Saturday, February 28, 2009

Traffic Jam

Yesterday I went to a funeral.  While waiting for the chapel to clear out, I got a chance to watch the previous group all get into their cars to follow the hearse to the grave site.  There were a lot of cars. 

As this group was waiting to make a right turn onto the street, another group following a hearse came into the memorial park.  And it just struck me.  How often does one see two funeral processions passing each other?  

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Change of Luck

When I got into today's classroom, all I found on the teacher's desk was an emailed lesson plan for yesterday.  Written all over it were the notes from yesterday's sub.  Uh oh.

I called the main office to see if the teacher had emailed new plans for today. Outlook had been down all morning, but it had just come up.  I was to send a student to go and fetch the lesson plans.

At this point the warning bell had rung.  The students were coming into the class.  I was in a classroom at the back of campus, so I figured that it would take at least ten minutes for a student to get the plans and bring them back.  I had to figure out what to do with the students for those ten minutes. Sophomores.  They could go crazy in that amount of time.

Here's where my luck completely changed.

First, it turned out that I had a TA for first period.  No wondering about who to send to the office.  That's in the TA's job description.  And then the counselor walked in.

The counselor was carrying a big box and a big projector.  She was there to talk to all the sophomore classes.  All day.

It is that time of year.  They are beginning signing the kids up for next year's classes.  Today sophomores got the talk--graduation requirements, college entrance requirements, and planning for junior and senior years.  

This meant that all I had to do was take roll and sit back and let the counselor do all the work.  Nice!  Easy day for me.  Whew.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


"Ms. A, you're a snitch."

A student said this to me as she walked into 4th period.  She was angry at me because I had left her name for her English teacher (today I was covering biology).  I don't remember what she was doing--probably talking instead of listening to a story on CD--but if I felt it merited mention to her teacher, then it must have been inappropriate.  

This girl was denied a buyout on that Friday, so she was upset.  Not my problem, really.  But I got to hear all about her displeasure.  

The snitch comment bothered me, though.  It implied that I'm supposed to let them do whatever they want when their teacher is away.  That's not how I understood my responsibilities.  I tried to explain this.  I'm not a peer.  I'm not their friend.  I am a teacher.  I let the teacher know what went on in his/her classroom during his/her absence.  

She didn't get any of this, of course.  She stopped listening after I said I wasn't her peer.  She's been so angry lately.  Every time I see her she's ranting about something.  

What happens with the sub stays with the sub?  Um, no.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Too Much Help?

Yesterday I covered the reentry program.  This is a class for students who aged out of the continuation high school (if they didn't graduate in the June of their senior year and they turned 18).  It meets in the late afternoon from 2:30 to 6:30.

Every student is busily trying to finish his/her high school diploma work.  For the most part the students work on their own.  Occasionally they need some extra help.

One of the students was working on algebra.  He was having difficulty, so he asked for my help.  I helped for a bit, moved away to check on someone else, and then went back to check on him.  The problem he was working on was exactly the same as the problem that I had just helped him with, but this one he got wrong.  So, I was needed there.

Two hours later I was still sitting by him, helping him with his math.  After a while it started to feel like I was doing the work for him.  It wasn't that he wasn't getting it.  As soon as he understood how to do one kind of problem, he had finished that set and was working on a different set of problems.  

It's hard sometimes to know how much help to give.  All I could do was note it in my sub report and hope that I hadn't helped him too much.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How Do You Spell...?

"Are there two M's in commitment?"

Since this was a spelling test, I did not answer.  I just gave the student a look. He relented, and the test continued.

You might be surprised how often that little maneuver turns up.  "How do you spell permit?" or "How do you spell number seven?"  Both were asked as I was reading out the words to them (in different periods).  Very funny.

The period continued on, and at some point (as all middle school classes do) they asked if I had written any names down.  I told them that the question about commitment went into the note.  Mistake.

The boy who had asked that question then tried to bargain with me.  "If I'm good for the rest of the period, will you erase my name?"  I said no.  He sulked for the rest of the period.  I passed his desk--he had not started the assignment (a different one after the test).  

Then after school he spent what seemed like ten minutes begging me not to leave his name for the teacher.  He offered to get down on his knees (I declined).  In the end all I agreed to was to think about it.  That's what got him to finally leave (with a polite, "Thank you for your consideration," after).  

I left the note.  I added that he had apologized for his stupid remark.  I don't know how hard the teacher is going to come down on him (by the amount of begging, I should think rather hard).  Maybe next time he'll think before he speaks.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All Turned Around

Whenever I plan on going someplace new in a part of town I'm unfamiliar with, I prepare.  I get good directions.  I get out my map and plot my course. Then when I get in the car, my directions and map are out.  I pretty much know where I'm going and how to get there.

This morning I got a call from my sister-in-law.  Her grandmother was dying, and she needed me to pick my niece up from school.  No problem.

After my niece was in my car, I explained the situation.  She burst into tears. When I offered her the chance to go to the nursing home to say goodbye, she gave me a definite yes.  

But I had no idea where this nursing home was or how to get there.

I called my SIL.  I don't keep paper or writing utensil in my car, so I had to instantly memorize the directions.  They led me through a part of town that I was once familiar with (I had lived in that area in 2000-2001), but I hadn't been that way in a long time.  That's going to be my excuse.  Because I got so turned around...

What I heard was that I was supposed to make a left turn on this one street. But when I got to that street, I could only make a right (unless I wanted my car to get up close and personal with the Pacific Ocean).  Certain that I had made a wrong turn somewhere, I turned around and retraced my path.  

My niece was sure that I was taking too long.  She was sure that by the time we got to the nursing home her Nana would already have passed.  I was feeling horrible enough already.  And my niece could have been correct--we could have already missed her Nana.

I found a place to pull over to call my SIL again (certain that she thought I was an idiot by now).  Sure enough, I was going the right way before.  I should have made a right turn right where I turned around because I was sure I was in the wrong place.  

So, I got to the right street, but I made a right turn instead of a left.  I again called my SIL to confirm.  By now she was standing outside the nursing home (because she had to be sure that I would never find it on my own).  I turned around and headed (finally) in the right direction.  

Then I found the place easily, but I was in the wrong lane.  Of course there was a bus in the way so I couldn't change lanes.  And the guy behind me decided that he had to honk at me for being an idiot.   Yes, I was perfectly aware that I was an idiot.  But we had been in the car for nearly an hour getting to a place that was probably less than 20 minutes away from where I had started.  I wasn't in the mood to have to turn around again.

There's a reason I rarely drive.  I can't be trusted to find any place.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anger Issues

I had one last day in that special ed class (the one from this day and this day).  Well, there might be more, but the meetings that this teacher has been out for are over.  Whew.

This boy had another meltdown.  This time it was over spelling.  He was freaking out when he couldn't find "rejected" in the dictionary.  

Some students are just needy.  At this level of school, they need to learn to work independently.  So, what set this boy off was the fact that we weren't sitting with him and telling him what to do every step of the way.  When he was calm he was working on his own just fine.  

The incident I didn't mention that day (I didn't want to overload the post) was with another boy who blows up at the slightest slight--real or imagined.  And he was at it again today.

I was very careful 5th period when I told him to get out his reading book. Everyone in the class had to read for 12 minutes.  Everyone else had a book out and was reading.  The last time I told him to get out his book he exploded at me for treating him like an idiot (for the record: I used the exact same tone of voice I use with any student in any class when telling them the exact same thing--and these are not special ed kids).  So, I was a little dubious at forcing the issue.

The boy had his head down on his desk.  I told him to get out his book, and I said it very gently.  I repeated.  And he got out his book.  He put it unopened on his desk.  I told him to open it.  He did.  Crisis averted.

I thought I was home free.  Then it was time for the class to get in a group and start on the day's assignment.  Somehow, this boy and this girl then irritated each other enough so that they started yelling at each other (about what I have no idea).  A third boy got into the mix, and all I wanted to do was yell at them to stop this nonsense.  I didn't.  

Apparently 5th period does this.  A lot.  

There were two other peacemakers in the class plus the others were done with the whole disruption (this was a class of eight), so somehow we managed to get order again.  

However, the boy's consequence for any blow up is a 15 minute detention.  He blew up in a previous period, so he was up to a half hour.  When he stalked into class at the end of the day, he was surprised to find that extra 15 minutes listed under his detention.  He argued the point, but eventually he had to admit that he did earn that extra 15 minutes.

It's sad to see so much anger in these kids.  But I suppose that's part of the reason that they're in this special ed class.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Early Enough

I was running late this morning.  

The back patio tends to flood due to a badly designed drain that gets covered by leaves easily.  When the water gets too high after a good downpour, the water starts to seep in the back door.  The carpet gets soaked, and the old kitchen cabinets had water stains.  Since the kitchen was just redone, I've been careful about making sure that the water does not leak into the house.

It rained last night.  When I got up, there was about an inch of standing water out back, so I took the time to go out there and clear off the drain again.  This only took about five minutes, but in the morning five minutes is long enough to throw my whole schedule off.  

I got to school ten minutes late.

We are supposed to be at school a half hour before school starts.  Some mornings I'm better at this than others.  I wasn't too worried as I knew who I was subbing for and I had a good idea of what the lesson plan would entail. (And I really needed to make sure that the back patio didn't flood into the house.)

I was surprised by my reception at school.  "Who are you here for?"  I was surprised because I could see that the materials for the teacher I was scheduled to sub for were already out.  Except the email from the sub caller had a different sub listed to cover the teacher.  Whoops.

So, I called the sub caller.  Turns out she had double booked the assignment. Since I had gotten there first, I was to keep the assignment, and the other sub was given something else to do.  

I thought I was running late.  Turns out I was early enough.

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Phone

It's not something you notice right away.  In fact, you may not notice for hours. But then you pick up the phone to make a phone call, and that's when you discover that the phone service is out.

The strange part is--the Internet connection and the phone line are with the same company on the same line.  We don't have phones, but we do have Internet.

So, I went to the phone company's website to see what was wrong.  This, of course, took forever.  After much trial and error, I was finally able to get info on the phone line.  There's an outage.  The phone line will be out until 2/19.

Once I realized what today's date is, I got a little perturbed.  Three more days! Seriously?  It'll take them until Thursday to fix the phones.  There had to be more information than that.

So, I tried to sign into my account.  But I never got around to creating an account online.  To verify who I am, I need a PIN to create a password.  There are two options for getting the PIN.  First, they will call the phone number with the password.  Um, yeah.  They'll call the line that is out, so I won't get the PIN.

The other option?  They'll mail it to me.  Mail!  By the time I get the PIN, the phone line will be restored (hopefully!).  

So, I'm sitting here cursing the phone company.  I guess I can call them and tell them how idiotic this system is.  I do still have my cell phone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Combo Day

The teacher I subbed for on Tuesday and Wednesday was to be out again at a meeting, but only after 11:30 AM.  School starts at 7:30 AM.  I came in for a full day knowing this.  I was contracted for the full day.  They knew that I would be needed elsewhere.

When I got to school, I didn't have a first period assignment.  Then they found out that one of the instructional assistants hadn't come in, so I was sent to cover that.  I headed out.

I was outside past the library on my way to the classroom when I heard my name being called.  I turned to find the secretary chasing after me.  Right after I had left the office the secretary got a call.  A Spanish teacher who was already at school (she had a zero period, so she had been at school since 6-something) was feeling really awful and needed to go home.  I had an assignment after all.

The Spanish teacher was surprised to find a sub in her room so quickly (of course it helped that her classroom was right next to the office).  She was quickly typing up lesson plans.  And she was very distracted--she printed the lesson plans but forgot to take them off the printer.  

So, after three periods of Spanish, I went to cover three periods of special ed. Crazy day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brief Instructions

I walked into the classroom.  It was pretty barren.  No teacher desk.  None of the teacher clutter that I'm used to seeing.  But there was a podium at the front of the room. I went up to it to find only seating charts.  

This was when I started to panic.

I took a brief look about the room.  That's when I looked at the whiteboard. Sure enough, the teacher had written the lesson plans on the whiteboard.

They were really complex.  Underneath "To the sub" they said: 
  1. Circle names of students absent on seating chart.
  2. X any problem students.
  3. Collect work each period.
The assignment was then listed on the board.  

Occasionally I get teachers who leave such a bare bones lesson plan.  It makes me wonder if they really want me to leave them a note at the end of the day.  I do anyway, but I still wonder.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


"I need help.  This class is supposed to be for help.  Help, help, help."

Then the student banged his fingers against his forehead as he continued to wail that he needed help.  

I was back in the same special ed class that I was in yesterday.  So, you'd think that today would go as smoothly as yesterday went, seeing as how I was with them two weeks ago and now this was my second day in a row with them.  Eh, not so much.

This boy had a world history/geography assignment.  There was a map.  Above the map were questions.  Above the questions was a word bank with all of the answers.  The questions all referred to the map.  It was a pretty straightforward assignment.  Yet when the boy got to class, none of it was done and he said he needed help.

Well, it was a study hall kind of class, so I helped.  I talked the boy through three questions.  I took it step by step.  "Do you see where India is?  Okay, now look for an island off the coast.  See it?  No, look again.  Now, do you see it in the word bank?  Write the letter..."

After three questions a couple things happened.  First, I had to take roll.  Then another student had a question (as I had now spent ten minutes with the first boy).  Then I went back to the boy, but I wasn't going to walk him through the whole worksheet.  He should have had the idea of how to do it.  So, instead of walking him through the next question, I gave a vague answer to his question. The result: the quote is at the top of this post.

I tried to calm the boy down.  I used a soothing tone of voice to tell him that everything was okay.  (I had been helping him after all.)  And then I was able to get some backup.  That's what I love about special ed classes--the instructional assistant in the room.  

As I had given the boy what should have been enough help, the IA came over and told the boy that he needed to work on his own.  She told him that in 15 minutes we would help him again.  Guess what?  In five minutes the boy had finished the worksheet.

They really do know more than they think they do.  Unfortunately, that was not my only meltdown of the day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Walking on Eggshells

One student can ruin a whole day.  And if you have that student all day...

Today I was in special ed.  I was told to watch out for one student in particular. Apparently, when she's having a bad day things can get pretty ugly.  I am usually on careful behavior in most special ed classes anyway.  You never know which student is liable to snap.

So, I tried to keep my tone pleasant.  I tried to avoid talking down to the students.  And luckily things went pretty good today.

The troubled girl seems to like me which is a bonus.  She asked me to escort her to lunch (she's not allowed to go anywhere unescorted by an adult).  She even remained mostly mellow during the fire drill (although she did have an issue with the crowd when we were going back to class).  So, I tried to remain as calm and friendly as I could with her.  I didn't want to set her off.

I'm going back tomorrow.  Hopefully things will stay as good as they have.  If not, I'll have a much more interesting post.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Light

It poured down rain off and on today.  This being Southern California, of course everyone melts.

It was 2nd period.  This being the combined day, that meant that I had both the 2nd period and the 5th period in the room.  Once buyouts were taken into account, that meant that I was expecting 21 students.  (Those who bought out were not expected.)  

It was pouring down rain as 2nd period started.  There weren't all that many students out and about.  Still, when only two students showed up, I was surprised.  I should have had a bit more than that.

Slowly more trickled in.  One came in just before the bell.  Two others arrived late.  And so my grand total of students was 5.  Five!  And one of those students was in both 2nd and 5th periods (which means I was actually expecting 20 students).  

So, of course no one wanted to do anything.  Friday + no one in class + rain = even less work done than normal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Bluff?

It's Thursday at the continuation high school--buyout day.  Ah, the power!

(If the student can get all his/her teachers to sign the buyout, he/she is excused from school on Friday.  It's a lovely motivation tool.)

It was 6th period.  I told the students that I would only sign buyouts for those that were doing some work.  This was the only group that actually needed the warning as the other classes were doing what they were supposed to be doing (answering questions about Twelve Angry Men  which they had just finished reading).

I went through the stack about 15 minutes before the end of the period.  Only two buyouts were for students who appeared to be goofing off, so I signed the rest and waited.  Once I collected their work, I looked for the papers of the two questionable students.  Neither had turned anything in.

The bell rang, and the classroom emptied.  One student informed me that he did not have a pencil so he could not do the assignment.  He had the entire period to acquire one (from another student, from a neighboring teacher, from the office, etc.).  The second student told me that he had turned in his work to me.

First I went through the stack of student papers a second time.  Then I went through the stack of questions.  I turned over everything on the desk.  I gave the stack of papers to the student to look through.  I glanced around the rest of the classroom.  His paper was nowhere to be found.  He continued to claim that he had turned his paper in to me--he had in fact handed it to me--but I did not recall this, and I had no paper with his name on it.

Earlier in the period he also did not have a writing utensil.  He managed to half-borrow one from another student (this student was doing no work, so the two boys agreed to share the pen, each using the pen for half the period).  But neither appeared to actually have anything on their pages, so the sharing thing was only a gimmick.

Basically, I thought the boy was bluffing.  He probably did hand me something, and then he probably expected that I'd remember that and not look for proof of work.  Perhaps he thought I'd think that I just lost his paper.  But I'm pretty good at keeping track of stuff.  And the whole the-sub-lost-my-work doesn't generally work on/with me.

So, I did not sign his buyout.  I was careful, though.  I did not accuse him of lying to me.  I could have lost his assignment, but I rather doubt it.  I think that once he started his bluff, there was no way that he could back down, so he played it until the end.  

Although, if he was telling the truth, I'm going to feel horrible about this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Remove Your Hood

Today was day two of CAHSEE testing (day one was yesterday).  

Yesterday I had issues with one tester.  This boy insisted on leaving his hood on his head.  It is against dress code for students to wear the hoods from their sweatshirts on their heads when they are in class.  This is a constant battle, for the hoodies are very popular as is the hood up look.  But we keep after them anyway.

So, yesterday I had to ask this boy three times to remove his hood.  I was just about to take it up the chain of command (refer him to the assistant principal who was overseeing the testing) when the hood finally remained off.  Then today he had his hood up again.

I asked the boy to remove his hood, and he gave me attitude about it: "You're the only one who's bothering me about this."  Lovely.

I was on the other side of the room when I saw another proctor and the assistant principal both converge on the boy.  His hood was again up.  But it was off by the time the two had left him.  And the hood remained off the rest of the testing.  

I felt vindicated.  But, you know that the next time I see him, I'll have been the bad guy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Too Quick

"Someone's finished?  Already?"

One of the other test proctors had test in hand and was getting ready to check out a student.  I was surprised as they had only been on session two for about ten minutes (at least, it felt like only ten minutes).  Who could get done that fast?

It's CAHSEE time again.  This time it's all the sophomores--their first crack at the thing.  Hopefully, most will pass.  I've talked about test proctoring before.

Then the student who was supposedly finished came up.  And I understood.  Of course it was him.

The test had two sessions.  During session one I spent a lot of time at the back of the room, watching.  I saw this boy's face many times.  I motioned for him to turn around more than once.  He had that silly smile on his face, like all of this was a big joke.  And he just had that attitude, the attitude of an 8th grader who is bored and wants to play.

So, I was sure of it.  He hadn't actually tried.  He probably just filled in random bubbles because he wanted to get out of that room.  

Sure, he got out of the room quickly.  But, in the end he'll pay for it.  He'll have to take the test again and again until he passes it.  Much better to sit for the thing once and never again.  I guess he has to learn that the hard way.