The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for May, 2011

A Day for Shorts

Today I was an 8th grade science teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. I had been requested by the teacher, which is kind of odd, since I have only been in her room once, and then it was just to collect a couple of students who were being pulled out for supportive services. Somehow I managed to leave a positive enough impression to be listed as one of her preferred subs.

I was only there for the afternoon today, and all of the classes were doing the same thing: watching the Pixar Animation Studios Shorts. I’m not sure how this video really fit in with an 8th grade science class, but it is the end of the year, and I think the teachers just wanted to do something fun. Of my four classes, three of them watched the oldest shorts first, making it about as far as For The Birds (2000). It was fun to watch the progression of quality by the Pixar crew. We also noticed that most of John Lasseter’s story ideas are surprisingly depressing. I have no idea why this is the case, though. The last period, which does not have class tomorrow afternoon for some reason, opted to watch the more recent shorts, starting with For the Birds and going through to Lifted (2006).

There was only one down-side to the day: the room I was in was incredibly hot. I think the temperature was somewhere around 80ºF, with doors and windows open and fans on. It was one of the few days of this entire academic year that I found myself wishing that I was not wearing slacks, dress shirt, and tie. However, I was wearing them, and I survived. But the slacks, dress shirt, and tie were replaced with shorts and lighter shirt as soon as I got home!

Tomorrow is the last day of school in Champaign, with students reporting to school for roughly an hour or two. Mahomet-Seymour will continue on until Thursday, but it is highly unlikely that I will receive any assignments for the last two days of school. And so it is that today was (most likely) my last day subbing for the academic year. I will be giving a lot of thought to what I want to do with this blog over the summer, and will be posting a poll tomorrow to see if any of you faithful readers have a preference.

Hulk Rage

Today I was a first grade teacher at Dr. Howard Elementary in Champaign. I actually worked with this class several months ago, and I’d had a fairly decent experience. I have a general belief that classes improve over time, but this was not true for today.

In fact, the class was considerably worse than they had been at the beginning of the year. Instead of having one or two students challenging limits and pushing buttons, I had nine out of seventeen. It was chaotic and nearly unmanageable.

Their teacher uses the lights in the classroom as a signal for the students to reset (stop, think about what they are doing, and start making better choices). Every teacher has a different management plan, and I try to follow each plan as best as I can. At first, the class responded well to the lights being turned off: they all got back in their seats, stopped what they were doing, and put their heads down. But then they would go right back to misbehaving after the lights were turned back on.

I tried to demonstrate that I was serious about the need for them to reset, and so I stopped everything again by turning off the lights. Of course, as soon as the lights went back on, so did the misbehaviour. And I can’t exactly have a class work all day in the dark. So the day was stop, go, stop, go, stop, go.

All. Day. Long.

After lunch, things were even worse. All of a sudden I had pencils, pens, markers, erasers, toys, and tissue boxes flying across the room. I tried some of my other methods of management: I simply sat down and refused to respond to any students until everyone stopped what they were doing. This works really well with most classes.

Not so much with this one. Things got worse. And worse. And worse.

And then the name calling started. Followed by the profanities.

Did I mention that these kids are in first grade? They are all about seven years old. And yet they were swearing at each other. It completely blew my mind.

And so I blew up at them. Actually, I just made it sound like I blew up. I was in complete control and knew exactly what I was saying and how I was saying it. They stopped then. Hoo boy, did they stop. But I hate when I have to raise my voice, and I hate it even more when I have to actually yell. But when everything else fails and I start to fear for the safety of the students in my classroom, I don’t have time to clap my hands, turn off the lights, or talk sweetly. And so I have to turn on the Hulk Rage:


Well, it worked for a couple of minutes. Then, just before the class went all crazy again, the assistant principal came in.

Because she could hear me.

From her office.

Across the building.

She talked to the class, threatened to haul some of them off to her office, and then left. About a minute later, I had to call for her to come back and take one of the boys. I was tempted to ask her to take four more, but I wanted to see what would happen with the biggest instigator gone.

It seemed to work. I finally had the class working for the last 45 minutes of the day.

I don’t say it often, but today is definitely a TGIF day. Also, we have a nice three-day weekend ahead of us. I’m ready for a long break!

The Late-Blooming Reader

Today I was an English teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School. This was my last assignment subbing for this particular teacher. I’ve been there quite a few times over the past several weeks, and I am glad that each experience was better than the one before.

Today was no different, although it was unusual because the Seniors at MSHS are done. So the teacher who has been teaching Reading I for Freshmen in the mornings at AP English for Seniors in the afternoons now just has morning classes. It would have been awesome to get paid for the full day, but I was happy to get paid for a half-day, even though I was only there for two periods.

The students today were working on an in-class assignment that was an assessment of biographies/memoirs they had just finished reading. My job was to monitor them in the library and make sure that they were actually working on the assignment, and now playing around.

I am glad to say that everyone was on task and everyone finished the assignment. I glanced through a handful of the assignments to see what had been written. The assignment had three parts: first, summarize the ending of the book; second, share two or three traits of the featured individual that made the successful in what they did; third, share what you thought about the book itself. One student’s comment at the very end of his paper made me shout for joy on the inside. He wrote, “This is the first book I have read in many year that I actually enjoyed reading… so far. I would really like to finish it.”

I asked him why he couldn’t finish, and he said that he couldn’t check out any books from the library because of his fines. I hope that he now has the motivation to pay the fines so that he can get his hands on the book. The boys and girls in the Reading I classes are there because they are not quite at the reading level they should be. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay there; I would not be at all surprised if this particular student made some progress in his reading and moved up to more difficult classes in the future. He has many years ahead of him. Maybe this assignment will be the catalyst that helps him become a life-long reader.

I certainly hope it does.

Another Farewell

Today was the third day of my three-day assignment as the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. It was pretty close to being exactly what I expected, with a few exceptions.

With the DVD actually working this time (huzzah!), the day went quickly. I watched the same four scenes of Mary Poppins over and over and over again. Some of the classes went very well, with the students being polite and respectful not just to me, but to each other. One class was absolutely terrible, to the point that I told them that they were the worst class of my week. They were much better behaved after that, probably because it dawned on them that I report to their teacher how they were for me, and their teachers do not take kindly to students abusing the subs, even if there are just a couple of days left to the school year.

The worst, though, was when I had a group of four students talking throughout the movie in one period. I repeatedly asked them to stop talking, and eventually three of them did. But one boy kept it up. So when I told him again, he responded by accusing me of being racist.


I stopped the movie, turned on the lights, and explained to the class the difference between racism and having a white teacher tell an African-American student to stop being disrespectful. I don’t know that the message got through at all, but I wasn’t going to let a student get by with making such a ridiculous claim without any response from me.

Fortunately, the rest of my day went very well. The 8th graders, especially, were great. I told them that they could talk and sign yearbooks as long as they cleaned up the room and put all of the furniture back where it belonged at the end of class. They did. One boy asked me to sign his yearbook, and another promised to find me on Facebook. (I have a policy of not accepting friend requests from current students, but insofar as I do not sub at the high schools in Champaign, and he is done with school on Friday, I said he could friend me if he could find me.)

And then it was a quick farewell to the students I have come to know so well over the past several months. Some of them are probably glad to not have to see me again. Others expressed sadness but, at the same time, they are done with middle school, so the farewell was overshadowed with the jubilation that they survived. I’m glad they did, and I wish them all the very best in high school. I’m sure I’ll see some of them around, most likely at Wal-Mart, where I seem to run into a bunch of students.

Technical Difficulties

Today was my second day as a band teacher at Edison Middle School. Yesterday we watched short podcasts because it was a half day and the students didn’t have much time in the room. We were back to the regular schedule today, though, so the plans allowed for starting a much longer video.

We were to watch the Walt Disney adaptation of Mary Poppins, because the bands had just featured several of the songs in their recent concert. The teacher had the DVD ready to go, the computer set up, and everything should have been hunky dory.

Despite my apparent anti-technology aura whenever I get near an LCD projector, everything was working fine. The first class of the day (7th grade woodwinds) got started on Mary Poppins and everything seemed to be okay. Until we got about 10 minutes into the movie and it froze up. Completely.

Okay, no problem. Take the disc out, make sure that it doesn’t have any smudges, put it back in, and away we go, right?

Not quite. We made it a few more minutes and it froze up again. So I took the disc out again and examined it more closely. It was scored and scratched and marred so thoroughly that I was surprised it was working at all. Then I noticed what I had failed to take into account: it was from the public library. I love the Champaign Public Library. It has an awesome collection of everything you could want from a public library. But the patrons don’t take very good care of the DVDs. So we had to stop.

This was quite problematic, as I still had four other classes for the day. I had no clue what to do. There were no back-up plans and, since this was a band class, it wasn’t like I could just have the students take out some other work–most of them didn’t bring anything with them, anyway. So they had free time for the rest of the period, as did the second class of the day (6th grade woodwinds).

During this class, though, I did a check and found out the library had at least one other copy of the movie on DVD. The CPL just happens to be across the street from Edison. Except there was no way I could leave the building. So I texted my wife, but she was far too busy at work. So I texted her dad, who is done with his classes for the year (he is a college professor). He was able to get to the library, check out the DVD, and navigate his way through Edison Middle School to find the band room and deliver the movie just in time for my third class of the day!


The last three classes (7th grade brass, 6th grade brass, and 8th grade band–or maybe it is 7th, 6th, 6th, 7th… whatever), were able to watch the movie.

Well, kind of.

This disc was also scratched. But, fortunately, I only had to skip two  chapters and everything was back on track. Thank goodness! We will watch more of the movie tomorrow. Hopefully nothing else will go awry! But I may bring a musical DVD of my own. You know, just in case.

The Music Man

Today I was the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I am also going to be there tomorrow and Wednesday, which is incredibly awesome for me, as the days remaining in the school year and ticking by faster and faster (or so it would seem).

Now, I’ve been in bands for a long time. I first started band when I was in 5th grade (about 19 years ago), and I’ve been in them in one way or another ever since: In middle school, I was in concert band and marching band. In high school I was in concert band, jazz band, marching band, symphonic winds, and a smattering of small ensembles for state music competitions. Upon enrolling at the University of Illinois, I was a member of the university’s Concert Band II-A, which was pretty much the lowest-level band available, but I was neither a music major nor an incredibly skilled musician, so I was just happy to be in band. I stayed with II-A until the end of my junior year, when I had to leave due to student teaching and then graduating. After finishing my university studies I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Parkland College Wind Ensemble, which is a smaller group composed primarily of community members and a few college students with a high school student or two rounding things out. In addition, I have occasionally helped with smaller ensembles at church when needed, although the need for trumpet players is not as great as, say, pianists, organists, and various string-ists. Added to all of this is my shorter history with vocal ensembles, such as my high school prep chorus, concert choir, and various church choirs, not to mention all of the musicals I’ve helped with as a spotlight technician. All of which is a very long way of saying that I’ve been around music ensembles of one sort or another for a long time.

As substitute teacher, I’ve been fortunate enough to sub for grade school music teachers a handful of times. They have generally been fun, albeit pretty simple, experiences. (Such as this, this, and this.) Added to this is my ongoing pursuit of subbing for as many teachers at Edison as possible this year. (I’m now up to 18 out of 51–not going to reach the 50% goal I’d set, but oh well; I got close!) So I grabbed at the chance to sub for three consecutive days for one teacher, leaving me with just Friday left to fill. (I’ve been scheduled for this Thursday for several weeks now.)

What I didn’t seem to take into account was the realisation that bands are big. I mean, really big. Grade music classes always consist of just one class at a time, so I am used to those numbers. The strings program at Edison is a small division of the music program, so it was small. But band… Oh, did I mention that Edison Middle School happens to have one of the highest rated middle school band programs in the nation? Many of the students at Edison are there for the band program.

I’ve had big classes before. But today was quite a shock. I had five classes total: two 6th grade groups, two 7th grade groups, and the entire 8th grade band. In each of the first four classes, there were between 32 and 35 students. Okay, that’s a lot, but it is manageable. I’ve had big classes before at Edison. The 8th grade band, though, consists of 52 students. Fifty-two! They have more students in the program then there are regular teachers in the building! The class roster was two and half pages long! Yegads!

Fortunately for me, the students at Edison love me. I mean, they really love me. Remember the picture they made for me? So even though I suddenly found myself in the midst of two score and a dozen eighth grade boys and girls at the end of the day, things went pretty well. Or, rather, things went pretty well after they all got settled. It took about ten minutes to do so. Oh, and today was a half-day, so that means class periods were only 30 minutes long. Of course, following the long-standing tradition of band teachers the world over, the students were not doing anything band-ish. In fact, they were barred from touching the instruments. Instead, we spent the period watching a Yamaha podcast about the making of either the saxophone or the trumpet, depending on the class.

Tomorrow and Wednesday we will be watching Mary Poppins, because they just had their last concert and much of the music from the Disney film had been featured. Hey, it is the end of the year, anyway. Fun times ahead!

Saying Goodbye

Today I was a 5th grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. This was possibly the last of a long, long, long series of assignments for my mother-in-law over the past three years. It has been really awesome seeing the students in her class grow and mature over the years. I taught many of them when they were in third grade, then again last year, and then this year. As I told them at the end of the day, “Despite the headaches, the near-aneurysms, the frustrations, and the frequent desire to beat my head against a brick wall, I’ve really enjoyed working with you boys and girls. You’re awesome! I may not be substituting next year, but even if I am, I don’t seem to make it to Jefferson much, so I may not see you again. So thanks. Now go outside and enjoy your recess!”

Some of them gave me hugs. One girl made a fist-pump and shouted, “YES!!!” to which I responded, “I feel the same way about you!” (We were both joking, of course.) In reality, I would be delighted to have a classroom full of students like her: eager, bright, open-minded, quick to question, quick to answer, and willing to verbally spar in a battle of wits.

There is a slim chance that my mother-in-law will be sick (or maybe her son), but, honestly, with just six and a half days of school remaining in the year, the probability of working with these particular students again this year are not especially high. Combine this with my strong desire to gain full-time employment for this coming school year, and I feel like my time as a substitute may be drawing to an end.

Of course, if I don’t get offered a full-time job, my adventures in substituting will continue. And I will continue to blog about the remaining adventures I have this year. But today, being a Friday, was definitely a day to say goodbye.

Oh, and the whole “beginning of the end of the world” that is supposed to happen at 6 pm tomorrow. If I am still here and a small portion of the world population mysteriously disappears, though, I’ll probably spend my weekend looting. (I am kidding, of course. I am actually going to be garage saling tomorrow.)

By the way, still no word on the job I interviewed for on Wednesday. I’ll post an update as soon as I hear. In the meantime, have a great weekend!