Friday, March 28, 2014

Vocab Lesson

I had been warned about 5th period. I immediately started in by making sure they were all in their assigned seats. Then I explained that since I can't read and talk at the same time, I knew they could not, so therefore I expected silence.

(I didn't really expect silence. I never expect silence. I figure silence is something to strive towards, depending on the assignment. But I will push for it if the circumstances warrant.)

I got the usual refrain. "We can multitask."

But eventually they settled down. Not to silence, but to a quiet enough where I figured that most could get the assignment done.

It was a middle school advanced ELD class. ELD stands for English Language Development. These are the students who aren't native English speakers, and their assignment was to read a story (in English) out of their textbook.

They should need it quieter, right?

One boy was talking to two of his neighbors. They were clearly not doing the assignment. So, I asked how what they were talking about could have anything to do with the reading assignment. (This is how I usually approach students who are off task.)

"Well... We were talking about a Chinese girl, and this story is about a Chinese family..."

Tenuous connection at best. I was about to say that when I remembered where I was.

"Have you ever heard the word 'tenuous'?" I asked.

They hadn't. At which point I explained it. A couple students asked if it was kind of like fragile. And in a minute or two, most had now been introduced to the term.

I turned back to the boy.

"Yeah, so that excuse. Tenuous at best."

At least they learned something new.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Just Their Imagination

I finally got around to making a What If? tab. It lists all the previous questions I've asked on the blog, and it gives the rationale for these posts. And I got it done just in time for the A to Z Challenge. Whew.

This week's question... Yeah, it's another that I have no idea where it came from. Okay, then...

What if we are the figment of someone else's imagination?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


The boy came in wearing a nose ring. His teacher reminded him to remove it as it was against the dress code. (The teacher was on his way out of the room at the time, leaving me to cover his classes.) Then the teacher explained to me that the boy was enjoying setting off metal detectors while he still could.

"When do you go in [to the army]?"

"August 4th."

The boy dressed like a stereotypical punk rocker. He wore the jeans vest with band fabric "patches" safety pinned and clearly hand stitched to it. He wore the fraying jeans. He had the standard Dr. Martens. His hair was short and spiky. The nose ring completed the look.

The one thing he didn't have was the gauged ears. So I asked him about them.

He used to have them. Apparently, army code prohibits piercings where one can see through a person's ears. So, the boy had surgery to close his up.

I did not know you could have gauged ears closed up.

He must really want to be in the army if he's willing to de-pierce himself.

We talked of various things that period. (He was the TA, and the rest of the class was testing, so it was just him and me.) I asked about his army plans. Where he'd be doing boot camp. What he wanted to do after.

There's a reason I try not to prejudge students based on their appearance. When I don't, it leaves me open to hearing the real story.

Monday, March 24, 2014


When I checked in I saw it right away. The yellow sticky note of doom. It's how the secretary lets us know that she needs us subs to cover an extra period.

This day's yellow sticky note of doom was extra nefarious. It informed me that not only was this class special ed, it was also "ED". Which stands for emotionally disturbed.

What could go wrong in one period?

The teacher was there when I arrived. He explained their assignments to them, and then he left for his meeting.

One boy dug through his backpack. He had his book, a sheet of paper, and something to write with. What could he be looking for?

"Problem?" I asked.

He muttered his response, but I still heard every word he said.

"Problem? Problem? You're like one of those internet trolls, popping up with a smiley face, saying, 'Problem? Problem?'..."

Um, okay...

At least he wasn't throwing angry words at the student on the other side of him anymore. (I'm not sure what he was angry about, but he was ranting about something.)

Another student crossed the room to start a random conversation. Never mind that he was supposed to remain in his seat and do the work assigned. The conversation about some guy and a local gang was much more important.

I went over to gently nudge him back to his seat. Muttering boy took offense at this as well.

"That's why everyone hates subs. You come in and stick your nose where it doesn't belong. You're the most hated creatures at school. Why anyone...?"

Wow. That was really vicious. If I had been a newbie sub that would have brought me to tears. But I'm not a newbie sub.

My thoughts were more of the this-boy-is-really-angry variety. And not only was his teacher grateful to see me (so the teacher could attend his meeting), there are some students who genuinely do like me. So, not really Most Hated.

Soon thereafter, muttering boy blew up at another student and stormed out of the room. Just as another student predicted. I guess his diatribes are a daily occurrence.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Scenes from 6th Period

The lesson plan stated that the class was to continue working on their "group projects" and they were to have "four pages and three songs" by the end of the period.

Turns out the "group project" was for each 8th grade group to write a mini-musical.

One group was already finished. One group said that the one person who had all their stuff wasn't at school (naturally). One group was made up of students who had missed the day with the instructions, so they had no idea what to do.

So, naturally, the class was loud and not really all that on task. Most found something else to do.

Someone was flipping backpacks. After the second one got flipped, I kept my eyes peeled, but didn't catch the culprit trying it again.

One group kept shaking a cell phone. (I allowed the cell phones as they had to pick songs to go with their mini-musicals.) I went over to investigate. Did you know there's a Spin the Bottle app?

One student... Well, the quote was perfect as is, so I tweeted it...
And one student was so bored, he started "cleaning" the band room. He brought me all of his findings. He found two working pens, five pieces of pens, a drum stick, a tennis ball, and 8 cents. I let him keep the working pens (another student appropriated them from him) and the 8 cents (but he didn't want the change).

I suppose it could have been worse...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fictional Holidays

So, it turns out St. Patrick's Day is another American invention (along with spaghetti and meatballs, fortune cookies, and chop suey). I'm not really surprised...

But it got me thinking (which is why I'm posting this on a Thursday instead of this Monday. Oh, and I didn't want to spoil your celebrations. You're welcome). What a fascinating idea...

What if we could create a holiday out of whole cloth? And base it on some purported holiday from somewhere else (giving it more credence)? What sort of holiday would you create?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Local Geography Lesson

12th grade English. And they were assigned a book to read. The Andromeda Strain.

(My senior English teacher assigned us books like A Separate Peace and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Boo!)

Of course, they were not impressed. So, I started them off as best as I could, noting in the first couple pages that there was mention of the Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Mojave Desert. Both of which the students managed to mangle.

So, I asked the pertinent question. Did they know where this story took place?

A couple of them noted that in the first paragraph on the first page, we were told they were in Arizona. The rest?

I asked where the Mojave Desert was, and I got answers ranging from Asia to the Middle East to Africa. And they'd never heard of Vandenberg. (Although that's not surprising. It's 3 hours north of us.)

So, I asked the next logical question. Had any of them driven to Las Vegas? At least half the class raised their hands.

"You've all driven through the Mojave Desert."

Student: "That's that dry nothing?"

Yep, pretty much.

So, at least they learned something in class.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I've become Charlie Brown's teacher. You know--the one no one can understand. But then again, I just might have always been. It only just now came to my attention...

"Wait. We weren't supposed to write on this?"

After I said it three times and wrote it on the board. But that's normal.

3rd period. Freshman geography. I explained the assignment and went over the first question with them. I explained that the assignment was due at the end of the period. Then I let them loose to work on their own.

40 minutes later I told them to exchange papers...

They were shocked. Several of them were nowhere near finished, even though the assignment should have only taken them 20 minutes. (And I did walk around offering my help if they needed it.)

But they spent the period socializing. Not even my pointed looks got through to them.

Although, to be fair, about half the class did finish. After they left, I thumbed through their papers. Half the class scored 37-40 (out of 40 possible). The other half?

I found several papers half done. Scores of 10 or 20. Clearly, they weren't making good use of their time.

Sigh. I guess I am Charlie Brown's teacher.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Proof of Self

I was making the long trek from car to destination, and as sometimes happens, my mind wandered. I pondered time travel. (Isn't that what you ponder while you're walking from place to place?) And then I wondered...

What if you were to go back in time and encounter your previous self? What if you needed to tell your younger self something? How would you prove to you that you are the future you?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Protesting the Test

The 8th graders this year...

It was Thursday. 8th grade physical science. The assignment was a study guide for the chapter test on Friday. I explained...

"What? We have a test tomorrow? He didn't tell us!"

Me: "I'm telling you now."

"But that's not good enough..."

Okay. Whatever. I wasn't springing the test on them that day.

They were not pleased. I had to fix this. Mr. J couldn't give them a test tomorrow.

I explained that I was just the messenger. Complaints would have to be brought up with their teacher. Who wasn't there. And they might as well take the whole period to work on the study guide so that they were ready for the test.

Later, the principal and a counselor walked in. Dress code check. I was busy answering a student question. Another student called them over.

"He can't give us a test tomorrow. Some of this material is from January."

The girl sounded incensed. She showed her notes. They were dated January 24th. (These were notes that went along with a question on the study guide.) She then explained that they had spent much of the week in the computer lab working on science fair stuff, so how could they be expected to take a test tomorrow?

Yes, she was complaining to the principal about a test. A test they had a study guide for.

Sorely tempted, I somehow managed to hold in my laughter. To her credit, so did the principal. I didn't hear what she said to the student, but she was pretty clear that the test was going to go forward as scheduled.

I made sure to note this incident in my note to the teacher. You know, just in case the principal follows up...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


"What grade are you?"

Huh? The question makes no sense. At least, it makes no sense when a student is asking it of me.

That was just the beginning. Because once I figured out what he wanted to know (he was asking what grade I was in. Me? The teacher? Isn't in any grade anymore because I graduated from high school. A while ago) the questions really started up. How long had I been subbing? Did I like it? You know, the usual.

There was an actual assignment. That the boy wasn't doing. Because he was busy asking me questions. So, I cut him off. Or tried to.

"Why did you dress your water bottle?"

I scanned the room, monitoring what the rest of the students were doing. They were talking, but it was a review assignment, so I liked that they were discussing the assignment. And many of them actually were.

"What does your family...?"

There were about a dozen questions in between. Some of them were just repeats, trying to ascertain how long I'd been out of school. When I didn't answer, he asked it like, "Have you been out of school for five years? Six years?"

I hoped once he noticed I wasn't responding that he'd get bored and get to work. No such luck. He just kept peppering me with questions.

Sigh. Curiosity is great. If only his questions had been about the material he was supposed to be learning.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Seeing, Not Doing

8th Grade Pre-Algebra

The teacher was teaching a new section. I was subbing for the special ed teacher who had eight students in the class. My job was to assist those eight students, but since the teacher had the whole class's attention, I hovered around, watching for misbehavior.

(This was the same class I did battle with on Friday, so there was much misbehavior to clamp down on.)

One of "my" students was playing around. (He thought the middle of the lecture was the perfect time to try to hit the trashcan with his blank wadded up paper.) I meandered over to investigate.

His desk was devoid of notes. Notes that he should have been copying from the projected ones the teacher was modeling. (Note: this was the same projector I knocked over last week.) So, I pointed this out.

"I'm a visual learner."


Several thoughts flashed through my head. In no particular order:
  • If you don't have any notes, you have nothing to visually learn.
  • This is a math class. You take notes in a math class.
  • I'm a visual learner too. And I always took notes in class. To help me. Learn. Visually.
  • Math is a do skill. You must do the notes to practice. To learn.
Yeah, all of these things occurred to me. And I knew not a one of them would make a difference. Because no matter what I say in a situation like this, what I get back is a counterargument.

Don't ask me why I'm so certain of this. Or do. If you have a week or so to hear my examples.

Instead I stood over him. Looming. Until he got out his notes. And started copying down what the teacher was modeling for the whole class.

If only the looming had worked on the kid who told me he was "lazy" and wasn't going to take notes just because.

I had such trouble with these kids when the teacher was out. It's really good to know that it wasn't just me.

(Curious what kind of learner you are? Try the VARK questionnaire.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tripping Over the Wire

I don't know why, but whenever I call for work, the students take forever to get it out and pass it up. It can't be just because I'm a sub...

I was collecting three things this day from the 8th grade pre-algebra class. I had finished the collecting of it all when a student at the back of the room suddenly "found" his paper (or suddenly realized that I was done collecting). I glared at him, but it wasn't like I wasn't going to accept the thing that was due.

I walked around the table and headed for the back of the room...

I felt my foot catch on the power cord. Hoping that I felt it in time, I let my shoe fall off my foot and continued walking on. Hoping that I hadn't...


The projector fell off the table and onto the floor.

The expensive projector.

In a room of 8th graders.

I continued to the boy, took his paper from him, and walked back to the front of the room. Replacing my shoe as I went.

If I showed any emotion, the already crazy class (it was a bad day) would have gotten even worse. So, it was put the projector back on the table (which three students jumped up to do), and browbeat them back to calm so I could pass out their test.

And hope the projector wasn't broken.

While pretending that I didn't feel like a complete idiot.

Somehow I managed to get the test started. Once the class was settled, I took those moments to write an explanation to the teacher as to my mistake.

(With all the witnesses, the teacher will hear the full story, anyway.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Forced Move

I was covering the journalism class at the continuation high school, and the lesson plan was to read through a news magazine aimed at students. There was this article in there that threw me for a loop. I couldn't find the article, but I found an article in the New York Times covering the same topic: "China's Great Uprooting".

And it just screamed a "what if?" question for us:

What if you (or your main character) were forced to move away from everything you had ever known?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Not Going to Budge

The lesson plan was pretty emphatic about me making sure the students were all seated in their assigned seats according to the seating chart. While this is something I tend to enforce, the lesson plan made it clear that this was vital to the day's running of the class.

8th grade pre-algebra. Once they got seated, I went up and down the seating chart, calling out the names assigned to empty desks. Finding that many of those students were indeed seated elsewhere.

"But she moved me here."

There are times when the seating chart isn't up to date. The teacher may in fact have moved them. Then again, this may be the new lie--the lie that the students know we subs are more likely to believe.

"Fine. But for today, I'd like it if you'd sit here."

I used "please". I used "for today". I didn't accuse them of lying to me. I only asked them to sit where I asked them to sit for the one day.

One girl wouldn't budge. It felt like five minutes of her insisting that where she was was her seat, and my asking her to move was going to be the end of the world.

I asked her to move one seat, to the seat just in front of where she was already seated.

I wonder if the teacher had moved all the students without updating the seating chart. I also wonder if the students were just trying to sit where they wanted. Neither would surprise me. That class... Well, they were a handful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The New Lie

Another day in the continuation high school's English class. It was a day where we were supposed to read the selection out of their literature textbook together. I had no hope of them being pleased by this, so I pushed ahead, telling them what we were going to do and informing them that most would get a chance to read.

First thing, however: take roll. I had a seating chart. I called out the names of the students on empty desks.

"I'm over here. She moved me."

Okay. Fine. I marked this on the seating chart and moved on.

During lunch, the teacher came back to class. (She was in a meeting in the complex next door.) She had a bunch of stuff to get done. In passing, she asked how the classes had been in the morning.

I mentioned the issue with the seating chart.

"That's a new seating chart. No one has been moved."

Uh oh.

Well, I did leave all of that written down. And knowing this teacher, there will be consequences...

Monday, March 3, 2014


The 7th grade math class had a list of things to do. Homework. Packets. Test the next day. And a whole period in which to complete said assignments.

"Can we play a game?"

The teacher has a stack of games for them to play when they're finished with their work. So, I asked.

"But it's homework. That means I do it at home."

But she was in class and had time to do it in class. To finish it in class so she wouldn't be stuck with homework.

Knowing how kids think, I said that they could play games. Provided that they were finished with all their other work. And I would check.

(If I take their word for it, they'll all be "finished".)

I told the girl she could play a game. As soon as I saw all her completed work. She argued. She glared.

She spent all period doing nothing but talking to a neighbor. Her classmates took my challenge, showed me their work, and were granted game-playing privileges. The girl?

Well, I guess she really wanted to do it at home.