Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Substitute My Life

So, today is my first day substitute teaching in a local school district. I'm doing elementary school orchestra, which is really kind of fun. I've done orchestra for five of my ten years' teaching, but it's been a few years. Still fun, but there's a steep learning curve for playing violin. I'm not there yet, but after one class, I'm fairly sure that I can keep up with the 5th graders without too much trouble. Fourth grade should be even easier.

It's an interesting educational climate right now, because everybody's running scared. With the GOP attacking public education on every front and teachers suddenly becoming the bad guys that are responsible for society's ills and any governmental budget shortfalls, things are a little bit scary. This year, pretty much every teacher that I know is afraid for their job and for their salary and benefits and pension. The cuts have already been deep and will become deeper, and most districts have announced hiring freezes and salary and wage freezes. Some districts have been threatening furloughs for teachers.

Side note: it's interesting how, as a teacher, you get penalized for actually using the sick days allotted to you in your contract. There's no reward for NOT using your sick days, except for a small payback at the end of one's career. Your days carry over from year to year, except that you can't use more than a certain number of them in a school year. So, you have an interesting conundrum: use your sick days, get written up by your supervisor for being irresponsible. Don't use them, go to school sick, and you derive absolutely no benefit from them.

Subbing is not the most fun way to spend your day. There are exceptions - this place seems one of them. I'm doing small group music lessons for most of the day, which is fun and tends to move quite quickly. The large ensembles move even faster - when you have a half hour to get 30 fourth grade students into the room, instruments out and tuned, quieted down enough to play, then packed up and out the door in a timely fashion, time moves quite quickly.

I've also had the opposite experience, although I haven't had a truly negative one since I left teaching in Detroit. The number of times that I was removed from my classes and thrown into a classroom for a set number of periods with no plans, no class lists, and no supplies would astonish you. My second year there, for instance, I lost 112 of the 182 preparation periods during the school year. They were all reimbursed, but that planning time (which includes lesson planning, music copying and preparation, instrument repair, room setup and cleanup, phone calls to parents, phone calls to music stores, and a few other sundry things) still had to go somewhere.

Still, those times stuck in the room with 30 hostile students really kind of scarred me when it comes to substitute teaching. I have a small tolerance for allowing myself to be put in those situations, leading to things like the summer school debacle from last year. Subbing in a music class tends to have a better class of student and a quicker paced day. Not sure if I'd want to get in, say, a middle school English room for a day.

Not for $90. $12.50 an hour isn't worth it. By the way - that's the honest pre-tax salary for a sub. Nice to way to feed your family, isn't it? Try those calculations - $90 times 180 days, if you're lucky, means a pre-tax salary of under $17K per year. Sigh. To make matters even better, I left my lunch at home today. Win.

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