Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Regular Teachers Probably Don't Know About Their Sub

1. I have to take my house phone and my cell phone with me when I take a bath, because I might miss work calls. I’ve missed work calls because I don’t answer my cell phone while I’m driving, until I can pull over. Sub clerks want the spot filled, and aren’t going to mess with voice mail unless I’m specifically asked for by the teacher.

2. I have to get up at 5 a.m. or even earlier in order to fit in all my morning routines, before I have to leave for work. Sometimes things get skimped on, like my exercise program or breakfast.

3. I have to prepare myself for work, scheduling all appointments around it, even when it turns out that no calls come.

4. If I don’t get a work call, I don’t get paid. That means I get a tiny paycheck in July, nothing in August, and another tiny paycheck in September. January and February are also pretty lean because of Christmas break. Easter break and testing week can also disrupt the cash flow, although not so severely because there is some variation between school districts.

5. Rising gas prices will influence how far I’m willing to drive for a half-day.

6. I can get work calls so late that I already think I have the day to myself, and then have to shift gears at the last minute.

7. I like being scheduled beforehand, but few teachers do that, even when their absence was for an event planned months ahead of time. If you really want me in your class, call me early, otherwise you’ll have whatever sub happens to be available that morning.

8. One of the many skills I’ve acquired is the ability to figure out where tiny country schools are in the middle of nowhere, and where the portable buildings are for alternative education. I’m never given a key for the latter and sometimes have to wait in the rain for the aide to arrive. (An umbrella is in my backpack at all times.)

9. Sometimes the first challenge of the day is figuring out the little “trick” to unlocking the door. Technical difficulties in general can make a good day go down the tubes in a hurry.

10. Once inside the classroom, my first challenge is locating the lesson plans -- which may be on the teacher’s desk, on the overhead projector, stuck with a magnet on the white board, or on any table in the room.

11. Subs should not be required to do morning yard duty. They need that time to look over the lesson plans, and simply find where materials are in an unfamiliar environment. Also, bear in mind, I won’t know I’m required to do morning yard duty until I find the lesson plans. On rare occasions that’s happened either just before or even after the morning bell rings.

12. Next is figuring out the roll procedure. Even if computers are used, it is helpful to give me two paper lists of the class -- one to take roll on if I can’t get the computer to work; one to make sure all kids returned after lunch. (Subs have tragically overlooked a missing child -- remember, we don’t know these kids by sight.) I try to make sure I know how many kids I have that day, but late arrivals and early departures can sometimes get that number a bit confused. Besides that, having to huddle behind a computer takes me out of my “power position” in front of the class, which may be crucial in establishing my authority. (Remember, these kids don’t believe I’m in charge until I convince them.)

12. Please leave the lists and signs I need for any sort of drill or emergency -- by the door or some other very obvious place. I will call the office at the first opportunity if I can’t find them. Because I don’t know the kids, this sort of preparedness is even more crucial for me than it is for you.

13. Please let me know where the extra pencils are, and where I can find the type of paper needed for all assignments ( or leave out a stack). I’ve never yet been in a class where somebody didn’t need a pencil, and if I have to hunt for one, I’m not teaching, and impaired in my ability to supervise the class.

14. Seating charts are hard to read when you‘re trying to find out the name of that kid with the big mouth in the middle of the math lesson; names on desks are better; name tags that I can actually put on the kids are best. Leaving me without anything that identifies the kids is not a nice thing to do.

15. When writing lesson plans, please be aware that I might not be familiar with the materials you use. If you just say “Kids do their Flapdoodle”, I might not know what the hell you’re talking about. If the kids know, please tell me where it is (in desks, or stacked on the counter, etc.); it reduces my anxiety level.

16. If a lesson is incomprehensible to me, or just isn’t working, I will do something different. Overplanning is better than under planning, but I can pull a lot out of my bag o’ tricks if I have to.

17. Because I’ve worked in a lot of Special Ed classes, I can usually distinguish between the kids who have learning disorders and kids who are just being obnoxious and react accordingly, but it’s nice if you give me a head’s up.

18. If kids are 2nd grade or younger, I will let them go to the bathroom, regardless of what your policy is. (One girl and one boy at a time.) Accidents at school are no fun for any of us. The system I like best for older kids is giving one “Potty pass” per day, then having them suffer a consequence in exchange for any more than that.

19. Do not tell your aide to take over the class for the day. It’s insulting, and I’d rather be teaching than just following an aide around. Your class can endure minor variations in the usual presentation for one day.

20. Please give me a list of which kids ride the bus, which get picked up and which go to SERFF (the after school program). It’s especially important to tell me if a child is forbidden to go with a non-custodial parent. Remember, I’ve just spent a day with these kids and I’m lucky if I’ve got their name memorized; I don’t know their parents either by name or by sight. I have to trust the kids for that.

21. I’m usually happy to do your correcting for you, except for writing (I don’t know what your rubric is), or math where there isn’t a key (quickly going down a row of math facts is fine, but I’m not going to calculate answers to a whole page of problems). I usually won’t stay past 3:30 to do this, unless we have an exceptionally good working relationship. If your kids have been really horrible and my nervous system is fried, I might not stay even if you want me to.

22. I will give you a report about behavior -- if your class is really terrible, I won’t sub for you again until next year. My favorite teachers are those who put the fear of dire consequences into the kids should they get their name written down by a sub.

23. I will have a bad attitude if I see:

A.) Lesson plans that include the insinuation that I’ll do nothing all day but show movies and play games if not warned otherwise.
B.) School policies that threaten to take you off the sub list if teachers complain about you. Your principal will get any warm body with a credential in there rather than teach all day, and we all know that, so cut the crap. Besides, I resent the implication that I won’t do a good job unless threatened.
C.) Principals that create menial jobs for subs to do in order to keep them around until 3:30, even when I’ve taught 4-hour Kindergarten or on minimum days. By this I don’t mean clearly useful things like correcting and copying, but I don’t appreciate being told to rearrange bookshelves, sweep floors, or to ask if I might “help” in other classes (teachers always say “no” in the afternoon, and are annoyed at the interruption) just so you can feel like you’ve gotten the last ounce of work out of me for your money. It’s not like we’re paid that extravagantly. Any principal that tries this, by the way, eventually gives it up as more trouble than it’s worth.

24. I will have a good attitude if I see:
A.) Principals and staff that say things like “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
B.) Secretaries that tell me that teachers asked to have me back.
C.) Kids who clearly fear what I might tell the teacher because they know they’ll be in big trouble when she gets back, if I give a bad report.
D.) Well-written lesson plans with the materials logically organized, including any teacher’s manuals and keys I might need. The best arrangement I ever saw had materials in piles labeled “morning”, “after recess”, “after lunch”, and “extra”, including everything that was needed for me and the kids for each lesson.


Friday, January 07, 2011

American Veda

I've been reading a lot of books lately about the history of yoga, and alternative spirituality in general, but I thought *American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles, to Yoga and Mediation -- How Indian Spirituality Changed the West" was worth a review. I don't usually review books here, but this one really grabbed me.

Goldberg’s main thesis is that what he calls “Vedanta-Yoga” has had a profound impact on American religious thinking. The book starts, as all books on alternative religion in America seem to, with Emerson, and traces the Vedic thread through New Thought, Theosophy, Vivekenanda and the Vedanta Society -- as well as a full chapter on the prominent intellectuals influenced by them, then on to Yogananda and his Autobiography, and the Baby Boomers and Beatles visit to India in the Sixties. There is also a chapter about the dark side -- the scandals associated with some of the prominent gurus in the ‘80s, as well as the deep disillusionment of their followers. Then, the impact of “practitioner/pundit” -- just as the best and the brightest of young Baha’is did in the same era, some of the kids that turned to Vedanta-Yoga became professional academics in order to study their new religion.

One thing is made clear from the beginning: We aren’t talking about normative Hinduism as it is practiced in India. Goldberg asked us to picture the situation if someone had introduced a Christianity into the East that was “ a mixture of the intellectual rigor of the Jesuits and the contemplative practices of mystics.” That is, it would be barely recognizable to its original adherents, and much adapted to the soil in which it was planted.

In fact, the teachers that brought Vedanta and Yoga to our shores made a point of telling us we did not have to abandon our Judeo-Christian heritage in order to benefit from them. One of my favorite stories in the book involves a Westerner who went to India to consult with a guru, who asked him if he prayed to Jesus. When he said “No”, that he’d left the Catholicism of his childhood behind, the guru slapped him in the face and told him that he’d just swapped one narrow viewpoint for another, and to start praying to Jesus again! Others who abandoned their churches (or synagogues) returned enriched by their detour through Hindu spirituality, with a renewed interest in Western mysticism. Along with putting Sanskrit words like “karma” and “guru” into the dictionary, Vedanta has influenced virtually every form of “alternative religion” in America, including the “spiritual, but not religious” trend. Every time you hear someone refer vaguely to “the Universe” or “Higher Power” instead of God, you’re hearing Vedanta. The idea that there are many ways to God is another popular Vedantic idea -- the one which led me to abandon the Eastern path for the more Abrahamic Baha’i Faith, which puts a very different spin on it. (Some of the ideas that Goldberg describes as coming from Vedanta are also found in Sufism -- which with Baha‘i has a lot of affinity, but there’s no doubt that it’s the Indian influence that has popularized them in the U.S.)

One of the most interesting points the book makes is that many times people aren’t even aware of the source, and may not have arrived at the door of Vedanta-Yoga through spiritual seeking at all -- a person could be just looking for relief from an ailment, addiction, or stress. Hatha yoga, certainly, is generally presented as a purely physical practice, almost completely separated from its roots as an aid to meditation, but nevertheless exposing practitioners to Vedantic ideas, however vaguely. And, it sometimes acts as a springboard into a deeper investigation of Hindu spirituality. Goldberg even talks about the appeal that Vedanta has in the scientific community -- a group which is usually thought of as being indifferent, or even hostile, to religion. Indeed, one of the major advantages that Vedanta-Yoga has is that it does not require one to take scriptures literally even where they conflict with science. It’s very pragmatic -- you try it yourself and experience the results, much like a scientific experiment.

One thing that Goldberg mentions is changing is that younger generations, while still interested in Vedic religion, are far less na├»ve and less inclined to give themselves over completely to a guru. In fact, my guess is that some of the scandals emerged as the Baby Boomers themselves matured enough to say “Hey, that behavior’s not o.k.” and were willing to blow the whistle. One thing I’m seeing, that Goldberg doesn’t mention is that more overt adherence to Hinduism is becoming acceptable, especially with women seeking feminine forms of the divine. On the Internet, I’ve found comments like “Lakshmi is my home girl” and “I’m so glad Durga came into my life.”

I found the whole book fascinating, and found myself clicking my Kindle highlighter every few pages in some chapters. And, I couldn’t help but think about the impact that the phenomenon had on my own spiritual development. I was introduced to it at the age of 14, by my uncle -- he’s at the older end of the Baby Boom generation, and I’m at the youngest cohort (depending on how you define it). I read, and still have a copy of the Isherwood translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. The idea that God allows souls to come to Him through many paths was an exciting revelation, and a principle I continue to hold to after all these years. But I eventually abandoned Eastern religion as a dead-end , attributing the nightmares I had to my meditation practice. Even more significant, the way Vedanta was presented to me back then was very intellectual, and in my heart I missed the devotional and emotional side of spirituality -- a history that made me an almost perfect candidate for conversion to the Baha’i Faith.

But the more I read about alternative religion in America, the more I have to confront the depressing truth that Baha’is are barely a blip on the radar. (That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to non-Baha’is, but when you’re in the Faith, it seems like the whole world.) Not only has Vedanta-Yoga permeated American culture to an extent that even the non-religious are influenced by it, the Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (HIMMs) started by individual gurus had more initial success, more long-lasting and stable communities (in spite of some rocky moments), and more American followers than the Baha’i Faith has ever been able to achieve, in spite of nearly constant effort for the last 120 years. I don’t suppose the Baha’i administration will ever ask itself why.