I majored in education in college, acquired a teaching job soon after, and have had uninterupted employment into retirement. I am now substitute teaching part time.
I live in Colorado Springs with my wife of 44 years. Our two grown children are both successfully employed in Denver, and we see them often.
Teaching has been a great career for me and has taught me much. Perhaps most importantly I have learned that I enjoy writing.
I have written only this one book, to which I have devoted immense time and effort over the last ten years. I was fortunate to be able to retire from teaching at a relatively young age, and have been substitute teaching since. So I have had much time to reflect.
Below are actual experiences from my teaching career; however, some of the precise details, like direct quotes and names, are not 100% accurate.
Unwaveringly throughout my career I have proceeded prudently and cautiously – most of the time.
I learned late in my career about students testing teachers. To me testing implies volition, and I had always thought students were too impulsive for volition.
While substituting in a high school study skills class – a class for students lacking these skills – a young lady taught me about this.
After getting the class started and after being preoccupied with something else, I looked up and the young lady was elaborately putting make up on a girlfriend. She had a little brush and several bottles were on the table. I let it go for awhile then thought it wouldn't look good if someone came in, so I said, "Tameca, you and your friend need to put that stuff away and study."
As they did, Tameca said playfully," So how do you know MY name? Do you know HIS name?" pointing to a student. I said "No." " Well do you know HIS name?" pointing to another. Again I said no. "Then how do you know MY name?"
I explained, "You came in late. I had to take your name off the absence list."
The young lady was the only African-American in the class and seemed to be suggesting that I was singling her out. Though it was playful, this could make a novice substitute a little uncomfortable, especially if he did not have an explanation like I had.
But Tameca tried again when I addressed Cloe, a very pretty young lady. In a sing-song, suggestive voice Tameca goes,"And how do you know Cloe's name?"
But I had an explanation here too. I had had Cloe in the previous class and had unwisely allowed her and a girl friend to use the bathroom, and they hadn't returned for almost fifteen minutes.
And those kids that come into class with, "How you doing, Mr. Substitute, sir? You having a good day?" They can learn a lot about a substitute by the way he or she responds to this greeting.
And students are not the only testers. As a regular teacher, I had been surly with my principal – and endured the consequences. A few weeks later, this principal apparently wanted to see if I had learned my lesson, so he confronted me, in the reception area of the office, in front of witnesses, with a very petty complaint that the secretary had brought to his attention.
I smiled and acquiesced, of course.
I was substituting for one of the worst classes I had ever had. Students were exceedingly loud, asking questions that did not need to be asked just to be funny, and generally just refusing to cooperate. At one point it was so difficult to communicate with this class that I just stood there and looked at them for several minutes without saying a word. This did make some uncomfortable.
Later I said to them, "We can keep bitching at each other, or we can get on with the class."
One of the girls asked, "Did you say 'bitching'?
I replied, "Yes, bitching. You know, complaining, yelling at each other."
Well using the word "bitching" got me into trouble, and the next day I received a call from the school district supervisor of substitute teachers. Apparently several parents had called the school.
The supervisor was polite yet firm and told me this complaint would be written in my file. And she did note that it was my first complaint.
I began to explain, but was cut off and realized the futility of quibbling. There had been times when I had expected a complaint and hadn't received one, so I felt lucky I hadn't had more.
Here is something that happens a lot when I am substitute teaching.
While the class is in progress, an adult enters my classroom and says, "Hi, how is your day going?"
"It's going well." is my standard reply.
"This is such a nice group of kids." the visitor frequently says.
"I agree. It does seem to be a nice group." another standard reply.
"Well, if you need anything, let me know. Have a good day." says the visitor as he or she exits.
"Thanks." I reply.
After the visitor leaves, I wonder, "Who was that? Probably another teacher. Or it could have been an administrator or even a parent volunteer. But teachers are so incredibly busy. Really! Even to the point of not taking time for introductions.
I was warned about this class. In the teacher's plans for the day.
It was his 3rd Period - just before lunch.
As I was taking attendance, it was noisy, but not too bad. Then a student carrying a bag of potato chips comes in late and some confusion about the attendance resulted. Meanwhile he starts passing out chips to people and generally creates a little chaos. A few moments later, while I'm preoccupied with something else, he leaves. Turns out he wasn't even enrolled in this class.
So the class is noisy but tolerable, and I'm keeping busy. At 11:45, to my surprise, a bell rings and about one-third of the class stands suddenly and begins to leave. Fortunately I was standing near the exit and realized that this bell was for students with a different lunch schedule - I had been at this school before - and I halted their exit. They knew what they were doing and they were quick - but I was quicker.
After lunch, during the next class, in comes the potato chip passer - perhaps he didn't think I would recognize him. I made a vaguely sarcastic remark to him and let it go. And he was just mildly irritating during the class - though he was having an excessively good time talking to the pretty girl sitting behind him.
Near the end of the period I heard this girl call him a name that was not the same name as indicated on the seating chart. Upon investigation I learned that he had persuaded another boy to change places with him - and names when attendance was taken.
Well I decided that his behavior warranted a note to his teacher, so I sat down and carefully composed one. I then proudly showed my well written composition to the young man, who was still enjoying the company of his pretty girlfriend, and asked him if I had described the days events well.
But if he was impressed with my writing skills, he didn't show it.
Well it was my fault; because I started it.
I was a substitute at a high school and, as I was starting this one class, a student mentioned that this was my third time in this class. Then another student, Richard, said he thought I had been here just twice.
I replied to Richard, "He's right, my second day here you were absent, which was fortunate for me." The class goes wooooooooo and Richard didn't reply. Richard could be very annoying and the class knew it.
So when I am taking roll I call out Richard's name, "Rick?"
He responds with exaggerated anger, "Don't call me Rick. I hate it when people call me Rick. If you call me Rick again, I'm just not going to answer. Don't call me Rick." and on and on like that.
And I go, "Okay.....Okay."
So the class has an assignment. They're sitting at tables working in small groups and I routinely go around and check on each group. So I get to Richard's table and ask how they are doing and the pretty girl sitting next to Richard says, "Rick and I are....."
And I interrupt the young lady with a little exaggerated drama of my own, "Don't call him Rick. He hates it when people call him Rick. He goes crazy when people call him Rick. So don't call him Rick." And Richard just sat there silently.
Then about a week later I am at the same school but in a different class, and Richard is in the class, as are some other fun loving young men. And they all sit together because there is no seating chart -- because the teacher is a "nice guy" and lets them sit wherever they please.
So they're all having a good time while I'm trying to conduct the class -- nothing terrible, just a lot of mildly loud talking and laughter. And I'm putting up with it, but getting really steamed up too.
Finally, I decide I have to break up this group by moving some of these guys to different seats. And I was reluctant because if one of them refuses and defies me, I'll have to call for help. And I never do that.
Well the first kid cooperated and moved, as did the next. Then for some reason I decided the next to move had to be Richard, and I told him calmly, "Richard, you need to move to another seat too."
He shouts back at me angrily, "I'm not moving, I haven't done anything."
At this point I'm at the end of my rope and I shouted right back into his face, "Then go stand in the hall!" And his chair hits the wall as he stands up in a fit of temper, then goes out into the hall.
The whole class is really quiet now and one of the boys that I had moved said, "I've never seen a teacher talk to a student like that." And I thought, "What? Never seen a teacher yell at a student?" But I know times have changed.
As I resumed the lesson, I hear a "Boom! Boom! Boom!" sound coming from the hall. And my first thought was that Richard was banging his head against the wall. So I put down the book, and told the still very quiet class I had to go out and deal with Richard.
As I walked through the classroom door to the hall, Richard was standing right there and we just looked at each other for a second. And I said, "Just come back in and sit down." And he did, and I don't recall where he sat, but there were no more problems.
If you ever get a call to substitute for band, take it. Band kids are the best.
I was doing high school band, and as I began taking roll the students sat up attentively and were quiet. I wasn't used to this – everyone just sitting there silently and starring up at me – and I told them that it made me uncomfortable. So they continued their chatter. But then a few moments later the other band teacher came in and chastised them for being rude, and I had to explain to him what I had said.
Later, during individual instrument practice, a student asked me if I had a metronome. I told him I didn't know what a metronome was. So he explained, "a mechanical device that helps one keep a beat." Then he looked at me like, "Well, do you have one?"
So I thought, "I guess I could check my pockets or my carrying case to see if I happen to have metronome there." Instead I just replied, "No, I don't have one. Sorry."
But I did allow him to look in the regular teacher's office, and he found one there.
I usually avoid humor in the classroom. It's a distraction and it encourages students to try to be the class clown too. But occasionally I give it a try.
For a second time I ended up as a substitute teacher in a middle school drama class and some students seemed surprised to see me back and made comments like, "Oh! You're back. Weren't you here just last week?"
So I paused taking roll for a moment and responded with an exaggeratedly hurt look on my face, "I thought I was asked back because you liked me."
With that the students became very silent and just looked up at me like, "That poor pathetic old man. He thought we liked him."
"I was kidding," I pleaded, but to no avail. But they were 8th graders, so they may have been just oblivious to both my comments.
I was substituting in an elementary school for the computer lab teacher and the class was getting rather loud, but I was putting up with it. I was too busy helping students with their passwords, finding the right website, and so on.
While I was helping one student, the class suddenly became very quiet. I looked up from the computer and asked some nearby students, "Why did everyone get so quiet?"
One of the girls said, "Mrs. (their regular classroom teacher whose name I can't remember) is here." and nodded toward the door.
And there she was, not saying a word, just standing there. About five feet tall and maybe 100 pounds.
I am amazed at how elementary teachers command this obeisance. Some slick behavior modification technique I guess. I'm a secondary teacher and one cannot expect this obeisance with older kids; so I never learned this, and I don't think I ever could master this art.
Once, as a regular teacher, about half way through the class period, a student sitting in the front row said to me, "This class goes really fast."
I replied, "You just gave me a compliment." And he was taken aback.
It was a long class – about 90 minutes – but I always planned it with short activities –usually fifteen minutes or less. We often began with a short grammar or spelling assignment, then a pre-discussion of something we were about to read, then we would read orally, then silently, answer some questions, discuss the answers, and finally time was given for group work on some ongoing project.
The student became much more friendly to me after this brief conversation.
During a conversation with my principal once, when I was a young and inexperienced teacher, he commented, "...but you really like the kids."
I was a little uncomfortable with "but" and would have preferred hearing " ..have become a very effective teacher" or "The kids have great respect for you."
But maybe "liking the kids" is not something everyone can do, and it is hard to fake it. And if you don't like them, they probably won't like you.
But I don't like the gang banger types. The guys that swagger when they walk, wear slouching baggy pants and long black shirts and ball caps turned sideways or backwards. Because they seem to be into intimidation, Because maybe that's the only way they can get respect.
And they are often big guys with names like Joey or Mikey, and the social worker and special education ladies say, "Oh he's so lovable ..... like a big teddy bear." (So are grizzlies, until you make them mad.)
I had one of these guys in a high school PE class a few years ago. We were doing coed kick ball in the gym and the mild mannered other kids, who were at least 90% of the class, "allowed" him be the "pitcher."
Well he was having a great time throwing the ball at people and generally ignoring the rules of the game while a few abetted him. I chastised him once or twice, but was ignored. So I put the extra kick balls away and at my first opportunity I scooped up the kick ball that was in play and announced to his team that a new pitcher had to be selected.
I think I hurt the boy's feelings. After losing his position he refused to participate and for the rest of the period stood off to the side with a sulky look on his face.
I was in the principal's office, with my principal, and with a troublesome 8th grade boy from one of my classes and his mother. During the conversation, the mother said to me, "I know Michael is not always truthful, but did you actually throw a stool at him?"
This question made me nervous – because I had! Well not really. In a moderate display of temper I did upend a stool, which, as it slid across the floor, would have collided mildly with the boy's feet, if he had not moved them. However, there was no intent to launch the stool at the boy.
I was embarrassed about this and began to express contrition – which could have made things worse – but my principal adroitly interrupted me and changed the subject. And the stool incident was not brought up again.
I've learned that there is a good reason for the Fifth Amendment. I keep my mouth shut much more now.
(More to come)
For a realistic and sometimes humorous look at education I hope you will read my book The Last Quarter, and read the discussion questions and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I am anxious to hear your thoughts and/or questions.
Sincerely, James Schneiter