Tag Archives: teaching

Marked as absent

I’ve been home with a nasty cold for two days now. It hit me on Saturday morning, then I rallied a bit for Sunday and Monday, then I succumbed to fits of coughing, wads of tissues, an inability to breath through my nose despite the constant blowing of said nose, a voice like Lauren Bacall’s, and various aches and pains.

So I’ve called in sick yesterday and today. Because I can. I am not provided with a substitute teacher in my particular job until I have been absent for three days, (something to do with teacher shortages and budget cuts, I believe), so I don’t have to plan for someone else to teach my classes. That, as any teacher out there will tell you, is sometimes worse than going in to work when you’re feeling like crap. Yes, it’s part of our jobs to always leave a plan and materials ready for the next day when we leave the school every night, but when you KNOW that someone else will be doing the job for you that day, you plan things differently.

For example, I teach French Immersion, so I do everything in French, including all my planning. There is ALWAYS a shortage of French Immersion substitute teachers in my district, so many times, even if we request someone who is French-speaking, the district sends someone who is not. So, most French Immersion teachers will try to write their dayplan in English if they know they will be absent the next day, because chances are very good that their replacement teacher will only speak English.

Also, you need to be more precise and detailed when writing a plan for someone else to follow. Normally, a teacher would write something like “1:30 – 2, buddy class, Karen has book”. Huh??? So, when planning for a substitute, you would change that to “1:30 – 2, buddy class – grade 1s from Karen Jones’ class come to our class. My students all have a Grade 1 partner (see attached list). The partners from Group A (see attached list) go back to Karen’s class, those in Group B (see attached list) stay with me. Read book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (Karen will bring it) to Group B. My students then help the Grade 1s to write a sentence and illustrate their favourite part of the story. If time, each partner can share their work with the whole group.”

See what I mean? And you have to do this for every single lesson that day – all while feeling lousy and just wanting to go home, take some aspirin, and sleep for a week.

Of course, there are certainly times where you cannot plan ahead like that, when illness strikes in the middle of the night with a rather abrupt trip to the toilet or perhaps the plaintive cry of a child at 3am: “Mommeeeeeee! I feel siiiiiiick!” swiftly followed by the hiccuping and crying that signal that the child has just vomited in their bed. In that case, as soon as you can, you book your absence on the school district website and hope for the best, because you are NOT going to work in the morning. Some very conscientious teachers will, at that point, create an entirely new plan for the day and email it to the school secretary who will then pass it on to the substitute teacher who arrives to teach the class in the morning. But if you’re writhing in pain from a migraine, you’re obviously not going to do that, so whoever teaches your class is just going to have to figure out your cryptic notes on their own.

And that’s if someone arrives at all! Because, again, due to budget cuts and lack of hiring, it’s not unheard of for there to be no one at all to teach your class, particularly if you book your absence later than, say, 10pm the night before. Substitute teachers browse the available absences in the evening and can choose which job they would like to do the next day. Few of them check the website at 5 or 6am in the morning, so those absences that are unfilled at that time, often stay unfilled. Oh, there are people in the district office who make a token phone call or two in the morning to a few substitute teachers who haven’t yet picked up a job for the day, but I don’t think they try too hard, quite honestly. This has been an issue in my school district for many years now, and the superintendents keep saying that it’s the teachers’ faults for taking so much time off, that the system can’t keep up with the demand. I say, if the demand is there, then hire more substitutes! It’s a growing school district, after all! But then there’s the chronic underfunding of our public school system, and I won’t go into my regular rant about THAT today.

So what happens when there’s no substitute to teach a class? Well, in an elementary school such as mine, non-enrolling teachers are put into those classrooms: learning support teachers (like me), music teachers, librarians, vice-principals, principals. Which means that we don’t get to do our own jobs that day, and the kids lose out. And since out of all those non-enrolling teachers at my school, I am the only one who speaks French, pretty much every single time that we are missing a substitute teacher in a French class, I am asked to cover the class. Fortunately, my principal and vice-principal are a couple of the “good” ones, so we usually work out a sharing arrangement: I teach till recess, for example, and we switch the plan around so that everything that absolutely must be in French (like reading or writing lessons), I will do during that time. Then my principal will teach between recess and lunch, and the VP will teach in the afternoon, both of them in English. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s not an entire day lost for any of us or for the kids.

Then, of course, regardless of how detailed your dayplan was or who actually taught your class that day, when you come back to work, there’s all that “catch-up” to do. The kids are usually all over you: “Where WERE you, Madame?” “We never got to go to the library yesterday, so can we go today?” “It was hot lunch and I didn’t get my doughnut!” You probably don’t have an actual dayplan for the day, because you were absent the day before (though you probably have a pretty good idea of where you were going next with each lesson), so you first have to determine what was actually completed from the day before. Then you have to very quickly decide what to do next – and get the materials organized even quicker, because your students are waiting. And hopefully, you didn’t come back to work too soon, while you’re still a bit ill and lacking energy – but hey, you’re a teacher and you probably did, because you know how things go when you’re absent.

So yeah, sometimes it really IS easier to go in to work and teach when you’re not feeling great.

Been there, done that. But not this time. I’m sick and I’m at home. eb3bef92bc4d187296ecc01369d06e0b


WHAT do jellyfish have?!

The schools in my neck of the woods reopened today after a two-week Christmas break. It didn’t take anybody too long at all to get back into the swing of things, either kids or teachers.

I was working with one of my reading groups this morning, reviewing how to survey a non-fiction book prior to actually reading it. I was trying to emphasize to the ten-year-olds gathered around the table that they could glean a whole lot of information just from examining the cover, the title page, the table of contents, and the index. (Try it sometime – you might be surprised at how that gets your brain already thinking about what you’re going to read and how much easier the information then gets in there when you do read!)

imagesWe started by looking at the front and back covers of the book, which was entitled “Les m├ęduses” (“Jellyfish”). I asked each kid to tell the group some detail that he or she learned just by looking at the photos. Then we moved on to the title page and we did the same thing. Both the cover and the title page had several photos of jellyfish – which makes perfect sense, since the book was about jellyfish. The kids came up with all kinds of things, such as the colours of the jellyfish, the apparent size of them, what else was in the water around them, and so on.

We moved on to the table of contents. There was yet another photo of a jellyfish there, along with the requisite list of the various chapters of the book. Before reading the title of each chapter, I had the kids tell me what they noticed about this jellyfish as compared to the photos we’d previously seen. Again, they mentioned things like colour and size.

One girl decided to be a little more precise. She began, “It looks like the testicles of this jellyfish …”

She trailed off. The other kids looked at her, stunned. Then they started to snicker. She bravely carried on, face reddening slightly.

“No – wait – they’re not testicles – they’re – um – tentacles! And they’re longer on this jellyfish than on the others!”

I couldn’t even look at her. “Yes, you’re right,” I replied, trying to keep as neutral a tone as I could. “These tentacles are quite a bit longer on this jellyfish.”

The other kids kept giggling for a while, but eventually settled down and we continued the lesson.

Now, one thing you have to understand is that this happened entirely in French. So really, isn’t the important thing here that this ten-year-old French Immersion student actually knew how to say “testicles” in perfect French? Isn’t it??

And I don’t even want to speculate exactly HOW she knew it.

Feeling appreciated

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this about a gazillion times, but I am the French reading specialist in my school. I work with small groups of kids, all day long, trying to help them become better readers. I teach kids phonics, I teach them little tricks to help them remember all those phonics, I teach them how to blend sounds together to make words, I teach them commonly-used words that need to be memorized because they can’t really be sounded out, I teach them how to predict, I teach them how to access what they already know, I teach them how to summarize stories, I teach them how to extract and organize information from non-fiction texts, I teach them reading comprehension strategies so they know what to do if they don’t understand what they have just read. Reading is actually a pretty complicated business and most classroom teachers do all this stuff with their entire classes. My job is to review and reteach and practice all of this with those kids who, for whatever reason, don’t pick it up easily within the larger classroom.

Every kid progresses at their own rate. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) So, I get to see a lot of progress every year. I evaluate the French reading of every single kid in my school every June. From those results, I know who I will be working with the next September. I re-evaluate those kids with whom I have worked in December, and change up the groups for January. I do this again in March, just before Spring Break. The door to my classroom is pretty much revolving, as my reading groups often change quite a bit during a school year.

This is very satisfying work, for the most part. Yes, there are the “chronic” poor readers, those kids that I work with year after year, the ones whose rate of progress is actually quite slow and who fall behind – and usually stay behind their classmates, unfortunately. There’s a few of those in every grade. But there are a lot more that I see for a term or two, then they’re off and reading at or near the expected grade level. I love it when that happens, and always make a big deal of telling a kid that they’re reading so well now that I have nothing more to teach them, so I’m going to drop them from my group and take another kid whose could use a little help with their reading. Some of the little ones don’t like leaving my group (there have actually been a few tears over the years!), but by and large, the kids are all pretty pleased with themselves – and they should be, because I make them work hard!

And sometimes the parents express their appreciation for my efforts, too. At the end of every year, I’ve had lots of lovely cards and notes to thank me, and sometimes little gifts – all totally unnecessary, but really very nice!

photo And look – recently, I got this, smack in the middle of the school year! After the March reading evaluations, I had emailed this particular mom about her daughter’s very impressive results, because the kid was now reading pretty much at grade level, after having been almost a non-reader in September. The mom came in to discuss those results and was so happy that she brought me a thank-you present – this orchid! She told me that she thought I was wonderful, that I had given her daughter the self-confidence to try, and that her daughter absolutely loved me!

And that made my day, it truly did, and now, every time I look at that orchid, I think that maybe, sometimes I really DO make a small difference somewhere – and that maybe, sometimes, that gets noticed. And I smile.

And I love my job!