Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Substitute Teaching

I've been busy teaching, so teaching is on my mind. Two years ago, I retired from 31 years of teaching in public schools. One year of elementary teaching in a 2nd and 3rd grade classroom. The basis of this class was - "Let's give the rookie the worst behaved kids". I was exactly 20 years old when I got this job and 21 when I resigned allegedly to get married. My "fiancee" and I broke up 3 months later. Then after graduate school, I taught for 4 years in a depressed section of Chicago. My students were cognitively and emotionally high risk preschoolers ages three to five. I would have up to twelve students at a time by myself. I begged for help but received none. Then for the next 21 years I took on a special education position mainly in a high school here in Missouri. When I burned out of sped, I became an English teacher and served my last 5 years in the pursuit of helping at least some of my students enjoy the sight and sound of our language.

When I retired at the end of the 2006-2007 school year, it was more because of my chronic pain than it was the changes in the field of education (the demeanor of students, the lack of parental concern, No Child Left Untested laws, administrative woes, lack of support, lack of money for training and supplies). I was somewhat done with the job, but I will always miss the connection that I had with students. I never won any Teacher of the Year awards because these are almost all political. (I was Teacher of the month once in Sept. 1999! Whoopee!) However, some of the feedback I received from parents, administrators and students led me to believe that I was an adequate if not good if not exceptional teacher, and despite the bad case of "imposter syndrome" that I suffer, there are times when I am confident enough to believe that I did actually make a difference. I know that when I had a personal relationship with a student, he was more likely to be respectful and motivated.

This brings me to my experience of yesterday. I substituted at a high school for a special ed teacher whose main job was to assist with mainstreaming 9th and 10th grade students with learning difficulties and emotional problems into regular math, and science classrooms. I particularly noted that in almost every class, the students (both the ones with IEPs and those without) frequently talked back to the teachers, used bad language, ignored the instruction, talked to each other during the instruction, refused to do the tasks assigned, and failed quizzes and tests. In the classroom in which the regular teacher was present , I noticed that her attitude was that the kids cannot learn anyway. This was a teacher who is only one year from retirement, and while I can't assume that she has had the training that I have had over the years in dealing with at-risk and special needs students, I would assume that she has had SOME inservice training on motivation, classroom instruction, organization, classroom management, effective instruction etc. etc.!!! All teachers in Missouri are required to take a classes in Exceptional Learners for certification. I did not observe any techniques on the part of the teacher that would help the students with motivation, control, or development of positive social relationships.

What I saw was pitiful. Yes, the students were rude, ignored instruction, talked to each other etc. But it was very clear that the teacher had reinforced this behavior since the beginning of the school year. She had told me before class that most of the students had failing percentages. Her major technique for control was telling the student that he/she would lose points for poor behavior. When I asked if she gave extra points for good behavior, she just looked at me...

In another classroom in which the regular teacher was absent, the rudeness and poor behavior of the students was so striking that I asked them to behave as if the regular teacher were present.
They told me that they acted the same way when the regular teacher was there. This was confirmed other school personnel.

I have seen wonderful teachers in my time affect students in wonderful ways. My sister, Amy Hathaway, helps elementary students with learning disabilities with incredibly positive and creative drive. My husband taught Art and Art History for 31 years and still receives letters and phone calls from students who became teachers, artists, or designers, and credit him with inspiring them to excel. My friend Dorci Leara in Arizona is a star among English teachers,
motivating them to read and write, to become authors and journalists. My long lost friend Mercedes Lopanec, now in Florida, is the amazingly gifted teacher who showed me how to get through to every single student in classes as large as 34 students. This was inspiration I used every single day of my teaching career and even into my "career" as a substitute. My daughter, Annie, has the gift. She tutored Math with drop-outs, parolees, and drug offenders who were working their way back to GEDs. I am sure she inspired them.

I guess the point of this post is that it is a royal shame that students are rude, disrespectful, and unmotivated. But, I know that more, much more, could come from a few teachers who aren't digging deep enough into how they really feel about their students and what is expected of them.

Today very closely knit,


P.B. Mark's scarf is now 18" long. The green and grey are beautiful together. Much thanks to KnitPicks for making delicious yarn affordable.

P.P.B. Someone explain to me how to make words in my blog into links.

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