My name is KJ/Kerry-Jean.
I’m a 24 year old trying to make it in the exciting world of teaching high school history. Due to the complete lack of available education jobs right now, I’m currently stuck working as a substitute teacher. The only highlight of this situation is that I had ample time to complete my Master’s Degree in History.
Reading has always been a passion of mine. What started as an interest in classic mythology and fairy tales as a kid has now blossomed into a fairly substantial obsession with building up my personal library. I don’t read for escapism, but rather to push my mind to new limits, so I’ll admit to being a bit of snob when it comes to literature. I will always read a book before criticizing it, but I have difficulty taking some of my friends seriously when they gush over the newest romances or vampire trends.
This blog is my love note to literature. I use it to explore many different genres at once, discuss some of my favorite authors, and highlight books that I feel deserve more credit from the general audience. If you ever have suggestions or are looking for recommendations, I’m all ears.
How It Starts: “Can I have a hall pass?”
The Problem: Unless you’re addicted to the label maker, then I don’t know where you store different materials throughout your classroom. Are the hall passes in the top drawer of your desk? Is the stapler next to the computer printer? Do you have any extra cough drops for the kids?
I don’t want to go through your personal things, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The search for paper clips/pens/high lighters often means that I’m opening a couple drawers on your desk, searching around the classroom and asking students to look through the many shelves lining the walls. Sometimes finding our materials is simple, but sometimes the search means that I’ll be accidentally discovering your secret hidden cache of personal items.
Substitute teachers often snoop simply because we don’t know any better. We’re not deliberately invading your personal space and looking for that hidden Mars Bar. Instead, we’re just trying to navigate your classroom without a guide - Sometimes, the places where I would personally store the post-it notes is going to be where you keep your date book. Our brains just work differently and I couldn’t have guessed that.
The Solution: This is a two parter:
1. Lock up the drawers and cabinets that do not house necessary classroom materials. It may seem extreme, but that is the only way that both subs and students will inherently know that “Oh, I guess that I shouldn’t be opening that.” Even if the only thing you’re protecting is a coupon for one free Big Mac, you deserve to have your personal items kept safe and private. A lock is a simple and very effective way of making sure that no one accidentally snoops through your belongings.
2. Any materials that students typically need should be kept out in the open. aka, not in (or on) your desk. Lined paper, the stapler, pens, pencils, tape, textbooks, paper clips, highlighters, etc. These are things that the students do not need permission in order to grab on their own.
Any materials that subs typically need should be kept right on top of your desk, not within any drawers. Hall passes, lesson plans, worksheets, referral slips, etc. These are the things that only a teacher should have access to. Keeping them on top of your desk means that they are within easy reach, are immediately visible and the sub does not have to search for them. If you are not comfortable keeping these things in view, then place them within one of the top drawers of your desk and then label that drawer. Reference the drawer in your lesson plans to the sub and put some form of identification on it, like a magnet or sticker.
If your sub has to hunt down items, then something is wrong. Never assume that we will intuitively know where you keep any item.
Do you have any advice and experiences you could share that would help someone starting out as a substitute teacher?
1. Bring your own resources. This includes multiple pens, a package of lined paper, post-it notes and a book. If you’re subbing for a math or science class, bring along small calculators as well. Students will ask you for them and having your own will mean that you don’t have the waste time searching the classroom for the teacher’s supplies.
2. Always leave a report behind for the absent teacher. Specifically name the students who were absent, how the class behaved, any ways in which you deviated from the lesson plan, wish the teacher well and legibly sign your name at the bottom.
3. Always have an outfit picked out and a bag packed. At some point in time, you will get that 6am call and there will only be 5 minutes to roll out of bed, get dressed and ignore the speed limit on your way to school. Everything is easier if you’re already prepared.
4. Get to know the school’s secretaries and butt-kiss at every opportunity. They know what’s going on in the school at all times and they’re the ones who need to like you. Know their names, know their pet peeves and always be nice as pie.
5. Give the students an inch and they’ll take a mile. Most students already tune out when they see a sub, so it is worth your while to be more strict than you otherwise would act. Don’t hesitate to send pot-stirrers down to the office or write out referrals. If the students know that you mean business, they’ll be more likely to work with you. But if they see that you’re lenient, then they won’t even consider you a real teacher.
6. Learn how to use your school’s AV equipment. You’ll be spending lots of time watching movies in your classes, so know how to set it all up. This may sound like stupid advice, but most schools have outdated equipment that doesn’t work so well - Ask around, know the tricks and don’t get caught with your pants down.
7. Write your name on the board. It’s simple and highly effective - That way, students aren’t just yelling out “Hey!” when they need your attention.
Looking to get some ideas so I can see if our library can order some great books before we get into that unit.
What aspect of Africa are you interested in teaching about? Because the continent is huge and diverse - That’s a lot of mash together into one unit/lesson/concept. Not only is it a time and scope constraint, but: Seeing you consider the individual communities (or nations) would be a good model for students to start thinking of Africa as more than just a monolithic landmass.
But to start off with, here are some of my favorites:
“Child of Dandelions” by Shenaaz Nanji follows a Ugandan girl in 1972. Think of this as a teen version of the film The Last King of Scotland. This is a decent description of Uganda’s history and also gives students a historical perspective that they usually aren’t taught about.
“The Egg Polisher and Other Tales” by Funwi F. Ayuninjam is a collection of folk tales from Cameroon. The stories are short, fun and are a great way to teach about culture. High schoolers may feel that the stories are beneath them, but there is a lot of good literary criticism that can happen here.
“Amanfi’s Gold” by J.O. de Graft Hanson is set in Ghana. It follows a couple teens who search for the mythic gold of Asebu Amanfi. Although it takes place in modern society (it was published in 2003), Hanson makes a point of using cultural folktales and urban legends in order to comment on social issues.
“Baals of the Niger” by Gabriel Orji might be a little dense for high schoolers, but it has one of the best discussions about the impact Christianity had on Nigeria. This is a good post-colonial novel that shows the fight between traditional and imported cultural values.
If you want to read through more, I recommend that you check out the African Books Collective. It’s a great website founded and owned by African publishers. Not only is it a high database for African-based books, but if you have any trouble getting access to any of them, the publishers have all books available for instant order.
Gave my students a pop quiz today and learned something new:
If you make all the answers to the questions C, you will see 35 of the most hilariously panicked and confused faces in the world.
are you satan
you really do not live up to your url
In 9th grade biology, my teacher used to have the multiple-choice answer key spell out vocabulary terms. However, he’d intentionally misspell them.
I will never forgive that man. I’ll respect him until the day I retire, but may he rot.
Today, one my students asked me, “There really isn’t a movie of The Catcher in the Rye?” I said no, and he said, “So we never really find out what Stradlater looks like? That’s such a bummer… I want to know what Holden looks like, too.”
This is the new generation. They need a movie in order to picture a literary character.
This rubs me the wrong way.
Visual learning is not just a generational thing. Even decades ago, there existed students who needed visual cues in order to retain information and truly understand complex concepts. Reading comprehension is an incredibly difficult skill to develop as it is: There has always and will always be children who have difficulty interpreting the written word and understanding the connection that writing can have with real life. That is one reason why illustrations have so often accompanied educational written works. Even hornbooks would have small pictures and changes in text size in order to help the reader make connections.
Yes, students today are more accustomed to having technology at every turn. They’re used to films and televisions showing them exactly what the characters are experiencing at any given time. This means that they often don’t have the opportunity to develop such skills as creating their own imaginary visuals from written words. But we have to remember that their environment is not their fault. We cannot blame students for existing in a social climate that they have no control over.
And you know what? Your student will never actually “know” what Holden looks like. Even if they are able to become completely engrossed in the process of reading and create their own mental images of each character, that is only one interpretation of the character among millions of others. It’s fluid and will change over multiple readings of the book, not to mention that it will change from reader to reader. For students who have difficulty accepting that sort of multi-faceted interpretation, one single answer is much more appealing and attainable. That is when a film benefits their line of thinking - It still leaves the book open to interpretation, but gives them a far more concrete idea of how they should go about thinking about the story. This isn’t laziness. It’s a way of adapting the resources around them in order to serve their own personal needs.
- Gilbert Murray (via historical-nonfiction)
I’ve had roughly a year to mull over this book since I last posted about it. While I don’t entirely disagree with what you’ve said, this novel has way, way too many problems for me to ever feel comfortable teaching it. It’s a nightmare.
The entire novel is based upon a gross set of cultural appropriations. Basically, a young white boy is adopted by Tlingit elders who use the wisdom and spirituality of Native Americans in order to solve his emotional troubles and force those same teachings onto the people that he deems worthy.
99% of the Native American concepts in this novel are made up on the spot. Seriously –Oyate.org recently removed their “Books to Avoid” page, but this topped their list. From the animal dancing to the totem pole to the ancestor rock, Miklaelsen blatantly made up Native traditions in order to keep his protagonist busy. Even the concept of Circle Justice was exaggerated to the point of lying. All of his decisions to include Native “culture” ignores any actual cultural significance that may be attributed to these items and actions. The result is that this book presents the reader with a fill-in-the-blank fantasy sort of culture that has no basis in reality.
First and foremost, this is a problem because Ben Miklaelsen is not Tlingit. He isn’t Native American at all. The guy is actually of Danish descent and was born in Bolivia. His decision to base a novel on Tlingit culture was due to the fact that he enjoyed travelling and once spotted a white “spirit” bear too. Oh, and he was inspired by the Columbine massacre. Not really a great connection to the culture he insisted on writing about.
When discussing this novel in both guides and interviews, Miklaelsen speaks as though the Tlingit don’t exist anymore. He outright states that they aren’t a modern culture. Every time he discusses the Tlingit, he pits them against “American society” and the American audience, as though they exist at opposite ends of the spectrum. This only reinforces the idea that Native Americans are some magical group that are spiritually and ancestrally linked to nature. It stops us from thinking of them as actual people.
But moving along from the cultural side of it:
I am not a fan of the way that Peter, the boy who was brain damaged from Cole’s attack, was treated within the story. His case is one of “tough love,” where he was forced to spend time with his abuser in an isolated setting because it was supposedly for his own good. His concerns and fears are ignored, his own desires to leave and never see Cole again are brushed off and his violent outbursts are hailed as a wonderful show of recovery. This is a young boy who attempted suicide twice since he was attacked. Somehow, despite the fact that he still suffers from vivid nightmares about being beaten, every adult in this situation agrees that learning how to forgive is what he needs the most. Forget that he needs to feel mentally and physically safe, forget that he currently has no trust of the outside world, forget that he is still coming to terms with the fact that his body will never again be fully functional: Nope, the only thing that will “fix” this teenager is if he forgives the boy who nearly killed him.
This is not safe and it is not healthy. That is not a message that I am comfortable sending, especially since there is a good chance that many students have experienced abuse in their own lives. This book essentially teaches that they must ignore the voice in their head that preserves their personal safety and keeps them out of danger. It’s the comfort and happiness of their abusers that supposedly matters the most.
Just typing that out makes me angry.
So during the past year, my opinion about this book has gotten much more harsh. I’ve talked about it with other professionals, I’ve been a part of the discussions that it provokes in the classroom and I’ve seen the misinformation that it spreads among students. If I can avoid this book for the future, I’ll be much better off.