Working?

My substitute-teaching substitute career seems to be taking off. I got a half-day job a week ago today, and then as I was getting out of bed on Tuesday morning, the phone rang with an invitation for an all-day job. Of course, I didn’t even hesitate to give up all my plans for Tuesday and actually go to work. (For all you readers who are former students—I got to be Mr. Mac.) It was an enjoyable experience, although as I admitted to one of my former colleagues (now that I’m just a temp sometimes, are my former colleagues still “former” or are we colleagues again?), when you are substituting, each day kind of feels like the first day of school every time—that same nervousness which anyone who has taught will probably recognize.

from the Andrew website

The kids behaved well, and Mr. Mac came up with generally enough work each period to keep the class busy. With his eighth-graders I got to play English teacher briefly, reviewing the plan and parts of a friendly letter. Since almost every class completed some kind of assignment, the best part of the day was not having to grade one blooming thing.

No, I take that back. The best part of the day was the extensive lunch-prep period during sixth hour. I had taken along one of the composition books that Tara and Betty had given me during their little recognition ceremony at Thespian initiation of the year I officially quit coaching speech. (They gave me a whole wad of cute/joke gifts, most of which I have enjoyed and used in one practical way or another.) I had taken it along previously one day when I went to visit Janet for lunch in Dubuque, and while waiting for her to get off I had written a few hundred words and sketched some ideas out (so I wouldn’t forget them) for “Mantorville.” You read some of what I had written yesterday. During the free time I had (and I will admit, during time that students were working on assignments in a few periods) I actually churned out several thousand words continuing the horror story. You should be reading some soon—probably Monday. If this story ever turns into something marketable, that is successful working on Tuesday as well.

(By the way, isn’t anyone going to come up with a clever title for this apparently eternally untitled horror story?)

Even better, my presence at school has already created more opportunities to actually earn money. I will be subbing again next week for a part-day and for a full day again by the end of the month. Oh the joys of earning cash again. Everyone kept telling me that subbing felt freer than actual teaching. I must agree.

my current (but soon-to-expire) teaching certificate

When I first started teaching, oh those many years and decades ago, in the mid-Seventies, although we did have to learn about Madeline Hunter lesson plans, I can’t remember in those years doing any kind of stupid paperwork at all—no submitting lesson plans, no curriculum guides, no stsate-mandated garp whatsoever. (Of course as a new teacher, I also got thrown in with the sharks—I mean kids—with no assistance, no guidance except for whatever I might have accidentally gleaned from my education courses in college, no supervision, no nothing except myself. On the other hand, the State of Iowa considered me a “professional” educator: I had my Professional Certificate. Today my Department of Education certificate is known as a “Standard License.”  The not-so-subtle reprimand at educators seems obvious.) All we had to do was teach. Not so today. Well, unless you’re a substitute teacher.

In the last fifteen or twenty years of my career, I began to realize that the teacher was expected to spend, oh, about a third of one’s time completing required paperwork, and I don’t mean homework or even grades. I mean state-mandated curriculum guides (although God forbid we should call them that today; that term is so late 80s/early 90s, and Department of Education bureaucrats have to keep coming up with new names and new systems to keep us on our toes and to maintain their really-rather-pointless jobs).

The dreary time-wasting began with a requirement to complete Scope and Sequence documents, I think in the early 90s. I bought into this endeavor and worked very hard—on old Apple IIs and dot-matrix printers— to create an elaborate (and probably unreadable) formal listing of just what got taught in my subject areas from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. It seemed reasonable and important to chart the course of education throughout the district, making sure to avoid unnecessary repetition from grade to grade. Completing our scope and sequences did help focus our educational efforts. And I even willingly put them through the required revision less than five years later. But then came President Shrub and the No Child Loves Bush (NCLB) regulations from the federal government—gee, thanks right-wing dictators (to whom “smaller government” is a meaningless phrase with which to attack the Left while the Right actually invents huge increases in governmental intrusion into all aspects of private and public life). Now nothing mattered except mandated paperwork and mandated standardized tests. Endlessly, repetitively. And boy, did the State of Iowa Department of Education burst into a frenzy of required documentation.

This time it was known as Standards and Benchmarks. First, each school was to come up with its own standards and its own benchmarks (if you want to know what these terms were supposed to mean, check them out for yourself somehow), and we did. But within eighteen months of getting started, suddenly we were to make use of standardized standards and standardized benchmarks provided to us through mandatory sessions at our local Area Education Agency. At first, the schools in each region were going to work out amongst themselves their agreed standards and shared benchmarks (later, of course, the state imposed its own unoriginal S & B garpness). I remember at an early session trying to get the standards for high school English to be:

1] A student can read. 2] A student can write. 3] A student can listen. 4] A student can find information effectively.

Whoops! Far too clear and easy! Couldn’t do that, ever. Of course, the eventual standards and benchmarks—still available at the DE website—say pretty much that in less clear terms.

But standards and benchmarks are passé.  No Child Left Behind—oh, the irony of that lying phrase—put into motion a whole new world of educational jargon. And just a few years ago the State of Iowa Department of Education moved into even higher realms of pointlessness—the infamous Core Curriculum, for which they haven’t even yet come up with samples, but about which teachers have been attending required monthly all-day meetings for more than a year (and thereby recently provided me the opportunity for that all-day sub job on Tuesday).

Yes, I am being cynical. But wait: five years from now there will be a new set of requirements with all new terminology asking teachers to present in yet another way the same old information about what is happening in the classroom. And no one will read it. And by then even less will be going on in the classroom because more and more paperwork will have to be produced for no one to read.

Then again, if I bother to establish my substitute license, there will be all the more opportunities for me to replace real teachers in their classrooms and make money.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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