My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

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Open Letter to High School Class 2020

By way of set up, allow me to explain that I substituted today in my absolutely most favorite 8th grade History class. Great day! They were studying the Civil War…most comprehended the role that the Missouri Compromise (It had something to do with Missouri, right?) played in the tensions prefacing the conflict. The understood the argument about Federal and State powers. No problem, they grasped the basics and I filled them in a bit more regarding Andersonville POW Camp, how the non-discovery of antibiotics contributed to the mortality rate and emphasized that even though some women fought along side me during the war, that the normal soldier was they same age as my students, roughly 14 years old.

This fact struck me for a moment. In the next election, in 2020, these darling little creatures will have a voice over the management of the United States of America! I managed to remain upright at the thought and asked them what the point of studying History was. Of course, the silly answers flew, “So we can learn about old dead guys,” etc. I explained that there’s an old saying, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.” I pointed out that State rights versus the federal government has always led to debate. They actually grew quiet and seemed to be trying to digest what I was telling them. “You people witnessed one of the weirdest elections in our nation’s history. Next time it happens, what will you see? What will help you determine your vote? Is it going to be the next mega-superstar? Will news organizations become even more propagandizing loudspeakers for various parties? Will other parties be able to get their food in the door and free us from this two party debacle we subject ourselves to?” A few blank stares, a few looks of concern…I left them hanging, “Hey, this is your world. What’s it going to become and, more importantly, why?”

NOW — on a totally different sail tack — I pray to the Lord that I can get my resume picked up and can get a teaching job. I KNOW it’s a good resume and I’m confident that if I can ever meet with a hiring authority that I can land my teaching job. It’s just such a pain )-;! Oh well, I’m doing this because I WANT to teach, I feel passionate about my subject and enjoy all the time I get in the classroom – and it’s mostly productive. Students in the district now kind of have me figured out.  I make them work, but will give them lots of freedom, until they violate it, then it all goes away.

Alright, submitted four updated resumes this evening. Let’s see what happens! woo hoo!

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Got to Bring It Full Circle!

Today I had the chance to work with the same students I had when I introduced the topics of Antigone and Macbeth. That post is here if you wish to go back and read that so you have some better context. Bottom line is that I actually had the experience of watching students come full circle – from start to finish – with a couple of serious texts. There were, of course, the few that would make a point of goofing around and not paying attention if you told them that what you are about to say would earn them a million dollars with no effort whatsoever. The most, though, were actually willing to work through a decent discussion of the texts, their historic and literary contexts and formed coherent interpretations of their own. During the discussion of Antigone, a student commented, “These guys keep coming back to questions and stuff.” I explained that most of the old Greek playwrights were philosophers. After the bell dismissed the students, I went back to the teacher desk to take a look at the text for the next hour. There was a handwritten note left on my notepad thanking me for my patience and explanation of their text. What an awesome feeling!

There are times when I look back and wonder whether or not I’ve made an impact or been a positive influence. Of course I had positive feedback from soldiers that I taught when I was in the Army, but when you’re teaching someone how to actually survive or enable others to survive, it’s not really challenging to know that you’ve “done a good day’s work,” because you MUST do a good day’s work. When I worked with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and youth in Church activities, I always kept in mind a quote I saw in a store, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” If anybody reading this can help me cite that correctly, or knows who first said/wrote that, I’d appreciate knowing. I’ve run into some men who had been Scouts in my Packs, Dens or Troops and I’ve been proud of each. Now I get to teach. One point raised in both of those literary works is the unexpected/unanticipated results of someone’s actions. I hope that little note is just the first indicator that I’m doing it right.

Life in the Jungle – Among the Sixth Graders

(…I want to write this post in the manner a military student of mine used in a short piece he wrote concerning his military training…it was long ago and far away…)

With the chiming of the bell, the smallish tribal members entered the clearing. Oddly, the females of this group were generally much larger than the males. After briefly pronouncing my customary introduction, communication was tentatively established. I began the ancient ritual of deciphering names from a list which elicited some degree of tittering among the more ebullient of the group. I made the unfortunate mistake of demonstrating my German skill when I commented about one member’s name being of Nordic origin. I used the correct pronunciation but this diminutive person was quick to laughingly “correct” me with the ill sounding English version. I offered a German verbal response which silenced the throng as they attempted to discern the intent of my words. I quickly regained control and continued the ritual to its conclusion.

The goal of this meeting was to introduce, discuss and clarify matters concerning number usage. Some quickly demonstrated a sound understanding of the concept. Others were tentative in their attempts, but repeated clarifications, varied according to how much comprehension they had shown to that point, enabled the small band to practice several pre-designed exercises. By the end of the hour, I felt comfortably assured that they could demonstrate ample mastery of the subject. A sounding chime prompted each of the group to put away what items they had removed from their respective kit bags and depart, leaving me alone in the clearing.

During the short time of isolation, I could hear the sounds – sometimes softly, sometimes roaring – amidst the mystery of this other world in which I found myself. My self indulgent congratulatory interlude was all too short.

After approximately five minutes, another small group of about the same number entered the clearing and after a few brief attempts to test the bounds set for these encounters, the bedlam subsided. The proper introductions and rituals were then observed. This process repeated a total of six times, each iteration proving successful. At the end of the day, I found my way through the labyrinth of hallways to the office, surrendered my pass and found my way to my conveyance home.

So, in short…Sixth Grade math…some apprehension but another great day! I’ve thought for some time that I had a calling to teach. So far, my experiences are only confirming my suspicions. I accepted a call to substitute tomorrow, but there was no subject or teacher mentioned in the posting. I guess maybe I get to venture deeper into the jungle…hopefully, nothing becomes anything like Conrad’s tale!