Tuesday, October 01, 2019

My Recent Work

I spent last week being a substitute teacher in the local public school district.

I know.

Anyway, I decided that, since our neighborhood isn't that bad, I'd sub in our neighborhood schools. Then I found out that high school starts at 7:30, elementary school starts at 8:20, and middle school starts at 9:30, so I signed up to for a middle school opening. I was going to teach social studies to seventh graders.

It turns out, our neighborhood must be a lot worse than I know, because all the middle-schoolers in our neighborhood are delinquents. There were three fights in the hallway outside my classroom, and one in the doorway of my classroom, when a student from my third period came back to fight a student from my eighth period. My employee orientation stressed that I am not authorized to stop fights, so I got to just stand there while actual teachers came running down the hall.

So our local middle school was a bust. The next day, I signed up to teach second grade. The kids were great, but the other teachers were annoying. The para-educators who were coming and going all day were judging my classroom management skills. A lady in the hall flipped out that I wasn't given the right form of badge and took half my lunch to escort me to the office, but couldn't be bothered to talk to me while walking with me. So much of elementary education is making children into people who take arbitrary direction from authority. A boy in my class was wearing a hat. What did I care? We walked to art in a mostly linearish line, and with some quiet talking. What did I care? The art teacher flipped out on the boy in the hat, the kids who weren't directly behind another kid, and the kids who whispered when nothing else was happening. At the end of the day, dismissing children was as regimental as any military formation. Remember at the end of the school day, when you just got up and walked out? Those days are long gone, pal. You sit in a line, sorted by your transportation method. Then the bus riders march to another room to sit in another line. They are dismissed by when their bus driver radios in that he's ready, but they are made to believe that they are dismissed by how quiet and obedient they are. Like I said, the kids were great, and I liked the times I could communicate with the kids who had zero English capabilities and help them learn something new. But everyone who works at an elementary school is an overwrought neurotic woman who is seconds away from demanding to speak to the manager.

So our local elementary school was a bust. The next day, I signed up to teach foreign languages at a middle school that everyone in our ward says is the depths of educational hell. But I figured there was no way that foreign language subbing could be anything but reading a book while kids did busy-work. I mean, they can't expect me to know random languages they don't previously specify, right?

My first period was what I thought it would be: kids on computers while I read a book. But when I got to my second period, the teacher who was leaving the room said, "This teacher is here to teach you French." I said, "Well, I don't know about that." But then I thought about it, and I thought, "Why not? I've been doing the DuoLingo French course for a few months, now. These kids are in their first day of French class [it was never clearly explained to me why all the classes were reorganized a month into the school year, but they had been]. I can teach them some French." So I taught French for 45 minutes.

What's more, most of the kids in the room had little-to-no English capabilities, so I was teaching French from Spanish. (What's my Spanish background? I've been doing DuoLingo's Spanish course since January.) I'm not going to lie to you: it was the closest I've ever felt to being a genius. If I can teach a language I don't know in a language I don't know with zero warning, I don't think there's anything I can't do.

Then I took them to lunch (you have to escort kids everywhere, obviously) and brought them back to class (yes, lunch is in the middle of second period, for some reason). I wanted them to be quiet and let me read, but they wouldn't do that, so I taught them 45 more minutes of French. "¿Cómo se dice en francés, 'Me llamo Miguel'? Je m'appelle Miguel."

The school wasn't the hellhole I'd been led to believe. Maybe it used to be, but the students were mostly very-recent immigrants, and those kids are never problems. I really enjoyed it. In my last period, I taught English as a foreign language, and at the end of the day, everyone could name at least one new thing they had learned.

I went back to the same school the next day. I had to teach a lesson about mental health in Spanish when my para-educator didn't show up. The kids told me to say "delor de cabeza," not "infermo de cerebro."

At the end of the day, I was assigned to help the soccer coach lead the soccer club. One kid kicked a ball over the fence and across the road, where it rolled into a detention basin. The coach asked me to go get it. When I got there, it had drifted far from the shore. I tried to reach it with a fallen branch, but it was too far. I threw the branch near the ball to start a disturbance that would cause the ball to drift. An observing bus driver, idling in her bus awaiting the end of the day, came over to tell me, "There are water moccasins in there! You should be careful!" Throwing more things at the ball ended up doing the trick.

That afternoon, I finalized my contract with my new employer (for October), so I knew I didn't have to substitute teach anymore for a while. I thought I'd learned that teaching kids with zero English capabilities was where it was at, so I went back to our local middle school for my last day before starting my new job.

I was wrong. The recent immigrants in my neighborhood have not yet reached a critical mass, so they are still outnumbered by the delinquent children, who serve as their role-models of how an American school kid is supposed to behave. It was an entire day of telling kids to sit down, stop running, sit down, stop yelling, sit down, don't throw things, and sit down, mostly in Spanish.

I had one girl in class who said nothing. Another girl said, "She doesn't speak Spanish." I asked, "What does she speak?" The other girl said, "No one knows." I took my phone and Googled "hello different languages." I found a page that had "hello" in 21 different languages. We scrolled through them together and she didn't recognize any of them. I found a different page that had "hello" in 100 languages, but she didn't know any of them, either. I looked up "hello African languages," and eventually, we found out that she speaks Kinyarwanda. Then I went to Google Translate, but Kinyarwanda isn't supported by Google Translate (which has over 100 languages). I found an online dictionary and used it to ask her if she had a dictionary. She said no. I looked one up on Amazon, and it cost less than $12. I texted my wife to ask her to use her parents' Amazon Prime account to order it for same-day delivery. That was giving her problems, but she was able to have my mother use her Prime account to do it for us. And then it didn't arrive until after the school day ended, so I couldn't give it to the girl.

I'm planning to take the dictionary to the school for her tomorrow morning when I'm off work. However, I'm worried the overwrought neurotics will be convinced that I'm engaging in sexual grooming and refuse to pass the book along. They will probably even demand to speak to my manager.

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