Monday, September 20, 2010

Pseudonymed Job?

My mom has a name that is easily transposed over the phone or in noisy rooms. Sometimes when she orders coffee at Starbucks, she gives a fake name for simplicity. She'll just say Sarah. Whether they add an H or not, she'll know it's her drink. She calls it her Starbuck's name. I don't have the heart to tell her that strippers also have fake names that they call their stripper name, which is where I'm fairly sure the term "Starbucks' name" might have been copied. Then again, maybe it's my mom who doesn't have the heart to tell me where she got the idea to give a fake name at Starbucks. Probably not though.

Recently Dr. Awesome and I are considering inventing fake jobs.

A few years back we started noticing that the innocent question "what do you guys do for a living?" often turned into either a long drawn out conversation of Dr. Awesome's research (Awesome is so complicated!) or else a heated political debate about education. Everyone has something to say about teachers. We started slowly modifying our responses whenever we didn't feel up to a fight or when we were looking for a quick escape.

How is the job market?
You know, it's about the same everywhere right now. I think everyone is just working really hard.
Isn't no child left behind stealing money from public schools to give to private schools?
I'm pretty sure they are still separate but I usually let the politicians fight it out.
Oh so you could get a job with (insert name of company that is completely unrelated to Dr. Awesome's research or career path.)
Yeah potentially! I'll have to keep my options open. 
 (After lengthy explanation of research) Oh I get it!
(thinks: no, no you don't.) Great!

The other weekend at a sports bar. We shared a booth with a couple we just met owing to the large football crowd. As we got to talking, the inevitable "so, what do you do?" question came up. Unfortunately, it turned out that the the guy was a student at the college where Dr. Awesome teaches and the gal was an aspiring preschool teacher who apparently knew everything there is to know about the job market. Also most unfortunately they talked through the entire game despite our indications (screaming, booing, fist pounding) that we were there solely for cheering on our team. As soon as we'd quiet down there would be a comment or question about charter schools, or the job market, or firing teachers based on test scores.

And so it went on and on.

Don't get me wrong, most of the time we enjoy sharing about our lives and what we do, especially with friends and family. Certainly (obviously) education is a passion of mine and Dr. Awesome is well versed at explaining his life's work. But sometimes, like on Saturday afternoon when we just want to watch the football game with a beer, we don't feel up to being tiraded about charter policies, wondering if we are drinking in front of a student, or being reminded that our career paths both have a long way to go before we land in long term positions.

I wonder what spies tell people they do? Maybe I should tell them I'm a stripper. Or at least that I work at Starbucks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

High school kids are still mean to subs, fyi

My brain is still a little bit numb from the overwhelming experience of starting work again, in a new CMO, a new city, a new neighborhood. Oh and I subbed for ninth grade yesterday!

The question I keep getting from friends and family is simply "how was ninth grade?" And I'm not sure why anyone is so shocked to hear that I really did not like it. But let me tell you some of my stories and you can decide for yourself if you think subbing high school is something to be enjoyed or survived.

My first two classes were both 2 hour blocks, 9th grade English. The students came in the room so loudly that I almost stood on my tiptoes and shouted before I realized that I was actually still the teacher. I thought it would have been demeaning to ask them to "show me 5 if you can hear my voice" or touch their nose or put both hands on their heads. Actually come to think of it they might have thought I was trying to arrest them if I asked them to put their hands on their heads. And, call it my really good instincts if you must, but I knew that this, if ever, was not the time to go on a bear hunt. So I spoke loudly and asked for their attention, waited, asked, waited, demanded, waited, scolded, waited, called out individuals, waited... basically did everything wrong. I hate teenagers. At some point in between my first and second blocks I heard shattering glass, but didn't immediately find out what it was.

I taught a lessons about facts/opinions and ethos/pathos/logos and because I was bored from teaching the same lesson 4 times, I made two kids get into a real argument made the others classify their arguments. Do you know how long high school lessons are? I had 120 minutes for that stupid block! Can you imagine doing only one subject for 120 minutes? Poor kids! No wonder the girls started pulling out their mascara and eyelash curlers. And ask to go to the bathroom every five minutes. And pass notes that were folded and sealed with lipstick kisses but claimed to be "math homework".

FYI, if you make girls put away their makeup, and tell someone they can't go to bathroom on the basis of "teachers can't go either", and take away someone's lipstick sealed "math homework", you are not a nice sub. Actually you are not a nice person. The things they called me I can't repeat on this blog because if I did 1) google's profanity blocker would screen it from many searches and 2) most of it was in Spanish so I don't remember it. But I know it was mean.

Also FYI if you glare back hard enough at a kid who is calling you something racist, they'll shrug and say "but whatever it's cool." Did I mention I hate teenagers?

After a quick lunch I was requested to help co-teach with another sub, who was teaching science. Apparently the other sub was also having management problems similar to myself. After the kids were given a stern lecture from the principal, the two of us were left with them. Most of them had been in one of my the classes in the morning but had since decided that I was cool (or perhaps the principal scared them) and put their heads down and did their work. I also kept a glare on my face and did not smile the entire time. When someone shouted "That was the bell!!!" 8 minutes before the bell rang, and nearly the whole class got up to leave and the other sub almost let them, I almost cracked a smile. Almost. Instead I commanded everyone back into their seats and I threatened detention if I ever found out who shouted that the bell rang.

And so went the rest of my day. No smiling. No fun. No silly songs and no dancing around the room looking for letters or patterns. Just sit down and shut up and do your work. Turns out high school still sucks.

As I was leaving, I found out that shattering glass I heard? That was a kid being thrown through a window. The kid who threw him was permanently expelled within the hour and the next day (which I guess is today) someone on the waiting list will be at the school in his place.

Then today I gave my kindergartners a spelling test, but only after singing and dancing. It is going to be an interesting year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mrs. Awesome Subs Again, reprised

After nearly four weeks of hoop jumping, I'm back in action, subbing for ninth grade English today. Careful readers will observe that I have a multiple subjects credential, which means I'm normally an elementary school teacher.

Today I'm remembering what a mentor once said: If you don't think you know what you're doing, just pretend like you do and keep trying until you fail enough times to learn it well enough to stop pretending.

Holding my breath, diving in!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Consider me oriented

I just got home from orientation to my new sub pool. Who knew there even were such things as new hire orientations for substitute teachers? Apparently this CMO (that's charter management organization, and yes! I finally have a name for it!) has higher standards for its teachers, students, and substitutes. I went to the orientation more than a little skeptical, but that was kind of a waste of perfectly good cynicism. Here's what I found out.

First, my new CMO fills its sub pool only with candidates it would consider hiring into full time teaching positions, or candidates it considers "highly qualified". My chances of getting hired by them are significantly increased now IF I do a good job subbing, and of course if there are any openings that I am available for this year or next.

In the room with me were about 20 new sub hires and we were told point blank to consider ourselves "lucky and at-will" because there hundreds of other applicants. Apparently we are evaluated each time we sub and one negative eval will get us kicked off the island. Also when we sub we are treated like normal teachers, which means if a teacher was scheduled for a walk-through with feedback that day, we'll get it instead, including feedback on our teaching. I know feedback is important for improvement, and I don't disagree with this idea in principal, but dang. The no-nonsense attitude is going to take some getting used to. Also what happens if I sub for someone who just doesn't like me or if I just have a bad day? Seems a little harsh. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how often I'm completely infuriated at systems that allow people who suck at their jobs to keep working. For once in my life, my opinion is not yet formed on this issue.

Of the 20ish people in the room, it sickens me to think about how many of them had several years of classroom teaching experience. We have perfectly good teachers with experience, and they aren't in a classroom right now? Many were coming from local districts that had laid them off and wanted to offer them less the $100/day to sub. Almost all were full credentialed like myself. Welcome to the recession.

Aside from putting a fire under my butt regarding principal walk-throughs and impromptu evals, I really wholeheartedly found myself agreeing with the charter's mission and pedagogy. And I don't think it was just because I need a job and want to like where I'm working either. Maybe I'm a sucker for a powerpoint with good graphic organizers, but I found the whole orienting process a welcoming, positive, and meaningful experience. Most of all, I feel like it was time well spent. Obviously subbing at this CMO will not be the same as subbing in Small Town, USA so I'm glad someone took the time to outline the differences for me.

Some of the things that are different about subbing for this CMO:
-I'm welcome at all of their professional development activities (not paid, but I can add to my resume and more importantly, improve my teaching)
-Depending on the school, I'm welcome at their staff meetings (extremely rare)
-My pay is $35/day more than in Small Town, USA.
-I'm encouraged to volunteer and observe on days that I don't sub. It's like... they actually want me to be a better teacher.
-I have to wear dress clothes. No more jeans like in Small Town, USA, not even if I pair them with a blouse. If you know me in real life, you know I live in jeans.
-I can get direct deposit, but there is no centralized sub line or sub coordinator. Give and take, eh?

So now the only thing standing in my way between getting those first calls is a TB clearance, so I will have to wait at least another week. In the meantime, it's shopping, college football, and enjoying what looks like the end of summer and the end of my "unemployment".

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Surrogate Classrooms

Well unfortunately I have nothing to update regarding the job hunt, other than I am trying to find a place (and motivation and moolah) to get another TB test done so I can get going with my charter sub pool. Also I need another cooler way to reference subbing for aforementioned charter network, as it is not really a district or network but just a charter with several campuses.

In the meantime though I've tricked two people into adopting me. First, my sister-in-law who teaches third grade let me come and help her set up her room last week and pick her brain about groups, reading programs, resumes, and other fun teacher stuff. She is doing a polka dot theme this year and we made some pretty awesome boards. I plan to steal her ideas of how to run a focus board for small groups (a themed white board used only for small group instruction) and her paper monkey tree was adorable! I also helped watch my niece, who thought the books in the room were hers. I managed to teach her to say "mommy's classroom" but not "Auntie". Go figure. My sister-in-law doesn't care for laminating though. I thought all teachers secretly become teachers just so we can write on the white board and laminate things? In any case, I laminated a ton of stuff and it was super fun! I'm so glad I live closer now because now I can go visit a ton. If only it was a bit closer, then I could apply to work in her district or volunteer at her school when I don't have sub jobs.

Second, my good friend and colleague from grad school just so happens to live and work as a second grade teacher in Big City, USA and so I made her let me come and spend the day in her room. As per norm, I talked her ear off while we set up bulletin boards, shared curriculum and management ideas, dreamed about the day we could finally work in the same school and maybe even share a classroom, and gossiped about boys. I will most definitely be volunteering in her room on days that I don't get sub calls, and also I'll be trying to get hooked up to sub for her charter!

Friday, August 27, 2010

When being awesome isn't good enough, be better

I just $52.50 to prove I'm STILL not a crook. I think I got ripped off. Up next are more fees to renew my TB and who knows what else. I know yesterday I was all "I'll jump the hoops" but today my bank account feels pretty empty. I'm not going to lie.

Meanwhile, I'm spending the afternoon completely revamping my resume and cover letter template. I did it at the beginning of the summer but I can't help but think maybe I could make it better.

If you had to write about one "hot" topic in education in your cover letter (e.g., differentiation, equity, management, assessment) what would you pick? Why? Or would you nix hot topics all together and give them a business cover letter that highlights what your resume does not explain/cover?

Maybe I should just say, "I think walking down the aisles at Staples is relaxing and the teacher supply store is better than Toys R Us. I want to be a teacher because I like writing on the white board and I still think I can change the world." 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The why in "why I still bother"

Having the summer off and enjoying not working makes a slippery slope down the path of "is it worth it" and "why even bother". Yesterday I started to dig deep, but realized my reason for bothering has been right at the surface all along. 

As you know, I began the hoop jumping to start subbing for a chain of charters in the inner city, c/o Big City, USA. I filled out a crazy detailed online application, showed up for an interview, wrote some essay questions on the spot, got grilled about best practices and my views of guest teaching, and got selected to join the limited guest teacher (re: sub) pool for the 8 locations k-12 in the inner city neighborhood that this particular charter serves. I paid a total of $42 to have two different official transcripts ordered and tomorrow I'll pay another $25 for a fingerprint & background check. Next week I'll attend a mandatory orientation. I don't want to talk about gas or minutes spent in traffic but at least no one can hear my singing in the car.

Why the hoops? Is it because, as it seems on the surface, that I'm so desperate for a job that I'll take anything that comes my way? Is it because I'm so pathetic I can't do any better or get hired in a "good" district?

Let me tell you why. And this is the real answer--not the interview answer, not the essay question answer, not the friendly polite dinner conversation answer. I'm not trying to be cute or coy or even, for once, awesome. It's just the truth.

It's because I think the only way to change the world is to teach our children to ask questions. 

I believe that so strongly I'm willing to put it on my sleeve or nail it to my door with a sword. So when I drove to my interview yesterday and saw graffiti on every flat surface and poverty and hunger, and saw babies with babies and teenagers with gang tattoos, I didn't think "how sad." I didn't think "welfare kids" or "I can save them!" or "they need help" or "am I safe here?". I didn't even really think about difference or privilege or agency or equity or any other hot topic that often keeps me awake at night.

I did think "I wonder if anyone is teaching these kids to ask "why" or "how".

So yes, I will jump the hoops and fight upstream with the thousands of other teachers who believe we can change the world. And if that means subbing or working part time or driving in traffic or paying for another stupid transcript or background check (I'm still not a crook!) then I will. Maybe I never will have my own classroom. Maybe I will get hired next week. Maybe I'll stop working when I have kids. I don't know right now. But right now, I sure as hell am going to keep bothering with the hoops, because kids need to be taught to ask the questions that grown ups are too afraid of.