Sunday, August 23, 2009

Substitute Teaching in Rural Northern California

I meant to do a write-up on this last week, when I thought I would have the leisure -- because I almost never get called during the first week of school. But, I got called for a three-day job on the second day of school, and then again for Friday. That's substitute teaching -- you never know what's going to happen, and your day's plans can change by a simple phone call.

From what I hear, subbing in a rural area is quite different from doing it in a city -- even a small city. There, you pretty much work for a single school district, which keeps you working every day. It's almost like having a full-time job. All the large districts are now automated, so you can pick an assignment online, or you get a recorded message by phone.

I work mostly in Tehama County, but I'm also on the list in Glenn County, going as far south as Orland. I don't work every day -- and that's not from choice. If I don't get a call, then I don't work, and there's no way I know of to make there be a job when there isn't one. I have run into subs who claim they work every day, but I have no idea how they manage it. As a new sub, I hardly got work at all, in spite of running around to all the schools and dropping off a card. It takes time before you establish the relationships that get you onto the "short list".

One of the districts I work for has just started an automated system. In some ways, it seems great to be able to just pick a job out of a list -- although none have appeared, so far. On the other hand, if my most regular districts did that, I'd miss the personal touch. There are some teachers who call me first, then when I assure them I'm available, they tell the sub clerk about the arrangement. Can't do that kind of thing when it's all taken care of by computer. Most of my jobs come from "regulars" i.e. teachers that ask for me.

Another thing that's different from urban subbing is that you have to work for several districts -- unless you don't mind a lot of days off or have a special relationship with a particular district. It's a bit complicated at tax time, because I get W-2s from each individual district -- and they vary from year to year. I don't get *a* paycheck. Each district sends me a check separately. If anybody had reason to attach my wages, they'd have a helluva time chasing them down.
Each of these districts does their accounting differently, too. In a rural area, a district can be quite small, containing only one little elementary school, in contrast to a city where a school district can have dozens of schools. Red Bluff is the largest that I sub for, and it has three elementary schools and a middle school.

I didn't start out to be a sub -- almost nobody does. Almost all substitute teachers are either just out of school and hoping to get into a permanent position, or they are retired teachers who are just earning a bit extra. For one thing, the pay is extremely low compared to having a full time job. I make between $85 and $115 per day, and there are only 180 days a year I can work -- and I don't work all of them. You do the math. Most people who don't get a permanent job move on to something they can make a living at. It wasn't so bad for me, really -- once I got past the disappointment. Before becoming a sub, I was a stay-at-home mom, so we were used to getting by one income. And I love the job.

One of the great things about being a sub is the variety. I normally work in K-5, but in special education I've worked with every level from preschool to post-high school. I've worked in resource (which is mostly tutoring for kids in regular classrooms), and in community day school (which is for kids with behavior problems.) I normally avoid the larger middle schools, but in the one I do work in I've taught every subject, including fly fishing and calf roping. (Only in Red Bluff would you get an elective class in calf roping!) A job can be for half a day; the longest I've ever worked in one place has been three months.

And I love the kids -- the eager kindergartners wanting to share their achievements, the autistic kid making a breakthrough, the middle-schooler just developing an interest in politics or science fiction or whatever.

You have the bad days. One probably isn't supposed to say this, but there are some classes that are just impossible. When I get one of those, I don't sub for that teacher for the rest of the year. That's the reason I don't do middle school any more; I'm not so desperate for a day of work that I have to put up with spitballs, rudeness, and refusal to stay on task. After seven years of substitute teaching, I'm fairly skilled at getting kids to do what I need them to do, but I'm not a miracle-worker. Part of it is my own temperament -- I can deal with an autistic kid in full meltdown better than a snotty group of 7th graders who decide it's fun to give the sub a hard time. But mileage varies from teacher to teacher. I've known teachers who are at a total loss with little kids, and some are downright scared of special ed. (Oooh, yuck, diapers!) Some teachers just love teenagers.

Anyway, another school year has started. I'm not scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change the next time the phone rings. With substitute teaching, you never know . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Of Course Exercise Won't Make You Thin

The Time article "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" is getting a lot of discussion out there. Apparently, like those who drink diet soda, Americans who hit the gym just make up the lost calories by eating more. It's big news, I guess, that vigorous exercise makes you hungry. That's why ranchers used to serve huge dinners at lunch time to their hands -- after a morning of hard physical labor, they were ravenous.

O.K., I'm going to come out with a dictum: Do not think about weight loss, do what is healthy for your body. Don't exercise to lose weight; exercise because it makes you healthier and especially resistant to the maladies of middle age. Don't eat right to lose weight, eat right because your body needs you to. Now, if you do this, you may very well take off some weight, in a slow, sustainable way. It probably won't make you acceptable in anyone's weight table, or get you into size 5 jeans -- but if you put your focus on that you'll only make yourself crazy, which doesn't improve your chances.

Like most overweight people, I have a history. I was small as a little kid, and around the age of 8 I started getting chubby, probably due to emotional overeating and Mom's lack of cooking skill that led us to eat out quite a bit. But when the courts sent us to live with Dad, my step-mother put me on a diet, and as it happens, I was just hitting puberty. So, the summer I turned twelve, I lost ten pounds and grew three inches. The fat, rejected, teased 6th grader turned into a cute 7th grader who got whistled at when she walked to school. It was a catepillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis, made even better by the fact that starting school in a new town meant that no one knew I'd ever been fat.

At fifteen I was full-grown, and perfect: five foot four-and-a-half, 125 pounds -- and an emotional basket case. All the folks who just say fat people just need to summon up enough will power to stay away from the donuts really don't have a clue. You don't get anywhere by lecturing someone who is depressed; you have to take care of the depression before they can get their act together, on anything.

The weight began creeping up: "Oh my gosh, 130 pounds!" So, I dieted -- 1000 calories a day, lunching on an apple and a can of diet Pepsi. I did that several times through high school and college, literally shedding tears over it. Fat meant nobody would like me. Fat meant I was a horrible person. Fat meant I didn't have the right to exist on the planet. It was a huge emotional trip.

Frankly, that why MeMe Roth makes me mad: She's really just an adult version of the playground bully, who makes it her business to tell the overweight that they are disgusting and shouldn't exist. (She was complaining about plus size panty liners, for heaven's sake!) Her health message -- and some of her points are valid--gets lost in her finger-pointing.

But I digress. The weight crept up, and I dieted. Then it crept up again. Somewhere in there I pretty much decided I had to live on starvation-level calories for the rest of my life, or I was doomed to fatness -- faced with that choice, I gave up. I was around 140 pounds when I graduated from college, and afterwards, I quickly plumped up like a Ball Park Frank.

Healthy eating takes cooking skill, and money, and I had neither. It also takes a certain amount of emotional stability, and those post-college years were really the low point of my life. Somewhere, as I matured, I began shifting my focus towards health, rather than recovering my adolescent beauty -- which by that point would become impossible, thin or not. I'd go on an occasional "health kick", then it would slip away. At this point, I resented the amount of mental attention it required; I'd get bored and want to go on to something else. The problem with fitness gurus is that health is their profession, or at least, their main hobby. Normal people have other interests they'd like to pursue.

A few years ago, I started working on making sustainable changes -- things I could live with. For six months, I didn't lose any weight, but I felt better. Then, I was diagnosed with diabetes. This gave me a motivation -- I'd really just as soon keep my eyesight, and my toes. With further dietary changes, strict watch over my blood sugar, and water pills for high blood pressure, I took off thirty pounds. Slowly, over a period of a couple of years -- and to date, I've kept them off.

But the weight loss stopped. I don't know if it's accurate to call it a plateau, because I've been stuck in it for close to two years. I eat around 1800 calories a day, and every time I try to go lower than that, I just get crazy hungry and am in bigger danger of eating the wrong foods. I'm still working on where I can sustainably cut.

Anyway, the focus these days is health -- whole grains, veggies, good fats, exercise. Health is something I can feel good about, and it distances me from the emotional traps involved in losing weight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's My Birthday and I'll Blog if I Want To

I turned 49 today -- an age that doesn't get much in the way of special attention. And August is invariably the bottom of the year for us financially -- I haven't had a paycheck since early July, and there are back-to-school expenses for the kids. Not a good time for going out to dinner in a nice restaurant. So, I celebrated by going to see "Julie and Julia". I don't mind at all going to see a movie alone -- I never really got why some people think that going to the movies is a social occasion. In fact, I like just being out on my own, doing my thing. The last movie I saw was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", and my kids, who are old enough to know better, talked so much that I found another place to sit, feeling rather that it was a mistake to bring them along.

"Julie and Julia" is definitly a chick flick, and judging by the audience, an old chick flick. In fact, most probably remember Julia Child being on public television. But unlike most films of that type, I laughed most of the way through it. Meryl Streep was as terrific as all the reviews say she was. I was reminded very much of my Grandma, who liked Julia Child because, in spite of the fancy cuisine she taught, she was very much a *real* person. Grandpa could never stand her voice -- but he had a thing about voices. I never got to watch "All in the Family" as a kid 'cause the second Edith hit the high note in the opening song, Grandpa would change the channel.

But Grandma loved Julia, and she loved cooking. "You cook by feel", she'd say. And I found she's right -- at least the way I cook. I don't have much use for making my way through a fancy recipe which requires a lot of special and expensive ingredients that I don't normally have around my kitchen. I make things, like soup, where I can just use what I have. No canned tomatoes? Fine, I'll just throw in some V-8 juice. Beans, onions, celery, carrots and some herbs will make a soup of some kind -- and if I have fresh parsley, so much the better.
So, for me, Julia Child is more fun to watch in action than to actually try to emulate. She was a character -- and in Streep's performance, at least, I got the picture of a woman who really loved life.

Also, from what I understand, she didn't think much of the current fears about fat and carbs -- and she lived to be 92. I wouldn't dare add all that yummy butter to anything nowadays -- I use olive oil on my breakfast toast, and that sparingly. (Locally processed olive oil -- good stuff!)

The reviewers were rather negative about the parts of the movie that dealt with blogger Julie Powell -- and I think that's a bit unfair. A well-loved personality like Julia Child played by an actress like Meryl Streep is an unfair comparison to just about anybody. Julie Powell took on a tough project, and wrote a good blog about it. If I was trying to cook fancy and unfamiliar cuisine in what Grandma would call a "t.v. dinner kitchen", I'd probably be reduced to a meltdown or two myself.

Anyway, I had fun watching a lot of talk about fine dining, without actually having a birthday dinner.