National Poetry Month starts today

April 1, 2013

Spring

after the grey and the brown

the bud of green and white appear

we’ve lived long enough to know

that yellow and pink have a fragrance

of laughter, shouts, whispers

and since we’re assigning colors

memory paints the past in purple

some like scars that mock their origin by fading to white

others glowing like the hint of orange-purple dawn

that rises behind the bones of the tree line

day after day, slowly brightening

to the palest of blue framed in white

yes, spring is when true light changes its stance

serves up mornings illuminated in egg wash

spider webs and new grass alike glisten in cold air

the cat wants out early but brings back only wet paws

the body won’t let us roll over and miss a morning like this

funny how the body knows what to remember and what to forget

– April 1, 2013

Cold and hot, hot and cold

May 22, 2010

Being a sub has its great moments, along with some not-so-great moments. Take, for instance, the 7th grade Spanish class I was in the other day. As the students sauntered in, alternately taking their good time socializing and irritating each other, I struggled to open a large window. “What, you don’t know how to open a window? Damn!” said a 13-year-old girl with pigtails. She was taller than me. With one quick movement, she gracefully hopped over a chair and crouched on a wide windowsill/radiator. Before I could say “Careful!” or “Watch the language, please,” she effortlessly opened the window. She shook her head at me, communicating clearly just how hopeless she considered me. The class laughed. Score one for the home team.

Students can be very hard on subs, that’s for sure. As yet another rainy South Jersey day seeped into the room, I briefly considered how to respond. “Thanks,” was all I was able to muster, along with “Watch the language, please.”

That same week, in a 2nd grade in another town, the students wanted hugs from me. They argued over who would be next to help me, whether that entailed passing out or collecting papers, fetching markers, or being picked next. Second graders are at the peak of wanting attention from the teacher.

Despite the love fest, I had a hard time keeping the class focused. Randomly calling on them to give the answers was not working — too many were getting distracted by the live wires in the class. On a lark, I organized a math subtraction game: boys vs. girls. I referred to the teams of four called to the board each round as teams of  “mathematicians.” Quickly I learned that the class needed a lot of help with subtraction. What to do? First, I began praising the students who made mistakes at the board, telling them thanks for the mistake because now they get to show the whole class how to do it correctly. I want the students to feel free to make mistakes. They just have to correct them, with our help, this time. Still, some students persisted in distracting others. Secret weapon time.

I told the class that I had in my possession a picture of the most beautiful person in the world. Only the quietest students would get to see the picture. That got us through another round. Then Mr. I Can’t Sit Still for More than a Minute began walking around the room, then Miss I Can’t Stop Telling Tattle-Tales chimed in, and I was losing the class again.

Quickly, I called a well-behaved child over to the side of the class. With him facing the class, I showed him the picture, placing it where the other students could not see it. I watched the child smile broadly. He laughed out loud at his own image, in the mirror I held before him. Then, half-smiling, I told the class that if they told their classmates who they saw, I’d send pirates to their house tonight. That did the trick, yet one clever student guessed it was a mirror early on. (I showed him the “picture” last, just to keep the suspense going). Best of all, I got through the math sheet with everyone in the class having a turn to “win” at the board.

Subs never know if a class will be hot or a class will be cold. How we handle them makes all the difference.

My favorite — and most challenging — class, so far

May 15, 2010

I’ve had many subbing “adventures” so far. I’ve “taught” music, phys ed, science, history, psychology, language arts, etc., in classrooms across Burlington and Camden counties. I put the “taught” in quotes because I don’t have the regular responsibilities of the classroom teacher, of course, such as grading, or testing, etc. But I do try to teach every time I substitute.

First off, simply following the instructions left by the absent teacher often entails teaching. But soon I got bored with just that alone. I began using my iphone and Google to try to find ways to make the lessons more interesting, or to find a way to offer something extra to the students to keep them actively engaged. Subbing has also given me a chance to work with students from every grade, from kindergartener to seniors in high school.

Do I have a favorite class? Age group? I ‘ve liked them all but … there has been one class that stands out for me.

They are 7th and 8th grade emotionally disturbed students. As a sub, I am not privy to all of a students’ records. But I do know that the students in this class are intellectually capable of doing their schoolwork, but they often don’t want to do it, and they don’t function well in the regular classroom. Usually, they are too disruptive.

I got into this class through a pal of mine from grad school, who was subbing as the interim teacher in the ED class. She asked me to be her aide. I decided to give it a shot, despite not having much Special Education experience, and just standard certification. She and I worked with the class for a month or so, until they hired someone — an energetic, excellent teacher — and she went back to her original job in the class, the aide role. Then, when she went out for hand surgery, I was called in again during most of April and some of May, to do her job.

These students look like any other middle school student — DC sneakers, Element t-shirt, skinny jeans, cell phones, portable music players — except they go home to dysfunctional parent(s), or worse, an empty house. They are all street-wise kids, not afraid to buck the system, with unique and original thoughts. They can also be lazy, rude, immature, manipulative and very disruptive. What a lot of energy to harness.

From what I can tell, no one cooks for them or fussed over them, at least not very often. Or perhaps a grandparent has custody because dad is gone and mom is busy working, if you know what I mean. Most have parole officers — one boy for arson — and all excel at making noises with their bodies, cursing and describing sex acts. With the adolescent/pre-teen/teen predilection to shock, sometimes it’s combustion, all day long.

When they don’t want to work? You have to pick your battles. I also occasionally use the line on them: “Okay, don’t do the work. McDonald’s always needs people to make french fries.” The point being, if they don’t learn now, they will have to work a crappy job until they improve themselves. And yes, let’s face it, some days (or hours) nothing works.

And although they may not all be great students, they are all great kids — when they want to be. Over the last five months, the cast of characters in Room 313 has ranged from 8 to 5 students at any given time. It included:

* the class Don Juan, Vinnie (no real names are used in this blog), a 13-year-old boy with his first tatoo — his mother’s name — on his back (the tat was a gift from her), who is very interested in girls, paintball and the 85-year-old grandparent who is raising him;

* Ronnie, tall, thin, Brazilian-Haitian, into skateboarding and death music, who sported a gage in his ear nearly the size of a Bluetooth headset until his mom took him to the doctor to have it sewn shut;

* Justin, the sharp-as-a-tack wise guy, whose speciality is passing gas and creating chaos, sometimes both at the same time, when he isn’t busy getting subs fired;

* Sam, a boy who keeps to himself, has excellent math skills, loves to bike, but who also often refuses to work, is ill-mannered and seems to have little regard for adults;

* Angelo, the youngest academically and emotionally, who enjoys unnerving the class at unsuspecting moments with loud, random, noises;

* Joaquin, wanna-be boxer, proud of his Mexican roots, who sees little value in book learning;

• Annamaria, a beautiful Puerto Rican girl who trusts few, exhibits challenging, oppositional-defiant behavior, and a fondness for walking out of school at least once a week;

* and, earlier in the year, another boy named Tim, a short, heavy-set boy who was good-natured and got along well with his peers, despite a non-stop obsession with violence and gruesome death scenes. He has since moved out-of-state.

With these students, I was given the freedom to research  and rewrite Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Character Education lessons, making them more accessible and interesting for the students. I wanted them to participate, learn, share with each other, and link the learning to the real world. Both teachers I worked for in this class were good enough to let me go to town. I had a blast.

I also did a lot of Mom-like things for the students. With the teacher’s permission, I made cupcakes for their birthdays (no one would sing happy birthday), brought in goodies for the treat box (they had to earn tally marks for doing their work to be able to pick from the treat box), and fuss over them if they came in sporting injuries from skateboarding, BMX biking, paintball, or worse. Along with the other teachers, I also offered tons of praise, praise, praise for any positive thing I saw or heard them say or do.

My time with these amazing students has just ended (again), because the aide I was subbing for is returning on Monday. But I can tell you, I already miss them. I guess this is happens when you work with a group of students. You bond over the good, the bad and the ugly. You get to know them and, occasionally, you may even teach them something. Best of all, you learn from them, too. After being a parent, teaching is the best job in the world.

Hello world!

April 10, 2010

It’s Spring! Welcome to my brand new blog about substitute teaching in Southern New Jersey.

I am a substitute teacher, otherwise known as SunnySideSub –a name my 12-year-old daughter picked for me. I work in elementary, middle and high schools across Burlington and Camden counties, in Southern New Jersey. Each day my job puts me in contact with many interesting young people. It’s energizing and gratifiying to guide students, even if it’s just for a day. They are teachers, too. They just don’t know it yet.

Ironically, as much as I tell people I am a teacher , at heart I am actually more of a student. Often I want to know why someone did something this way or that way. A teacher should encourage students to think for themselves and, when appropriate, be able to explain to the class how they arrive at their choices. That’s the best kind of class, in my opinion.

But I wasn’t always so inquisitive. In fact, I was the opposite: passive, mostly non-questioning, fearful I’d get the wrong answer, hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on me. Many years later, after graduating from the educational system of my time, I  realized that being that way doesn’t work well for long, especially when one grows up. It’s is far better to ask questions and get answers wrong, or get an answer we don’t want, rather than remain ignorant, head buried in the sand. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way. More on that in future blogs, no doubt.

Speaking of forthcoming blogs … I plan to discuss what I see in these classrooms (no real names or locations mentioned, of course, to protect the privacy of students and school districts). I will also blog about current issues and trends in education, and what students are saying, doing, wearing, listening to, chewing, drinking, eating, etc., in our classrooms across Burlington and Camden counties.

And although I must say up front that I don’t always like what I see happening in our classrooms, I’d be the first to admit I tend to see the positive first, or “sunny-side up,” as my daughter says. I think that’s the best way to be if one is lucky enough to work with young people.

–end–

Hello world!

April 10, 2010

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