In the Suburbs / A fulfilling year as a classroom sub
Updated 5:10 pm, Thursday, June 20, 2013
Sticky days have arrived. A lot of Fairfield's graduating seniors and eighth graders by this week already had "checked out" of doing much of anything. But substitute teachers like me are actually busier than ever.
Another busy year -- this one extended due to the wrath of Mother Nature, particularly Sandy and the February blizzard -- will end next Thursday.
My substituting year began in Seymour at the high school and middle school, where I am also on the sub list. Within a week of working with the same middle school team, I had most student names memorized and was teaching language arts and social studies and monitoring math work sessions (math is not my strong suit, as I've admitted before).
I enjoy middle school because I often get the opportunity to actually teach --something I did in the mid- to late-60s. Middle school students are still pretty real, even the eighth graders, whose sights are often focused on high school.
My Fairfield assignments kicked in pretty early in the fall with some work at Fairfield Woods in sixth grade. I love sixth grade because the students genuinely seek guidance, even from a sub, who may only be able to help them understand directions.
While my limited math/science skills make me barely dangerous in those three areas, I still needed to be on my game from the beginning -- practicing strong classroom management skills and sticking to plans, despite my substitute status. There was mostly in-class work sheets -- lots of group work -- or educational DVDs or video tapes to augment class work while the teacher was away.
Technology was probably the most challenging part of my substitute life. Throughout the Fairfield district, there is a broad range of equipment and configurations just waiting to become any sub's worst nightmare.
What's great at both middle and high school, however, is that all teachers leave us explicit instructions for how to operate their particular systems. I have to say, after five years, that I'm definitely getting much better at popping in DVDs and having them work right away.
This subbing year was much more fun for me because I was able to get my older daughter, who is searching for a special-ed position, into the system, and she was often doing a long-term special education gig at Fairfield Warde or Fairfield Woods.
On a couple of occasions at Woods, we taught together, because she had a collaborative class with a sixth- or seventh-grade teacher. I am hopeful that she might become part of the system in the fall.
Easily my most enjoyable assignment this past school year was the Monday just after holiday break when I found myself in the sewing/quilting class at Roger Ludlowe Middle School. The teacher was out for several days, and once I told her colleagues that I quilt, I became part of the team very quickly. The students got to work on their projects, especially the eighth-grade quilts, and in no time I was cutting fabric, assisting with some basic questions about quilting. My quilting guild got a real chuckle out of my special assignment.
While my mainstays were Warde and Woods this year, some of my assignments did take me to Fairfield Ludlowe High School, assignments I enjoyed a great deal, because they were English and social studies. In one AP class, the students were discussing Toni Morrison's book "Beloved," and I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of their discussion.
Among my most rewarding work this year was in special-needs programs, where I often squired one or more students to classes and worked in resource centers. I cannot say enough about the dedication of special-ed teachers and para professionals. They are all amazing, compassionate people.
Every year that I sub, I meet wonderful teachers and students. Of course, some students are tougher than others, but none are so impossible that I have ever run screaming from a classroom. The beauty of subbing is that I get a new identity every day, and if I'm in a school often enough, most students will even remember my name. Everyday is "showtime."
Most importantly, I believe I continue to make a strong contribution in any classroom I cover, despite my substitute status, and I know my colleagues feel the same way.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.