The Long First Day

I signed up to sub as a TA in ECI, which is basically preschool for children with special needs. They kindly requested I sub for Art instead.
I had not planned or prepared to teach independently yet, but agreed to be flexible. The office staff informed me, I would only have three classes to teach. These were all in the midday and afternoon.

Insufficient Sub Plans

The teacher left insufficient, confusing sub plans for me to follow. For example, the sheet informed me that I apparently had hallway duty at the main hall intersection (with no map telling me which of the 2 intersections was the appropriate one) in the afternoon from 3:35 to 3:45 pm; however, my last class was not to dismiss until 3:40 and the teacher showed up to pick up her class a few minutes late.
The sub plans did not match up with the worksheets left, and I had to make a decision to roll with the worksheets rather than try to find the ones that matched up to the written plans.

After looking at the worksheets, a coloring activity, I quickly realized that there was an issue. There was no way it would take the students an entire hour to complete the single assignment. Indeed, some kids (even the youngest bunch) completed it with 30-40 minute of instruction time remaining. I found the sub stash: coloring pages. I decided to allow free-draw or coloring a 2nd item.
Leaving a substitute with so much empty space to fill is a recipe for disaster.

Classroom Management

All new substitutes have to figure out how to deal with managing students. I’m still figuring this out. Having extra time with no direction is NOT a help in this situation. No “behavior” information posted in the classroom or next to the sub notes is also challenging. Perhaps I just didn’t look in the right place, but in an unfamiliar classroom putting things in easy to locate spots is the best thing to do.

That aside, I was NOT at all prepared for my first class: 4th Grade!

This class was CHAOS unleashed. I felt like I was running around putting out fires rather than teaching, guiding, or instructing. One child managed to get crayon skid marks all over the floor, jam the pencil sharpener with an eraser, and move the carpet while I was correcting crayon throwing at another table. I got the sense he wasn’t a troublemaker so much as he had some other challenge (such as ADHD). In retrospect, I lost control of that group at the beginning. I was not authoritative enough, and went in survival mode. I didn’t yell at the students, praised good behavior, and remained calm, but I just didn’t know how to get them to be quiet and listen.
My other classes, a 2nd grade group and Kindergarten group were slightly smaller and easier to manage.

What I Learned

  1. Always be prepared to teach anything. If I had packed my sub bag with my rewards box, I may have been able to bribe them into better behavior.
  2. Figure out how to call the office and when it’s appropriate to do so. In retrospect, I should have started writing down names (challenging when you don’t know their names) and should have called the office on the destructive kid or written up. My first sub experience, I didn’t expect to have such chaos.
  3. It doesn’t matter if they like me. While I know this, it’s still difficult for me personally to remember since I am naturally the kind of person who craves approval. At the end of the day, my job isn’t to be liked. It’s to guide and instruct.

Becoming a Substitute

The process for becoming a substitute teacher is different for every school district.

My school district is unique in that it is HUGE. While many districts have around 3 to 15 schools, mine has around 120 schools with over 82,000 students spread out over an entire county. What this means for substituting is that the county must have a huge reservoir of sub teachers across the district to meet their needs.

That also means that substitutes are in demand at almost every school. It also means that the county is motivated to move the process as quickly as possible.

Requirements

In my district, you do not need a college degree or any sort of teacher certification to substitute. This is not the case everywhere. In Pennsylvania, for example, even substitutes must hold a Bachelor’s degree as well as a valid teaching certificate. Where I live, you must have 48+ college credit hours, but no degree or certification is needed. There is a higher pay for teachers with Bachelor’s or higher level degrees, but the only thing you must have a Bachelor’s or higher for is long-term substituting.

Other than that, you have to pass all the background tests and go through legal processing. That’s pretty much it.

Training

The only “training” my district offered was a 2+ hour long YouTube video. Training is not grade-level specific, meaning that it was meant to cover all of teaching in K-12. It covered classroom management basics; however, even within an elementary school setting these things can vary considerably! What works well with a group of second graders who have a primary teacher might be very different than a 5th grade class that has departmentalization (where 3-4 teachers separate curriculum) where you are only with each group for 1-2 hours.

Things which vary from school-to-school, are completely ignored. These things include important aspects of the day, such as attendance taking, lunch counts, following a teacher schedule, etc. In one elementary school, for example, a designated student or staff member might visit each classroom to collect attendance sheets or lunch counts. In another school, students take these down to the front office at a specific time in the morning.

Each teacher also has their own classroom structure and requirements that it is impossible to prepare for. Does Jimmy go to the nurse after lunch? Is Nadiya allowed to eat in class? What plans does the teacher have for the day? If the schedule says Music 10:15-10:45, what time should you line up to leave?

Getting to Know the School

Luckily, for me, the schools I plan to sub at are ones I am VERY familiar with. That means I already know most of the staff, the layout of the school, the basics of how fire drills work, and some of the students.

This is essential for any substitute. Fortunately, even if you have never been in a school before, these can be learned. Eat in the teacher’s lounge to meet the other teachers. If someone is already in there eating, sit with them and ask what grade they teach.

The first time in a school substituting, even if you have been there in another capacity (parent/volunteer/visitor) is the hardest. It gets easier!

Substitute Teaching: Week One

I’ll post on another day about the process of becoming a substitute teacher in my particular district. The only thing you really need to understand for this post is that there is basically no substitute training. The only “training” is legal requirements and watching a video about classroom management.

None of these things prepared me for my first day of substituting.

Parenthood

The only thing that really prepared me at all was: parenthood. I elected to sub at schools my children attend. That means that I already had a level of familiarity with the staff, the facilities, & the student body. This was especially important since they attend two very different schools. One is a typical elementary school. The other is an education center for kids with severe disabilities.

Teacher Assistant Subbing

I decided to start out as a Teacher Assistant (TA) sub to get my feet wet. Many schools have some sort of Para or TA that also needs substitutes. These positions can help you get used to a new school and classroom setting. It can also slowly introduce you to other staff around the school.

The positions typically pay a little less but lack the responsibility of a full teacher. Another challenge, is that TA positions are sometimes for special needs classrooms, which makes the pay seem too low for the required work. Sometimes it is, but those classes need subs just as much as the others do!

Special Education

Special education can be very intimidating. As a parent to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 3 (ASD3), which is the end of the spectrum which requires significant support, this was not a deterrent for me. The other deterrent is often the lack of teacher sub needs. A classroom may have 1 teacher with 2-4 assistants, and that assistant job pay is less desirable.Many subs go into special education (SpEd) settings with unreasonable expectations. I didn’t have this barrier.

Unfortunately, I found little to no resources anywhere on special needs/special education substituting. I’ll update more on this topic later.

If you want to sub SpEd, here are some quick tips:
1. Nobody needs your pity. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) feeling sad about their disabilities or needs.
2. Don’t be intimidated by bodily functions. Some kids drool, some need help toileting or changing diapers, & some need help feeding.
3. If you need help, just ask. Usually, the staff will guide you through everything, but don’t just stand around, ask where you should help.

Long Time No See

When I started this blog, it was with the idea that becoming a SAHP would mean I had time to devote to creating and maintaining it. Partially because I thought I would be bored. Mostly because I forget how unmotivated I can be.

Despite slowly cutting back on my work and devoting more time to the home, I find that I am always busy with a wide variety of chores, volunteer activities, and errands. I’m trying to decide if keeping a blog is a worthwhile endeavor enough to balance the expense of URL ownership.

Home Updates

I’ve been on a home updating campaign! Everything from installing new light fixtures to painting rooms to minor repairs. I’m slowly chipping away at my list of things I want done. Sometimes they seem fairly minor, like buying a table umbrella stand so my umbrella doesn’t try to escape anytime it’s windy, but they all add up. It all helps to mitigate 10+ years of wear and tear on the house.

Volunteering

I could not even begin to estimate how many hours of my life I spend volunteering. I hold executive board positions for a couple groups: the PTO and my family’s ancestry group. On my plate, I have a little bit of everything: historical research, newsletter creation, website and social media administration, secretary, committee chair, committee member, event volunteer, and more. I reallocate my spare time to relaxing or volunteering.

Working

I am actually in the process of cutting back on freelance work. The balance between trying to work and handling the homefront is rough. The amount of time compared to the rate of pay is just not sufficient enough to justify the time allocated to working. Instead, that time can be better served elsewhere. I actually looked into a variety of alternative part-time work options. The dominant issue with working outside the home is that my child-related schedule interferes. I need to be home during snow days, school breaks, sick days, doctor appointments, and the entire summer. Even with a job like substitute teaching, before/aftercare to allow it would require more resources than I currently have at my disposal.

Conclusion

For now, I will attempt to update this blog again regularly. I have until November, I believe, to decide if it is worth my time.

Eat, Sleep, Work, & Play

I rarely get a chance to update this blog anymore. Which is disappointing, but not unexpected. There is a ton going on during regular daily life that keeps me occupied and between eating, sleeping, and working (the paid stuff, parenting, and volunteering), there is barely time to play around on blogging.

Eating

Sounds exciting, right? Well, it isn’t.
I am working hard to try to start being more mindful about food though. I am trying to limit my grocery shopping purchases because we waste a lot of food when it sits unused until it goes bad. Which means, I am finally taking the time to do something I should have done a long time ago: Meal Planning.

I have a love-hate relationship with meal planning because I like flexibility in cooking/eating what I feel like. As a result, I do weekly meal planning with the mindset that I will eat them all within the week but not necessarily on a specific day.

For lunches, I am also trying to eat more meatless meals (2-3 per week). I am not interested in being a vegetarian or vegan, but this allows me to consume more plant-based foods. Obviously, there are health benefits to increasing fruits and vegetables in my diet. Today, I ate a roasted bell pepper with a rice and red beans mix. Last week, I had a risotto with beets, pistachios & goat cheese. Delicious.

Sleeping

I’m sure I’ll do that sometime. Just not sure when.

Working

The hardest part of being a stay-at-home and part-time-work-from-home parent is balancing work with home. Unlike a job outside of the home where there are very distinct boundaries, working at home means the lines get blurry. I sometimes feel guilty for not providing any income. Other times I feel guilty for not doing enough around the house.

The nature of freelance is unstable, so I like to take as much work as I can when its plentiful so I don’t worry so much when it is not. I enjoy it, and it keeps my mind active, but I know I can only do the bare minimum during summer to stay active and handle the increased parenting workload.

I am grateful that I can be home to support everything on this end though, even though it means our family income isn’t what is once was. It also means I get to volunteer more, which I do.

Playing

I just took my biennial cruise with the girls to Mexico/Belize/Honduras. So, I shouldn’t complain about playing. I’m lucky to be able to do that. Here is a picture of the Bacalar Lagoon we visited in Mexico after touring Chacchoben (Mayan ruins) nearby. Now, I’m already planning more fun times for the future of places to visit and things to do with friends and family 🙂

Bacalar Lagoon in Mexico

My Year as a SAHM

It’s been about a year since I officially became a Stay-At-Home Parent.

I quit working at an office to stay home and manage the kids, especially my youngest. I still freelance to earn some extra money and to keep my skills active.

So far, it has been a pretty good experience. Not perfect, or without its challenges, but definitely good overall. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Continue reading “My Year as a SAHM”

My Top 2018 Reads

Every year, I set a Reading Goal for how many books I plan to read that year.  In 2017, I got a little over ambitious with a goal of 75 books, but since I met that goal (see My Top 7 reads of 2017 here), I decided to set my 2018 goal to the same. Unfortunately, I missed the mark by a single book. Since 74 books is still a creditable amount though, I’m okay with that.

I usually use Goodreads to track my books, and like to go through them at the end of the year to select my favorites of the bunch.

My 8 Favorite Reads of 2018

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15 Healthy, but Yummy Snacks

I’ve been attempting to snack better.  So, each trip to the grocery store I try to pick up a couple new things to try.  I love salty and sweet things, so finding things to satisfy my cravings while keeping me happy is not always easy.

Most of what I was looking for was alternative options with less salt, sugar, and “fluff” than my typical snacks, but they still had to be things I would actually eat!

Continue reading “15 Healthy, but Yummy Snacks”

ADHD and School: Part Two

If you have never set through an IEP or 504 meeting at school, you are missing out on some fun.  No wait, I’m thinking of ice cream socials. IEPs and 504s are more like Parent-Teacher Conferences with an added helping of bureaucracy.

Not that they aren’t helpful or necessary. They are. But, the meetings are also a step before a step (a formal written plan) to take other steps (the actionable items in the written plan).

Continue reading “ADHD and School: Part Two”

ADHD and School: Part One

The kids are back in school! Finally, I have the house to myself during the days so that I can actually get some editing (and chores) done!

But, it’s not all sunshine and daisies, because with the new school year comes…parent-teacher conferences.

No, I’m not talking about the one every parent is invited to attend in November to review quarterly process. I’m talking about the one for ADHD kids. You know, the one that happens less than a week into the new school year.

Oh, you didn’t know about that one? Well, let me tell you…

Continue reading “ADHD and School: Part One”