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.