Teaching Today

A few years ago I was a substitute teacher.  As any teacher will tell you, subbing is, in many ways, more difficult. The kids are the main reason. Usually subs don’t have to do all the grading and lesson planning that teachers do, but the students make up for it by being little pains in the ass.

Students often think of it as a free day. And it kind of is. Most teachers will fill in the day with boring worksheets. If the kids aren’t going to be doing something of value, why can’t I fill in the time doing fun learning with them. I love hands on things where the kids don’t really know they are learning. Living History, science experiments, crafts, there are all sorts of these things out there, and since subs are not held accountable for the student’s learning in the same way, I had hoped I would be able to do some of that, but that is not the way it worked.

Teachers (especially in a state where substitutes do not have to be licensed teachers) are used to the subs not really having a clue. They tend to ‘overplan’, that is, plan far more than could ever get done to assure that the students to not sit idle. This makes the kids feel overwhelmed, if they know they are expected to finish, or they just don’t care, especially if they know the teacher won’t grade it. Either way is not good for students. Students take the opportunity to do things they normally are not allowed to, and test the limits of the substitute. This is completely natural, but day in and out is exhausting.

The real value of my year in substitute teaching, was the opportunity to meet so many students, and see so many different teaching styles. I would sometimes see the same students in multiple classes and see how their behavior differed. Sometimes I would take assistant positions, which allowed me to observe the teacher directly. In other instances, if I was only there for part of the day, I would meet the teacher, sometimes get to observe for a bit, sometimes not. It was one of these days that I learned about Teach for America.

I have seen special education teachers struggle to teach an autistic student handwriting, because under No Child Left Behind they are held to the same standards as other students.  I have had the opportunity to see the damage of Common Core as well. I have seen kindergartners in tears because they were expected to understand something they were not ready for.

The combined effects of these failed policies are students who range from disinterested to disheartened. They learn from an early age that they cannot meet expectations. This is terrible for their self-esteem. One way to protect themselves is to give up their emotional attachment to success. On the other end of the spectrum, the students who do understand are completely ignored  because the teacher is required to bring up the kids who are behind. This gives those kids a free pass. In the midst of all of this is the testing. How are teachers expected to help students understand when all year they are either preparing for, taking, or recovering from some high stakes test or another. I have actually had a teacher get a sub for the day so she could come in and do required one-on-one testing. How is such a thing supposed to be accomplished?

All of this added stress has had a very negative effect on teachers as well. Those who are not so dedicated see no point in putting up with the stress, and those who are see that they are not able to make a difference in the current system. Between teaching to the test, being issued scripts for lessons, not being allowed to teach the way they learned (and not having been shown any other way), not having time for any activities the students might actually find engaging, and writing convoluted lesson plans to meet vague requirements, it is no wonder that even the best, and most dedicated teachers are leaving.

This leaves a huge vacancy, which substitutes fill in. I took 2 long term positions during my single year of teaching. The longer one was 30 school days. The rule they follow is that after that time, substitutes get more pay for the position. During that time I was the teacher, I wrote lesson plans, taught students, and graded work. My assignment was for a gifted English class. (Gifted is not a program in all states, but it is a way to address the special needs of advanced students.)

It did not take me long to realize that I was  right. When I first heard of No Child Left Behind, and bringing kids to ‘average’ I was keenly aware, as a gifted kid, that in order to get everyone to average, the higher scoring students would need to be brought down, or the average would just keep going up, that is, if they were successful bringing the bottom up.

These high school juniors and seniors were missing the basic parts of speech and had difficulty keeping a basic five paragraph essay format (like the 5 paragraph part). I graded in what was considered a lenient way when I was in school less than ten years before. Rather than not accepting work after the due date, I just took 10% off the score for each class day it was late. The way that the school schedule worked, because they only had my class every other day, if they came in on an off day, I still gave full credit. The students considered this terribly cruel and thought that turning papers in for anything less than full credit was pointless. I found out that many students would do the work, and not take it out of their bag to hand in. As a result I had a shockingly high number of students failing the class. They even had an entire class period twice a week dedicated to doing homework, which I try to refrain from giving anyway.

During my time in this position I attended multiple professional training days that I was not required to attend, nor was paid for. I did what I could to help the students to succeed. Even so, according to the principal at the school I had parents call to complain about me. The only complaint I heard about was about body odor. After I heard that, I went overkill. I continued to shower right before work, but I started putting on deodorant between every class. I received one call from a parent asking what my qualifications were to be teaching English. After our conversation, she was more than satisfied. But it occurred to me that if a parent called the office instead of me, the only thing they knew about me was that I was a substitute teacher, they probably did not even know whether or not I had a bachelor’s degree.

At the end of my thirty days I asked the secretary if they wanted me longer. I was told that I should come back, and I started to tell the students that I was definitely going to be there after fall break. Soon it was brought to my attention that my dress was a bit sheer, admittedly, I should have been more conscientious of that. I immediately went home to change. After classes ended for the day I was asked to the principal’s office and was written up for the dress, and more body odor complaints. That night I stayed late to leave a record of grading rubrics and lesson plans so that the next teacher would actually know what was going on, something that their actual teacher had not bothered to do.

I understand that parents would be upset to find that their students are failing a class, and that they would call into question the credentials of a substitute. But I do not respect a school that would not look into those credentials, or ask the teacher why the students were failing. This seems to be part of the current trend of parents holding teachers, rather than students, responsible for the students grades. (And why shouldn’t they, the national government does). I also find it suspect that this would all have occurred on the last day before they would have to pay me more. I should have suspected this type of thing when a student told me one of his classes had had no fewer than eight teachers in one year.

That said, my year substitute teaching was not all bad. In fact I think it may be my favorite job I have ever had. I met teachers who were trying to make a difference, I was honored to be trusted enough for students came to me with life-changing events, I met students who changed my perceptions, and I can only hope that I touched lives too.

 

Advertisements

Background

Like many people my age, I am deeply unsatisfied with how our society functions. This has led me to be called, like many of us, a lazy millennial. So I would like to explain a bit about my background to explain why I am so passionate.

As I have mentioned, I grew up in a small town called Madrid. Later I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Both of these gave me a look at unconventional slices of society. Madrid is a town where many people live off grid, and can get by just working odd jobs. In many ways this is the basis of the lifestyle for Dystopian Dreams (with a whole lot less tech). In the SCA, people are very passionate about sharing knowledge and work together, often without compensation. This is why I know that people will be productive and cooperative by nature. Other people I know from many other contexts have very productive hobbies. Ironically this is often the same people who tell me that if people did not earn money they would not be productive. It all depends on out definition. Sure, without pay people would probably not flip burgers or pack boxes all day, but we are at a point where humans no longer need to take on those tasks. (See Work & Money).

My mother was an elementary school teacher and librarian, her parents were both college professors. They were able to maintain my love of learning even though I went to public schools. I cannot thank them enough for that, I am very lucky. I firmly believe that while educating a person will help them, it is really educating society as a whole that will make a difference.

I graduated from college in 4.5 years with 2 degrees and full honors. I have yet to find this helpful in my life. Once I graduated I found it nearly impossible to find a job in the small city where I was living. I was overqualified for minimum wage jobs and had the wrong degree for anything else. When I moved to a larger city I have still struggled to find a job in my field, but I was able to find a minimum wage job. While I do enjoy working in hospitality it is not really what I want to do as a career. I have a lot of other thoughts, but none of them will really work.

For a time I was a substitute teacher. I graduated high school just before the effects of No Child Left Behind caught up to my grade. Teaching, even less than 10 years later showed me the EPIC failures of that policy. There is an entire generation of students who have been taught a very strict, highly irrelevant, curriculum. Not to mention the test and forget problem. Everything these kids have ever been taught was in preparation for a test. As most people know, once you pass the test the knowledge on it tends to be forgotten. Let me re-state that. AN ENTIRE GENERATION HAS ONLY BEEN TAUGHT IRRELEVANT INFORMATION IN A WAY THAT ENCOURAGES THEM TO PROMPTLY FORGET IT.

I was teaching at the beginning of the Common Core age as well. There have been many viral homework assignments with this to blame. These standards are very damaging to the students and endlessly frustrating to the teachers. It is little wonder so many teachers are not sticking with the profession.

Today I have two kids, one two years old, the other three months. Of course I want to do the best I can for them. To this end I have been considering homeschooling. But I also do not believe that my kids deserve any better than any other kids. I want the public school system to be good enough that I feel it is the best option.

Common Core

I was a substitute teacher for a time. Because retaining teachers is such a problem these days I ended up with a few long-term assignments. As such I have some experience writing lesson plans. On my single day assignments I have also had the opportunity to see many different teaching styles.

There have been many viral homework assignments renowned for how difficult they are to understand. Allow me to shed some light.

Common Core is a set of standards that must be met. For instance: students at a certain grade need to understand the concept of the place system (100s, 10s, 1s etc.). However the requirements are written so convoluted that they are nearly incomprehensible. (See whole site.)

Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1).
CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.4
For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record the answer with a drawing or equation.

Common Core also limits the teaching techniques allowed. The shortcuts that many learned are banned. Even the way that most people do math is considered a shortcut. I respect that common core wants students to understand the concepts behind the math. When I was in school, we did. Once we had the concepts down, then we learned the quick and dirty shortcuts. As far as I know that is true of most of us. I know we may not all be experts at math but if I asked where the 10s place is, most grown ups get that. I learned with blocks how borrowing for subtraction worked. The problem seems to be that common core takes away things, without giving. There are ways that teachers are not supposed to teach, but they have not been taught any alternatives, so they have to come up with their own. Common Core is not a curriculum (how to teach), but only a set of requirements (what to teach).

There is such a focus on making sure that kids understand the how, that they get over-taught it. I understand counting up and down on a number line or your fingers. I even get skipping down that number line in larger units. I understand adding 4 and 6 fist in a big line of numbers to reach ten then add the harder ones. Some teachers struggle to interpret the question and end up teaching that in order to add 4 and 8 you have to reach 10 first. (4+?=10…4+6=10…8-6=?…8-6=2…so 4+6=10+2 leftover =12.

I understand that learning the concept is more important that getting the right answer all the time, but once the concept it there, learning to write it in a simple way is hardly a shortcut. If taught correctly, it is the how.

The other BIG problem with common core is the requirement of ever younger kids learning ever more complicated topics. I had a kindergartner in tears because he was not developmentally ready to learn subtraction. When I was in kindergarten we were still being taught to count. This leads to a frustration with learning, and a lack of self esteem that most children will never recover from.

 

What Do I Want to Do?

I have never been very good at choosing only one thing to do, but I know I have to focus on one thing in order to make it successful. So I am just gonna write out my ideas here, not that it will probably interest anyone else.

I have been in hospitality for a long time now, and while I don’t really want to continue working for others, I would very much like to own my own hotel. Unfortunately, as they say it takes money to make money. Working for someone else in the type of situation I am in is no way to be able to afford that type of purchase. I have looked into it seriously. That down payment is the big challenge. They also want management experience, which, on paper, I do not have.

The most immediately possible option is starting my own costume business. The problem is that there are already a lot of people doing that, and getting into it enough to make ends meet is a long shot.

When I graduated college I was convinced that I could make a living working at a living history museum. However I have since found that most interpreters are just volunteers. Other interpreters travel doing presentations. This is an option, however I have young kids so I cannot travel to far afield. Until I have made a name for myself, (and probably even after I have) the money would be scant. Schools don’t really have that kind of budget. Right now it would have to work with my work schedule.

I would very much like to get into politics. As anyone who has read much of my writings will know, I see a lot of problems in the world, and that I have solutions, although I cannot, obviously, guarantee that they are any better than any other.

I believe that the other way to make a difference is to educate kids, so that they can make things better. I would like to be a teacher, but like most others who truly believe in learning, I feel unable to provide the type of education that students would benefit from under the current policies.

The most comprehensive, get-to-do-everything idea is starting a camp. This camp does not have any good analogy. It would be a cross between a park, a community center, a school, a summer camp for kids, an intentional community, a farm and a museum. People would be able to visit and just explore, or take classes on anything from sustainability to art, survivalism to philosophy, cooking to religion. If someone wanted to teach it we would offer it, if someone wanted to learn it, we would try to find a teacher. It would be a place to foster a love of learning and pursue a person’s own interests. The people who run it would live on site and in many ways function as one large family. We would grow our own food as much as possible. A few times a year we would have living history events from different time periods. All of the buildings on site would be examples of different types of sustainable architecture, and all power would be produced on site. This is really my dream. We just need to find a way to support us while we build it, and find like-minded people to help.

 

Political Involvement

This election cycle a lot of people are getting very involved in politics. This has made me ask, why aren’t more people involved?

That is a very complicated question. The first, and most influential reason I think, is that people feel like politicians don’t have their interests in mind. This is probably why involvement has gone up so much. There are some candidates who are becoming the voice of people who have not been heard.

Another big reason is that people do not believe that they make a difference. This one, I struggle with myself. We really need to make changes to the electoral system so that every voice is heard and heard equally. ( If you don’t know what I am referring to, look up “electoral college”).

Another big problem is when a person’s life gets in the way. It isn’t that politics are not important, but that something I their own lives has to take precedence. Usually this is because they do not have the freedom to be somewhere art the prescribed time. This disproportionately affects people working unusual hours. Often these positions are low- paying jobs. These are the positions where the employee has very little influence over their schedule. In many businesses, someone must be present 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This means that someone must work on election day, getting time off for other, more influential events, such as caucuses and local elections is perhaps even more difficult.

Is it really surprising then, that these are the people who have very low voter turnouts? These are the people who would benefit the most from things like raising the minimum wage, but they are the least able to influence it.

Some places have, in part, tried to solve this. Washington state sends ballots I the mail, along with a official information book with background on candidates and issues. These can be returned anytime before the end of the election day. This is an amazingly simple and elegant solution.

In order to get people involved, not only do we need to engage them emotionally, but we also need to make sure they have the access to make their voices heard.

Happy New Year!

This year I am looking forward to a lot of big changes that are already in the works. I am also doing everything I can to create even more.

I hope that my readers are enjoying my content, but I am considering seperating out my costume blog from the rest. Even though it is all me, I am working towards developing a costume business and do not want my political beliefs getting in the way. However this means creating interesting content for two seperate audiences, while starting a business and working full-time. All the while trying not to ignore my family and other responsibilities. I also know that since I have been sending people all to the same site, that would inevitably lead to confusion. On the other hand, it is better to do it now while I am still just starting out. What do you think?

I need to finish building a few things and taking pictures, but as soon as I am done I will set up my Etsy store and share that with everyone. I will be endeavoring to provide high-quality pieces ranging from the elaborate to the simple. I am working on some toys now, but my costumes will also be available. Everything will be made-to-order, so we can make sure that everything is just right. This will also be the main channel to contact me about special orders. I always love a challenge!

I look forward to the possibility of making money doing something that I love. I know this will be a challenge, but if I can make it work, it will be better for myself and my family. Wish me luck, and I wish you all the best for all of your New Years Resolutions!

Thank You

Just a shout out to everybody who read my article about the SCA yesterday. I thought that I would do a little something differant and was not prepared for the response. Everyone sent my total views from less than 200 to over 600 overnight! I am so very thankful, and I hope that everyone continues to enjoy my content. I fully intend to continue what I have been doing by posting my pictures, which are usually fairly popular, as well as my book and rants. But I will also try to do more in this vein. Thank you for letting me know what you like reading about and helping to keep me motivated. I would be honored if people who are new would go through some of my older posts as well. I posted a lot of content when I first started this blog that has never really been seen.

Thank you again!

Take Pride in Your Insanity!