Archive for the ‘Substitute Teaching’ Category


     So much about teaching is knowing just how far to go.  How far can students be pushed before they start to get discouraged?  How can learning be paced so that there is time to both wonder and meet goals – right, wrong, or indifferent?   So much of teaching is involved in knowing these limits that it often feels like an elaborate dance in which a teacher pushes (?) until the students are pushing back – but just enough.    I struggled with the proper verb for this action and decided that push was better than lead, and enable or encourage don’t imply pacing – I was left with push.

     This week, I have taught 7th grade Chemistry for 3.5 days in the same classroom.   It has been wonderful to be subbing in my content area and on consecutive days.   I’ve spent more time subbing for biology or math with occasional forays into art, business, and health/phys ed.    When you teach science to Middle School students especially in an area where you have a great deal of knowledge and experience, you also have to know when to stop.   Often I’ll get a question that could be answered at an advanced college level, however I know that doing so might cause heads to explode and a student to get the wrong answer on exams for years.   

     On Thursday, we were discussing matter and its properties which led to a discussion of matter being everything.   This led to questions about space, dark matter, and anti-matter but what stopped me cold was a student that asked about light.   Was light matter?    My brain leaped way ahead to wave-particle duality and then I stopped, thankfully before engaging my mouth, and said, “Light is a wave – it is not matter.  For now, we are going to leave it at that.”     Part of me feels a bit guilty but most of me knows that a discussion at that level might have bogged us down for the rest of the week, possibly longer, and probably would have ended with me telling them to “trust me”;   on the other hand, would it have engaged their curiosity?


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     I never would have believed that I would be grateful for the start of Daylight Savings Time.   One of the most ridiculous things about the fact that I am pursuing a teaching career – especially in seconday schools – is the fact that I am not a morning person.   David Letterman and I were on a first name basis for years including those in which he didn’t start until after midnight.   Now, the phone rings at 5:15 a.m. and I am grateful because it means that they need a sub and I will teach that day;   I have worked every day for the last two weeks.  

     When you live on the North Coast, the winter days are short and the November skies are gloomy.    As a creature of the light who celebrates the Winter Solstice and the onset of longer days with a fervor most people reserve for birthdays, anniversaries, and other major holidays, it is odd for me to consider this timeshift beneficial.  I have long railed against the shift to an early sunset and nights that seemed longer but then I had only been awake for sunrise on very rare occasions, such as camping and staying up all night.        

     This year, I celebrate this day!   Now that my days in late October rarely include sunrise, I have a new appreciate of the time shift.  Tomorrow, my kids will be able to safely ride their bikes to school again and I may actually view sunrise during my drive to tomorrow’s sub job.

(Photocredit:  Tech Boy (my oldest) from the driveway)

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     I have been substitute teaching a lot – three different schools, many different subjects, a wide range of grades – 5/5 days last week.  It’s been interesting.  

     I have been in class rooms where there have been no plans and nothing to work with.  I have been been in others that were super-organized with rosters, seating charts, lesson plans including contingency plans if the students finish early.    One teacher requested that I do a great deal of collating and finished her instructions with “Please wash the windows before you leave” – seriously, I could find no indication that this was a joke.  I have taught in schools where I am not treated as a professional and in schools where I have been thanked and treated well.   I never know what will happen when the phone rings in the morning.   I’m learning to juggle and to dance while I’m doing it with a smile.

      The experience has been valuable for gaining perspective.   I like middle school students more than I expected.   I prefer more advanced Chemistry and science BUT middle school kids aren’t afraid to laugh at a joke or be amazed about something cool.  They do have more energy than they need for school – sometimes that leaks out in unacceptable ways – but they aren’t locked into a personality or affect.   If middle-school students don’t understand a teacher’s joke, they will work on it for a bit and laugh later;  high school students just decide that you’re obtuse in some way and they don’t care or aren’t interested enough to puzzle it out.   Interesting change in my perspective.   I have no control over what level I will end up teaching but I am more open to either level.

      I also gain perspective when teaching other subjects.    I am certified to teach Chemistry but was recently teaching Biology in which the textbook (and the students) asserted that there were four classes of “Organic Compounds” – proteins, nucleic acids, fats & lipids, or carbohydrates.   Uh – no;   in Chemistry, even on the NYS Regents Chemistry Reference Table, there are many more classes of organic compounds including aldehydes, ketones, ethers, carboxylic acids, phenolic compounds, etc.   I texted a friend who teaches Biology and he made the same assertion.   Another obstacle to my dream of an interdisciplinary curriculum.

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