Refreshment may involve iced drinks or a dip in a cold stream

01 Nov

The subbing field is opening up now that I’m accepted into my home district and another one up north; I had my doubts at cracking the mysterious code to getting into the local district. Applied years ago when I first came back into the field, and was told no subs were being accepted. I tried to find out what the criteria were, since I knew that teachers freshly graduated from the local university were getting on the sub list. Thinking I had as much a right to enter the field as they, I went to the HR office–were they looking for subs in science and math, even? To the university–should I study for and take the new content knowledge exams, even set up an internship to get my foot in the door? No real protocol I could see. It even occurred to me there might be grounds for a lawsuit, if there was some kind of age discrimination going on.

I decided to make a big push this year, which took numerous emails back and forth to solve the problem of no recent observation-based references. Finally got it solved, using references from a former professor who barely remembered me but had cheat notes, and some homeschooling colleagues who filled out checklists based on seeing me teach over the years. Now thanks to a new need for extra subs, my application was approved and I was invited to the orientation.

The orientation was entirely about paperwork, the atmosphere at the central office much removed from the dynamic classrooms and hallways full of children. It was a lifeless conference room table full of hopefuls with folders of paperwork in front of each–a quiet, rather passive bunch on first impression, some looking a little scared, others distasteful. Were some of them here from lack of other options? Financial need?

We were told by the sub coordinator that the administration “appreciates what we do,” that we are “qualified to teach pre-K through high school calculus (new definition of “qualified”? new definition of “teach”?), and that what principals and secretaries notice and remember is when we do some special cleaning up or organizing during our preps or after early releases when they have to pay us to stay the whole day. A clean microwave in the break room or neatly filed reports being true measurable outcomes.

Still, can’t blame them. I suppose the sub coordinator, HR managers, payroll personnel, curriculum experts and so on don’t get to be in schools much, to remember what it’s all about, and their work has to me attended to. The central office does get to display the nicest student artwork in their hallways, though. Makes me think, again, that Mao’s and the Fuhrer’s ideas of “re-education” that obliged bureaucrats to rotate out to the country for a season wasn’t such a bad idea. Let the first to go be the ones who use the terms “front lines,” trenches,” and “grassroots” overmuch, and those whose decisions affect day to day operations the most.

On the way home, driving through the damp streets lined with trees in their autumn finery, I tried to think of improvements to the substitute orientation. First, ice breakers: opportunities for each sub to share a bit about what brought them to the field, and their career plans. Next, maybe while the IDs were being photocopied, a small panel including current and former substitutes, current teachers, and several students, each offering their perspectives, expertise, and encouragement. Finally, refreshments.


Posted by on November 1, 2014 in Education


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3 responses to “Refreshment may involve iced drinks or a dip in a cold stream

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 2, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Very good writing–and that you let yourself write about it–smart and wise—soulful.

  2. LeRoy Pick

    November 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

    You’re comment about “front lines” brings to mind a story.

    I had a boss at the Department of Lands and Forests, NS, who believed, and did his best to arrange, that everyone get out of the office at least once a month, preferably for a couple of days, to assist or perform some kind of field duty, so you’d remember what the job was really about. In my case, I spent three weeks tramping around the bush with different crews partly as an orientation, so that I knew what the various jobs were really about and how the people “on the front lines” actually did things (and develop a proper appreciation for slogging through a softwood bog carrying a tripod and a tank sight – out of a real WW2 tank – that was “worth more than you are”).

    I have one word for it: brilliant.

    I wonder if the same could be applied to subbing. Have prospective subs enter a school for a day just to get a feel for the culture? Have them teach a prospetive class for a day with other teachers observing to see how they’ll perform in action? Would it be worth it? (Cleaning the microwave? Seriously?!?!? Are their majesties and highnesses too important to clean up after themselves?)

    “Orientation” = “Paperwork”. Sad.

    • toesinthedirt

      November 3, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Fortunately all subs, by the time they are certified, have observed and taught classes and been in mentor relationships. Some ed schools more, some less. There’s a movement now by “alternative certification” operations (Teach for America, heavily funded by venture capitalists and those interested in privatizing education), hardly any opportunity to learn before being thrown in to high poverty schools.


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