Saturday, October 17, 2009

Classes of Teachers

“Analyzing what you haven’t got as well as what you have is a necessary ingredient of a career.” Orison Swett Marden

On Thursday afternoon, I was called to work at the high school on Friday. In fact, I would be subbing for the same Biology teacher as I did about two weeks ago. Hooray – I wouldn’t have to rise at 5:25AM and I knew where I’d be going.

That last part of the last sentence is critical. In previous posts, I’ve shared the frustration I’ve had with the floor plan of the mammoth-sized school, with halls dimly lit by fluorescent lighting. There’s a long curved hallway, with small corridors perpendicular at either end, shaped sort of (but not really) like an I. In the middle of the main hallway, is a large stairwell that houses a couple of classrooms. At each end of the small hallways (four in total) there are staircases that have cluster of rooms surrounding them. The main Science area has a main door inside the stairwells but when inside, there are about four classrooms. Currently, they are adding rooms to the building, so just outside the room I was in yesterday, there were construction workers who periodically passed by the window, glancing inside. There’s unpainted fresh drywall here and there, and “No Construction Personnel Allowed Beyond this Point” taped to the doors in the stairwells. How much larger (and more convoluted) the place will be when completed, I cannot imagine.

Knowing I could easily find the room was accompanied by the happy realization that I’d have three Advanced Placement (AP) classes, hinting at an easy day. When I got to the office, I read the teacher’s note, advising me that all three blocks would be spent having the students take a test. That wouldn’t be the most exciting time for me (or for the them), but at least I could spend it posting my blog, reading, and keeping up with e-mail.

A few of the students had accommodations, which means that their IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) let them have more time to take the test. First period, nobody needed to stay. But second period, the one student on an IEP remained through lunch to finish it. I wouldn’t have time to go to the post office, but no matter – I planned to get those submissions out later in the day. Lunch came and went, but the student still had six more questions to go. I hoped I’d have time to heat my soup and eat, but in the meantime, I ate an apple. An hour after second period ended, he finished the test. I rushed to the teacher’s room, but I couldn’t stay because it was cold (the giant window was open, so construction workers could come and go from the roof), so after heating my soup in the microwave, I schlepped back to the classroom with all my belongings. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t get back on the Internet, so I watched the students, wrote a little, and read. When I completed the book, I had thirty-minutes to go.

All in all, an easy subbing day. I had visits from three other teachers, and I was glad that each time the class was quiet and focused, so I appeared in control. Proctoring an exam makes me more like a babysitter than teacher, but it was better than subbing middle school. It was certainly easier than the pre-k class I’d done on Monday. I’d only gotten about a thirty-minute break in all because the children were so unruly that the assistant and I had to help in gym and computer lab, which are normally prep times for classroom teachers. You’d think that gym would be a piece of cake for a bunch of bouncy four-year-olds – NO! There’s still order to what these children are supposed to do, and we were afraid that about five of them would’ve raced around the giant room or hurt one another without an extra adult. During gym, we each got a ten-minute break (It took ten additional minutes just to get them down the hall, leaving just a twenty-minute class), while the other watched the students. We both stayed for computer lab because keeping the kids on task was too much for just the computer teacher. Then we both sat and ate with them for lunch. Each kid needed A LOT of help with lunch (Opening packaging is frustrating for tiny fingers). Then at naptime, I was given a twenty-minute reprieve. The poor assistant didn’t even take a lunch break.

The more I sub, the more I know that working with high school aged students would be best for me. But it also makes me appreciate the hard work that elementary school teachers do, especially with children as young as four and five. Some of those “difficult” children grow out of it, while others become unruly middle-school students and disaffected high school students, which isn’t easy either. But the young ones just need so much – it’s exhausting. It takes a certain kind of person to possess the patience, perseverance and personality. Clearly not me.

College professors often look down on high school teachers because the material taught isn’t as sophisticated and those teachers don’t often do research; while high school teachers scoff at college professors who don’t much like to teach, don’t work as many hours, and don’t deal with discipline problems; while the elementary school teachers think they have the burden of teaching and grading multiple subjects whereas the middle school and high schools teachers only teach one or two subjects; while high school and middle school teachers don’t think the lower-grade elementary teachers have much to do because there isn’t a lot of grading involved. Then classroom teachers scoff at specialists for not having as much responsibility while specialists think they have too much paperwork. And unless a teacher previously subbed, they all look down at substitute teachers for not having a real teaching job. Many educators lose sight that the goal is to educate and inspire, whether it’s a three-year-old child or an adult, in any capacity.

The young grades are a (sometimes) nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I feel more at home at the high school. Hopefully I’ll do it as a full-time teacher sometime soon.


  1. Your description of the mutual scorn that teachers of various types have for one another is pointedly true.
    It was one of things that baffled me when I had my jaunt in the teaching business... I've learned that attitude is actually just normal in most groups of people. I've seen that behavior reproduced again and again... I appreciate the exceptions all the more because of it.

  2. @ Alesa, I guess in many fields that overlap, each group wants to be better. As a graduate student in both worlds, I got so tired of the elitist attitude in the History Department that permeated everything. The education students were their paying students. I had a tuition waver + a stipend. Those guys were paying for us and to keep the department afloat. Sad.