Monday, August 4, 2014

My Only Elementary School Job

Today was my first day "subbing" in an elementary school. I put subbing in quotes because there was a student teacher there, and so I was an assistant at best. And I learned a lot, both as an observer of students and teachers. I also learned that I can handle an elementary classroom.

A while back, I tried to volunteer and get familiar with elementary school earlier by stopping in the most convenient school and introducing myself. I said I'd like to get comfortable in an elementary setting again before diving into a full day of wrangling tiny kids. It's the all-day schedule of the same kids and at least four different subjects vs the middle school model of different kids but the same subject.  The principal and receptionists took my name and seemed pleasant, but the next morning, the principal called me in a panic because they were short on substitutes and she wanted me to fill an all-day position right away. That is not at all what I had in mind, but she just needed a body in the room and didn't care about whether my day went well or my stress level was high. Of course I could've managed it, but not easily. I wouldn't have felt confident, and that most likely would've shown to kids. Anyway, administrators see subs as warm bodies that help keep things a bit safer. So, I said I couldn't do it, and they haven't called me since.

But yesterday, I took the job knowing that it'd be an assistant-type of situation. The student teacher was skilled in some areas, but she still had some learning to do. I let her take the lead and offered support and to lead parts if she wanted. She asked me to head up the activity for Friendship Day on exhibiting friendly behaviors. We talked about what friendly behaviors looked like and how the way you treat people is a huge part of who you are. We made a list of behaviors that we'd want to see, and we played games to practice. My hooks were that I was a middle school teacher and knew about how things were for the "big kids" and what kinds of problems they had. Also, that I had taught many of their siblings. They listened exceedingly well, partly for the above reasons and partly because I was a new, positive face.

What I learned regarding classroom set up was that there definitely needs to be spaces for kids to take breaks from a group, recalibrate and figure out their needs independently. They could be reminded to go there or figure it out on their own. I liked the way that groups were set so that supplies were available for all, and everyone was responsible for checking that they had enough supplies. I liked the way that some of the activities were done on the floor so that the students had a change in positions. Sitting all day is bad for everyone. I liked that there was a class called "acceleration", which was a leveled literacy type of class where each class had a different project or theme. They were all "accelerating" at their own pace.

I learned a little something from the fact that the student teacher was pretty negative. She had multiple confrontations with one or two kids, and didn't have the tools to deal with them well. They pushed her buttons and she let them. The rest of the class suffered. It made me realize that I'm actually pretty good at avoiding power struggles and dealing with problems under the radar. She was all about letting them know who was boss, but I don't think they needed her to. And of course, the more she power-tripped and floundered, the less she achieved her goal.

Overall, elementary school was a good experience for me, and I should've done it more. What was I worried about?  Thirty-five needy children squirming all over the room? Teaching multiple subjects in a day? Not having a decent break? Oh, yes, those things. But even with those elements, it was fun, and I got a ggreat perspective on where my students were just a few years ago.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Putting It All Together: A List of Titles After A Year of Subbing All Over

This has been an amazing year for my brain. I've been subbing all over my school district, and have had a variety of mainly positive experiences that give me perspective on what our teachers and students go through daily, from east to west. I'm ending the year with a four-week-stint teaching ELD Newcomers at Milwaukie High School. Now I hope to catalog my experiences and formulate a bigger picture of what's going on in education--the scientific, pedogical, realistic, irreverent, harsh, hilarious and emotional truth of it all, as I see it. First, please let me know which topic you'd like to read about first:

1. Do You Remember Me? 
2. The ELD Experience 
3. High School Teachers and Humor
4. The Internal Workings of an Adolescent
5. How Long is Adolescence, Really? 
6. The Anatomy of a Staff Room
7. The School I Will Build Now
8. Did He Really Just Say That?
9. Oh God, the Drama!
10. When Will I Ever Use This?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Important Work

The other night, while formative thoughts were drifting and sifting in my brain, I watched a PBS documentary about Maria Montessori. I'd also read a recent blog post that unofficially polled women about how they felt about working/staying home in RETROSPECT. The most common sentiment was regret that there wasn't a middle ground, a flexible option that allowed them to work less. For the past two years, I have basically achieved this, and now I get ready to decide on the next step in my career. Should I stay or should I go?

Maria Montessori and son Mario
Maria Montessori revolutionized the way we teach children. Ironically, she actually made the difficult choice to put her child's care in the hands of someone else until he was 15. She was a doctor doing the important work of applying science to early childhood education. She loved a man, but they chose not to marry because at that time, wives were not allowed to work. They agreed to carry on in secret so that she could continue her career. When she became pregnant, she realized that she would be ostracized as an unwed mother. She gave up her son to a family in the countryside, and she visited from time to time. Finally, when he was fifteen, he told her that he knew she was his mother and asked her to take him with her. She did. By this time, she was well-known and respected internationally for her work in education. Still, she didn't outwardly identify him as her biological son until years later.
The choices women have had to make astound me. I am so grateful for those who came before me who fought for the right for women to work at all, to participate in the academic, intellectual, political world that was threatened by them and unwelcoming to them, yet had a deep impact on their lives. And, I consider the sacrifices and choices made that get us closer and closer to "having it all".

We stayed at the beach with my parents last weekend. The house we stayed at is my mom's friends' home, and it's beautiful. They have expensive taste, nice things, a home designed by them and for them, and the ability to travel. And they have no kids. This is a discussion my mom and I have frequently: what about those people that we love who choose not to have kids? How much are they missing out on? How much are we missing out on? Do we feel bad for each other? For my mom, the conversation also involves a reassurance that in the future, those friends who chose a non-kid life will probably come back to me, and we will not have lost each other for lack of common interests. (Currently, I feel I have lost some of these people for various kid-related reasons, including but not limited to the challenge that some are trying to decide, embrace or accept a kid-free life, or actually trying in private to have a kid, without the prying eyes and opinions of their community. My current child-absorbed life does not help them on their path. but that's another story.)

Overall, though, I've been pondering the women who have made some amazing things happen in the world, who have traveled, championed a cause, written books, created shows, flipped houses, studied endlessly, lived luxuriously, contributed to peace and science, etc. and I realize that most don't have children. Don't get me wrong, my life's work involves raising this amazing son who lights up my heart and will go on to do so for others, but it's more of a personal victory than a public one.  Again, I remind myself that with one child instead of many, these endeavors are not impossible, just slightly trickier. There was a time I pondered whether I would choose to be a mother, and it sounds silly to me now, as if I ever had the ability to not let this being into my life, to change and bend me, to teach me and form me into a better version of myself. But my important work is just beginning, and I still work to balance between toddler poop talk and academic rhetoric. I love that I am both of these, and I love all those who came before me, who struggled to achieve a balance and a space for themselves in this world, thus allowing me to have choices to make.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Substitute Teaching So Far

I've been subbing for about five months now. So far, mostly in my old school, because that is who calls me almost on a daily basis. I bet I could sub there for the rest of the year with no problem, but I do want to explore a bit beyond the school, to try out other ages, other school cultures. 

As for survival tips, I'm still working on it. Here are some things I've noticed so far:
Future Middle Schooler
  • Having an "in" with other teachers, familiarity with the school, and knowledge of some of the kids goes a long, long way! Knowing the names of the administrators, adults in charge of discipline, and little details of the school is like knowing a secret handshake. One thing I do to impress them is pick up the phone and dial the "turn-around" room or the library. 
  • Learning names quickly is crucial. Luckily, I'm good at learning and then forgetting these names as needed.
  • There are tricks you must know that a regular teacher doesn't need, like standing near the door at the end of the last period, so that kids don't leave early because you will have a hard time identifying and calling them back in. 
  • Sadly, one of the more effective maneuvers is a bit harsh. If I set a clear expectation and it is immediately clear that they don't take it seriously, I will choose the most obvious culprit and consequence him or her fairly publicly. This shows others that you mean it. I have tried the private conversation warnings about the consequences, but in some classes, they are really just testing you to see if you're serious. So you have to be. Fortunately, if the class doesn't start out by testing (and many classes who either have very clear structure or strong engagement with their teacher won't do this), then often, more private conversations will be more effective. 
  • All of this being said, starting out positive and ignoring some attention getting attempts will go a long way. Recognizing the behavior you are asking for by thanking those who are doing it, using the school-created rewards like shrocks, is great, too. 
  • It has been said that as a sub, you will be defined by first 30 seconds/ ten words you say. Finding the balance between starting out loud and strict and starting out positive and kind is something that requires a great deal of flexibility. I have not mastered this. I have frequently found myself standing quietly in front of a class, giving a signal for quiet (or having asked loudly for quiet) and thought "how will they ever even know whether I can teach if they won't even quiet down long enough for me to begin?" And usually, I have spent the next 55 minutes trying various methods to get and keep their attention, mostly in vain. Luckily, not all of the classes are like this. 
  • Obviously, kids who will take advantage of you will try to do so no matter how awesome you know you are. You've got to have thick skin. I've been waiting to use the philosophy of "the way you choose treat people is who you are. What you do is a big part of who you are." Not sure how it will go because middle school is a bit immature for that idea, and some people DO want to be seen this way. 
  • Avoid power struggles as much as possible. This is the biggest one for me, because as a regular classroom teacher I took the time to call kids on their behavior and hold them accountable (for the most part). As a sub, sometimes you just have to put it off on the classroom teacher. In the best circumstances, the classroom teacher will follow up in the most appropriate way for that student, or let it go, but it's sort of an "out" for the sub because it means you're not ignoring the behavior, just putting the consequence on hold, and in a way that feels uncertain, which is good for troublemakers.
  • So much of this work is about boundaries. That is true for all of teaching, but as a sub, it's a little trickier, because there is less support for you. Mostly it's about being superduper clear with students about your boundaries, and showing them that you mean it. S
  • It's also about boundaries with adults. Yesterday I visited an elementary school to express my interest in volunteering for a day or so to get comfortable with the different pace and schedule of an elementary school. I was offering free support in exchange for peace of mind. This morning the principal called me, desperate for a sub. She didn't care about the fact that I wasn't as comfortable with the elementary school system and that it would be an adjustment. Of course, it's not a big deal, but I'm not desperate for the work, so I choose to do it in a way that makes me the most successful. From an administrator's perspective, a sub is a body in the room who can keep things from being too dangerous. They aren't concerned as much with whether you have a good day, are unsure of the expectations, or are treated terribly by a few students. In their eyes, that's just part of being a sub. And it is. But setting boundaries can lessen the days you come home feeling beaten to a pulp. 
  • It's good perspective to be on this side, because as a teacher, I have had similar thoughts on subs. I can remember, after a day I was gone and my students weren't kind to the sub, I felt bad for a while, and then I had to let it go and focus on the relationships at hand. Some kids just do poorly with an unfamiliar authority figure. Hopefully, at the end of all of this, I will have a clear idea of how to set my classes up for success with a sub, for everyone's sake. 
  • Any teachers or subs out there who want to give me some tips? I can definitely use them. I have to say, it sure is nice to really be done at the end of the day, and to just not work when I don't feel the need to--a nice reprieve from the exhausting work of full-time teaching. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Our Generation's Women

Generation X's women. The women in our generation have some major identity traps to slog through. Here's an example. Since I was a young child, people emphasized to me that I would go to college, that I could be whatever I wanted to be, that the idea of being a housewife was totally not cool, that if I learned how to be domestic, it would be used against me, AND that I would be a mother, and a great mother, especially since I had a great mother and since I was a teacher, well educated, socially and environmentally conscious, etc. etc.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Lean-In/Opt Out idea around career and parenting. I've been working up to reading Lean In. This debate is interesting to me, but bigger than that, on my mind are the visions of future that we grow up with and how that shapes our choices. How we were so liberated compared to the women before us, but we have liberated ourselves into new boxes.

I find myself at home (mostly) with a toddler, working about two days a week, which pays for the student loans I needed to get a masters degree, in order to dedicate myself to teaching. I'm not teaching (officially) now, and while it may be a blip in the big picture of my career, what if it wasn't? Why would it have been so wrong for me to plan for being a mom? Why do people scoff at those who have the goal of being a stay-at-home parent? Sure, I might feel ready to go back to work after a few years, but it will be hard to feel I'm giving my child enough time after a full day, a full week of work. Even parents of school-aged children find it hard to do everything. What if someone's career goal was to be the best mom ever? Why has my generation set that up as being so wrong?

Yesterday I worked what would be a regular shift that I'd potentially be going back to next fall, and I was gone from 7:30-5:15 (with transport time and rush hour traffic). That seems like an awfully long time to be away from a toddler. Neither my husband or I have the types of jobs where we can adjust our own schedules or cut back by one day. Working part time may not be an option for me next year. These must be the types of obstacles discussed in the Lean In conversation. Oh, also, there's the fact that an executive assistant and a  teacher's salary do not pay for full time child care, housecleaning, professional cook, et al. Something has to give. I wonder what it will be.

Instead of complaining about the details of my life, it was my intention to express that these hard decisions are not part of the equation when dreaming of your future life as a mother/professional woman/wife/independent superstar. Oh, and don't even get me started on the notion of staying fit and svelte, keeping your marriage exciting, and perhaps having a hobby. Writing a book? Hmm. A big fat advance would do the job.

Some women who grew up with the ideas that I did  have chosen not to have kids. This is a more and more common choice these days, which I think is grand, for a few reasons. Mostly, when people are CHOOSING intentionally what they want in their lives, everyone is happier. This is made easier by a society that puts a bit less pressure on baby making than it used to do. Ideally, we all have the right AND ability to choose to make our lives our own. That, of course, is predicated on the assumption that we are able to get what we want, without life choosing for us.

Some women in my generation have chosen to focus on their careers early, and put kids off for later. Some of them were in the right situation at the right time, everything fell into place, they had a flexible job, a partner, financial security, and they went ahead and had those kids. Others, like me, have most, but not all of these elements (we are still renting and financially, we could be in a much better place). Others who dreamed of a family have not had all of these elements at the right time, were without a partner or so entrenched in work they didn't see a way out, looked up and noticed that time had passed them by, and are not having kids, not so much as an intentional choice, but because of circumstances.

In some studies I read, student loans were a reason that some people chose not to have kids. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but now that we have a kid AND our substantial student loans, I can see the reasoning. We will be paying ours off forever; how will we help our own kid with college?

These dilemmas were not in my "Barbie Dream House" pretend scenarios, or even in my college "what will I major in and how will I spend my life" quanderies. We were given the impression that if we worked hard for ourselves, lived independently and not for some man, built up a career, then we would find the balance when we were ready to have kids. Maybe I still will, but let me tell you, this isn't exactly what I thought I'd be thinking right now.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. How did you envision your life in regards to career and family? How does it compare to your vision?

To Be Continued.....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Linguistic Nerd Mama

Hello. I'm going to enter into linguistic nerdiness and catalog all of Ollin's current words, mostly because it would be fun to look back after a while and remember which words he started with, but a little bit because I want to make sure I'm actually understanding him as much as possible. I only listed words that he has said in more than one situation, to show that he could apply the new language. Sorry, I'm not feeling nerdy enough to use the phonetic alphabet.
anss                ant
app                 apple
ah da              all done
baybeee          baby
ball                  ball
bzzzzz              bee
bike                 bike
bullebulle         blueberry
buk                 book
buud                bird
cock                clock, sometimes truck & quack
dock               duck
cack                quack
coe                 crow
dahh               down
foof                 food
hanna              hands
hanga              hanger, hang up
hemmut           helmet
humma            hummingbird
hop                  grasshopper
hug                  hug
shish                fish
mwa!               kiss
mama              Mama (finally!)
mehh               more (used to be nunuNUnununu)
peeez               please
pee                 pee (accompanied by a sss sound)
popp               Papa
pip                  pencil
payp                 paper
poop               poop
push                push
pull                  pull
fuafua              soft (interestingly, the Japanese word for soft, which I mentioned once)
pida                spider (sign is a little pinching motion above his head)
shyaddaahh!   (I have no idea. Sit down? Fall down? Shut up? JK, he's never heard the last.)
tall                   tall
dis, dat            this, that
chuck              truck
wawa              water

According to his pediatrician, around this time, Ollin should start using two or three word phrases. He's not doing this yet, but I'm not worried. This is his spoken/expressive language so far, but his receptive language is (in my biased opinion), much more developed. He understands multiple step instructions, new concepts, and that Mama and Papa are actually Shannon and Willow. I want to reread my language acquisition books from the perspective of new language learning, now that I'm a mom. I'm curious how teaching some basic signs has affected his spoken language, if at all. No way to know for sure, but I think it has helped him feel confident in expressing himself. He usually uses one or the other, but not both the sign and the word.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Not Going Back To Work This Week

As all my cohorts drag their sun-weary bodies out of bed and slog through their semi-familiar morning routine, I'm not going back to work today. I wondered how I'd feel about this, but right now I don't feel much except for fine. A tad anxious about income, but mostly fine, free, happy and like it's every other summer day. Maybe next week when all the students return to school, I'll feel a pang, or maybe not. Really, I think I'll be most affected my first day of subbing, when I'm actually returning, but in such a different way than I had been teaching.

I look forward to exploring the district from different perspectives, getting into new schools and teaching different ages. This also sounds a bit overwhelming, so I'll ease into it. Actually, the at-risk middle/high school (where many of my former students ended up) sounds more do-able than, say, kindergarten. We'll see. I think I'll work my way down to younger kids gradually. I'd like to try subbing at PACE, a place for pregnant and parenting teens, the Arts Academy, as well as charter schools and alternative programs that our district offers. I'll find the right number of days to work to pay the bills, and I'll make the adjustments needed for the nanny-share we are entering into, without worrying about needing to  leave O every day.

I will miss being a part of a team. The isolation may be hard for me, but I bet I'll reach out and stay connected with my old cohort. And I get to spend most of this year watching my son grow up--being the main influence in his life, like, most of the hours of the day. For that, I am incredibly thankful.