Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pay Attention!

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

- Albert Einstein

What type of student are you?

When I was young, I was talker. A fidgeter. Since first grade, I’ve doodled in the margins of my textbooks. Early on, I learned if I drew, it kept me listening to the teacher and less likely to talk. Besides, I wanted to be an artist. I recall drawing my nun instructor during CCD and proudly showing her the portrait after class. Her face read a mixture of delight and disappointment. I promised her I had been paying attention.

Besides doodling, I took copious amounts of notes. So many that one fingernail is slightly flattened. In college, for a fifty-minute lecture, I’d write at least five pages. For an hour-and-twenty, I’d fill in at least seven.

I’m a tactile learner*. One of my studying strategies was to recopy my notes to prepare for an exam.

Last week on Wednesday evening, I received a call for a three-day Special Education gig at the high school. As I’ve learned from previous Special Ed. assignments, saying “Yes” to one is like picking the “Potpourri” category on a quiz show. Would I teach a subject alone or co-teach in more of an assistant role? And what exactly would the subject be? Mysterious….

I showed up on Thursday morning to find out I’d be co-teaching (Whew) MATH (Gasp). Those of you who have followed by blog for an extended period of time know that math and I do NOT get along. Want evidence? http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2010/01/special.html

The other teacher was the lead, so I was supposed to provide academic support. Who was going to provide me with academic support wasn’t clear. Have I mentioned the only reason I passed college Calculus is because my now-husband tutored me? And that was a LONG, LONG time ago. You’d think with all of these Math gigs, I’d have absorbed something. (Not without writing it down!)

The teacher didn’t actually introduce me to any of the classes, though he did tell me to write my name on the board.

At some point he explained the other teacher would be out and added, “Ms. Milstein will be here for the next three days.”

One student blurted, “Who’s Ms. Milstein?”

The teacher pointed to me. “Her.”


The teacher resembled the teacher from the TV show “Thirtysomething”. Remember that one? And man is he a good teacher. First, let me give him props for having a timer dock on his desk with a remote control. When a student is granted permission to use the bathroom, s/he takes the remote portion and both timers begin… well… timing. The teacher and student know how long this “bathroom” break is taking. And if a student disappears for too long, s/he has to make up the time.

Next impressive move is when a student asks for a pencil, the teacher says, “What will you give me?” I witnessed pencils swapped for a book and a trinket. I can’t tell you how much wasted time there is in a classroom over lack of writing implements. Few teachers give pencils freely since after a meager supply from the school budget, more pencils must come out of their own pockets. Some teachers have a No Pencil rule, but then precious time is wasted while students grub for pencils from their classmates. Other teachers buy boxes of golf pencils but then there’s the whole lack-of-eraser issue. Other teachers give out pencils as gifts and prizes, only to say a day later, “What happened to that pencil I gave you?”

Besides cutting out the nonsense of bathroom breaks and pencils, he was just a plain good teacher. He made use of the smart board more than any other teacher I’ve observed, not only making use of multiple boards on the screen, but also to play Math Jeopardy (I was in charge of keeping score). After he asked a question, the man didn’t mind long bouts of silence to let students puzzle out an answer. If a student mumbled an answer the teacher would say, “Loud and proud”. Students were encouraged to try in order to learn. He also broke up the time in about three different activities, making the long block more manageable so the students kept their attention. The way he taught problems, even I began to get it.

And when students wouldn't participate, he made everyone stand. A student would only be allowed to sit when s/he answered part of the equation correctly. That would've been enough motivation for me to learn math!

Other than scoring Jeopardy, I didn’t have much to do. When I looked at their problems, my mind was as blank as their pages.

At some point, the teacher told me he’d be out the next day so I’d (gulp) be ON MY OWN. He handed me the packets and told me to “look them over” during break. I was able to do about five problems in two packets, so I told him I’d take them home, figuring my husband could help me create an answer key.


Apparently, he was rusty. He acted like a student, reminding himself what the formulas were and how to solve them. And he didn’t get very far, so I was a ball of anxiety, threatening to jump out a fifth-floor window if things didn’t go well. (Even though they don’t open and the construction workers all over the roof would stop me. Probably.)

Got to school on Friday and … what do you know… he left me answer keys. I was able to help the classes. Hooray! My biggest concern became second period because they’d been a bit difficult the day before. When the one who needed the most attention began acting up, I said, “You teacher told me how smart you are. Why aren’t you focusing on your work?” That did the trick.

And I kept up with the timer and pencil-swapping rule, so now the teacher has a mini bottle of lotion.

Monday, the teacher was impressed I’d left him a note about the day. Apparently, NOBODY has ever left him a note before. And so I was back in the assistant role. It was a long, painful day. Just sitting, not doodling, refraining from fidgeting, paying attention to math equations, is a long and boring way to spend the day. I shouldn’t complain because it’s easier than the way Monday and Tuesday went last week (more on the Jerry Springer incident in another post), but the day went slowly. To say the least.

* Post that has info about learning styles:



  1. It was good to hear that your sub day was a little more pleasant now that the year is winding down. I was surprised that most subs don't leave notes at the end of the day. On the elementary level here, all the subs leave notes because at the end of the lesson plans teachers want it. Such a relief for you when he left the answers for Math. Saying your comment about your teacher told me gets them everytime. I do that and it works like a charm.
    Hope you had another good day.
    Take care.

  2. Glad the sub day went well.
    I'm a note taker. I was always the one writing everything down.
    I always loved Art and English at school rather than the scientific subjects.

  3. Wow- sounds like a fabulous teacher! I'm glad it went well:)

  4. Not long to go now, Theresa, I cant believe they time the toilet breaks.
    Sounds like you were working with a great teacher and that he appreciated you.

  5. I too used to doodle all the time, and learned better by doing so.

    And what a kick ass teacher!

  6. I think I've just fallen in love with that teacher! LOL!! I wish I had a maths teacher like that at school - maybe I'd have learnt something! :-)

    It's shocking to hear about silly things as the lack of stationery in a school. Good grief! Talk about cutting corners.

    Anyway, I was so a doodler as a student - but only because I was a dreamer and tended to wander off in my head. LOL!

    I'm in AWE with your note taking!

    Take care

  7. Re-copying notes really does help! I'm a visual learner, so it helps me to see it as I write.

    I was a teacher's pet growing up: hair in two perfect braids, front row seat, always raising my hand. Sorry, I was the annoying one. :)

    Glad your sub day went well!

  8. Sounds like a decent gig, but sorry about the slow day. Is there anything worse than when time just draaaaags? Oh, my impatience grows with each slowly passing minute. Kudos to you for not fidgeting!

  9. haha what an awesome teacher! that sounds pretty cool -- if we had more teachers like that, i think our school systems would be in better shape.


  10. @ Choices, I had two unpleasant days last week, but the rest of it has been better. Still, I can't wait until it's over.

    @ Lindsay aka Isabella, I was a note-taker who liked the arts over the sciences too!

    @ Creepy Query Girl, I definitely picked up a few tips from this teacher. Now if someone would just hire me...

  11. @ Brigid, they need to time toilet breaks. One student took 18 minutes and another took 20!

    @ Clara, I think there was a recent study that said doodling helps us retain information. Good thing I few all those flowers!

    @ Old Kitty, I don't want to quibble about pencils when I'm a teacher, so I'll probably do a mix of out of my pocket $ and trade. The teacher got a "how to" writing book in one of his deals!

    If I didn't draw, I would dream. But sometimes I dreamed from drawing.

  12. @ Aubrie, that's the kind of student I was in college. You sound like Hermoine!

    @ Joanne, I like the visual of draaaags. I may use it next time! I can't promise I was fidget-free, but I was good for me.

    @ Tahereh, I could tell more stories about this teacher. He made them stand when they weren't participating, and each student had to stay up until they answered a question. Forcing me to stand would make me learn! I should add that to the post.

  13. That teacher certainly sounds resourceful! I like his timer idea. I wish I could try that out on the undergrads in my class, because when I teach the long classes some of them will literally wander out of class for no reason and not come back for half an hour.

  14. I'm definitely a tactile learner. I copied out notes to study, too! It's the only way I can remember things.

  15. I congratulate you... I couldn't do what you do. I'm in awe!

  16. What an amazing idea about the timer! (And I speak as someone who used to push my luck absolutely as far as it would go when it came to skipping out of physics lessons to go to the loo all the way on the other side of school... :))

  17. Hi Theresa,
    I'm a sub too-- I actually just finished a stint teaching French while the teaching was out on maternity leave. Fun!
    I totally understand how loooong the day can be when there's little to do. On the one hand, it's an easy way to earn a few bucks, but on the other, it can be amazingly boring! Then on a rough day when the students act up, I long for the easy days with little to do.
    Anyways, hope you enjoy summer!

  18. He sounds like such, such an amazing teacher. Both the timer and the pencil-swapping tricks are fabulous -- I will definitely employ it. :)

    I wish there were more teachers like that!

  19. Great post! I liked the timer bit. I used to let students borrow my stuff, but they'd have to leave something with me too. I also let them stand on chairs to answer questions providing that no one fell off. I told them I'd be in trouble witht he principal if anyone fell...no one ever did. :)

    Thanks for checking out my blog.

  20. @ Neurotic Workaholic, it's too bad they're "adults" in college and must be treated as such because some of them try the same tactics as high school students. I bet the timer wouldn't fly!

    @ Talli Roland, maybe most writers are tactile learners. I wonder if that's true because it would make sense.

    @ India Drummond, thank you. But most days I don't know how I do what I do. I have to take it one day at a time or it's depressing.

  21. @ Hampshireflyer, I think I took advantage of bathroom breaks as well, especially in classes like Math!

    @ Lindsey, I have the same conflict. Boring vs. mayhem? I guess I'd take boring. Thanks for visiting!

    @ Sandy Shin, there's no fighting over pencils or time in that room and it makes such a difference! I'd bet it would transform a middle school classroom!

    @ Sharon K. Mayhew, I like the standing on chairs idea. Some kids need to be up and about. When I was an assistant in fifth-grade, the lead teacher had the students read poems on chairs. The students loved it.

  22. I, too, am a tactile learner. And math and I are practically enemies! However, last year I was fortunate to have a professor (part time) who taught high school students. Being ADHD, his teaching methods were a little different...and I actually learned! I really admire the fact that you're a sub-teacher. When I was in school, so many students would terrorize the subs...and I don't know how I would deal with not knowing, from day to day, what I would be doing/teaching...wow!

  23. @ The Words Crafter, people who struggled in school themselves often make the best teachers. If everyone teacher to the same type of student, they probably leave half their class behind, and in a city, maybe even more.

    Students treat me pretty well (for the most part) but I'm confident in my approach to them. Like dogs, students smell fear...

  24. I love the pencil swapping strategy - I may have to borrow that one :)

  25. I'm terrible at math too (I think most creative people are) but I used to love playing Jeopardy in my math class. Bonus points were sometimes the only wy I'd pass any tests.

  26. Knitting is also a good way to keep from fidgeting. That's what helps me focus.

    Now, if we could switch. I'll take your math classes (I love math), if you'll... Well, I don't have anything to switch for it at the moment. Oh well.

  27. @ Jemi, I recommend the pencil swapping.

    @ Amanda, you can turn any subject into Jeopardy, and the students always love it.

    @ Liz, I'm a terrible knitter. I don't think I would've gotten away with knitting anyway.

    Are you done for the year?

  28. I'm with you... Doodling was the best way to go.
    Doodling, origami, and card manipulation. As long as I had a hand free and that it went up every time a question was asked, my teachers let me get away with it. And in uni they didn't care if we showed up at all, so long as we came to exams.

    Perhaps your husband still could have helped you had it been college maths again?

  29. What an awesome teacher, I'm glad that you had a good sub day!

    Happy Tuesday!

  30. I'm a huge doodler. I got yelled at in French class for doodling in 10th grade. And then in the last two years, there was study that showed people who doodle actually pay attention better than people who don't.

    I wanted to send that article to Madame and stuff it in her bouche.

    Sorry, slight rant here!

  31. Hehe your days are far more entertaining than mine! :)

    And I LOVED Thirtysomething. By the time I was old enough to really get it, it was off the air. I need to rediscover it.

  32. Dear Teacher,

    You have just won an award on my blog.

    Yours truly,

    Clara, the mad bloggerette

  33. @ Alesa, this math was the foundation to college Calculus. I think he's just rusty.

    In college, I think I always sat far enough back that no professors knew I was drawing. Origami might've attracted attention.

    @ Jen, thanks. Same to you.

    @ Lydia, funny. I had to look up bouche.

    @ Shannon, I didn't watch it but it was so popular you couldn't not know something about it (like Seinfeld or Lost).

    @ Clara, thanks for the award.

  34. I see, you were only a semi fidgeter... The smartest slackers sit front and to the side closest to the door. Out of view most of the time, closest to the door for quick escapes, but close enough to the prof/teacher to hear everything. ; j

    Ha, I remember a cool biology teacher... I really liked this guy. he looked liked darwin and spoke the way I'd imagine Jules Verne would speak. One time he said to me in his deep voice, "My dear Alesa, would you please cease your savant folding and complete the dissection of that batrachian's bladder."
    To which I replied, "Sir, I have done this thing you have asked from me."
    He laughed and said: "Very well carry on then." : j

  35. Alesa, your near-the-door spot is exactly where'd I'd sit if our seats weren't assigned before college. Once in college, I sat close enough to see any notes, but far enough that I could doodle without detection. This was easier in lecture halls.

    I love your story!

  36. We SO need teachers like your friend to teach math to kids - then maybe they wouldn't fear it so much! :)

    I'm glad your day(s) went well! Or wait - is there more to come?

  37. @ Susan Kaye Quinn, I agree with you. If I'd had this guy as a teacher I wouldn't have struggled so much.

    I'm done with that Math gig. Yesterday was a 1st/2nd-grade class. Today is 6th-grade Science.

  38. P.S. There's an award for you at my blog!

  39. Love the example of the teacher. Of course you left a note at the end of your teaching time! I would too!

  40. @ Aubrie, thanks! I will have to check it out.

    @ Bossy Betty, I'm shocked people don't leave notes. If I have time and am able, I'll even grade.

  41. @ Aubrie, thanks! I will have to check it out.

    @ Bossy Betty, I'm shocked people don't leave notes. If I have time and am able, I'll even grade.

  42. wow--he sounds like a realllly cool teacher! And I'm with you on the note taking, doodling, and deformed fingernail (just a callous on the side of my finger). Weird, huh??

    Awesome Albert Einstein quote!!

  43. @ MBW aka Olleymae, that is weird!

    As far as the Einstein quote, it came from a poster in the classroom (as did the previous post's quote).