This was a ancient, central city school with original administration buildings and satellite portables. I was in one of them with an 8th grade "Math/Pre-Algebra" assignment. I thought I'd give it a try even though it has been a few years since I've even thought about Algebra. Well, no need to worry, these kids are still in chapter one and starting to process positive and negative integers, exponents and powers. (right down my alley with this blog's theme, right?) Well, not quite. My first period was "free" a conference period and, being a sub, I had no one to conference with. Two kids came by, one wanting double-sided tape from the "student store" to hang some dance posters and another wanted to buy/sell dance tickets, nope, all locked up.
The secretaries were very nice and polite, but a bit unprepared and had to duplicate all the papers/forms I needed to start a first time assignment. They also warned me that they may call and ask for me to "cover" a class during my free period in case they hadn't found a sub yet. I had to wait for the attendance office clerks until after 7:45AM since they didn't open until then. I got my 5 class lists for the day and noticed right away that four of them were duplicates. So, I was going to have two "core" groups for two 50 minute hours. Problem was, the lesson plans were very brief and didn't outline enough work or activities for all that time. The kids seemed to know that they had almost two hours to do 37 problems(#'s 38, 39 bonus word probs.) and a word search on money or candy and then they could "socialize or distract others". The first class was 32 strong and right away we had our "dominance testors, back-talkers/questioners, disrespectors, defiant ones who tried to take control and get the class off to a "yelling start" I had to give warnings and threaten to call the "dean of discipline" I started to write one kid up and walked toward the phone. There were a few, innocent, quiet, on-task students who seemed to be oblivious to all this reminstration and recalcitrance. They got on with their assignment and then read.
So Junior High, Middle School hasn't really changed for subs all that much. The other class was supposed to be the "leaders" of the school, the ASB Class. Virtually no assignment, a word search, 3 tried to take the "student store (on wheels) out for 1st lunch and came back 1/2 hr. later with minimal sales. Four other girls wanted to go out and sell dance tickets but they were no where to be found. Two went out to stick up dance posters. These folks seemed to go unnoticed by the campus security "sweepers"...out without a "note" or permissions - a big "no-no". The others asked to do their homework or read from other classes. OK. We had a break in the two hour cores where they wanted to go and get a drink, socialize and then I was told to "lock them out" if they didn't make it back by the bell. (I didn't)
I tried to establish a "connection" with the "cores" by showing them my latest CD by "Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals" (they didn't get the connection). I told them that when I taught 8th grade before, Ben was in my English class and he wrote well and did his homework. Now he writes all his songs for his group and sings and plays his "do-bro" (sp?) guitar. I used the "carrot" of his CD playing on a dusty, skipping classroom player and about the last 15 minutes we were able to play a song or two since all the papers were in. "Too slow...can I play my CD, I just happen to have in my backpack?" No. Then can I play it on my portable CD player with earphones I also just happen to have? Yes. I also told them about Mark McGuire, who I had taught in elementary. Very few, maybe two, knew of him or Ben. I showed them a news article from the current Times about a new company worth 1.5 million from a game they started to play in Middle School called "Flick it-Kick it" with little folded paper (leather now) triangles. Some knew about it and started to make them. OK. I showed them my "Balzac" an entrepeneur Middle Schooler girl invent and put on the internet and is now a millionaire. Basically just a cover for a big balloon you can then play with indoors. The second core group, much smaller and better behaved got to play with it in a form of "hush ball" (without the hush) One girl wanted to do dramatics the last half hour so we played "charades" They loved it. They had all finished their math assignment and word searches. Two guys volunteered to sweep and clean the whole classroom carpet, I think to get closer to certain girls etc. I had to move one guy who came in, sat in the back with his "girl" and continued to play with her hair. After I moved him, and had confrontational words, he was one of the first to get his assignment done.
The campus was so barren and uninviting with little shade, grass and not enough tables to sit and eat/hang out at. I hurriedly walked past them on my way to the similar staff room. I ate my usual "carried lunch" and talked with a "long-term sub" of math who warned me that they get worse after lunch...mine didn't. He was a frustrated real estate agent needing the $$. Enough said. Depressing conversation overall. My afternoon went better and I was able to help several students who raised their hands on the more difficult "word problems" ("we only have to do one out of the three, why not try them all?") I found many in this group didn't know how to do short division or the Volumn formula for a cube. In the morning class, we didn't get that far, most didn't want to know or didn't care if they got most of the second half of the assignment wrong...just turn it in. A quote from the lesson plan, "Absolutely no talking and no calculators" Yeah, right! They wanted and did push their desks together and share answers and calculators. I didn't fight it. I think what I would've done for the second half of the core class, after practice tests were turned in would be to have a "Rubric" on the board which capitalized on their wanting to get together and socialize and still teach/practice the subject. i.e. Create a group project to show/display the meaning of "Exponential powers" using art materials or dramatic skits. Little cubes or dots or people placed in an array to show "squared-ness". I started to correct the 1st core's papers and made an answer sheet but didn't get very far before my paid time was up. As I left, checked out, got my time card, turned in my attendance to the seated clerk who couldn't move, the principal was having trouble over the intercom getting all the regular teachers to attend a "celebration" for "improved attendance". (of students) Now, I can see why they are asking for subs for teachers the most on the system. These kids are in an "uneasy age" to try to work with in large groups...and it takes some pretty special and patient souls to continue to try it everyday. More power to them...exponential power. RxRxR