Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Support Staff

“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,

And if you like to rest awhile I’ll snuggly tuck you in!”

Mary Howitt, Poem, “The Spider and the Fly”

At 6:40PM last night, I received a call to report to the hybrid Montessori School for seventh and eighth-grade (which is not yet Montessori) to be “Support Staff”. As I outwardly chirped yes to the job, I inwardly groaned. Support staff could be anything, which is not an appropriate way to prepare for middle school, psychologically or practically. I’d only been called for support staff once before, in the last days of the previous school year. When I’d arrived at the school, they had me assist the other sub for instrumental music. It turned out that the eighth-grade students were preparing for graduation, so we were to take all the other classes outside (on a typical chilly, drizzly New England June day) while the graduating class used the auditorium.

That job hadn’t turned out to be bad, but how would this one be? I’m a seasoned sub now, so I didn’t let it affect my sleep, like I would’ve in those early weeks. I arrived at the school on time, was told to sign in and sit down while they figured out where to place me. Hmm. Eventually I was told which room to report to, but not the subject. I guess they wanted to surprise me. I made my way up the stairs, which is on the opposite end from where Montessori is located. Except for once bringing children to the library in the corridor, I’d never been there. The hallway stretches longer than any hallway I’d ever been in, including the haphazardly designed high school. Oddly, some of the doors didn’t have numbers on them, but soon enough I found the room. Inside was a teacher who looked nearly young enough to be a student. That made me realize how old I’ve become. It wound up being a Social Studies/Language Arts combo again, giving me the sinking feeling that I’d never get a job in a middle school around Cambridge.

The teacher wasn’t ready for me, and spent time getting organized. The few students milling around seemed to respect her, which gave me faith in her and the students. Maybe the day wouldn’t go too badly. It turned out that her first class wouldn’t begin for another hour-and-a-half, but then that class would be two hours. The students’ first hour was to be spent reading a packet and answering questions, while the second would be to work on a writing piece – possibly going to the lab, which I made sure to reserve. Then it would be advisory for fifteen minutes. The teacher would be grading during this time, and planned to return to the room after lunch to teach her two-hour seventh-grade block, since she’d been out sick and wanted to catch up. She wouldn’t need me then, so I’d need to ask the office where they wanted me at that point. Hmm. Putting me in Montessori or with another sub was a real possibility, and I wasn’t sure which one to dread more. If I snuck out of the school, would anybody be the wiser?

It was nice to have that early block of time to myself, though without Internet access at this school, it meant that I’d be less productive, since I couldn’t look and apply for jobs. I could spend time reading and writing. But I’d been having a writing drought – not for my blog, but for fiction. I’ve been reading a bit about the craft of writing, and maybe that’s where my energy should go to create better fiction. Besides, my father-in-law had my most promising manuscript, which is the one I want to send out. I loved my most recent piece, but the genre is too played out right now, so even if it has worth, I doubt anyone will take it. Damn, Twilight, “First Blood”, and “Vampire Diaries”.

After spending my time reading, the eighth-grade Language Arts class arrived. I was impressed/surprised that they did their work with little persuading. The room was almost always silent. Then they got to play a game halfway through that riled them up a little, so it was harder to get them settled to write a memoir in the computer lab, but we were quieter than the lab next store, with the adjoining door ajar. I find that if I go in with the lowest expectations, I’m usually rewarded with better behavior. Best part was that the lab had wireless Internet.

Earlier, when I’d waited for my first assignment, another substitute teacher was awaiting his location. Later, I saw him in the Teacher’s Room during lunch. Poor newbie – it was only his third day in the district, though he’d worked in a town in California last year. Now he was here, not looking for a full-time job until he took his MTEL (teacher test) in History! Oh good, more competition. He relayed his experiences so far and I gave him the inside scoop on several schools. Though he had more substitute teaching experience than me, if it’s not with tough kids, Cambridge can be intimidating. It made me feel more confident in my abilities.

On my way to the office for assignment two, I saw the young teacher. When she asked how the class went, I told them it was fine until computer lab, when students kept sneaking a chess game. She said she’s had the same problem. Then she added, “I tell myself, at least if it’s chess, how bad can that be?” I didn’t mention that one asthmatic kid (periodically sounding like he could cough up a lung) kept farting, bothering his neighbors. When those students complained to me, keeping my distance, I told them they could move to another area. Shockingly, none did.

I reported to the office after lunch, and after several minutes, it was decided I’d spend some time in a new Montessori class. When the youngest students returned from lunch, the assistant was delighted that I’d help her with naptime. “Just rub their backs until they fall asleep,” she requested. Hey, if they don't mind a complete stranger helping them get tucked in, why not? I massaged one girl’s tiny back until she was nearly asleep, then made my way between two fidgety girls. One succumbed to sleep after a few minutes, while the other never did, which was too bad because her blanket was bumpy, which made my hands feel funny. After a time, four of the six children (three, by me) were sound asleep, and the other two were quiet. During this tucking time, the lead teacher came in, looking gleeful upon spotting me. “I’m so excited to see you. You have no idea,” she blurted. The time was so short that I had to awaken the groggy little ones almost as soon as they fell asleep. Only about forty-minutes was put aside for the entire enterprise.

While I helped wipe down tables and put up chairs, I reflected upon my odd day. Dealing with fourteen-year-olds for one half, and then three-year-olds for the other, was certainly odd. I wondered if I could add tucking as a skill on my resume.


  1. Maybe not tucking exactly, but perhaps something like "extensive experience with children ranging from tuckable to chess playing". ; j

  2. Alesa, you should write my resume. "tuckable". You made me laugh.

  3. LoL. Well, joking set aside...

    You'd be amazed by the number of resumes I've written back when I was translating freelance... let alone job searching.

    Of course it pays to look bilingual on your resume in France. So people would contact me to translate their resumes, but then I'd realize that the French had to be rewritten... So I would rewrite, respin, and reorganize it. That's one of the reasons I'm glad I have a steady job now. ; j

  4. How great you got a job because of being bilingual. I took Italian, which is kind of useless for jobs here. In fact, I kick myself for not taking Spanish because I know I'd have a job already, if not a choice of jobs.