Well, as I left my last job post at an awkward place I thought I should probably begin my holiday post schedule with details on where I’ve been all month!
I mentioned in my last post that I received the call for the job at 8pm on a Thursday night, and I started work the next morning. I didn’t really know what to expect, but as I have done other short-term extended supply work before I assumed it would be similar. In those situations, I was basically just a proxy for the regular teacher–a licensed teacher in the room for legal purposes. In every other scenario I’ve been in, I either had lesson plans pre-made for me, or I was given the materials and I just worked with what I had. I was still able to communicate with the teacher, and all marking went home to them–not with me.
This time? Not so much.
I walked in at my regular time on Friday morning to find utter chaos on this man’s desk. Not only were there no instructions or plans, I couldn’t even piece together what the previous supply teachers had done as no one had left any coherent notes.
Another teacher in the department came into the room seconds later and looked from me to the pile on the desk and just began apologizing. He quickly told me that this teacher had already been out for two weeks, not one, and that I was the fourth supply teacher to come in during that time.
Oh, and that he had absolutely no idea what the kids had been doing for the last 2 – 3 weeks. No one did. He handed me a pile of photocopied ISU (Independent Study Unit) handouts for my classes as a peace offering, then told me just to take the day to talk to the kids and figure out where they were. He guessed that my two periods of Grade 9 English were somewhere in Romeo and Juliet, and that my Grade 10 English class might be just finishing To Kill a Mockingbird. He then apologized again and hurried off to prep for his own classes.
I looked at the clock–8:25am. I had 15 minutes to try and plan out my day. I quickly shuffled through the mess of attendance sheets, handouts and marking that littered the desk looking for something that I could use as a guide, but the most detailed notes I found were “Great day. No problems.” left from a teacher three days previous. Feeling wholly unprepared and a little nervous, I made my way over to the classroom to begin the day.
As the bell rang for each class, it quickly became apparent that these kids had ruled their classroom for the last two weeks. There was no semblance of a seating plan, they had forgotten all concept of listening when the teacher was speaking, and most were blatantly sitting & texting on their cell phones while I explained their new situation. One kid even sat down with a bucket of greasy chicken and ate his lunch in the middle of my class.
I quickly made a decision: deal with the lessons first, and the behaviors second.
In each class I explained to the kids that I was going to be their new teacher until the end of the semester. As I had been in with these classes before they all knew me and (for the moment) were okay with the decision. As I began to piece together what they had been doing for the last two weeks I learned that they had basically been a complete waste. My Grade 9s were indeed in their Romeo and Juliet unit, but when I asked them to show me where they were in the play in their books, they all looked at me blankly. A few began offering plot points to me, which raised my first red alarm. So, I asked:
“How have you been studying the play so far?”
My heart sank a little when a student told me that they had been watching not one, but two versions of the film, and that they were in different places in each movie. I’m trying hard not to judge, but the teacher before me (who claimed to be an English teacher) decided that it would be easier to show not one, but two versions to take up some time. So, my kids knew all about Leonardo Dicaprio and basic plot points, but when I asked them about themes, language, and literary devices they all looked at me like I had grown a second head. I immediately made them all take out their books and we began backtracking and learning how to read Shakespeare as this was their first time ever being exposed to it.
My grade 10 class was no better. They had indeed finished their To Kill a Mockingbird unit… two weeks ago. They should have been well into their Shakespeare unit, but instead had spent two weeks fiddling around with their essays for TKAM… which were still no where near done when I arrived. I told them that they had until Monday to get it in to me. Period. They too were used to running the room and I knew I’d have to do a major overhaul come Monday morning.
At the end of the day I wearily sank into my chair and realized the extent of what I had signed up for. In all my classes, the ISU units had not even been introduced, let alone started. I was basically starting at square one with all three Shakepseare units.
…and there were only 5.5 teaching weeks until the exam.
To say I was stressed is an understatement. I already knew that the first two weekends in December were booked–my aunt was visiting the same night I started working and I had book club on the first weekend, and the Hubster’s mom flew in to see us the next.
…and then I discovered the marking. I wasn’t told what happened to the teacher I replaced, and I still don’t have a clue. All I know is that he basically had to drop everything to take a leave of absence, and that no one is really in contact with him. If ever I absolutely need something, I have to go to my department head who then makes arrangements to get in touch with this man. On my second day there, my grade 9s asked me when they would be getting their essays back.
I soon found out that they had handed in essays to their teacher, who had taken them with him (unmarked) when he left. This is another story all in itself, but by day three I had three sets of class essays to mark that I hadn’t assigned… along with a pile of other things that had been left or collected in his absence.
As far as the behaviors go, I laid down the new laws on day two. No more cell phones in class. Period. If I’m talking / teaching, they are not. Only healthy snacks in my classroom. And new seating plans… glorious new seating plans. I didn’t win many friends that day, but I did begin to see their respect. I also abandoned the films for Romeo and Juliet, much to their dismay. We backtracked through the first two acts, then began reading the play in Act III. The poor kids had no idea how to navigate through the language, and as they continued to ask every day when we’d be watching the movies again, I let them know that the films were there to help them understand after reading, not before.
Besides, they had already seen most of them anyway. *sigh*
I’ve now been teaching for three weeks, and I’m just beginning to feel like I’m getting my bearings. I’m still very nervous for January as I have no idea how I’m going to fit everything in before the exam, but I know I can handle it. The hard part is knowing that those two weeks before I came in were just… wasted. Each week is precious in teaching time, and now I know I have to really push the kids just to make sure they have what they need to be successful on their exam.
So, I’m still muddling through things as I figure everything out, and new surprises crop up every other day. On my first “official” day of the assignment, I learned that I also had caf duty for the week and a staff meeting. My department has been wonderful though, and my department head continues to reassure me that I’m doing a good job and helps me in whatever way he can.
Do I regret taking the assignment? No. I wish I had known exactly what I was walking into when I started, but I still love this school with all my heart. My only reservation is that in less than a week I’ll be 9 months pregnant and the countdown to my due date will really be on.I just didn’t expect this kind of work this late in my pregnancy–I mean, really now, I was 8 months pregnant when I was offered the job. I was so sure that I’d be on daily supply until my maternity leave that I boxed up all my teaching books and sold my desk.
(The Hubster loves that I have since completely taken over our kitchen table with piles of marking and prep work. ha.)
It just goes to show that you can never really know when an amazing teaching opportunity will pop up. I am thrilled that I’m able to have this experience before I venture into motherhood… it’s just stressful knowing that I am now responsible for whether or not these kids pass or fail. I feel like I have so little time to teach them what they need.
But, such is life. So, I take each day at a time and hope for the best.
And hope that this little wee-bean likes my belly enough to stay in there until the job ends on January 31st!