[Above: Empty seats, dark room. Eerily like where we were mistakenly directed to go to attend guest teaching orientation for LMSD.]
Good gollies Miss Mollies, people. Was that a painful experience? Go ahead, ask me. Was that a painful experience? Yes. Yes, it was.
So after the confusion of dates and emails, we finally go to orientation day. And right from the beginning, it was cock-up city. Here are my notes:
The chronicle of the carnival:
8:50: Arrive in parking lot. No signs or directions. Go inside and upstairs to meeting room. Email gives specific address and room number; that room is half dark, but has about 10 other folks in it. All ten are on cell phones.
8:58: No one has shown up but us.
The admin office of this Large-Ass Metropolitan School District is a complex of several buildings: one the old original, probably a school at some point, and a brand-new facility which features an employee gym, a coffee bar, a bank (I think) and meeting space. We had been directed to a certain room in the new building.
I and about 10 or so others arrived on time. Nothing was posted anywhere, but we all found the same room and we all had the same instructions to go there. It was large, only half-lit and appeared pretty inactive.
9:15: Still no show. People are now asking and wondering if we’re all where we’re supposed to be. “They’re late, but they sure expect their subs to be on time,” someone says. Yup.
9:21: Everyone has lost patience. One has sent an e-mail. Another has phoned several places and gotten nowhere.
9:35: Finally one of us gets through to someone. Orientation is actually in a different building in the board room, completely different than what the email directed. We rush over in a body and enter the room breathless. I ask if they’re going to kick us out; she seems confused at the question. Another late one tells me, “Don’t ask!”
Yup. 9 a.m. came and went. Everyone was reading something on their phones, a couple were talking. By 9:15, we were all asking each other, “What the fuck?” and “Where were you told to go? Yeah, me too!” One took it in hand to find out. It took three phone calls and being directed to six people, most of which were voice mailboxes not actual people, before she found out:
The orientation was being held in the board room in the old building across the street. They gave us the wrong room information. How fucking basic is that? How difficult, really, is it to give the people who have confirmed they’re coming to a meeting, the right room location? Bleedin’ Christ on the cross, this is just inane.
So, we all packed up, went downstairs, trooped across the street and found the right room.
A digression: There is no sidewalk connecting the two buildings. Just the narrow street out front. You wanna go next door? You slip and slide up or down the grassy, slippery slope or dodge cars on the road.
Another digression: How much did these people pay for this building??! At a time when the LMSD says it’s underfunded and can’t fix its old-ass buildings, they have a very nice, brand-new facility … for coffee and treadmills. This is not just stupid, it’s an outrage. Morally and financially. This district’s teachers are buying pencils for poor students and have no time at any time to go the middle of town and hop on a treadmill and buy some coffee. But of course, the admin office people do … because they have plenty of time from NOT checking their own stupid-ass e-mails to see that they have correct dates and times for goddamn stupid guest teacher orientations that they hold EVERY TWO WEEKS!
Great god a’mighty. Chuff me.
After surviving the climb between the buildings, we all come into the board room. 45 minutes late. It had taken 30 minutes to find someone who knew where the meeting actually was, then 15 minutes to get over and find the place in the old building. And there were 20 or so people in there.
Therefore, they had given the right information to about half of us. Let that sink in. How careless and empty-headed is that?
On finally getting to the right room, we were all pretty irritated, but I knew that if I said anything much, I’d get kicked out. Because that’s how this place works … they get to fuck up royally the tiniest details, but if you say anything, you’re a troublemaker and off to jail with you.
I couldn’t completely restrain myself. I asked someone who appeared to be in charge, “Are you going to hold this against us?”
She replied, “No, of course not. Why would we? It’s our mistake.”
I was thinking, “Because we never fucking know how you people are going to react to the least little thing. Because … see three paragraphs above.”
Then came the kicker: “You didn’t miss anything anyway.”
Are you fucking kidding us?! If it was something we didn’t miss, why did you present it??!! Why did we have to be here at 9? Why couldn’t we have sauntered in at 10?!
Again, people. The sheer cluelessness. The sheer incompetence. The ridiculousness.
And we haven’t even stepped foot in a school or classroom yet. And then they cannot figure out why they have such a difficult time recruiting “talent.”
Oh dear God, deliver me from the Stupids!
Side note: We had missed an “icebreaker” and a guy from a bank telling us they accepted direct deposit. And there was also a giveaway from the bank of the local hockey team’s paraphernalia … but it was a drawing … only two people won it. How cheap ass is this?!
So, at 9:43, we’re finally seated in the right room and, as far as we can tell, there’s a presentation going on about dealing with special education classes as a guest teacher.
Now, I was a guest teacher in an autism spectrum special ed class for three years in a city up north. I learned a lot. Loved those kids a lot. And there’s nothing in this presentation from LMSD that I don’t already know. But yes, I know this isn’t about me. Other people didn’t know, so let the show go on. My notes:
9:43: Special Ed
Least restrictive environment. [Yes, we know, it’s federal law.]
IEPs should be in sub plans. [Right. IEPs are often restricted to files in the office and even if the teacher does include them, there’s no time to read tons of documentation on each student in a SpEd class. But so noted.]
Language: Teach how to function and get along. [You mean you teach kids how to get along and function? I would never have guessed that was a job of a school!]
There’s some “Duh!” stuff about attendance taking for special ed. [You mean I’ll need to take attendance for SpEd kids too?!]
Some “Duh!” stuff about not giving meds to anyone for any reason. [Yeah, we know not to do something incredibly stupid for a SpEd kid that will get us sued and jailed. But thanks for the warning.]
Some “Duh!” stuff about using IEPs to look for the kids’ stress points. [Trust me, you’ll know their stress points the minute they walk in the room.]
Something about behavior intervention plans [Again, there will be no time for a lot of reading.]
Some talk about safety plans. [Ditto the above.]
Look, SpEd is incredibly rewarding, I love those classes. It’s one-on-one, there is no scripted bullshit, there’s toys, there’s snacks, success in doing one thing during the day counts as a huge win and that’s wonderful. But SpEd is also incredibly difficult. You go home drained. And how it all works, especially the incredibly complex legal stuff that practically requires an attorney to be in the classroom with you at all times, is not something you can impart in a 45-minute “orientation” talk.
Have a competent writer (HA! LMSD hiring competency. HA!) and put everything you need to know in a booklet and hand it out. Do something other than yackety-yak. But that’s asking too much.
This was followed by a discussion that I could not figure out how it was related to SpEd or behavior: How the district is divided into quadrants. Dafuq?!
9:53: The orientation is turned over to someone to talk about behavior intervention plans.
9:55: EE stands for exceptional education, which includes gifted students. “We didn’t want to offend those students with the title ‘special education.'” [Lady, those kids don’t know from titles and labels. They don’t get offended. If their day is going bad, they might just cover the bathroom wall with their own shit. But they don’t get offended. Their PARENTS get offended. They are “offensensitivity” (a term coined by Bloom County’s Berke Breathed). But not the kids.]
9:56: Giving us a bathroom break is used as cover for trying to figure out how to display the next PowerPoint. They sorta laughed off the address mixup during the break. I asked “What happened and are you holding 45 minutes late against us?” Response: “Oh no, you didn’t really miss anything, just an ice breaker and someone talking about [something something something]. And why would we hold it against you? [kinda laughing].”
9:58: We’re given the evaluation form. Isn’t this a bit early?
The big lesson: “Ask next door teachers about the rules. Uh, no. They don’t have time to tell you anything and you don’t have time to listen and ask. You have maybe 30 minutes to find the classroom, get someone to unlock the door and figure out what the hell you’ll be doing all day. You do not have time to harass other harassed teachers what the “rules” are, for crissake.
Here are some basics though that kids should always follow: Be respectful. Be safe. Be responsible.
Kids should know regular procedures (who are the helpers for the day, how to line up, how to move in hallways, for example).
Here’s some word spaghetti which I don’t really know why I took the notes. At this point, I was spacing pretty bad, wondering if traffic would be bad on the way home, thinking about lunch, etc. But for what it’s worth, here’s my official notes on how to deal with kids. My personal observations on this session follow:
Behavior analysis and support services talking about proactive strategies for classroom management. This is the same stuff from the “sub diploma” mill that we were required to pony up $38 to read and be tested on. The same “sub diploma” mill “course” that featured 30-year-old video talks from a Mormon guy who died in 2001. We’re gonna spend another hour regurgitating what we’ve just been required to pay for … how very … helpful.
Age appropriate models, signals, cues, reinforce those following rules, patience.
Offer choices. Empowerment, some control, avoid power struggle.
You control choices.
Be aware of manipulation.
Classroom strategies. Create buy in. Spell out the reinforcers
Table points for good work, appropriate behavior.
You should spend your own money to buy incentives for positive behavior and put them in your sub backpack. (!!!!!)
It’s okay for student’s to listen to music on their phones during class when working alone as a positive reinforcer, as long as the music can’t be heard out of their headphones. [Insert old man rant about how that’s completely bizarre and would never have been considered in the old days.]
Don’t take away activities.
Don’t write names on board unless you also name the good ones.
Responses to inappropriate behavior:
Don’t verbally scold or dress down a student.
Instead: Logical consequences. Reminders, environment adjust, warning, behavior conference.
Whisper, so they have to stop talking to hear directions. Work avoidance. Kids are cruel. [Not sure exactly what the full sentence was. But the presenter was right: Kids can be damn cruel, that’s for sure. Don’t let the bastards get the upper hand.]
Allow students to speak, avoid power struggles.
Logical consequences: Toy inappropriately used? Take toy away. Talking to each other? Can’t work together. Writing on desk? Clean it off.
Brief prompt. Simple reminder. Eye contact, neutral tone, proximity control.
Follow through on consequences you threatened.
Individual conference, short, sweet, all love.
When to ask for assistance: Safety at risk, repeatedly breaks rules, above interventions are not successful.
So yes, all good stuff. But not all stuff you can learn in an hour. And it’s also stuff you’ve already supposedly learned in the $40
kickback fee to Utah State for your “sub diploma” mill.
But the above was my “official” notes … here are my “unofficial” impressions/outraged reactions:
10:02: Starting on behavior analysis. Stuff I learned years ago, but subs with master’s degree are not acknowledged or valued, monetarily or otherwise. “Greet students at door with good morning and positive interactions.” Exactly the opposite of what they’ve done for those of us who were given wrong information. You want subs to treat students well? THEN TREAT SUBS WELL!!
10:08: The language of the presenter is, and I’m being extremely careful here, casual. Not the language of professional educators. Somethings like “axe” me are personal things on pronunciation. No problem. Several of my relatives say it that way, my father especially. But there are many other aspects of this presentation that don’t bespeak someone who has taught high school for years. Some is charming; some of it is how kids talk in high school. My old ears aren’t attuned to this level of casual AND fast talking.
10:11: She’s actually giving us the definition of “procedure.” Thinks of elementary teachers as babysitting little humans, basically.
10:16: We had to pay $40 to Utah State/StedI for a “sub skills” course, but now we’re spending hours going over the same material we’ve bought and spent hours doing.
10:17: Proximity and circulation, positive reinforcement. Also hit hard during the StedI course. These are minutes of my life I can’t get back.
10:22: You can listen to music via phone during solo work time in high school??!!
10:28: “Kids are cruel.” This I am well-acquainted with. You need appropriate response strategies; follow through on your threats of consequences. This is something you can’t teach in an hour orientation course. Or eight-hour online course.
10:34: When to ask for help with difficult kids: If safety is at risk, kid repeatedly breaks rules, interventions are unsuccessful. Then what?
10:36: Two behavior scenarios. Josh is baaaaad. “What y’all gon’ do with Josh?”
10:40: Sample dialogue, spoken very rapidly, of presenter after positing a scenario example of bad behavior: “What y’all gon’ do wit’ Josh?” “I’mma” and “ain’t.” Now, I know, I know! But there’s your normal everyday speech and then there’s professional, in-front-of-crowds language, the kind of speech everyone can understand. In fact, I talk a lot like she does. I’m very lazy in speech, but know better. But in this setting, this is all hard to understand and follow. Way too fast and casual. I think I’m just tipping over into old dude mode where the spoken language is passing me by. I’m lost with this, can’t follow it. And the teachers of my era would never allow themselves or us to talk like this in class or in front of an audience. Privately, between us, yes, of course we would. But in a situation like this? No.
10:45: “Oh, they just gonn’ run over y’all if you’re this quiet.” In response to not getting a volunteer from amongst us to discuss what to do in a certain scenario.
10:47: Scenario: Tenth grade science class; no sub plans. Teacher next door lends you a social studies video. What are your expectations going to be today? Very typical situation. And why I won’t be subbing above fourth grade.
10:52: “You can make a difference!” as subs. Fine, then respect us and pay us for it! You can’t give away some schwag, you have to make us compete in a lottery and only give the schwag to two of us?!
10:56: “I’m so happy you guys are here!” Not HAPPY, just happy.
Okay then! So what did we learn? That anytime you involve yourself in anything regarding the admin office, better be prepared for a hair-raising (-pulling?) ride. From the mayor down to the communications people, Metro schools has had a completely shitty new year. Investigations (a new one today regarding illegal contract awards!) and reorganizations (HR is dead! Long Live Talent Acquisition! — are they fuckin’ kiddin’ us! with this shit?!) And on and on.
Like I said, all of this is without even stepping foot in a school, let alone a classroom. This may be a short-lived project.
Good night, y’all.
[ Text by HawkEye. Photo by Andrei Stratu on Unsplash ]