Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day of Subbing on the First Day of School

Calm. Cool. Collected.

That was my strategy yesterday, and it worked great.

First days of anything are generally always intimidating. The first day of first grade; the first day of college; the first day in a new city; the first day at a new job.

I guess I should have figured the same for my first day substitute teaching as well. And it wasn't just my first day subbing – it was also the first day of school. I knew that going in.

But then the curve ball: it was also my first experience where the teacher left no lesson plans. On the first day of school.

There was absolutely nothing. No textbooks, syllabus, or classroom policies. No first day activities, no hint of what the first assignment was going to be. There wasn't anything in the classroom. All desks were sloppily lined in rows like it had just been cleaned. There were no posters, books, or papers. There was no teacher's desk, and there were no files or folders. A teacher had never come in to this classroom to set anything up.

Calm. Cool. Collected.

Amazed, I walked next door and asked another teacher if she knew what was going on. She didn't, but recommended I check the teacher's mailox. I did and found nothing there either. Word spread quickly among the teachers in the department about the debacle, but suprisingly none of them knew what the deal was (or, unsuprisingly, they did and kept their mouths shut).

A very helpful fellow teacher provided me with a “get to know you” game that she uses on the first day of class. I thought quickly how to fill the rest of the period. I wrote the Kurt Vonnegut quote on the board, and planned a current events discussion that would bring together the topics of Labor Day, teenage unemployment, and President Obama's upcoming jobs speech.

Calm. Cool. Collected.

The first class of students came walking in, 10th graders. I stood at the door welcoming them, and let them know they were at the right place (they were expecting a teacher with a different skin color, gender, and age). Instructions were on the board:
  1. Take out a half sheet of paper
  2. Write name in the upper right hand corner
  3. Wait for further instruction
The bell rang and we jumped right in to the quote. I asked two questions about it to encourage independent upper level thinking, and then discussed. Maybe not the best strategy for most first-days, but it worked for what I needed: getting kids quiet and focused.

Then came the game, where kids got to learn names. Then the discussion, which went over way better than I thought it would. Then the class left, and the first 1/6 of the day was successful. Win!

Calm. Cool. Collected.

The same teacher who provided the first-day game came by and commented on how relaxed and confident I looked. I didn't feel stressed, but regardless this comment came as a big compliment. Later she asked me if I was available for specific dates this month for filling spots in her schedule. Win! I promptly gave her my contact information.

Other daily highlights:
  • 2nd hour was AWESOME. 11th graders for African American Humanities. More on that tomorrow.
  • 4th hour the principal came into the class and asked to talk with me in the hall for a minute. Apparently word spread very quickly about the situation in room 209, and he came by to make sure everything was running smoothly. My mantra (Calm. Cool. Collected.) worked like a charm as the kids were quiet and on task. Always helps to make right with the principal. Win!
  • 5th hour helped me realize how immature some 10th graders can be. My mantra got me through that one. Whew.
  • 6th hour had five students in it, probably to some scheduling glitch. My mantra didn't work so well in this class. With no first-day activities or information provided by the teacher, it was more akward than anything. Time was mostly consumed by talking about school sports and playing hangman.
So I guess all that racket about a Bag of Tricks really is important. Without it, yesterday would have been far more of a struggle.

NOTE: At the end of the day I tried learning about the teacher situation. I wanted to find out 1.) if I could sub tomorrow, and 2.) in case there was an issue with the position, I could be considered as a candidate.

But there was no info to be found. The office was unsure of the absence, and could provide no advice for securing another sub position. Other teachers said the same. I tried to find the principal, but it is a big school and he couldn't be tracked down.

Q. What do you do to ensure another sub position?

I invite you to contribute by sending in questions, personal stories, thoughts, and articles about substitute teaching. Thanks for stopping by.

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