Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sub Line

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Paulo Coelho

When the sub line calls, I can never be sure because caller I.D. states, “Private Caller”. If it’s the afternoon or evening before a job, I can wait for a message to be left, telling me the specifics of the assignment. Then I have until 5:30 the next morning to call back to accept or decline the job. If I refuse five jobs over the year, I’m off the list (Basically, fired). If I call first to say I’m sick or have a doctor’s appointment, those don’t count against me (Whew!). But if the call comes in the morning and I don’t pick up, I lose the job and it counts as one of the five. The sub line has sort of become my lifeline.

In the morning when I pick up the phone, the person from H.R. introduces herself in her gravelly voice and first asks, “Are you able to work today?” I must say yes or no, before I’m told what I’m in for. I could be saying yes to teach Montessori or Special Start to three-to-five-year-olds or a fifth/sixth-grade class or middle school Spanish or P.E. or Music or eleventh-grade Biology. Once I say yes, I then figure out which accessories are required.

If I’m teaching a younger grade, I often bring picture books and put forward my peppiest personality. If it’s third-grade and up, I bring Mad Libs and picture books for older children as an end-of-class reward. If it’s middle school, I bring my iPod and dock. Offering that as background sound for anything we’re doing (besides a movie) is a huge incentive for the students. “If you don’t stay on task, I’ll shut off the music,” I warn. Before pressing play, I remind the students that this old White Girl may not have the same taste in music. I find two main camps – those who love Coldplay and those who love the Black-Eyed Peas, and luckily, I have both groups downloaded. Many girls love pop, but I must always disappoint that I don’t have Chris Brown or Britney Spears. High School is the easiest because they’ll do the work you give them – no accessories required.

I was the most concerned about teaching Music. When my children came home after having a sub in Music, those classes always seemed to have the most discipline problems. But I found Music to be the easiest. Between the iPod and having a stack of music-related handouts, I’m always ready. I’ve actually had students in those classes tell me, “You’re the best sub we’ve ever had.”

The most pleasant jobs are when the teacher knows s/he will be out in advance, so plans are left for me. Less ideal jobs are the last minute, unplanned ones. I always have some appropriate papers from my repertoire for the students to work on. The worst jobs are when the teacher leaves a movie because the students know they’re being babysat and often talk (at best) or misbehave (At worst).

After subbing for three months, I’ve had successful and unsuccessful days, learned what works and what doesn’t, and feel more comfortable being thrown into any situation. I’ve also learned to use my best disapproving face and authoritative tone at the first inkling of misbehavior. Because no matter how prepared you are, without requiring respect, the kids will eat you alive. Experience breeds confidence, which then breeds successful classroom management.

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