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Being new, like, every day

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thecoast thecoast is offline
 
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Being new, like, every day
Old 03-04-2018, 11:54 AM
 
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While scouring Google Scholar for literature on substitute teaching, it occurred to me that there was really only one difference between substitute teachers and permanent teachers. It is not a small difference. Paradoxically, it is something both kinds of educators have in common. Some analogies come to mind.


If you've been in the military, then you could begin to imagine what this illustration tries to convey. So begin to envision this: Your first day at Boot Camp. Up early in the morning, you don't know what you're supposed to do next, you have drill sergeants and civilians almost literally pushing you through one station after another; you pick up clothes here, you get a haircut there, you pick up gear at another place, you get yelled at for dozing off during an underwhelming digital slide presentation, you fill out reams of redundant paper work, you get yelled at for not staying focused, and not only that, but--as Yul Brynner famously said in The King and I--"...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." You get to the end of the day and you crash hard in your bunk. You wake up the next day in civilian clothes, with your hair as it was before. Drill sergeants come in, but you recognize none of them. Not one! You think, wha-who-huh? And you don't remember where anything is. None of the recruits are familiar to you. Yeah. Imagine waking up to your first day of Basic Training over and over and over again with different people each time. Sorry if that assaulted the beach heads of your sense of sanity.


At least in 50 First Dates, there was video to help the girl remember the previous days with the boy, so it's not quite as good an analogy as I first thought. How about being a temp at different jobs every day, in areas of expertise that you may know very little about? That would be epically stressful, to put it mildly.


Let's get back to what substitute educators and permanent teachers go through in common: The first day at work as a newbie teacher. Imagine you both have the same level of education, training, and experience. You both go into your own classes, meet the kids, start getting to know their names, you practice keeping your cool doing classroom management, you face interruptions, you begin adjusting to new curricula, to the school’s personality (a.k.a., getting through school culture shock) and even, occasionally, you get some teaching in. The permanent teacher goes through this and, at the end of the day, can think that tomorrow will be better, and that so will the day after that as you build social capital with your peers and establish authority and gain respect and influence with your young scholars. The supply teacher, on the other hand, has to do the same thing all over again tomorrow at another school. And the day after that at yet another school. And the day after that. Every once in a while, subs gets lucky and they get an assignment for two or even three weeks in a row with the same group of kids. But then the run is done and it’s déjà vu all over again. "Good morning, class. My name is Mr. Exwyzee."


Of all the people in the world, permanent teachers should have the greatest degree of sympathy for subs.


For a sub, there’s the rub.


Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences with permanent teachers who have given me lesson plans, kept in contact with me throughout the day and the week, administrators who have been observant enough to see that I’d make a great asset on their team and kids who have been respectful and cooperative.


But then there are other times.


Still, you get the picture. The vast majority of documents that came up in my search are about teachers who have permanent posts. There are scads of documents talking about teacher absenteeism and teacher attrition. It got me to thinking: The problem is not being a substitute teacher per se, but rather being new. And, as the kids would say it, being new, like, every day.


How can you fix that? Well, you can’t! Can the system make it better? If the writing bug strikes again, we’ll see.


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Old 03-04-2018, 12:45 PM
 
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I am a retired teacher who occasionally subs at my old high school, in my old department, occasionally in my old room. I am familiar with the teachers, the school routines and climate, and the subject matter. All of that makes subbing easy. (I even taught the principal when he was in high school).

Our school, for a while, had a “permanent sub” position. This person would always be available to sub. He often did single class periods or half days, because no one wants to sub for just an hour or two...unless you are already at the school. He sometimes tutored kids who needed a bit more attention, or offered the librarian a break at lunch time or cover a teacher’s duty period. I am certain that he was busy every single day. Kids knew him, he knew the teachers, and he fit well in the school. Of course, sometimes one sub is more than enough in a small high school, but other days we would have multiple subs, some of whom were “new” in one way or another.

Next best thing is for individual schools or even departments (in the case of secondary school) to have a stable of subs who know the school and sub often enough to know a critical mass of students in the classroom. There is a problem, though—the sub who wants to work every single day. They have to spread themselves out among several schools in order to be assured of work.

Honestly, at the high school level, I think the answer ultimately is going to be to completely restructure the model of high school education to a consultative model. But that is pretty radical and probably is not in the cards any time in the next decade...
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Old 03-04-2018, 04:05 PM
 
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Say more about the consultative model. I think I know what you mean, but I also think what you're referring to could mean at least two very different things to me. :-) Thanks.
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Old 03-04-2018, 05:26 PM
 
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I think high school students are mature enough (at least by junior year, or maybe sooner) to take more responsibility for their own education. While they may take some traditional classes, they could take some courses on line, and learn other skills through community involvement. The school where I used to teach provided for those alternative methods of earning credit. I would like to see a model where even traditional classes only meet maybe a couple of times a week, and students use other resources to work independently in between. Some students neeed one on one help with certain subjects, so they can schedule individual office time with a teacher or para or peer tutor. Certain activities might be done in small groups: laboratory work, music, or PE, for example. Work spaces would be provided for students who need a study space or maker space or access to various technology.

Instead of the assembly line model where kids go from classroom to classroom for 45 or 50 minutes at a time, every day, all day, I imagine a more open schedule, more like college work, with students consulting with teacher mentors at least as much as they are being fed information and skills in a classroom. Students would be working toward competency goals and would be able to work more at their own pace, taking responsibility for their progress. They could set personal goals as well, learning skills by work and internships and volunteeering that will translate into employability or move them toward higher education.

It’s a real paradigm shift, putting the student in charge of their own learning and facilitating that by providing necessary resources or offering help in locating appropriate resources.

Schools today are being asked to focus on the individual student, but our traditional schedule makes it impossible to do so effectively. It’s like trying to build custom cars on an assembly line—it just doesn’t work. So that is my idea. The school building would probably be open longer hours, but it would not be fully occupied by students and teachers during all the hours it is open. Much of the work done by teachers and students would be done by appointment as neeeded. Students would have much more freedom to chose when and where to work, and how to demonstrate their learning.

Sorry—this kind of hijacked your topic....but you did ask! ;-)
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Old 03-04-2018, 05:48 PM
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In a larger sense...
Old 03-05-2018, 10:05 AM
 
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What makes the first day different than any other day? In a word, "variables." Humans love predictability. Studies have shown that we actually stay in unpleasant situations (jobs, marriages, etc.) because they are familiar and we can depend on it. That security has more value than the unknown.

But we also undervalue the unknown--it's bigger than we sometimes estimate. Anyone who's taught a class (sub or permanent) knows that behavior is unpredictable--sometimes even more so with specific students. That second grader whose mom was in a car accident last night isn't going to function the same as she did yesterday. I'd be willing to wager that many permanent teachers underestimate their ability to hand "being new, like, every day."

I would posit that subs may deserve envy rather than sympathy. A lot of this has to do with perspective.

We love to talk about how kids need structure and that's true. Remember, we love predictability. Sub's dread the student's collective whine, "That's not how Ms. Permanent Teacher does it!" But our solution is to want lots of information and detailed lesson plans so we do it as close to the way Mrs. Permanent Teacher does it as possible.

What would happen if we embraced uncertainty and unpredictability? Perhaps even more to the point, what would happen if we taught students to do so? We might discover some exciting things!

To tie this into Lisa53's points, the student gains some responsibility for his/her own structure. One of the things I love about subbing is that it forces me (not that I require much encouragement) to work that way with the kids. If the lesson plan says, "when they finish... they can work on their [inquiry/whatever] project," I get to have a great conversation along the lines of "tell me where you are... and where you are going... what do you think it's going to end up looking like?" The fact that I've never seen the project before actually helps. Lots of times we get excited together. (Personally, I think we put too much structure on projects like these and they all end up looking the same. As Lisa says, it's like trying to build custom cars on an assembly line.)

Academically, the challenge is to maintain consistent competency standards. We have a tendency to think individualized instruction means the student works to his or her level of ability regardless of how low (or high) that level is perceived to be. By default, we encourage underachievement. (I have been warned by paras not to "pressure" certain kids who have "learning disabilities." I replied that I do know the difference between encouragement and pressure and I'm not about to cheat a kid out of personal achievement.)

The one "disagreement" I might have with Lisa53 is that I think personal responsibility can start much earlier than high school. It does mean, however, that we need that paradigm shift and it's one that will be harder on educators than the students.

A curriculum director I have a lot of respect for described one program as "We're going to give 'em what they need but they'll think they're getting what they wanted. Those two things aren't necessary opposites." Now there's some new thinking! Another aspect of the shift might be that we are challenged to make it about learning and discovery instead of teaching.

If we want to get very conceptual... try this one on. If we make this paradigm shift how does that change the role of the sub? One of the common complaints among subs after no seating chart is "inadequate lesson plans." What does a lesson plan look like in the new era? How do you make a seating chart when you aren't sure where the student is going to be?

(I can't resist noting that we are "experimenting" with a block at the end of each day (upper elementary and middle school grades) that takes a stab at this. While the kids can't leave campus, there is a lot of flexibility such as

Quote:
Some students need one on one help with certain subjects, so they can schedule individual office time with a teacher or para or peer tutor. Certain activities might be done in small groups: laboratory work, music, or PE, for example. Work spaces would be provided for students who need a study space or maker space or access to various technology.
It's been interesting because it's truly "rocking our worlds." Subbing consists mostly of saying "Yes, you can..." and learning to trust the system and the kids. While I try to teach stewardship, if a student misuses or wastes the time, it's no skin off my back, so to speak--although I think it might be a reflection of my ability to support, encourage, and direct.)


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@Lisa53: I completely concur!
Old 03-05-2018, 09:03 PM
 
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No apology needed. In fact, if we follow Bloom's taxonomy in it's most recent incarnation (see https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-su...ooms-taxonomy/), today's technology is just right for semi-independent study and pedagogical consultation. So it's not as radical a paradigm shift as it seems (theoretically). However, some students are more ready for this kind of independence than others. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. However, the goal is to nudge them toward intellectual independence. Teachers would, however, have to have a crack IT team who could block students from, um, 'distracting availabilities' on the internet. But if that's in place, then kids can come to us when they have questions they are stumped on. I thought that's what you meant and I had, at one time, envisioned doing a dissertation on learning through testing that included, for example, giving the final exam to kids to take home on the first day of school and bringing it back next school day or two later to go over it. It would be a way to introduce the concept of testing as a teaching method. But now I digress. :-)

Thanks for the clarification.
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Old 03-05-2018, 09:20 PM
 
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Your post is music to my ears. That said, I know that this is the kind of conceptual dreaming we can entertain when kids have had decent opportunities and have grown up with some resources, including resilient parents. There are some kids for whom my heart goes out. I imagine their behaviors stem from having been brought up surrounded by disruption and chaos. Or having been born to a mother on drugs. The neurological mayhem some of these kids have endured before even being born just breaks my heart. Some kids act out because it's a way to avoid the unfamiliarity of orderliness that is learning, and to avoid looking stupid. Better to look like the cool clown, the funny distraction than to look dumb. I also think kids start school too early. They need to be out and about running and jumping and being kids longer than we have them today. (There, I said it.) .

Thank you and Lisa53 for the intellectually stimulating exchange. It's what I need to help get my dissertation game in gear. So many directions to go. So many ideas. :-)
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Old 03-06-2018, 06:25 AM
 
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I didn’t read through everything. However, you really lost me comparing boot camp with substitute teaching. Having been a sub and a permanent teach, and having completed boot camp, there is no connection. No one in the civilian world has to put up with standing completely still, nose to nose while someone’s screams ridiculous things in your face. They would walk out. Take that out of your argument, and maybe we can talk. I have never in a civilian job been or seen anyone treated even 1/10th of the harshness of boot camp. I have worked many different jobs.

Being new is an issue. I hate it when I have someone sub and I don’t recognize their name. Trying to put everything in plans that a person new to the school needs to know is crazy hard. It is so much easier when a person is familiar to the school.

It would be helpful to have building subs or something similar, but that will never happen here. I am happy that if we can’t get a sub, someone is pulled to cover a class. Bites to be pulled, but it makes the most sense.

I think that if a teacher isn’t there, kids should just stay home.
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Old 03-06-2018, 09:26 PM
 
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I never had a DI get in my face. My problem was a couple of idiot trainees, a tall one and a short one. The short guy always wanted to pick a fight with me, but he always did it with his tall skinny sidekick present. Coward. But since you said you didn't read through the whole thing, I find it hard to forgive you for making a comment that says I lost you. No wonder the drill sergeants screamed in your face. YOU WEREN'T LISTENING, PRIVATE!!!!

Sorry. Couldn't resist. You know you had it coming.

My point was to make an illustration of the fact that what regular teachers share in their experience with substitute teachers is the first day with their class. But the sub has to do it over and over. And the comparison was the idea of having to do anything (first day of basic, first day as a pastor, first day as a veterinarian....) for the first time, but having to start (do the first day) over again and again.

What was your MOS?
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Old 03-07-2018, 03:24 AM
 
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Quote:
...conceptual dreaming we can entertain when kids have had decent opportunities and have grown up with some resources, including resilient parents.
I don't think the dream changes... those resources may just make the dream easier to achieve. There are too many cases of a "disadvantaged" kid becoming a superstar... and vice versa to convince me that we should have lower expectations of a kid based on his/her external circumstance. It may be just the opposite.

If anything, the system is broken on this very point. We instinctively want to explain behavior rather than change it. I once had a second grader explain that she "doesn't do" math worksheets in class, she goes to a resource room for special help. She further explained that she was allowed to free draw during math. I chatted with her for a bit, suggesting that it might be fun to try the worksheet and we could just throw it away when she finished so it would be like she never did it. (I think she liked the idea we'd be doing something we weren't supposed to do--a little secret.) The para was scowling at me the whole time and later informed me "you're not supposed to pressure her."

Well, guess what? She completed the worksheet and got over half of them right! I asked her if we were going to throw it away and she excitedly said "NO!" because she wanted the regular teacher to see it.

I advised the para that I did, in fact, understand the difference between pressure and encouragement. That's one story out of many, all with the same pattern. We are too often cheating kids out of the opportunity to achieve. "Everybody gets a trophy" cheats the achiever out of valid recognition and it cheats the non-achiever out of the opportunity to actually earn recognition.

I too have cried over what some of these kids and have do endure. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't provide support systems. But while empathy and compassion are important, our job is to help them out of it.


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Old 03-07-2018, 06:25 AM
 
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I got your point, I just don’t agree with the comparison.

Started as a 98C. Retired as a QM Major.
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Old 03-07-2018, 04:08 PM
 
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Fair enough. If you got the point, that's a good enough comparison. Comparing to make a point is not am exact science.
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I agree with you more...
Old 03-07-2018, 04:10 PM
 
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than I disagree with you. It can get very subjective very fast when it comes to exercising judgment.
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