Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Listen Louder Than You Sing

It’s hard to believe that just two and a half months ago I was still substitute teaching. I feel so at home in my new classroom and so involved in the lives and lessons of my seventh graders that I sometimes forget I didn’t start the year with them. They feel like mine now. My kids. And that feels really good.

The truth, though, is that ten short weeks ago I was still spending my days with other people’s kids, and I was reminded of that today when I found something in one of my notebooks.

Subbing can be a hard job. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone. But it can also be a really fun job, a really inspiring job. There are so many amazing teachers in Austin, and once in a while, as a sub, you get to see those teachers in action.

On September 2nd, I “subbed” a girls’ choir class at Bowie High School in south Austin. I put the word in quotes because sitting in a chair and listening to beautiful music for an hour and a half does not count as work. The class I was in was co-taught, so, as the sub for one teacher, I just had to sit by and watch while the other teacher– Randy Cantu— flawlessly and fearlessly taught/encouraged/conducted/coached 50+ high school singers.

I was mesmerized.

The girls were so talented, the class flowed so smoothly, and Mr. Cantu worked so hard every minute to make them better singers, better students, better people.

For an hour and a half, I listened, and I wrote what I heard. Words, phrases, advice, small admonishments, questions, answers, lyrics, and laughs. I filled my page and then some with the language of the lesson. Later that day, I sat down with my notes and wrote a found poem from the list.

I’m so grateful that I had the pleasure of watching this teacher do his job. His enthusiasm and work ethic and joy has stayed with me and, I hope, carried into my own classroom.

Here’s the poem I wrote from the words of Mr. Cantu and his students:

Listen Louder Than You Sing

1, 2, 3, ready and
so fa me fa
let me hear the la
big beautiful brave sound
tall vowels, lots of space
make sure you travel
sing what you see
la ti la so la me re do
tone, posture, contour
now we are here

ma meh me mo mu
think about that for 30 seconds
ma meh me mo mu
sing it in your head
ma meh me mo mu

Do it again from the same place
so me re me do
it gets more complicated
it’s breathy, uncomfortable
don’t give up
this business—it’ll get better over time
keep singing
from the beginning
starting from scratch and it’s ok
1, 2, 3, ready, be brave

– Carie Juettner

[found poem composed of phrases heard while observing Randy Cantu’s choir class at Bowie High School in Austin, Texas, on September 2, 2016]

*

(Take a moment this week and thank a teacher!)

 

 

Posted in Teaching

Adventures In Subbing, Part 4: The End

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Every year when I was teaching seventh grade, our school administrators gave us some sort of inspirational poster or story or memento to keep in our classroom for encouragement throughout the year. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it backfired. I remember distinctly the year the nugget of inspiration came in the form of a very short story about a woman who woke up and only had three hairs on her head. She braided the three hairs and was happy. The next day she woke up and only had two hairs on her head. She parted them in the middle and was happy. The next day she woke up and only had one hair on her head. She wore it in a ponytail and was happy. The next day she woke up and had no hair left on her head. She said to herself, “I don’t have to fix my hair today!” And she was happy.

I’m pretty sure the point of the fable was to find the silver lining in everything and stay positive, but as the year wore on, I decided what it really meant was that teaching makes your hair fall out.

I share this memory as an explanation for why I subbed so much in May. Despite working more hours than usual at my library clerk job, completing a freelance project, and keeping up with my own writing, I still made time to substitute teach eight times at seven different middle schools. Why? Because I know what May is like for teachers. At this time of year, they’re lucky if they have any hair left at all and they need a break. I know that all of those half days, sick days, personal days, and I-just-can’t-today days are well-deserved. I’m happy to step in and help.

The end of my year of subbing was just as interesting as the beginning. I watched Inside Out three times, The Lost World twice, and Scared Shrekless once. (That one was awesome.) One day I arrived to my classroom to find a bag of raw chicken on my desk. (It turned out there was a reasonable explanation for it that had nothing to do with Satanic rituals or mean pranks.) One day when some seventh grade science students playing a card game suddenly erupted into loud yells, I went over to investigate, only to have a boy calmly explain, “Sorry. I got AIDS.” (The card game was called “Defend Yourself” and was from their unit on the immune system.) And during the last half hour of my very last sub job, an eighth grade girl asked me, “Can I go ride my unicycle in the courtyard for Ms. Smith?”

Sometimes I think I’ve been asked everything in my teaching career, but that was a new one.

I think the best way to demonstrate what subbing at the end of the school year looks like and close out my Adventures in Subbing series is with a photo documentary. Here is a look back at my last six weeks of subbing, in pictures.

 

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Creepy mural on the wall of an art classroom

 

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Semi-creepy box-creature in a social skills classroom

 

Sometimes subbing looks like this... during STAAR testing, I spent four hours monitoring the boys' bathroom (one boy at a time, no talking in line). I was able to read an entire issue of Writer's Digest during my shift. It was awesome.
Sometimes subbing looks like this… during STAAR testing, I spent four hours monitoring the boys’ bathroom (one boy at a time, no talking in line). I was able to read an entire issue of Writer’s Digest during my shift. It was awesome.

 

Scare tactics-- cheesy when I was a kid, still cheesy today.
Scare tactics– cheesy when I was a kid, still cheesy today.

 

One school where I worked had goats and sunflowers. :) I like that school.
One school where I worked had goats and sunflowers. 🙂 I like that school.

 

Angry note taped to the door of the faculty restroom. The person who wrote this has zero hairs left.
Angry note taped to the door of the faculty restroom. The person who wrote this has zero hairs left.

 

I subbed in the classroom with this friendly creature on May the 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. Two teachers at the school were in Star Wars cosplay. Later, in my class, a group of boys gave their science activity a Star Wars theme. I asked them if they’d seen the teachers in costume. One boy said, “Yeah, I was psyched that I knew Ms. X was a Twi’lek.” Another boy said, “Yeah, but Ms. Y was dressed as Obi-Wan, but she had a Kylo Ren light saber and that pissed me off.” There’s just no pleasing seventh grade geeks.
I subbed in the classroom with this friendly creature on May the 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. Two teachers at the school were in Star Wars cosplay. Later, in my class, a group of boys gave their science activity a Star Wars theme. I asked them if they’d seen the teachers in costume. One boy said, “Yeah, I was psyched that I knew Ms. X was a Twi’lek.” Another boy said, “Yeah, but Ms. Y was dressed as Obi-Wan, but she had a Kylo Ren light saber and that pissed me off.” There’s just no pleasing seventh grade geeks.

 

Happy last week of school, teachers! We appreciate you! May there be a large margarita in your future.

Posted in Teaching

Adventures in Subbing, Part 3: The Whole Truth

DoingMyBest

In 2015, I added another hat to my hat rack. In addition to my Writer hat and my Poet hat and my Library Clerk hat, I started wearing a Substitute Teacher hat, which stills fits a little lopsided.

In October, I wrote two blog posts about my new role: Adventures in Subbing, Part 1: The Disadvantages of Not Knowing Anything and Adventures in Subbing, Part 2: The Advantages of Not Knowing Anything. Both posts focused on the humorous and positive aspects of the job. Yes, I shared some of my “troubles,” but those troubles mainly amounted to minor inconveniences like not knowing where to park or vague suspicions that I might be talking to a criminal (which was all in my head). I ended the second post with a rant about how the kids are mostly wonderful and you should approach every job with a positive attitude, showing respect for everyone you encounter.

I still believe all that.

BUT… now that I have more than three sub jobs under my belt, I’ve experienced a few situations which were less than ideal in a non-funny way. I don’t really want to write about them, partly because I try to keep things upbeat here on the blog (and in life in general) and partly because I don’t want to throw any particular school, teacher, or student under the bus (even if I might have wanted to a little bit at the time). I would rather just learn what I can from those experiences and move on.

The problem is, if I pretend like those bad days didn’t happen, then I’m doing a disservice to all substitute teachers who’ve gone through similar things. If I post nothing but sunshine and rainbows and ignore the ugly side of the job, then I’m lying. To myself, to my readers, and to anyone else who’s ever had a class of eighth graders completely and totally ignore them for an hour and a half.

The truth is that subbing is a hard job, and sometimes people make it even harder than it needs to be. So, in an effort to present both sides of the coin, I am admitting that subbing is not all roses and free day-old donuts.

The Whole Truth(s)

  • Sometimes your “lesson plan” will consist of a stack of uninformative packets with a sticky note on top that says, “Return at the end of class.”
  • If the school where you’re working does not have a strict policy on cell phone use, good luck.
  • Just because you accepted a job to be an aide in a seventh grade Language Arts class doesn’t mean you’ll actually be an aide in a seventh grade Language Arts class. You are a warm body on campus and the office will place you where they need you most.
  • You may, at some point, find yourself “teaching” a subject you are not qualified to teach, in which case you will feel stupid every time a student asks a question. (Example: I (an English teacher) was placed in a sixth grade math class with another sub, who was an art teacher. Sixth grade math has changed a LOT since we were in sixth grade, and we weren’t that good at it even then. We ended up having to get another math teacher to come teach us what we were supposed to be teaching the kids.)
  • While it is possible to become invested in a child’s situation after knowing her/him for only one hour, it is not always possible to make a lasting impact on that child’s situation, and that’s hard to accept.
  • No matter how old/wise/patient/rational you are, being ignored and disrespected hurts.
  • Often, there will be ZERO instructions in the lesson plan for what to do if a student misbehaves.
  • Sometimes there is not even a phone list in the room so that, in order to call the front office to ask someone to come deal with an unruly student, you actually have to look the school’s number up on your phone.
  • Sometimes a known trouble-maker will do something mean to a student with Aspergers, causing that student to scream and run out of the room, an incident which could have been prevented if you’d had any information about any of your students’ needs. But you don’t. So you spend the rest of the day trying to make sure the student is okay and, even though he is, you still leave at 4pm with a heavy, heavy heart.

Despite the negative experiences I’ve had at some schools, I still say there’s more good to be found in subbing than bad. I still say you should treat ALL students with respect. I still say you should walk into every classroom with a smile, if you want to have a chance of getting one in return. But there are going to be days when all the smiles and respect and good-planning in the world don’t work. And on those days, I wish you a safe drive home and a hug from someone you love when you get there. Or a glass of wine. Or three.

[Note: This post is old. I wrote it weeks ago and only decided to share it now. All of the sub jobs I’ve had so far in 2016 have been (mostly) lovely.]