Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The (Substitute) Teacher (Day 13): The Truth

As I do more and more teaching, I discover not only fitting into the role better, but that this might just be the right job for me (full-time teaching, that is). I mention this right now, therefore: I am an introvert. My voice doesn't carry that loudly and I prefer to keep it a low profile. So it is kinda funny I'm considering teaching at all: you have to maintain order in the classroom as you teach your subject to your students. If you're perceived as soft or too easy going, kids will eat you alive.

So, teaching Physical Education means you have to keep on your guard. Through promotion of healthy bodies, students seem to consider a substitute as a rare opportunity to do whatever they want to do. As this happened to be the second time I subbed at this particular school and therefore recognized certain students, I knew what to expect. I felt I was more assertive this time around compared to my first time, yet I still maintained a sense of ease: I want to exhibit a sense that I'm easy going and approachable for a talk. This method worked out just fine for most of the periods I taught, as the kids went through their daily stretches and runs.

The final period proved to be the troublesome one. They seemed to prefer anarchy with their regular teacher out for the day. This period was where I got more forceful, shouting out at the students for misbehaving or not following instructions; to be frank, it was a bit draining to have been forced to do that due to their wild streak. This period was meant to be used for students to get a jump start on homework or ask for assistance on problems they had; instead, students preferred playing with their pens enacting five finger fillet, talking, or being downright disruptive.

In any case, the period was survived and the rest of the day went comfortably. Near the end of the school day, I was looking back at it and reflected that I did a better job in asserting myself than my past jobs. However, honesty is found in even the young, as I found out this day. A student from one of my earlier classes, who happened to be in this period too, approached me at the end of the day, thanked me for subbing, and was good enough to impart the following critique:

"You're a nice sub, but you need to be more forceful."

After subbing for a good amount of days and getting positive feedback from administrations of those schools, it was humbling to be reminded that the students ultimately get the final say in a teacher's performance. The good student wants to learn and therefore wants to avoid the distraction other students may present. The bad student doesn't want to be there and the job falls on the teacher to show the reasons the student needs to be there. If I can't be assertive enough and juggle the right amount of easiness and friendliness, I really have no business teaching.

I thanked the student for her honesty and told her I would work on it. We'll see how it works out the next time I sub.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The (Substitute) Teacher (Day 11): Spanish Teacher

Nope, you haven't missed the previous ten days; I just decided the time was right to jump in and say about the experience! In any case, you've probably read a bit about my uncertainty regarding what is my next step. Well, I've been fortunate enough to acquire an emergency substitute permit and have been subsequently hired by a local school district as a substitute teacher. I figure, if teaching is the way to go, better to get my feet wet before even attempting to dive into a teaching credential program.

So far, it's been working good. My first gig resulted in working with special education and it served as a foundation for learning exactly how different teaching methods must be used for all variety of students. This, along with my second gig, showed me that middle school is an unpredictable stage to teach; at this age, students are growing and are becoming independent, becoming more liberal in their expressions while drowning out the teacher. To all you full-time teachers in middle school reading this (and to those that taught me during my 6th-8th grade years), my condolences and thanks, for what you deal with and for the strength you have in taking it.

The last two subbing gigs happened to be at the high school level. From what I've learned (and remember!), students at this grade level are starting to focus on the studies long-term; that, or they ride athletics and high school tropes to success. In any case, I never much liked high school, for reasons I may share later on, but I can say I screwed myself those four years. How ironic that I would consider high school my entry level into full-time teaching then. 

To preserve confidentiality, I won't be naming anyone or giving away where I work. What I can tell you is that this second high school job sprung up at midnight. The listing stated it was for a high school Spanish class. Raised by two native speakers of the language, my tongue has devolved slightly since my younger years, but I proudly state that my Spanish is proficient in communication and comprehension. I figured I hadn't worked since Monday, it was at the high school level (which as I mentioned is where I'm highly considering starting a teaching career), and it was a subject I'm well versed with, so who cared if I had to wake up 5 hours later just to get there at 6:30 in the morning?

Upon arriving to the classroom, I noticed the professor didn't leave a lesson plan to follow. From my experience with the previous subbing jobs, teachers have left their lesson plan in their inbox, which the front office provides in a folder. Or, the substitute leaves special instructions through a system in which the substitute accesses to hear said instructions. In this job's case, it was stated there were special instructions, but no recording was left. Fortunately, a nearby professor helped figure out a basic lesson plan I could follow, so that helped out. 

The first period I taught in was relatively quiet, but a bit excited about a substitute. This class was composed of freshmen and sophomores, an age group transitioning away from the wildness of middle school; surprisingly, there was little to no outstanding behavior. They mature adults. They seemed to be on task with the assignments I presented, but...I don't recall the cell phone being a part of the required supplies for learning. The cell phone was in its infancy during my high school years, with the smartphones slowly popping up. Nowadays, you're guaranteed to see an iPhone in at least one person's hand. Regardless, most people understood that cell phones are a big no-no in my class, except for one person, who kept using her phone as both a makeshift mirror to curl her eyelashes and to check her messages.

Then...things got interesting during the second period of class.

I should point out that between the first and second class, the school had a pep-rally assembly, to prepare for the homecoming game that evening. With spirits and morale high, the students were eager for the weekend to start, but seeing a substitute, they figured it would be an easy day. This class was composed of primarily juniors, so I guess they figured a sub they hadn't met before would be slim pickings. Not so fast...The Spanish tongue helped show the first period I knew what I was doing, so when presented to this second period, they began to listen.

However, this may have also been attributed to a little bartering. I'm not one who possesses a strong voice or exhibits a commanding presence (even if I may look it), but the distractions from the pep-rally and this substitute were enough for this second period to go off on a tangent, stating that they had already completed most of the assignments the professor had left. Instead, they decided to ask Mr. Sub the most random and sometimes personal questions. I can smell bull a mile away (after all, high school wasn't that far back!), so to try to get them to work, I offered to talk a bit about myself near the end of class. It worked out decently, but in order to gauge if they were really learning the material and practicing it, I requested that the final activity be shared among the whole class: a spoken dialogue meant to be shared with two people was therefore expanded to the whole room.

With their part fulfilled, I decided it was fair to entertain them for a little bit. The following are some of the more random, ridiculous, intriguing, and hilarious questions and statements I've received that the students decided to share.

"What school (college) did you attend?" "You look too young to be a sub. How old are you?"
-Ah, both questions went hand in hand. At the start of the class, quite a few of the students kept asking that, with me trying to dismiss it as "It doesn't matter, let's focus on the activity!" This then led to wild speculations.

"You're a fun teacher. Too bad our teacher doesn't like fun; looks like you won't teach in this room again!"
-Well, something along those lines, but still, the important takeaway from this is that they found me amusing. If there's one thing I learned as a student, the best teachers are the ones who know the subject they're teaching and are entertaining. Nobody enjoys dull lectures.

"You're already the best Spanish sub we've had. Most of the subs we've had for Spanish don't even know what to do, since they don't speak it."
-Understandable. You can't expect all subs to know the subject-matter. That's why we depend on lesson plans (from my experience). Still, I was happy to be able to sub for a subject I clearly understood.

"Do you have Facebook/Twitter/Instagram?"
-I don't think a student should care. Do you? *Takes precaution with appropriate accounts*

And the number one hilarious question:

"How's your love life?"
-Uh...class dismissed?

I still have a ways to go with appreciating and perfecting teaching. As a student, it was mostly easy for me to pay attention to the teacher's instructions. Now, as the teacher (albeit a substitute), I have to command respect while juggling both subject-matter competency and a personal preference in providing an enjoyable learning experience. As I gain more experience, I hope to reach the right balance. At least the administration at this particular school was happy with my work ethic; they've suggested that they know at least one new sub who knows the subject of Spanish and that they can count on this guy to teach it!