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.
Don’t you hate teacher bashing? I’m starting my pcge next year and it seems a constant stream of invective against teachers. David Mucollough’s opinions are just that, opinion. We have to be sceptical of someone who ultimately has a book in the works. Everyone complains about errant teenagers, as though society is collapsing, but i recall this quote:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).
And i think Plato complained about kids hanging around on street corners tripping people up.
His comments are a bit ‘kids today…i don’t know’.
Let me start this by saying that I love David McCullough. He’s the best pop historian out there right now. His books have a fairly prominent spot on my shelf and always will. For a long time, he’s been a champion of reevaluating the way we teach history to American students. From the way we handle chronology to the categorizing of history in both textbooks and curriculum, he’s spoken several times and made some pretty savvy observations about how American culture currently deals with history.
Sure, it’s easy to be skeptical of anyone who starts a “Kids these days!” rant, but that shouldn’t stop us from criticizing the current education system. The way that students experience school right now is vastly different than the way that our parents and grandparents experienced school. Teaching styles have completely changed course, for the most part, both in the way we interact with students and the way we present material. There’s this constant stream of new philosophies, techniques and forms of pedagogy that teachers are expected to master before entering the classroom.
The comment about bringing back the dinner table seems to be about improving historical knowledge, not fixing the educational system or completely solving our cultural ignorance of history. It’s an improvement, one among a possible many. I actually think that it would benefit us, as a society, to incorporate history into more aspects of daily life instead of confining it to a textbook. This obviously wouldn’t be fixed by creating perfectly functional families that always ate dinner at 6pm while mom wore her pearls, but it’s more about the concept of encouraging students to interact with their oral histories. It’s about bringing the subject into casual conversations and making it personal by connecting it with the people we love.
There’s a joke in the education world: Elementary teachers go into it because they love kids, Secondary teachers go into it because they love the subject. Haha chuckle giggle. Now, I’m a secondary history teacher. That’s my profession: I’ve got my BA in Adolescent Education Social Studies and my MA in History. And it is most definitely because I like history more than I hate public speaking. Teaching is just the most efficient way for me to geek out over history for the rest of my life.
Would I be a better teacher if I had spent more time studying pedagogy? Meh, probably. I’d certainly have more varied lesson plans and more interesting slideshows. Experience will teach me this, but more college classes wouldn’t have hurt. But would I really be able to impart more historical knowledge to my students? Probably not. My familiarity with the content is important for high level learning and I need to be able to have complete mastery over the material that I teach.
A teacher who spends more time on curriculum management than on the subject itself is going to fail. There will always have to be a balance, but we owe it to our students to actually understand the material we’re dealing with. I don’t believe that it’s teacher bashing to say this - Passion is always cited as the sign of a great teacher, but where else is that passion supposed to come from?
Teachers have a lot on their plate during the beginning of a school year. Yet worst of all, the sudden influx of new students mean that teachers are far more likely to get sick within the first few weeks. This means that, in addition to setting up their classroom and struggling to learn names, teachers also have to be prepared just in case they need a few days off.
So heed my words: Your substitute teacher cannot succeed unless you put in some prep work. It may be yet another annoyance, but it’s necessary and will make people willing to continue working for you throughout the year.
As time allows, I’ll be posting a few tips and tricks that you can use in order to prepare for your substitute teacher. We’ll love you for it!
How It Starts: “But Mrs Smith lets us!”
The Problem: Unless you have your classroom rules prominently displayed or printed out on your desk, then I don’t know what sorts of liberties you allow your students. I don’t know if little Johnny is telling the truth when he says that he can borrow pencils off your desk, or if Jane is lying when she says that she can hand in her homework by the end of the day. That leaves me in the awkward position of either taking away privileges that the students are legitimately allowed to have or being too lenient by giving in to their lies.
The Solution: Get your classroom rules in order. It can be as simple as having your students write up a poster or as complicated as typing up 10 pages worth of notes. Just give me a basic run-down of how you manage your classroom. Then, and this is the important part, write down this magical phrase: “Any additional requests made by the students may be turned down at your discretion.”
That one little sentence solves more problems than you could ever imagine. It means that I don’t have to constantly battle with the mental gymnastics of “What would Mrs Smith do? This request isn’t on the list, maybe she forgot to write it down, is it still allowed?” It means that I can rule with an iron fist if the class gets out of hand. It means that when your students whine to you tomorrow, you can say “Oh well! You should have listened to the substitute, she was only following my directions. Deal with it, kiddo.”
So I have a question for all you other substitute teachers out there:
How do you go about introducing yourself to a class?
The easiest way for me has always been to have my name written on the board. Then when the class begins, I can point it out to the students, pronounce it once, and go on my merry way.
But since I often sub for special education teachers and TAs (meaning that I travel from room to room throughout the day and often co-teach), it isn’t always appropriate for me to write on someone else’s board. Over time, this has gotten me thinking about different ways that I can get students to remember my name without actually showing it to them. My name is quite short and not hard to pronounce, but it’s unusual and takes a couple tries for it to stick in someone’s memory. If I can avoid repeating it over and over, then I’m a happy person.
I’ve found that the easiest and most fun way to introduce myself involves word association and playing the fool a bit. I’ll stand in front of the class and say “Hello everyone! I’m your sub today, Miss N~~~~. If you ever have trouble remembering that, just think of a Nerf football.” I’ll then strike the Heisman pose and pretend to throw a football across the room. It gets all the kid to laugh and whisper about how I’m a huge loser, but darned if they don’t remember my name after that. It’s so similar to “Nerf” that the simple word association is enough to jog their memory.
Does anyone else have a similar routine in front of a new class?
Yesterday, New York’s education officials and state teacher’s union reached an agreement on the new terms of teacher evaluations. The issue of how to measure the quality of a teacher’s work has always been a tough one. The legislature has argued over it and fiddled with it for years, often pushing the decision off for as long as possible. When I heard that new terms had been set, I was more than excited to hear the outcome.
Now, 60% of the measurement will come from a teacher’s personal performance (graded through observations and interaction with their principal) while 40% will come from student performances on standardized tests.
A teacher needs 64% in order to keep their job, while anything under a 74% is dangerous territory. While this puts a lot of pressure on educators to keep up a good show, it puts the ultimate burden upon the shoulders of each child to pass state regulated tests. Even the best teacher is doomed if they have chosen to work with lower level students.
It’s said that this new process will ensure that students are protected by removing the worst teachers from the classroom. In actuality, all this will do is remove the newest teachers, the teachers with inclusion classrooms, and the poorest schools. If you’re the one teaching a group of kids with learning disorders, behavioral problems, broken families, and life under the poverty line? You’re out of there! Wave good-bye to all the AP and Honors teachers who kept their jobs, even if they chose to fart along for the past 30 years.
While there will always be poor teachers out there who should be pruned from their position, the majority of students do not fail because of bad instruction. They fail because of outside influences: lack of funding and lack of testing subjectivity are the worst offenders. The longer the state ignores that different students require different forms of evaluation, the worse this situation will become. And imagining it getting even worse is enough to make me want to curl into a ball and never teach again.
There are ways of evaluating students without referring to standardized test scores, just as there are ways of holding teachers responsible for student achievements without placing such a huge emphasis on grades. Ever heard of IMPACT, the DC evaluation system? Or San Francisco’s Mission High School? Or Roxanna Elden’s constant call for value based review? Come on New York, we’re falling years behind despite already having the way paved for us.
After the evaluation plan was announced, Cuomo was kind enough to say:
“Today’s a great day for the schools within the state of New York and for schoolchildren within the state,” Cuomo said. “I believe this is a better system than any system that had been contemplated or discussed until now.”
Welp, I’m glad you’re being so demure and humble, Mr Cuomo. Let’s just see what you’re singing after this policy has been in place for a few years.