Friday, August 16, 2013

Hi, I'm a Recovering Teacher

So I've been subbing the last three days for one of the high school special education teachers who is out sick. Looks like I'll be sticking around for a while longer -- maybe a week or two, if not more -- while he continues to recover from home.

The first three days have been great. The three of us get on the scooter in the morning and go to school together. I drop off our little guy at the elementary school, where he plays on the playground with other kids until school starts, and my husband and I go to our respective classrooms to start the day. I love the time we have together on the scooter, as short as it is, just feeling the wind and the crisp morning air, being together, and chatting about this or that. Sometimes we pass other teachers on their way to work. It's fun to see everyone zooming around.

And, after all these years, I had completely forgotten how awesome teachers, especially special education teachers, are to hang out with. They are some of the most down-to-earth, fun, and funny people I've ever met in all the years I've been working. Also kinda kooky. Like one of the teachers said: It was no accident that we all ended up in special education; there is a reason we were attracted to the field.

Then there are the students. So different from American students. These students are polite, sweet, and follow directions. When they are off-task, all a teacher has has to is remind them of what they should be doing, and they do it. No attitude, no muttering under their breath, no arguments. Also, because the teacher I'm filling in for is the case manager for the 12th graders (all eight of them), that's the group I'm working with, for the most part. They have been through three years of this already, so they know what to do and are very independent. Most of the students have been diagnosed with various learning disabilities, but I have one student who was diagnosed with Aspergers and shows signs of bipolar disorder and depression. Even so, he is a piece of cake to interact with compared to some of my students in the U.S.

The work environment is wonderful. The high school has a great principal who is very positive and open, and the special education coordinator is a no-nonsense, but supportive, administrator. They leave you to do your job and trust you to do it right, but are helpful and supportive when you need it. It reminds me a lot of when I was teaching in the U.S. I had the best department chair possible. The management from my last job really have a lot to learn when it comes to creating a positive, supportive work environment. But having been in that position for almost five years, I had forgotten that constantly being worried, over-worked, stressed, and tense at work is really not normal! It's so nice not to feel a knot in your stomach when you see your boss coming your way.

And thanks to the special education coordinator, I am also now an expert user of all that Google has to offer. The school uses Google for everything, including to communicate with students and give them  materials for classes. So now I have my own website on Google that I share with my students and that I will use to teach!

Part of my job is to go into various classes to support the content teachers and the 12th-graders with special needs in those classes. I also have one class in which I help these students with their content classes and teach them various skills, such as organizational and study skills. Two of the classes that I support are an IB English class and an IB math class. Both teachers are from the U.K. and have lovely, lilting accents that I can listen to all day. I love the IB English class, where the students are studying Macbeth. I didn't appreciate Shakespeare as much during my own high school years, so I love having this opportunity to learn and study it along with the students.

Another class that I plug into is a 10th-grade basic algebra class. I was told that, even though it's "just" a 10th-grade class, the material is still pretty difficult because these kids are mostly from Asian countries and have really good math skills. Uh, I don't think so. First of all, everything they are learning now, I learned in eighth grade. And the math skills of some of these students is appalling. I am really surprised and disappointed. One girl's math skills are seriously worse than my six-year-old's! She cannot add or subtract numbers less than 10 without using a calculator! Those over 10, forget it! And she gets very confused when doing anything with positive and negative numbers. Now, to be fair, she may have a math learning disability (because she's a 10th-grader, I am not her case manager, so I don't have her information or know her history). But still! When a 15-year-old thinks that "-1-2" equals -1, something is seriously wrong.

And the teacher for this class, while very nice and seemingly knowledgeable, is not very good at teaching the material and getting it across to the students. It may be that when I had algebra in eighth grade, I had the best math teacher anyone could have, so that I have higher-than-usual standards for teaching this subject, but I already had a list of criticisms for the way this teacher teaches after only being in class with him once. There are too many to list, but one thing that drives me crazy is his pacing of the class. It is way off. And instead of going over each problem with the entire class, he just goes to each student individually to check their work. I think working with each student individually is great, but I also think that there should be a class-wide lesson to explain and reinforce.

Just yesterday, after an entire week of classes, he finally realized that some of the students still have trouble with the rules of adding/subtracting/multiplying positive and negative numbers. So he decided to review these rules. "Great!" I thought. But instead of explaining and then practicing, what does he do? He puts problems on the board and has the students work on them. No explanation, no review, nada! The girl with the bad math skills was utterly confused. So I sat down with her and explained the rules. She wrote them down, and we went through each problem using the rules, and she got it! She was so proud of herself. Minutes later, I saw the teacher do the exact same thing with another student. I just rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "I could do this job so much better."

So that's the class where the control freak/teacher inside of me comes out. I just want to take over and do it the way it should be done. But since I'm just in there to "support" and I'm "just" a sub, I really don't want to overstep and piss off the teacher too much. I'm also bored out of my mind in this class since the teacher usually just covers one concept each class, which lasts for 70 minutes, and gives the students an average of only five problems to work on. After that, everyone just kind of hangs out! WTF?!

Tonight, after three days of working hard (or hardly working), we prettied ourselves up for a soiree the school held for the staff at a hotel downtown. Good food, fun people, and a chance to dress up. Some people were dressed to the nines, with beautiful cocktail dresses and fancy shoes. *Many* Caucasian men with younger Thai wives. Hmmm. Part of the reason I cannot stand being mistaken for Thai and being lumped with "those women." Nevertheless, it was a nice way to start the weekend and a much-needed break.

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