How do you know it's the district not you?

Discussion in 'Substitute Teachers' started by YaoShao, May 1, 2009.

  1. YaoShao

    YaoShao Rookie

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    May 1, 2009

    Hello again all!

    I'm trying to figure out how to improve my substitute skills in the high school and middle school classroom.

    My question is: how do you know you are at fault for the behavior problems of students or their bad behavior is in part due to lax standards at a school district?

    I am really curious on this one because I recently moved (for college) from one school district that had issues with gangs and lots of teachers not able to do their jobs (at one school there were at least 5 teachers fired for being able to control their classes), to this new one where there are also a lot of gang and social issues (like lots of teen pregnancy) it seems. But I want to make sure I'm not jumping to conclusions here and assuming that its the fault of the district and not mine. I've heard many teachers say in both "this is a bad district" but still I want to run some things buy you all to see what you think.

    For instance, in this new district I have already noticed that at the high school teachers are really lax about rules. I'm wondering if they have to be to avoid huge confrontations because on one of my first days I was getting death threats for asking students to put away their phones. When I walk by classrooms I see teachers allowing their students to walk around and chatter with friends during lessons, students eat and drink whatever they want (in some schools I used to sub for kids were only allowed water), students listen to their ipods even during tests, and students are CONSTANTLY using their phones! If they aren't texting on those phones they are outright talking on them using blue tooths to make it less obvious.

    I feel like this lack of discipline might be why it's so hard for me to enforce anything at all! I usually tell the class I will give 3 official verbal warnings for 4 "pet peeve" rules I have that include: 1. no cell phones or electronics, 2. no getting out of your seat to talk to friends (I let them sit where they want at the start of class and make charts so they have no NEED to run around and make trouble), 3. keeping hands and feet to yourself, 4. no inappropriate talk (like about who you boinked last night). I will also tell them that my main pet peeves are the "no electronics" and "getting out of seats" and that will earn an immediate official warning where I take down their name. If they get past 3 I send them to the office or ask their teacher to write them up. I try not to "slam down" on kids since if I wasn't a little understanding most kids would end up in the office in 5 minutes. I've also tried rewarding good students by doing things like handing out stickers or letting good kids leave the class at the bell first.

    But even these seemingly simple requests are absolutely detested and strongly protested against by the students. I can understand why given the fact that I now know how their teachers cannot or will not enforce these very things which are rules in the student handbook. So maybe I am provoking the students by asking them to follow school district rules?

    What sucks, though, is that the administration has a strong expectation of substitutes. The sub director will tell you to enforce all rules and teachers will walk by and tell you that you need to put your foot down with kids (ie tell them to put phones away). Ironically, these are often the same teachers that let their kids do whatever.

    One last thing....what sort of classroom management techniques do you use and what sort of rules do you enforce if you sub middle or high school?
     
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  3. Ms Petunia

    Ms Petunia Rookie

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    May 1, 2009

    Wow, who is running these schools? I would stick to schools that implement a clear rule of action for disobedience. You are not the fault for student behaviors if you are having them follow school rules.
     
  4. GlendaLL

    GlendaLL Aficionado

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    May 1, 2009

    I sub at one district that is small town/rural. I have very few problems with students not following the rules. If they do, I know that I will get back-up from the administration.
    I sub in their elementary schools, middle school, and high school.

    Also, I sub at a district that is low income/urban. I will only sub in their kdg, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. No higher grades than 4th. Too many bad behaviors and too little support from the office.
     
  5. teachbugz

    teachbugz Rookie

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    May 1, 2009


    First of all, if I were you I would not sub at schools where administration does not support teachers on discipline matters. You are suppose to enforce your rules and consequences. If you receive death threats for telling students to put their electronic toys away, you should run away from those schools.

    I have heard from other subs in my district about prinicipals writing up subs who fail to 'discipline students.' Discipline is a two-way street. If the regular teacher has a good class, student behavior should not be a problem (as we all know that is not always the case). If school administrators are not known to be effective behavior managers, students will sense this and wreak havoc. Your situation: students know that regular teachers will not put their foot down and administrators will not help teachers either.


    If I know I'm going to a rough school (middle/high school) I try to use humor and sometimes rewards (for 6th graders only). When students fail to obey the rules, rather than send them out, I get even by leave a nasty note for the teacher (which I remind students is the consequences for misbehaving). I will leave the regular teacher a list of students who are doing their work with little talking or if classwork is to be turned in, make a list of students who turn in classwork. Most students will comply.
     
  6. LNP

    LNP Rookie

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    May 2, 2009

    It's likely not you.

    I work in an 'urban' district as well, and it's very common to experience inconsistent rule enforcement from classroom to classroom involving celphones, food, etc. I have gotten into serious trouble for attempting to enforce written policies in classrooms, in which the classes have exploded en masse at my efforts at enforcing (and I stress this) WRITTEN school policies.

    By 'serious trouble' I mean meetings, with my job at stake, over 'classroom management' episodes, in which I received no backup from security guards, administration, teachers, and staff, and was told to, quote, and I'm not making this up, "Just try to get along with the students".

    As an explanation, schools depend on student attendance for funding; no students, no funding, no funding, no jobs.
    Sometimes the administration is simply overwhelmed by the problems of the community they are serving, and the written rules can and do go out the window due to the necessity for funding. I've worked in schools where over half of the student body committed acts during my day of teaching that, had written rules been enforced, resulted in expulsion. But that didn't, and doesn't happen.

    As an example, I walked into a classroom where not a single student was in their seat, a boy was playing a game of 'hangman' on the board with a word that turned out to be a racial epithet, two girls were giving a male student a full-contact lapdance, the students had spread out a buffet of food on three student desks pushed together, and over half the student were either talking on celphones or playing mp3 players. There was a fulltime, permanant teacher in the room watching this go on, and she informed me, "They're just chillin', and they're not bad kids, they're just naughty".
    After she left, when I made an effort at enforcing some order when a fight broke out, I ended up in the administration office to explain my behavior. I will not work there again, by my own personal choice.

    Also, often the main office that hires you and issues your paychecks doesn't know what your experiences are like; they rarely if ever go 'in the field' to observe, have no idea what goes on the schools, and are given reports from the schools themselves, and those schools never, ever send in anything bad about themselves and will often try to hide problems or incompetence.

    While I'm sure this description will attract the usual suspects who will take offense at any criticism of administration and staff, arguing that all teachers work hard and are not to blame for bad behavior, etc., the fact is many teachers in problem districts are, well, just bad at their jobs, or have given up, are putting in their time until retirement, or are just not motivated. And as a substitute, you are caught in a cycle of blame-shifting, criminality, and fear.

    If the school is tolerating wretched behavior by its students, is practicing classic blame-shifting, and is following the typical pattern of 'anything goes as long as we maintain head counts', you are screwed and your position in the hierarchy will never improve.

    My recommendation is to run. Good luck.
     
  7. fratermus

    fratermus Companion

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    May 2, 2009

    Pls forgive the lengthy quote, but that is one of the most insightful and accurate descriptions of the problems facing urban schools and their substitute teachers.

    There is one JrHigh where I won't return (they have their own entry on urbandictionary.com) due to extreme chaos and omnipresent violence. I still haven't figured out how 7th graders get neck tattoos.
     
  8. azure

    azure Companion

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    May 2, 2009

    I have experienced some of the above in my district. I have been banned from one middle school for "writing too many referrals." The principal who banned me also says things to his teachers like, "We have to understand their culture" which I now know means because they disrespect their parents and do whatever they want without consequences, we should lower our standards, let the "little" things go (like dress codes violations, cell phones, IPODS) and don't assign homework (because they won't do it anyway).

    This same principal held a personal development session on "bullying." When it started, the first thing said to the teachers was, "Are you bullying your students?"
     
  9. Major

    Major Connoisseur

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    May 3, 2009

    "One last thing....what sort of classroom management techniques do you use and what sort of rules do you enforce if you sub middle or high school?"

    I give misbehaving students a warning which clearly expresses my expectations. I then ask them if they understand what I said and what is expected of them. If they continue to misbehave I remove them from the class room. ..:eek::eek:

    I've always enjoyed full backing from the school administration. If I didn't get that I simply wouldn't teach at that particular school again. That's never happened.

    I have a firm belief that teachers (regular or substitute) should not accept grief in any form from any student. You are the teacher; they are the students. You are there to teach; they are there to learn.

    Major....:):)
     
  10. LNP

    LNP Rookie

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    May 3, 2009

    I realized yesterday that a simple admonition to flee may not always work; and much like myself, not everyone can run from a school or district. Too, some folks just can't let things slide, and let's face it, when we get into these situations that are made to feel like 'it's our fault', some will focus that much more intently on making a success out an obviously bad situation, and 'cracking the code' that changes the dynamic.

    That said, here are a few strategies I've used when faced with recalcitrant or disruptive classes. I firmly stress these are only things I do to get through a class with a minimum of mayhem, and have nothing, NOTHING to do with actually teaching anyone anything; they are merely classroom management strategies. I use these strategies as a middle-aged White male, in a heavily poor and minority district, so these are applicable to me only.

    Firstly, many of the students are accustomed to getting away with all kinds of berserk behavior; and warnings, etc. do not work. Typically, in the worst schools struggling for funding, the school will do almost anything to avoid losing even a single student, and a physical assault with documentable injuries is often the only thing that will get them even suspended, so during your single day, discipline strategies are OUT. The staff will not listen to you, and your efforts at containment or discipline will be ignored or resented.

    This leaves entertainment and engagement. A few of things I do: I get in early, and having practiced beforehand, I write the class instructions on the board, chalk or dry-erase, in big, colorful graffiti letters. I also write my name on the board in big, colorful graffiti letters. This has created some issues with some staff members who feel it's 'inappropriate', but if you look at your students' binders and materials, you will find them covered in graffiti writing. It gets their attention and resets their expectations. Usually, they'll walk in, look, ask who drew the letters, and then stop to think. I always, always hide the writing materials, chalk or markers so they can't tag my work; and often, it inspires some of the worst behavior problems to sit down and start drawing their own stuff, as a kind of 'Bring it' reaction. I've had obvious gang members ask me for paper and pens, sit down, and start writing, then show me their work at the end of the class. No joke. This sounds bizarre, but I did it once as a kind of exasperated act, and it worked so well I do it in every classroom I think I might have a problem with. It works.

    Also, I wear gaudy tennis shoes. People comment on the shoes and show off their own kicks. I take attendance and make an extra effort to write down phonetic pronunciation of names so I can address students accurately.

    I make positive comments to everyone as I take attendance: Nice shoes; thank you for coming today; I appreciate your efforts. I use endless, relentless pleases and thank yous. Everything is relentlessly polite. Please; thank you; excuse me; any nicety I can think of and more. None of it will be reciprocated, but it sets a tone of ME respecting THEM. Whether I mean it or they deserve it is immaterial.

    Food, I don't bother enforcing, as long as there is not too much of a mess. Many times the students do not eat properly, and it's a tossup whether having a hungry kid versus a kid hopped up on Red Bull and sugar is better or worse, but I let them eat. mp3 players and phones? As long as the music isn't too loud and not too obvious I don't get too worked up about it. If they pull the earbuds out and blast foul-mouthed rap, I call them on it, and they usually won't put up too much of a fight. I usually phrase this as, "Come on, man. Could you put plug back in, please? Thank you". I never, EVER try to view or confiscate an electronic device.

    As far as work, I pass out whatever is there, usually worksheets or whatever, and regardless of instructions otherwise, make it clear it is to be turned in at the end of the block. I blatantly help and guide anyone who is actually working. Anyone who sleeps, I let them.

    Often, there will be physical activities; people pulling out earbuds and trying to set up a dance ring in the center of the classroom, opening windows and screaming out, people disappearing out the door. The challenge if that happens, is to have already set up a dynamic of slightly exasperated tolerance, which is what most of them are used to, and tell them, "Look guys, I realize you want to have some fun, but this just isn't the time or place for that. I'm sorry, we just can't do that. Thank you".

    These strategies do not always work; but they are more successful than not. For truly awful circumstances in the upper grades, the key to making it through a day is making a huge show of respect, finding some way to show the students you are 'cool', and if they respond well enough, you might actually be able to teach somebody something. The bottom line is, whether I like it or not, there is usually nothing I can accomplish in one day except keep the lid on. That's it.

    Again: these behaviors I use are for single-day classes only, and only in the places I KNOW are volatile. For any actual teaching, I would not do the 'I'm cool' shtick, but if your job depends on minimal disruption and getting along with the student body, these ideas can and do work. If you find these suggestions sad and repulsive, I understand, but I've found it makes everyone's day a little easier.

    You know, most of the students I deal with are intelligent, smart, capable people saddled with ideas about themselves that are just pathetic. They are trapped in behaviors of low-down street culture that gets them nowhere, and most of the time, have no idea who they are or what to do. They're lost. Given a classroom, I know exactly what I would do, but I do not have my own classroom, and my job is to make it through a day with a minimum of fuss.

    Hope there are some ideas in here that may help. :mellow:
     
  11. Major

    Major Connoisseur

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    May 3, 2009

    Gaudy tennis shoes....... and letting them play their mp3s??? I never thought of this........:rolleyes:

    Your job is to make it through the day with a minimum of fuss??:confused::confused: I always thought a teacher was there to teach...
     
  12. LNP

    LNP Rookie

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    May 3, 2009

    "I thought a teacher's job was to teach".

    Yes, it is. Which is why I stressed, or tried to stress, that these 'let's all get along' strategies are used ONLY in circumstances I remember as having, or know are going to have, the potential for explosive behavior by an entire class without backup from administration. A huge brawl over student behavior from a one-day place-filler stresses an already overworked administration who will hate you for the disruption. If I walk into a school where I know, I KNOW, one more time, I KNOW FOR A FACT that if the class erupts in violence due to an attempt to enforce written polices that the blame will fall on ME, I work with those circumstances as best I can.

    Is it morally right? Absolutely not. But again, if the school itself has inconsistent enforcement, or nonexistent enforcement, of their own written policies, and the students are unaccustomed to enforcement of the rules, then trying to bring the hammer down will cause a world of trouble. And I'm talking about job retention here, not ideals.

    In more cooperative circumstances, I don't play 'cool guy'. But in unworkable assignments, and by unworkable I mean instant confrontations, potential violence, and entire classrooms that will turn on you like a dog pack for simply asking for quiet, I keep my head down, get through the day, get along with everyone, and hope for a more workable assignment following. And that's it.

    My actual advice initially to the initial poster was to get out; and I only posted some last-ditch strategies I've used in wild schools to account for the fact that currently, not everyone can pick and choose where they work. If you get stuck with assignments that are going to cause potential job loss due to confrontations over attempted enforcement of the rules, well, do what you can to keep the peace for the period or block or day.

    And try to find another assignment.

    I meant no offense about the job being about teaching, as it is; but I do not believe that is always possible in a single-day assignment in a school that is out of control.
     
  13. Major

    Major Connoisseur

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    May 3, 2009

     
  14. YaoShao

    YaoShao Rookie

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    May 5, 2009

    Thanks for the detail!

    Wow thank you so much for all the detail! I am incredibly grateful because often when I talk to subs they give very vague, brief descriptions of their style like "I lay the smack down on them" or "I charm them into behaving."

    Hmmm what you say makes sense. It really does suck when you are surrounded by school districts where it seems there is little or no control. So pretty much I guess I need to throw every rule out the window in these cases with the exception of letting kids actually leave the classroom whenever they desire or beat the snot out of each other.

    I don't know, I'm relieved to hear that there isn't some magic formula, that basically you have let the kids do almost whatever they want, that I couldn't find. I was seriously stressing this out because all the sub books say that you should come up with super awesome activities to get them to behave but I have yet to find any that really "lost" kids want to do. They often think activities are stupid and just want to chat or talk on their phones.

    At the same time it's saddening because I know several subs who have gotten fired for not enforcing things like no cell phones or electronics in my old school district, or who were turned down for actual teaching jobs for the same reason. Because principals saw that the subs could not enforce any rules. I'm not saying you, I, or any other sub in our type of situation is horrible, but honestly it is unfair the situation we are put in: we are expected by the admin to not let kids get away with stuff, but then criticized when the students who are used to no rules get pissed. But if we do nothing we get criticized or banned from jobs.


    But seriously thank you again for giving me such a detailed description of your day! It really makes me feel better that there isn't some magical solution I am missing. Geeze substitute and classroom management books can really make you feel like an inadequate person when it comes to secondary level subbing. Tricks and games might work well in elementary school, but I've tried many things and few of them work in the high school level from games to being strict. Sometimes stickers work but often the students will yell at me "NO ONE CARES!!!"
     
  15. LNP

    LNP Rookie

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    May 7, 2009

    "No one cares" ... well, not necessarily. I care. Not about staff, but the students, as they're littler... I've been doing subbing for a while. Thank you, but I reread my own post and found my words lacking.

    There are a lot of people entering subbing right now, and I would hate to give people the impression I, personally, don't care, as I do; but I was, and am, sharing survival mechanisms I've learned over the years.

    Firstly, if you work in a major urban school district their sub roster is hundreds upon hundreds of people. It is impossible for the main office to pick out who is 'good' and who is 'bad' on a personal basis, and they will do an understandable thing and judge subs on a complaint-generation basis. They don't know you from jack. Keep in mind you are both unknown and largely (at this time) disposable.

    Secondly, if something goes wrong during the day, your best bets during the meeting to discuss your job future are:

    -Inexperience; 'I'm sorry, it's my first day, I misunderstood the policies'.

    -Incompetence: 'I failed to follow the teacher's lesson plans. I admit it, I'm sorry, I recognize my failure and I will make every effort to not have it happen again'.

    - Indication: 'I didn't follow the lesson plan as I chickened out and doubted my ability to implement such awesome lesson plans, and I'm sorry, I failed'.

    To survive in scary schools and make the admin happy, make yourself the bad girl/guy. "It's all my fault". If you chicken out, admit it. If you fail, admit it. The worst thing you can do is say some crap like, "I didn't like what you're doing and changed it". THAT little statement will cost you your job.

    The admin is likely doing everything they know how to do to keep the lid on the place, and having some wet-behind-the-ears tyro come in and declare them incompetent won't go over well.

    You know, I've been lurking on this board for several years and this is actually something right now I feel strongly about, with so many districts hiring on people with teaching degrees that can't manage difficult classrooms. It does the students no good at all to have rafts of lame subs that can't get control, and that's why I posted.

    Quick suggestion for middle school: Nonsensical questions.

    Teach: "I need to ask an extremely important question, and if I don't get an answer no-one goes to lunch. It's required. You guys gotta answer."

    Students (after several minutes of discussion): "What?"

    Teach: "Which do you like better, the Chihuahua or the Pug, and why? and don't shout out, raise your hand".

    (Students stare in dumbfounded reaction);)
     

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