Friday, October 12, 2007

School Daze

As I had mentioned in earlier posts (here and here), I was contacted to try my hand at being a substitute teacher. Well, the first day started at 6:00 AM with a call from Kelly Education (a division of the mega staffing agency known once as ‘The Kelly Girl’). You follow the prompts on the phone to answer. I accepted a seventh grade class at our city's Middle School.

Yeah, I know. Seventh Grade. I cannot imagine anything easy about working with students in this awkward age in society where respect for authority is lacking somewhat. Nevertheless, I figured that the worst possible assignment is worth looking at just for the experience.

Room 206, starting with homeroom, the challenge was to hold the students attention while being in a wheelchair. At 5 ft 4 in the chair, I do not enjoy the physical presence of someone who is standing. The sense I got was that they would not pay much attention to me, and there were those who would try to push the envelope.

I was not disappointed, as it happened just as I envisioned. At least I was treated the same as any sub at this school in this grade. There was no prejudice against the wheelchair, the instigators being equal-opportunity troublemakers, loudmouths, and/or attention grabbing kids. The class was Geography, and the teacher left the same worksheet for all five classes: Read pages 41-44, and answer the questions on the worksheet. I gotta tell you, this was very easy work IMO. However, it seemed like too much for many of the kids in there. They did not want to do it. I said a more than few times “Fine, it’s not my grade, it’s yours”.

But I don’t believe that all the classes were bad: the third of the five classes was the best behaved, I think that class was the most studious of all. I think that they were taking algebra, and were generally more into working and learning.Even they could make a dull roar. The worst was the fourth, the homeroom returning for the class. I guessed that the teacher that had this particular classroom was a big man, really imposing and he could maintain order just by being big. Other teachers I asked confirmed this. Note that in even the loudest classes there was a core of 4-5 students who took the assignment seriously, and they wanted to learn, and could block out all the distractions. That was nice to see.

Would I do it again? I will, even at the middle school. I need work, and will do this while pursuing better paying full-time work. I do think that much of problems you see with students starts at home. As background, the city where we live has a population of about 18,500, with city problems. There are projects and pockets of poverty, and middle class suburban areas where we live. While trying to avoid class or sociological reasons for this, I would say that many of these kids do come from broken homes or homes where schooling and learning are never emphasized. If you do not have parents pushing you, it is hard to get an appreciation for school. And many of the ones that aren’t working these easy assignments in seventh grade may not really do so at any grade level. That is the sad takeaway of what I saw. Nevertheless, I enjoy a challenge, so we will see if this can happen again.


AndreAnna said...

I remember torturing substitutes. We literally threw pennies and paper clips in the beehive in one lady's hair.

I think you got off easy! ;)

Patti said...

Ralphie: May I say congrats again for doing this and living to tell about it. I now have a better idea of what you went through.
Sadly, as Andreanna said, you may have gotten off easy.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

oh ralph, i can't help but think of doug heffernan in the king of queens taking substitute teaching while our on strike and coming in the room in that white powdered wig! did you see it? well, honey, that is how i pictured you, sorry. ha ha ha ha ha

smiles, bee

Lynn said...

While I am not a classroom teacher, I have worked for a large urban school district, for more years that I care to admit. In the course of my employment, I have had the opportunity to work at elementary, middle and high schools, and have enter many classrooms in the course of the day. I will tell you that middle school is the most challenging across all socio-economic lines. Their hormones rage, they are struggling for independence, and often their parents are too tired, too busy, or too disinterested, to set rules for these kids. Many middleschoolers come to school for the social aspect, and do things (often stupid things) for attention. Good for you for picking one of the most difficult grade levels and for being open and willing to do it again. Yeah, Ralph!

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

I salute you for doing it. In many ways, nothing has changed in school in 50 years; then again, everything has changed. Alas, teaching was and is a real challenge. Having done it, I can say it takes the highest creativity -- more than any worksheet provides. Good for you, Ralph. (I have distant relatives in Ansonia.)

Patti said...

How distant, Pawlie?? Please let me know if you are going to visit them.
Then you can swing by our place. And I can bake a cake. Or buy a pie.

Linda said...

To borrow from the street vernacular - dude, I give you major props for taking this challenge on!

I'm not sure what could be more intimidating than 7th graders (except maybe 8th graders who really think they know it all!). Sounds like under the circumstances you did very well and at least you didn't go tearing out of there at Mach 5 vowing never to return!

Odat said...

I give you lots of credit Ralph for taking on these 7th graders!
What did you do, pick the hardest assignment so everything from here on in will be easy??? ;-) Good for you and congrats!