A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sub Job Gone Bad

Since I never identify schools or school systems, and since so few people are reading my blog, I can blog truthfully about my experiences without causing a firestorm.  Recently, I subbed at a high school where I had a few students on one end of the spectrum who demonstrated attitudes and skills that would get them into any college in the country, and had another class where I was genuinely concerned for my safety, the safety of the students, and an overall lack of respect for the academic environment in the classroom and in the halls.

In 2nd period, I taught an honors class.  I saw a wide divide in the quality of academic attitudes and analytical skills even in that class.  Responses to one question revealed differences in the quality of thinking perhaps more than any other:  explain the differences between Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens. Many students wrote the same answer that Homo Neanderthalensis were "less creative" than Homo Sapiens. Since it was obvious that students had copied each other rather than read the article, I replied that their conclusion about Neanderthals lacked creativity.  Another student noted some of the anatomical differences listed in the article:  Homo Neanderthalensis had a thicker jaw, more body hair, and a smaller brain than Homo Sapiens; she too noted cultural differences, but backed it up with evidence of cave paintings and tool differences reported in the article.  I held up the A quality answer to compare and contrast solid analysis versus uncritical thinking.

My 6th period class was a "normal class".  Upon entering the room, one girl who arrived after the bell wearing stilleto heels, bold pink lipstick, and a hot stuff attitude, pulled out a perfume bottle and sprayed it into the air in the direction of the person next to her.  Another girl talked breezily about the baby she was carrying, and felt it okay to leave the room without permission to help deliver candy canes.  Students who had no business being there entered the classroom without invitation.  I mentioned the possibility that I might have to call security to remove them.  Several others felt it okay to sneak out the back door.  As an announcement came over the loudspeaker that schools would close 2 hours early, a number of students in the class became loud and unruly, which made it impossible to hear the announcement about changes in the lunch schedule.  The hallways began to fill with a mob of unruly students.

Minutes later, a student in another part of the building pulled the fire alarm, forcing the entire school to exit the building into the snow and the fire trucks to arrive.  The class's emergency folder had no class rosters, no evacuation route, and no procedures for reporting whether all students were present and accounted for.  In exiting the building, a number of children in the hall began running and screaming.  Students, who seemed to have no prearranged gathering place, milled around the street until I urged students to move out of the street.  Had there been a real fire, I would have had no way of confirming whether all students had exited the building.  At least 10 students failed to return to class.  Concerned about the level of school-wide pandaemonium, I protected myself by having students sign in and stood guard by the rear door.  I remembered a training session on school safety I had attended shortly after earning my license.  The tagline:  don't be a victim.

Within minutes a second false alarm occurred.  The entire school was again forced to stand out in a snow storm without coats.  We remained in a waiting pattern for over 40 minutes while we waited for the firetrucks to arrive a second time.  During that time, I noticed a few students drive away.  I shuddered to think of what would happen if an inexperienced driver ended up wrapping their car around a tree after leaving school grounds under these conditions.  Again, some of the same students failed to come back to class or were more than 10 minutes late. Again, I had students sign in.  At the end of the day, I went to the Sub School Office and compared attendance sheets with the sign in sheets to identify students who had taken advantage of the situation.  I then highlighted the names of students who had failed to return so that they could be held accountable.

On a second day, sometime during first period, one student climbed inside a cabinet to skip class without anyone noticing – I called Security after he suddenly popped out from inside a cabinet during 3rd period.  During 5th period, I accepted one child’s quiet recommendation that I call Security to have a student removed from the class.  The self-proclaimed “smartest kid in the class” had been defiant and had been mocking me so I quietly called Security.  He pleaded with me not to call, but I had had enough.  We quietly discussed the matter while waiting for Security to come, and the young man shared with me that he was afraid that he would be kicked out of the school, which had made a special arrangement allowing him to attend AP classes there.  The rest of the class was visibly relieved.  Throughout the class, I was able to offer lots of one-on-one coaching with a complex reading assignment.  It was nice not to have to compete with a disruptive student.

In my sub report, I noted that the emergency folder lacked fire drill instructions, lacked class lists for taking attendance, lacked a clear evacuation route and gathering place, and that students had demonstrated a total lack of readiness for an emergency situation, as evidenced by their yelling and running in the classroom and in the halls.  Plus, I noted that several students failed to return to class, so I reported them.  Hopefully, since I kept my report in-house, my comments will be interpreted as feedback, rather than as criticism.

What bothers me is that the majority of students are there to learn, and the teacher has developed quality assignments, and keeps snakes and other live animals as pets, but teachers and students alike are too willing to tolerate defiance and disruptive behavior from a loud and obnoxious minority.  The class average is a 63%, which reflects an inability of the average student to focus.  A few brave students quietly helped me, but something is definitely wrong with the culture.  Responsibility should be the norm rather than the exception.