Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Go Play Outside

A typical mother statement. Whenever the weather was fine--or just not raining--my mother sent us outside to play. And we were happy. At my house, when it is not raining, I send my children outside to get some fresh air. I think children of all ages like to be outside.

New Jersey has experienced one of the wettest summers in years. Every time I turned around, it was raining. And when it wasn't raining, the humidity made it feel like you were underwater anyway. So when I was asked to substitute for high school senior physical education classes, and the rain had finally ended, and the children were studying tennis, I was thrilled. I love tennis. Once again, I assume everyone loves tennis. But I should have remembered. I am working with a different animal here. Teenagers...teenagers who don't like gym class.

When I came into the gym all excited, a ball cap on my head, my sunglasses on, and announced to the class that we would be going outside to play tennis, you would have thought I had asked them to run a marathon on broken bottles--barefoot!

Aw, it's too hot out!"

"It's September," I remind them.

"I have to stay out of the sun!"

"Nice tan for someone who needs to refrain from sunshine," I say.

"My feet get too hot."

"Wear thick socks to soak up the moisture," I tell him.

"I don't want my makeup to hair to nails to break."

"Life is tough," I tell the girls.

Like I say in every class I substitute for in high school. You will not like everything your boss asks you to do, but if it is part of the job description, then you need to do it--without complaint. This is the same with college courses. You won't enjoy every task the professor asks you to do, yes there will be a lot of work involved, and no, you may not like every group member for a specific project. So get used to it now.

Well, we did go out. Yes, they still whined, but it wasn't that it was too hot or too much sun. These teens should have been playing baseball. Every time they hit the tennis ball, it was a homerun! Over the high fence into the parking lot, over the fence, past the driveway, and into the self-storage area, over the fence, through the bushes, and onto the front lawn of the school. We retrieved some of the balls. We lost others. Let's just say that by next class, I needed more tennis balls. At least they were exercising and participating, which are most of my substitute duties in physical education class. Now if I could just teach them how to keep the ball in their particular court, I'd have it made!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Human Biology

When I substitute for teachers, I love to look around their rooms and learn from the information displayed on bulletin boards and models, magazines and textbooks. I learn so much this way. However, when I substitute for the human biology teacher at the high school, I try not to notice anything in the room.

There are reasons why I took chemistry in college. I firmly believe that the Lord put skin or an outer covering over the bodies of the creatures he made for a reason. Yes, it is to protect the body from infection, but also to cover the icky parts so that we do not have to see them if we don't want to. I admire medical people. They are saints in my book. Mothers, too. My five children have displayed more than enough red stuff for my liking. I do not wish to see what the good Lord so graciously covers up for us more squeamish people.

I am rarely called on to substitute for this teacher, but when I do, I enter the room with trepidation. The teacher prefers the real to the plastic in most things, and she changes her displays with the curriculum, except for the real human skeleton that hangs in the front of the room. I remember scrutinizing it the first day of my science class substituting. It looks more brown beige than the yellow white plastic ones most teachers display, and it hangs loosely, threaded together with eye hooks and wire. That's when the students told me it was a real skeleton. As I backed away from the skeleton, the students delighted in showing me the real cow fetuses in various stages, the pigs' brains, and the sheep stomachs in the classroom. All these biological parts of the anatomy sealed in glass boxes of formaldehyde solutions are like a treasure to the class and, I'm sure, the teacher. But to me, they are the icky parts that the Lord conceals with skin so that we do not have to look at them.

When I substituted for the biology teacher this time, I knew to look at the floor as I walked to the front of the classroom. I said hello to the students without lifting my head and went straight to the teacher's desk to view the plans for the day. I screamed and the students wanted to know what the problem was. The problem was that a complete forearm; okay, the radius and the ulna together with all the metacarpals, was sitting on top of the plans. The real forearm of the real skeleton. I guess it must have fallen off. It was only held on by wire, remember.

A male student came and took it away so that I could get to the plans, but then he started playing with it, stuffing it into his sweatshirt sleeve and raising it as his hand to ask questions.

"I understand that everyone can use an extra hand once in a while," I informed him, "but if you break the skeletal forearm, the teacher will use yours to replace it."

He immediately returned the forearm to my desk.

"Not on the desk!" I screeched. "Put it on the side lab table toward the back!"

Now for the day's plans. I usually assist students with any documentary video sheets; however, in biology...let's just say it is extremely difficult. I try not to watch. Only listen to try and catch the answers on the worksheet. As long as the students are actively engaged with the video, we work together and I stop the video early, marking the time on my substitute report for the teacher, and we as a class discuss the video and answer questions. I must say, I do learn a lot this way.

The Gift of Inner Sight

Like many people, I believe that where the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window...or two. This is especially true with a beautiful young student I know. She is blind, yet she possesses a vision much clearer than mine.

She has an aide to assist her, carry a Braille writer and book shelf, and offer her an elbow for guidance in clogged hallways. Of course, the assistant does so much more; type up her tests in Braille, coordinate state assistance in Braille and abacus work for blind students, etc. As a substitute, I am merely a pack mule and guide for her as she navigates her school time world.

As for the many windows the Lord has opened for her, memory shines the brightest. Not only can she remember classroom material, but also math examples from weeks ago. When the teacher put a problem on the board for review, she immediately remembered the two-step operation and numbers and didn't need her abacus, her "scrap paper" according to the teacher from state services, in order to answer it. While I'm repeating the problem on the board to her, thinking she couldn't remember it, she informs me that she remembered it from weeks ago and knew the correct answer.

Kindness shines through her smile as she greets all who address themselves to her, while goodness sings through her voice. A confidence springs from her step. Indeed, when the hallways are clear, I can't keep up with her and her sweeping cane. Of course, I'm lugging over 30 pounds with Braille writer, shelf, and my personal bag. At least the school provides a book caddy for her to wheel behind now. Last year when I substituted as her aide, I had to help carry the Braille books too. So I'm lugging less this year, and I shed my own personal bag at lunchtime to help with the afternoon classroom run.

Now if I can only stop asking her what color the science notebook is, I'd feel so much better.

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's a Media Center

This is the hard part. I grew up in libraries. When I am surrounded by books, I'm in a library. But when I substitute for the elementary school Librarian--I mean Media Specialist--I need to answer the phone, "Media Center." When the students come to library, the class, I need to instruct them on how to find books in the "Media Center."

I love being surrounded by books. Whenever I have a moment, I browse the shelves looking for classics and authors I know. But students need to find books quickly. In one class period, they don't have time to explore the library, and they shouldn't just pull out books searching for something interesting because invariably they will shove the books back in the wrong spaces.

Remember how I said I learn so much substitute teaching? Well, after reminding the classes all day long that non-fiction is divided by subjects in the Dewey Decimal System and then giving each class the numerical breakdown provided on the cheat sheet prepared by the Librarian [drat! Media Specialist], one of the fourth grade classes asked me if I wanted the class to sing the Dewey Decimal System song.

"A song!" I exclaimed. "Absolutely." What a wonderful way to help students learn, making knowledge into music, the information into a song. It works. I still remember, from sixth grade, the preposition list song to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

This class of experienced singers knew every word to the Dewey Decimal Song, and soon I found myself swaying to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad. Unfortunately, I can't find the specific words online to the Dewey Decimal System song, or the song sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad. However, I did find teachers singing the Dewey Decimal System song to the tune of Louie Louie by the Kingsmen.

What do you think? Doesn't knowledge through song make it easier to remember? What songs do you remember from school?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Busy Summer!

I have not forgotten my Substitute Teaching blog. This summer, I have been very busy writing other manuscripts and busy with family matters.

Please forgive me. I will be back...and soon! Thanks for following my blog.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kindergarten Math

They have Math, too, in kindergarten. The lesson plan said, "Read the Ten Black Dots book to the class." Then under that, the teacher noted "brainstorm with the children objects to draw." I always worry about brainstorming with young children. I mean think about it. Of course there is going to be a "storm." We have one adult brain pitted against twenty-five six-year-old brains. The last time I exchanged ideas with kindergarteners, I became hopelessly mired in the "Guess what?" scenario. So I was leery to open up a discussion about things that the children could draw ten of on paper relating to our Ten Black Dots book.

"Let's name some concrete things to draw on paper," I told my wiggly carpet sitters.

"What's 'concrete'? A boy asked.

"Real things that you can touch," I responded. "Like flowers." I was thinking about what six-year-olds could draw.

"Like eyebrows!" Someone piped up.

"Eyebrows?" I questioned.

"How about toes?" Another student asked.

"Umm," I responded.

"You can use eye balls," a little girl said.

"Wait," I tried to get hold of our 'brainstorming.'

"Fingernails," a boy sang.

"But you have to be able to draw the ten things on paper for the teacher," I said.

"Seamus' freckles," a stout boy said.

I felt my body being sucked into the swamp called "kindergarten math" and wondered how I was going to break free to move onto the next lesson. Then a quiet little girl whispered in my ear, "how about rainbows?"

"Rainbows," I shouted above the din. Children can draw rainbows, I thought. I felt my feet loosen in the mire. I hugged the little girl and told her to return to the carpet as I knew others would rush me if she didn't.

"Butterflies," another student shouted.

"Great," I said, "we've got the idea now. Back to your tables to draw ten same things on the paper I will pass out."

I pulled my feet completely free from the swamp and hurriedly passed out the paper so as not to allow my little Michelangelos to forget what they were to illustrate ten times. Then I gave each of them ten black dots to place on their drawing page.

Walking around the tables full of chattering students, reminding them that they only needed ten things, I did notice some eyebrows. At least, I think they were eyebrows. They could have been single-lined, charred rainbows. Only a few students had actually placed little hash mark hairs on their arched black lines. And then there were the toes...ten oblong black boxes--minus the toenails.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Famous Females Filmstrips

Women's month. I think it is wonderful to have students research famous women for women's month. To make the fourth grade Social Studies project more interesting, the teacher I substituted for wanted eight unique facts about each student's researched famous woman displayed on paper filmstrip-type boxes. These paper "filmstrip" printouts looked like the old fashion filmstrips that used to be shown in theatres, remember those? I do.

The students had--supposedly--researched the eight facts and were ready to fill two of the eight filmstrip boxes. The idea was to write a fact in the top of the box and then draw a picture of the fact and color it. Simple, right? But as I circulated the room checking on progress and keeping students on task, I found that clarification was needed in several cases.

To keep this post length reasonable, I'll speak about one particular student's famous woman, as it sticks in my mind so. Mother Teresa. What was the fourth grade student's amazing fact about her? Mother Teresa gave chocolate to the poor kids.

...Chocolate...why did it have to be chocolate, and why now?

"No, Sweetie," I informed my brilliant fourth grader, "Mother Teresa would not give chocolate--especially the large chocolate candy bar you have pictured in your film box--to poor children. These people are starving. Chocolate is a luxury. Mother Teresa would have given them something a little more nutritious. Probably a basic food, usually a thick liquid served in a bowl."

The fourth grade wizard thought for a moment. "You mean chocolate syrup over ice cream?" She offered.

What's with this girl and chocolate, I thought.

"This isn't working," I told her. "Give me another fact that makes Mother Teresa an important woman."

"She got a prize," the young lady told me.

"What was the prize," I asked.

"Chocolate," she told me with an angelic face.

Okay, God, you are testing me, right?

"Dear," I told her, "I gave up chocolate for Lent. Could we not use the "C" word anymore?"

The fourth grader shook her head yes.

"Good," I said. "Then I'll tell you what prize Mother Teresa received. It was the Nobel Peace Prize for her good works taking care of the poor in India."

"Did she have chocolate at the party?" the fourth grader asked me.

I just shook my head and moved onto the next student. It's going to be another long, long, long Lent. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teacher-led P.E.

In our elementary schools we have teacher-led P. E. The good thing about this situation is that I can still wear professional clothes when I substitute teach as it is only a small portion of the teaching day.

Along with the other sub plans, the fourth grade teacher left "Hot Potato" as the teacher P. E. class for the day. P. E. followed an intense after lunch math double period wherein the students were supposed to be "reviewing" equivalent fractions. In my attempt to make a visual picture on the whiteboard to explain the concept of equivalent fractions, I drew a lopsided circle and divided it into what was supposed to be halves. I erased it. I thought I could do better with squares. I couldn't. It only got worse. I never realized how poor my geometric shapes were until I tried to show visually that 2/6 equals 1/3 and 2/8 is 1/4. And forget the tenths and twelfths.

"That doesn't look like the same size to me," one particularly observant young man informed me and the rest of the class.

"Use your imagination," I instructed. Or just believe me, I thought. This is supposed to be review, according to the teacher's plans. "This worksheet is review," I reminded the students, although I am a visual learner too.

But back to my teacher P. E. Hot Potato. I can do Hot Potato, I told myself. Potato, potato...I just need a potato.

"The ball we use for Hot Potato is in the classroom closet," the Class Informant told me and then ran to the locked closet, yanking on the doorknob.

"Oh," I said. "The locked classroom closet for which I have no key." The Informant turned to look at me. "No worries," I told the Informant. "We just look for a sweet potato."

"Huh?" the class asked in unison.

I searched the desk and found a plastic pencil box. I emptied the box and told the students to form a circle, sitting on the carpet at the front of the classroom. Music, I need music. I'd hate to have to recite Hamlet's soliloquy for it would fall upon unappreciative ears.

"We use a tape player," the Informant told me. One that wasn't in that blasted locked closet, thank goodness.

"Okay," I told my fraction fried darlings, as they made the tightest circle I have ever seen. "I will play the music and stop it and whoever has the "potato" is out, understood?"

"Oh, we know how to play," the Informant assured me.

Yes, I thought, but I'm not looking when I play and stop the music. This saves me from any discussion of playing favorites. I didn't have to worry, though. As I stopped the music, 30 children pointed to the one who was out.

So I continued to watch my time to be able to fit in Social Studies class after this. The students who were out would not sit in their seats. They preferred to crowd a circle that was much worse than any I had drawn on the board during math class to cheer on their fellow students. The noise level rose considerably until a winner was announced by the Informant. I was exhausted. I guess this is P. E....but for whom?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

M.D. P.E. Class

Hello, readers. Sorry for the hiatus on the blog, but I've had a two and a half month substitute teaching job at the high school. I was a Health and P. E. teacher for special needs students. Then there were the holidays, and snow days, and a three-day writers' conference I was lucky enough to attend. But back to substituting for now...

Just as substituting for kindergarten has its challenges, substituting for special needs classes require special planning to be able to engage all students at all times. An impossibility, you say. Maybe. You need to do the best you can. The classes were a mixture of mentally and physically challenged students, and I had the same classes each day. One day a week I did Health; the other four were P.E. I had no lesson plans left by the original teacher. I was on my own.

So I turned to my resources. I had a few student aides in my classes, so I spoke to them first as they knew the students best. I wanted input as to whether my idea of eye/hand co-ordination with throwing or hitting various sized lightweight balls, footballs, baseballs, beanbags would work. I contacted the Special Education Department at school to learn student levels and to see what was expected for the students. They told me to make sure I taught health once a week and to contact the head of the Physical Education Department to see what to teach. The P. E. Department head told me that it was my class and that I should try and keep the students active. Right.

Active I could do. I led warm-up exercises and cool down stretches. But I wanted every student to be a part of the activities. Here is where I needed to learn. The students were receptive to trying new activities, but the activities needed to be performed on their terms. They were a competitive bunch. I tried obstacle courses with two teams where students had to jump rope, hula hoop, and catch passes thrown by the students in wheelchairs and then cross the finish line. But some students couldn't jump rope or hula hoop. So I modified the course. Students jumped back and forth over outstretched ropes on the floor ten times. Stepped inside hoops and pulled them up over their heads, and then caught passes from their fellow students.

Once the students taught me modification, our activities broadened. We played kickball with a softened red bladder ball which the wheelchair students threw into the field and had a designated runner to first base. We played whiffle ball with an oversized bat and ball using an aide to pitch. We tried badminton with large rackets and birds, volleyball with beach balls. We worked our way up to volleyball with the real volleyball and even tried floor hockey--which they loved best! I was nervous about someone getting hurt with the ball, so I found a half whiffle ball/puck and demanded that all sticks remain on the floor at all times or the game--and therefore the hockey unit--would be over. An aide and I demonstrated the proper technique to play a sport, but modifications were made so that everyone could play.

I decided to deal with the food pyramid and healthy eating in Health class. I incorporated the importance of daily exercise and cleanliness into the mix. I made note cards for myself of facts that I thought the students would be interested in and always tried to find something visual to show them, posters, internet images, hand held models. Students could ask questions, and if I didn't know the answers, I told them that I would find out and let them know.

I must say that I enjoyed the daily challenges these students brought, but I am glad to be able to wear something besides gym attire when I substitute now.