Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Subbing Life

An update on my life as a substitute teacher.

True to form thus far this semester, I have had several more Special Ed jobs and one job as a Spanish Teacher putting me up to a whopping total of 8.5 days of subbing this semester. One of my more interesting days of subbing came at a school that I had been specifically asked to return to work at again in Special Ed. I started off with a delightful and smart autistic teenager named Bobby. All morning I attended classes with him, quietly encouraging him to stay focused on his work and the teacher's lessons. He was very articulate and very concerned about when the pep rally was and what time the football game started. "The pep rally is Friday and the game will probably be that night," I told him. "Oh that's very interesting," he'd reply.

That afternoon I became a different TA and entered an "emotionally challenged" classroom of three students. Now, keep in mind that I have many friends with foul mouths and quite a little mouth myself, but honest to God, I've never heard such language come out of students in the presence of their teacher. I was flabberghasted and eventually retreated to the teacher's desk to contemplate. Since I was the TA in the class, I could do this. Thank God, cause if I'd had these three (that's right - THREE) teenagers on my own I'd have not made it. "I'm not doing this f---ing homework. This is bulls--t." Out loud. Directed toward the teacher. At one point, the only girl in the class hauled out and punched one of the boys in the crotch for getting too close to her. It was unreal. The next class was better behaved, and even though it was larger, the teacher had more control. This class was interesting because I had one student with no arms. There was another TA in the classroom, and I wasn't sure if she was there to help the armless girl or the girl in the wheelchair, so I just sort of sat and watched the class unfold. I was curious if the girl without arms would use her feet like I've seen in "Amazing stories" on TV. Sure enough, about halfway through the period, I looked over at her and she was running her toes . . . through her hair! "That f---ing rocks!" I thought to myself. Then she then opened the three ring binder that someone had layed on her desk and took out some paper. She picked up her pen and began to take notes on the teacher's lecture, drawing x and y graphs on her paper. Amazing. If she hadn't had such an attitude (classic, don't-want-to-learn, bad attitude teenager), she and I could have been great friends.

The spanish classes I taught were probably going to be okay I thought as I entered the classroom. No insanely vulgar language directed at me, just taking roll and giving assignments. Easy, right? Well, not exactly. First hour I had two students up and walk out of the class for no aparent reason. They never returned to class. So I wrote two referrals. In second hour, I had a "group walk-out." You see, in the whole day, I'd say all but maybe ten students weren't hispanic, i.e. didn't speak spanish as their primary language. So in second hour, after telling several students to stop flicking each other with their pencils, the bitter teenagers devised a plan . . . in Spanish. Unbeknownst to their English/French speaking teacher (me) they planned a "walk-out" and sure enough at a given word (in Spanish) ten or so students stood and marched toward the door. I was shocked and and they left the classroom, I shouted "referrals!" the most effective (?) threat to High School students. I have to admit, most of them chickened out once they reached the door, and with defiance and a giggle, returned to their seats. Two students however, were not disuaded with my referral threat and by the time I got to the hallway, they were gone. Now, don't get me wrong, third period was delightful, fourth period was volleyball, and sixth period was okay. The day overall moved from insanely stressful to pretty average. But the walk-out kind of scarred me, I can't tell a lie.

All in all, it's been sort of a depressing experience. I spend much time contemplating the education system we have in America, or at least the one I've seen in Austin, Texas. What is going wrong? Why don't students want to learn? How do we teach respect and human dignity? It depresses me to see the hands into which I and others will someday hand our great (?) nation, indeed, our world.

But maybe I'm just not teaching the right classes. Or maybe it doesn't start with classes, the masses, maybe it starts with individuals; individuals like Bobby. After all, the world is is very interesting. Maybe education starts with one who can recognize that.

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