building will vary greatly. Even within a quote "plum" district, some of the schools may pull different population demograpics because of specific geographic areas they are servicing within a district. Assume nothing when you walk in that door about the students you are about to meet for the first time.

Fellow and future subs, some common courtesies to consider, some smacks of the obvious. Feel free to ignore everything beyond the bold face. Bear in mind there are some funny stories you might miss if you do.
  1. Please do not use the classroom roster in the sub folder to take attendance. Even if it is the only thing you can find and it is "logical". USE ANOTHER PIECE OF PAPER. Any other piece of paper. In point of fact, bring paper with you so you have paper to use for this purpose. Write down the absent children's names, plus your room number and the regular teacher's name. You will need that roster later. Or the sub tomorrow will if the teacher is sick again. And the next day's sub will be ripping their hair out wondering who the heck all these children are who have destroyed their desk name tags. You could be sub, take one, day two, and trust me when I say if you are the next day's sub, you will be silently cursing the sub from the day before. So seriously. Be kind and considerate. Use a different piece of paper for attendance. Even if it is a post-it. The office will understand the message, even if the message is "ROOM 106: ALL PRESENT"
  2. Make note of the office phone number, and if you have to, put it it someplace you know you can find it fast, or commit it to memory.  Because no child has ever freaked out and needed to be removed from the class, thrown up on your shoes, been marked absent but was not actually, or arrived right after you sent attendance down, or...
  3. Make friends with the secretary and the custodian. In that order, because the secretary is the first person you are likely to meet, anyway. In fact, it might be a good idea to casually ask at the office who the custodian at the school is when you get there. It is always a good idea to be friendly to the lunch ladies if you are in a school where you have lunch duty. Being friendly gets you places. Maybe not immediate places. These places look like kind words when you have been used to some other than [remember that they are encountering the same plesant children]. Or a cookie. Or a small bottle of water. Seriously. Smile and be kind. Always.
  4. When in doubt, talk about the freak snow storm and how it took 5 hours to make a 2 hour drive at lunch or ask if any one has been to the new cupcake/coffee/noodle place and what do they think? Have no opinions, especially about politics, if you know no one. At any time, anywhere. Fastest way to a faux pas ever. 
  5. Be sure to pass along a thank you with who ever is in the room to the responsible people for the frosted pumpkin cookies in the faculty room at lunch. If they are not delicious, say thank you. Especially if they are delicious and the responsible party is not there, say thank you. If the responsible party comes back before you leave, make sure you say thank you personally  for bringing them. They did not have to bring them and they sure did not have to share them with the sub.
  6. Bring your own box of tissues - and I hear you say "Not my problem" "But they cost money"
    SNOT.IS.GROSS. At any age. And if you are at someplace like Tar-get at the right time, they are always blowing out their little square Uppity store brand boxes of tissues because what is printed on the box is a few weeks out of season. I snagged several boxes of tissues 2 for the equivilent price of 1 the other day in boxes that looked like wooden blocks - 64 cents a box. At that price, it will not kill me to bring a box of tissues with me to school all the time. When you have a cold, do you want to make a run for T.P.? Also at that price, leave the box behind. Those students already do not have tissues, and it will be a nice thing for them to have some tissues the next day if they are not all gone. Courtesy is a beleagured trait in this country, and people look for it. 
  7. Consider saying more than a child had a "bad day" in the note. If they were slapping someone else up side the head in the hall, pinning someone down to the ground at recess and standing on their desk during math, say so. The teacher told you thus and so has a behaviour plan for a reason. They ask you to leave a note for a reason. Is it a half day and the teacher is coming back? Say why so and so has a yellow post-it on his desk. "Because Name would not stop messing with with their pencil box while I was teaching; I gave them three warnings, and then a yellow post-it, according to the class system. Also, I confiscated the pencil box after the warning, and I said they could have it back tomorrow." Then stick to what you said you would do with the student. The class will pick up on inconsistency and run with it.
  8. Say who was really helpful. Sometimes those kids never get a break.
  9. Keep an emergency activity with you for the little kids. Like a short book, and use it if you have to. Mo Willems' Pigeon books are a pretty good choice for young audiences. They are generally brief and amusing, and will fill 5 awkward minutes that could spell chaos otherwise. You might not be able to find the class library, or they may not have one. Or, this should not be a surprise, the kids are already familiar with all their class books, because they've read them all. So a book you bring is something special to share because of it's novelty. Preview your books though; do not just grab one off the shelf, and know what it is you are reading [this should go without saying]. The kids do not even have to leave their seats, will be captivated and the room will be under control and quiet for at least that 5 minutes before lunch. Success.
  10. Leave everything at the end of the day in one place. On the teacher's desk is probably a great place to do this, or a nearby table, with the sub note on the desk in plain sight. The manuals, any extra papers, anything that did not get passed out. Every. Thing. To. Get. Her. See the note about the regular teacher being sick again the next day and being the next day's sub not being able to find anything. At. All. Take five minutes at the end of the day to do a sweep of the room.This way the teacher can find their own stuff day. Or the next day's sub... manuals are kind of important. And you can't leave the room to ask someone for materials. OR rely on a 5 year old to ask an adult for something.
  11. Be careful about your food and the food allergies you might encounter. Speaking for myself, we had allergies in our house to milk, wheat an corn. Nothing involving anaphylaxis, but enough that we shopped at a food co-op before anyone knew what that place was, or what whole eating was about in the late 80's early 90's [back when it was 'lame' and scoffed at] Rice ice cream was just wrong. But that was then and I digress. So.
    Here is the set up: you walk into a room bright and early with your almond fruit granola and pint of milk to splash in your coffee and over said granola because your milk went surprise rancid over the weekend and you did not have time to replace it. You stopped on the way and got that pint of milk, and you figured you would be early enough to inhale breakfast and read the plans before the children came in. Wham. There is a tree/peanut nut/ dairy allergy in the room so severe you could have caused anaphylaxis simply by opening both containers before the kid got there, and you did not sanitize a surface or wash off your spoon and left it out. The note says please see the school nurse STAT. Some more common allergies include Soy, Eggs, Dairy, Gluten, Peanuts, Treenuts, Sesame, Shellfish. There can be more obscure allergies out there like hand sanitizer, mangoes, bell peppers, wheat, ham/other meats.
    But Miss Zara. Surely you jest in all this. No. I surely do not. You caught my personal narative about milk, wheat and corn? Something like milk/peanut/treenut story will happen. The office will not
    tell you about your class; this is information that the teacher leaves for you. The office may have a note front and center saying that the school is allergy aware; please only eat in the teacher's room and cafeteria. Sometimes you will have a handy note about these allergies when you walk in the door of the classroom and sometimes you will not. Sometimes a kid shows up with a med-alert charm bracelet and that was your first clue [facepalm]. Also depending on the school, you may have a crash course in how to use an Epi-pen with the school nurse. It is actually very helpful if you have never used one, because they are different from other injection devices such as a migraine injection delivery system for adults. All this varies from school to school, and even then with in districts. If the sub notes do not mention an allergy in your room  and you have never been there before, it is a good idea to ask another teacher; better safe than sorry. Always, always ask. It is too big a deal not to know about this. You should have this information; if you do not someone else was not doing their job.
  12. On that note, it is feast or famine out there, especially if you forgot your lunch. Or coffee. Lunch prices and availability for adults vary by district. Sometimes the school does not tell you about lunch availability and how much it costs. I wish I was kidding, but there was one school disctrict I  visited on tour when I used to act where adults were "strictly forbidden" to buy lunch. 0_o Too bad you are sad...? Keep snacks on your person if you even think you might get hungry, and some change [sometimes there is a drink machine or a fridge stocked with 50 cent cans of soda - your lucky day. Be thankful for those]. Why on your person? Because you can not trot out to your car once you enter the building. Lunch is not the time to figure out you are more hungry than you thought and now you can not order a lunch. But again, be aware of your room's allergies, and do not crack open the peanut granola bar if the school or your room is on peanut lock down. Also, a peanut is not the same thing as a tree nut; almonds are tree nuts. So are hazelnuts, Nutella fanatics.
  13. Assume nothing about that coffee pot, Keurig, or the creamer in the fridge the room. First of all, it is not yours, it is the personal property of someone else. What if you break it? Remember what your mother taught you about touching things that did not belong to you? I've broken more glass coffee caraffes in my life than I care to admit. Also, that creamer costs money, and was purchased by someone else, it is not community property. The faculty room is another story, but there may be money involved; ask first. Always ask first until you know the drill. Until then, pack your own everything. Even if you are dying for another cup of caffeine. If there is a mini-fridge in the room, you can probably stash your lunch in there, though.
  14. Also, ask at the office, when you get to to the school, where the adult restrooms are. First thing if you do not already know. Because the sub folder/notes may not tell you, if there even is a sub folder. And when you have the opportunity to use the restroom, use it. You say this to the students ad nauseum; follow your own advice.
  15. What is that fragrance you are wearing? It is a little much.  I mentioned allergies before, but forgot to mention it's fraternal twin asthma. The two are not mutually exclusive though some students with allergies have asthma and an allergic reation to an airborn allergen can trigger an asthma attack [fun times two! this I say from personal family experience, and I say it sarcastically] Some students with allergies/asthma are highly sensitive to fragrances, and even the perfumes in the deodorant you used [men and women] can cause an respertory event. Sorry, Old Spice, you don't send me. Calgon, you take me to the E.R.. As an adult, I have to be careful in upper elementary because of the, ahem, liberal usage of Axe body spray; I will get a migraine. I almost cried when I realized my cooperating teacher had the most benign perfume in the world; it meant that I wouldn't have a migraine triggered every day just by working with her.
  16. Save sarcasm for your friends.  
  17. Kind words go far. As frustrating as people are, try not to get involved in gossip, or speak ill of the last teacher you subbed for. So you did not like the way someone did something. Be mindful of the way you say you did not like it. We are entitled to our opinions in this country, but remember, as a sub, you are on a job interview every day. I know there are certain people with whom I can speak fairly freely. With others, I smile and quietly agree with everything they say, despite my true opinions.
  18. As a courtesy to the other teachers, you should probably close your door. You are the sub, it is probably going to get a little louder in your room than during normal business hours. 
  19. Make-up remover wipes are nice, but baby-wipes cover a multitude of sins. Also, they remove make up, they are already made for sensitive skin [because they are made for babies], but are also made for sensitive sensitive baby skin, so ... they are even more gentle and sensitive, they clean up everything, you can get them unscented so you do not smell like a baby and they come in  travel size, durable packages that you can refil that mostly do not look like a box of baby wipes. If you baby-sit on top of everything else, you will probably find a use for them after work as well. If you buy the big plastic box of wipes that is colorful and you find yourself babysitting toddlers and you are even slightly crafty, you could make this and bring it with you for at least an hour of sensory entertainment. Do not say I did not warn you.
If you were wondering, yes. I carry a dedicated subbing bag that my first grade friends surprised me with. More on that, and the contents later. I did mention some things in this list.

A note to the regular teacher:

Zara is a well behaved substitute teacher in the metro Pittsburgh area. I did my best to protect the innocent and the guilty, however, some of these are legitimate situations that I or friends of mine have encountered in public and private school situations. We are just as interested in keeping students safe as the regular ed teacher. If I have, in anyway, mis-spoken, PLEASE tell me. I want to keep my facts straight. Also, if there is something you might want to know as the regular teacher, tell me. I will throw it on the list. As a sub, I am not a part of  professional organization, because I have found that often professional organizations want to know with what district's payroll and union I am affiliated. Technicially, I am not affiliated with anyone, but I would certainly like to be.

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