Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sick.

I'm posting late today. My posting juices usually flow better in the morning, but today the only thing that was flowing was my nose. (Sorry, TMI?) What I'm saying is, I'm sick. Sick as a dog. Sick as a dog who is pregnant and unable to take Nyquil and therefore hasn't really slept in three nights. Yeah. It's awesome. I'm living the dream. As a result, I spent a great deal of time on the couch, in the shower and with my head in my hands. And you know what?

I felt lucky.

Is that insane?

Let me explain some of my thinking. As many of you know, this is the Year of the Dissertation for me (as well as the Year of Launching My Own Website and the Year of Hopefully Selling Another Book), so I am out of the classroom. As I reached for tissue number 476, I thought to myself, "Self, what the hell would you do if you were teaching right now?"

Would I take a day off to wallow in my sickness? (Pregnancy and a lack of drugs such as Sudafed make me slightly less of a trooper than I have been in the past.)

Would I struggle through the day? (Probably doing okay through the morning but feeling as if I had been hit by a bus by lunchtime therefore rendering me useless to small children.)

Would I spend hours agonizing over the decision and feel terrible no matter what choice I made? (Duh. Clearly. This kind of guilt is part of teaching, right?

I SUCKED at taking a day for myself. I HATED being absent. I mean, yeah, if I was vomiting repeatedly, struck down by the flu or in some way broken, it would be a bit easier and probably worth it...but when you just feel like general butt? That my friends, was always a conundrum for me. Do I really want to deal with making up decent sub plans? (No.) Do I really want to deal with the behavioral issues that will surely be left behind for me to deal with? (Uh, no again.) Do I really want to come in early to clean up the debris? (I think you know the answer to that.)

But, on the other hand, do I really want to cough and hack my way through the day and possibly infect my friends who are never absent meaning we will now pass my grossness around to one another for months to come?

Mr. Mimi and every other non-teacher in the world does not understand the drama, the agony, the mental cluster f*ck that is trying to decide when you are sick enough to actually take a day. And for some reason I would ALWAYS get sick at the end of a break or the end of a weekend meaning that if I did decide to take a day, I would be the douche who took the day after a holiday and/or a Friday or a Monday. Even though they're called sick days, which sound like general days, they are really Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Ironically, a lovely reader (Thanks SGC!!) sent me New York Times OpEd piece recently that touched upon just this issue. It is a piece written by a substitute teacher who seems to...well she appears to...I think she might just hate teachers. And you know that even if she does have a teeny tiny bit of a point at times, you know that when I pick up on that teacher-hater vibe I swing into full Mimi-mode (read: a raging B who shoots her mouth off and posts without re-reading or editing.) (Don't ask me why sometimes I decide to skimp out on the curse words....to keep you on your toes maybe?)

Here's the linky-poo. Take a moment and read. And then we shall tear it to bits, shall we not?

Can we just start by taking a moment to realize that she referenced throwing an eraser at a child?! Um, come again?

Okay, the woman has a teensy bit of a point that substitute teachers could use more support and/or training. I know that many subs are literally dumped into a building and handed a schedule that may or may not be correct, legible or make any sense. I get that. I get that because the same crap happens to teachers, just not everyday. And I was totally with her when she suggested that perhaps the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher should be altered. Sure. Why not? Although if we really want to go down that road perhaps we should spend our time making it more difficult to become a teacher teacher first.

And then she said this:
"Nationwide, 5.2 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, a rate three times as high as that of professionals outside of teaching..."

And it was on.

Really? Really? And may I ask where she got such data? Also, do I need to point out that most other professionals don't work in petri dishes of germ and plague. Most other professionals aren't regularly sneezed on, coughed on and barfed on. Most other professionals work with other professionals who stay home when they are contagious rather than come to school because their parents can't take a day off work/find childcare/whatever. Most other professionals are only exposed to adult germs, not the lovely germs of childhood which include some real zingers such as strep throat, pink eye and ring worm. (I know, the list just gets hotter, doesn't it?)

While I can't disagree that teachers should leave "clear and manageable lesson plans" and not expect a sub to cover new material, I think our little friend here needs to realize that many times, teachers have exactly three minutes to scribble a lesson plan on any scrap of paper in whatever magic marker/pen/crayon is nearby because they had no notice that the gym teacher/music teacher/art teacher was absent and they are now late to a meeting and the sub is standing there staring while the kids are beginning to lose their tenuous hold on their shit. Call me crazy if I think it's hard to come up with genius under that kind of pressure.

Her suggestions are priceless as well. Here is my personal favorite. (Warning: make sure you are sitting down or at least sipping on a cocktail. Do not throw your cocktail at the computer. It's not worth it.)

"Principals should also try to arrange for other teachers to use their prep time to fill in for their absent colleagues."

(Deep breath.)

(And again.)

Where to even begin? First of all, I hate to burst this person's bubble but 80% of my preps are not my own and are taken up by PD and meetings that are scheduled for me. Second of all, my school did this to some of our out of the classroom teachers and even though you know I had issues with them (from time to time), I thought this was cruel and unusual punishment because it meant that they had to cancel their regular classes, abandon their own plans, and as a result eight more teachers lost a prep. Lady, PREPS ARE GOLD. Do you have any idea the sheer number of expectations, responsibilities and tasks a teacher has to complete during the day and you want us to sub for each other on our preps?!? Perhaps your pee-holding muscles are more finely honed than mine, but I'm going to go ahead and say this suggestion is a no go.

This might sound strange coming from the Educational Queen of Mean, but you get more flies with sugar sister. If you want to improve the daily work lives of substitute teachers, be my guest. But hating on the teachers who might possibly be your biggest support group isn't the way to go. I think we in the educational world should all stop tearing each other down and for the love of God, STOP RIPPING ON TEACHERS EVERY OPPORTUNITY WE GET. And never, ever, EVER suggest putting more on our plates. They are full. And slopping over onto the table.

And now, could you please pass the tissues?

27 comments:

Becky said...

While we're at it, sign me up for those weekend and summer inservices! WTF?!

Side note...My doctor recommended Sudafed & plain Robitussin during both my pregnancies. I used to get a cough/chest congestion thing every winter and they couldn't break out the big guns, but those helped somewhat. Hope you're feeling better soon!

Suzi said...

My biggest suck ins of breath.... the prep time thing, the weekend inservices, and the personally calling the principal when we're absent comment. Ummm, no. FYI, my sister is sick also, right on time, right at the end of the break. Ugh.

sheldinski said...

And don't forget, we "bad" teachers for taking the day off (sick or not) are the reason this douche bag has a job substituting.

Rebecca said...

I read that earlier and was pretty annoyed by the suggestion that other teachers sub on their preps. If I don't get at least some break from the kids during the day, I will be on the news. Not in a good way, either.

Also, I've been the absent teacher when others subbed for me on their preps. It sucks way worse than having one sub, even though they're teachers and have at least seen my kids--usually I don't have much discipline issues to deal with, but following the lesson plan doesn't always happen. The math teacher subbed for my geography class one time. We were studying the Middle East & Islam. He hated the middle east, muslims, and most the countries in that region. With a passion. That he decided to tell the kids about. Not great for collegial relations when I was trying to get across that to my group of rednecky kids that not all Muslims are terrorists. . . c'mon, do you hear about the normal Southern Baptists on the news? No, just the ones bombing abortion clinics. Okay, so you're probably not hearing about hte normal Muslims on the news either.
I would also like to know where her statistic came from, and how many of those days are required PD days, trainings, etc.

Melissa E. said...

I know what you mean about being sick. It almost wasn't worth the trouble of writing all of those plans. Honestly, I'd rather be violently ill than write three hours of plans. I had both good subs and bad during my seven years as a classroom teacher, the worst being when she broke into my locked art cabinet and let the kids paint (!!!) and half of my art supplies mysteriously disappeared.

I'm an ELL Teacher now, and the job has it's own challenges. The reward, however, is that they don't get me subs. If I am absent, the kids just stay in their classrooms. Not that I'm absent often. I think I won the record for the shortest maternity leave last year. . . 26 school days off.

Stu said...

I, too hope you're feeling better, Mrs Mimi...

I subbed before I got a job teaching. I taught in a general ed classroom for about 20 years. I have taught in a pull out program for the last 14 years.

The nasty sub was right about some things. Sometimes lesson plans are not easy to figure out. Sometimes things don't go the way they are supposed to go. Sometimes the kids take advantage of subs. Subs need more support, higher pay, and better training. That's all true.

In my career as a pull out teacher (Reading Recovery, Intervention, and the like) I have had to cancel my students in order to sub for the teacher who got sick after lunch...or the one who was in an accident on the way to school and sitting in the emergency room with a concussion (thankfully no worse).

In my years as a classroom teacher I have had to take 10 additional kids into my classroom since there were no subs and one of our grade level partners was absent so her class was divied up...kids on the floor, tables, window sills, etc.

She's right...being a sub is not easy and teachers should do everything in their power to provide decent lesson plans. However...

The fact that things don't always go as they are supposed to go happens to teachers every day...twice a day...if we're lucky. Teaching is a job of constant adjustment. Sure it's hard...but it's what we need to do to be successful with our children.

MY biggest objection to what she said was more "how she said it." She said that a teacher took a mental health day...as if that were not a legitimate reason for being absent. We all know the truth...mental health days are necessary parts of our jobs. The first thing that teachers need to do...and the thing that most of us find so hard to do, is to take care of ourselves. We are overworked, overstressed and undervalued. Mental health breaks are the shield against complete breakdown.

Yes...teachers should do the best they can to make the transition for subs easier and more efficient...subs need to be better valued and trained...

Mimi's right, though. We need to support each other. Subs, tell the teachers what you need...in your note at the end of the day make suggestions that would have made your day easier. Politely.

institutrice said...

First, is it wrong that I laughed so hard I choked on my dinner when I read about the sub hitting the blind student in the face with an eraser? (And really, why is she throwing things at students, blind or not?)

My sub plans are four page, typed, single-spaced novels with explicit details on how to teach each lesson. (Plus a welcome letter that explains class procedures and problem children.) I also say right up front, "If students are not done when it's time to move on, tell them to write it down for homework." Because seriously, you cannot spend two hours letting kids illustrate haikus when I gave you 20 minutes. (That was a doozy of a day - I gave the sub 10 things to do; she did 4, plus the extra coloring time, extra recess, and Spanish names. Si, es verdad.) Thank God no one was around when I went back to school after the workshop because F bombs were flying everywhere.

Something occurred to me while reading the article, that maybe since I never subbed, I write my plans out like I was going to be at school. Maybe teachers who started their teaching career as a substitute teachers write the kind of plans they had as subs, and the vicious cycle continues... ?

I also question the absentee-rate data. I've worked in three different school in the past ten years, and people are on their deathbed before they call in sick. On the other hand, I know it is such a huge problem in the Philadelphia Public Schools that they have started limiting sick day usage by allowing only three sick "occurrences"; apparently if you're sick, it doesn't matter how many days you take, or if you have a doctor's note, you can only be sick three separate times. That is messed up, right?

I've gone years at a time without taking a sick day, but this year I've had to take two. And both times the problems occurred at reading groups. The first time the sub listened to the kids instead of following my plans, and the second time the sub ignored my plans for guided reading (I explained exactly how to do it!) and told the kids she didn't care what my plans said, she was going to do whatever she wanted. Both times I had to waste the next two days fixing their mess-ups. I guess the lesson for me is to not plan reading group centers!

For me, it all comes down to following directions. If you can't follow directions, then don't be a sub!

Stacey said...

"Not a single state requires that substitutes hold a teaching degree."
Apparently this woman did her research incorrectly, because in Minnesota teaching degrees ARE required to sub! Teaching jobs are notoriously difficult to come by here so most students graduate college and go on to sub for at least a few years. In order to get a license we have to have a bachelors in education and take multiple state tests, as well as pay lots of money for said tests and license. (Our income definitely does not match up with how much money we pay in!) However, not all states have such high standards. Maybe she should take into account that in some states even regular teachers aren't required to do much to get a license, so what do they expect for subs?

Substitute Teacher said...

I AM a substitute teacher and I thought the substitute from the article was a little off her rocker. I have never really known a teacher who abused their privilege of taking a sick day or personal leave. I think the major difficulty is all the mandatory teacher meetings (and no, I don't think they should be on the weekend or summer)--but who am I to complain, they give me a job!

On the flip side, I do think substitute teachers are under valued. I currently make less money per hour as a certified (yes, I am certified. My district requires it) substitute teacher than the non-certified staff at the school (i.e. para-educators). It's funny that I paid so much money to get certified when I could have done an easier, more consistent job for higher pay and benefits! Oh well, hopefully I'll find a full-time position before too long.

I do have one request of you full-time teachers out there. Give us subs some respect. Our job is hard. We need to be every bit as flexible, creative, and patient as all of you. Please provide us with well organized sub plans, important numbers, a seating chart, what your behavior plan is, what works for certain kids in certain situations (you know the kids I'm talking about), what are the emergency plans (fire drill, etc), do the kids have any health issues I should know about, and what are your students expected to do when they have completed an assignment. Oh, and please, please, please give your sub enough to do! The hardest days have been those where the teacher has assigned the students an hour to do a 20 minute assignment. I apologize that we don't always finish everything that you asked us to, or that we don't always leave the best notes , or leave your room quite as nicely as we should (unlike you, the office doesn't like it if we stay too late. I know, I've tried). Most substitute I know have a great respect for teacher, please show us the same respect.

Rebecca said...

Girlfriend, you amaze me that you are able to spit that much awesome fire at your blog when sick! You're a powerhouse. As someone who had a child SNEEZE IN MY FACE yesterday, I can safely say that you are correct that other professionals do not have that happen on a day-to-day basis.

Jenny said...

Rebecca is right that one of the reasons teachers are out is because of professional development. In other jobs when folks are out for training or meetings they are not considered to be off from work. They are just 'at work' somewhere else. But because we need a sub even if we are out for a meeting for half an hour it looks like we are out way more than we are.

Miss Eyre said...

Oh boy, Mrs. Mimi, your post made me want to SCREAM! Not at you, LOL, but at the circumstances that necessitated it.

One way that we could make subbing easier and better is to have a few subs per building who work that building primarily. Our school has a list of a few preferred subs who then come to know the kids, the teachers, and the school procedures that they can wing it if they have to. Also, the kids know that there's a good chance I'll follow-up with the sub face-to-face in short order about any issues while I'm gone, and they don't tend to act up much.

That said, I've NEVER left a sub without plans. And if I know I'm going to be absent (for a professional development or outpatient medical procedure, say), I tell the kids ahead of time what I'm expecting to be done in my absence. They are remarkably good at self-policing while I'm gone (most of them, at least) if they know they have real, about-to-be-graded work to do.

blossomteacher said...

So sorry you are sick, but cruddy or not, you are still hilarious. Of course, it helps that everything you (and all the commenters)said is exactly what I was throwing at my dear hubby as he read me the article. Other teachers cover my class during their prep time? Awww, hell noooooo. I would drag myself to school 3/4 dead before doing that to my colleagues and friends. 5% absent? I have had snot fly directly from another kid's nose up my own. Point out any accountant who has to fend off that kind of germ warfare. After a couple of years of graphic stories, I finally trained my doctor to stop asking if "I had been around anyone sick." Anyone sick? It would be faster to list the 3 kids who aren't at the moment, thanks.

And I love how she complained about crappy sub plans, and then seemed to complain about the overly long sub plans in the next breath. What the hell? I leave 3-4 page sub plans for a single day out...the first page is stuff about kids, allergies, special needs, etc. I subbed before I taught, as had my mother before me, and I literally took my sub plans home for her to read over the first time I was out, to make sure they were sufficient. I am a lunatic about good sub plans. And just as an aside, in Texas, we require our subs to both go through training, and (I believe) to have 60 college hours.

Hopefully, some idiot will write something else stupid, to help fuel your month long blogging streak :)

Kim said...

I read that Op-ed column too, and had a major attack of eye-rolling. I started out as a sub, so I understand a bit of her frustration. I spent a week subbing between the time one teacher left and the new teacher started. The entire lesson plan left for the week by the old teacher was "they have to take their test. It should take the whole period." Thirty minutes in to a 110 minute block, everyone was done.

Anyway, I thought her most precious suggestion was that we should do our PD on weekends. Because it's not enough that we work all week, we should give up our weekends too. Oh, wait, that's right, we have our summers off to relax. /snark

jerel said...

Funny enough, I was out sick yesterday. (I had 2 weeks of winter break in which to be ill, and I get socked with some 24-hour bug the first day back. Blech.)

I totally understand the agony. Because it often seems like it's not worth the effort to find the sub (we have to find our own), come up with plans that don't involve the sub having to teach OR make any copies, and to come up with enough stuff to do so the kids don't have time to act up.

However, I guess I have it easier than all of the super K-5 teachers in your audience. I teach middle school, so I only have to come up with enough material to cover a 50-minute period. I can't imagine trying to plan for an ENTIRE school day.

And one side note on subs: at my husband's school, they have no money for subs. Literally no money. If someone's sick, the kids get divided between the other teachers of that grade. And yes, it is total chaos.

Get well soon!

Mimi said...

Substitute Teacher,
OMG! I heart the amazing subs! Totally! And I DO think it's one of the hardest jobs...just this woman...oh, this woman! Talk about not representing well!

Everyone - thanks for the healthy vibes. Am off to bed now to will myself to sleep. Fingers crossed that I can breathe!

Laura Swain said...

O M G. I would like to tell miss subby that I DO leave a detailed lesson plan. I DO leave nametags, a seating chart (WITH student pictures on it), and a brief summary of classroom routines (2 pp.). I DO designate my star student as a sub helper and have a LONG talk with my kids about showing respect to guest teachers. Behind this folder in my sub file, I have a folder labeled "extra work." I know as a teacher there is no greater horror than having 23 seven-year-olds left to twiddle their thumbs....so I stock that file with great seatwork and magazines to throw at the kids if all else fails.

I rearrange plans to make sure a sub doesn't have to teach new concepts or do the dreaded "construct a pyramid out of straws" math lesson.

HOWEVER....

Not one sub I've had has shown that they've used/read any of that information. IF they even bother to leave me a note, they say something like "Sally was very helpful in explaining ___________" ...like I didn't explain it myself in the freaking paper you didn't read! I'm sorry, when I call you two days in advance and you show up to school when the bell rings, it's pretty annoying.

Yes, subs have it hard. Flying by the seat of your pants constantly is taxing. And yes, teachers do it constantly, too, like others have pointed out.

It's fine to be frustrated, fine to vent about the woes of your job (we do it!), but NOT okay to point fingers and blame an entire PROFESSION. Let's be respectful and professional.

Laura Swain said...

Mimi you forgot one ailment....

LICE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK.

Don't think many office mongrels have to face head checks and bag everything in their room....

ChiTown Girl said...

I never should have read this before bedtime, because now my blood pressure is definitely raised!!! WTF?!

Like many before me have said, I leave awesome plans. As a matter of fact, nearly every single sub I've ever had has left me a note thanking me for such thorough plans. Two different subs even went out of their way to tell my principal the same thing. I leave seating charts, name tags, class list, etc. My plans are so detailed, I've asked other teachers several times if they are over the top. I'm always afraid that the sub reading them is going to think that I assume they're a moron, and that's why I'm spelling out every single little detail. I list the teachers to go to for help. I leave a form specifically designed for sub feedback. I mean, COME ON!! I'm sorry this person has had some bad experiences, but don't you dare lump all teachers together. I'll be sure to NOT ask for her the next time I have to stay home because one of my kindergartners sneezed in my mouth!!!! WTF?!?!?

sheldinski said...

I keep thinking about this article. And it still bothers me...probably because I AM one of those teachers (we probably all are) who feel guilty about taking a sick day. To have someone be such a douche about the sub plans I created at 5:30am....ughhh. O, and at my school, we DO have to call in to the assistant principal if we're going to be out sick. We don't have a messaging service like most districts do because we're small and rural.

And because of that, I work in a fairly warm and fuzzy atmosphere (at the high school level, I know, shock). I don't expect a sub to teach my class new lessons because I teach Spanish, and it's very hard to find a sub capable of doing that. But I leave enough self-directed activities that the sub won't have 30 pairs of eyes staring at her. I leave VERY detailed plans for each class and I generally never have a problem with a sub. In fact, I usually know them personally so I can call them if I know I'm going to be out in advance.

I've only had a few problems with subs ever and they involved the complete destruction of my room and one sub who thought he'd teach my Spanish 1 students how to say kegstand and then proceeded to ask them where in town he could buy one for this party he was having that night. (!!!)

Christine said...

Really???? Get over the teacher-hating lady! Subbing may not be the most fun but get over it or get a new job. And let's not lump all of the teachers in the world into one category just because some don't write good sub plans.

Susan said...

I am reading this post a few days late because my two year old and I have both been sick the last two days. (Your post was well timed) Of course this happens at 1:00 in the morning so I drag myself to school at 6:30am when the custodian arrives so I can write sub plans and get organized. When I told my husband what I had to do he goes, "Can't they just watch a movie?" Uh, no... I need to prepare something to keep 22 second graders engaged for two days with a substitute teacher.

I totally agree with you it is easier to go in and suffer than write sub plans and feel guilt.

Highlight: Today I am home with my two year old because there was a SNOW DAY!!!!

luckeyfrog said...

One thing we were assigned in a college class was to create emergency sub plans. I have a folder of these "emergency plans" in an easy-to-see place on my desk. The plans are still educational (not "watch a movie") but don't have to fit exactly into what we've been learning. I also included a basic set of rules and a weekly schedule of specials, etc. and some "brain teaser" pages in case students finish early.

These are a GREAT way to make sure that there are always plans, even if I'd get into an accident on the way to school or have some other kind of situation where I couldn't make it in!

I think there are good subs and bad subs. There ARE teachers who abuse their sick and personal days, but most teachers hate to be gone even if they are on their deathbed. I also think plans can be good or bad, and it's hard as a teacher to know how detailed you have to be. You might have a sub with a license (here in Indiana, it's not required- but I still know multiple recent teaching graduates who don't have jobs and are subbing instead). You might have someone who barely speaks English or just graduated high school and knows nothing about controlling a class, much less teaching them.

I do think that in-services should be after school when possible, but I know it's not always possible. Our schools each have a "permanent sub" which does ensure that while one person is out, there's a competent sub who knows the school. Summer inservices... well, I don't think they're a terrible idea, but good luck getting those through on the contract. Our teacher's union will NOT go for that.

Miss Molly said...

I am AMAZED that your subs are not qualified teachers! I'm a teacher in New Zealand and our classroom relievers are ALL university qualified teachers. They get paid around $200-250 a day to teach in our classes and don't necessarily even want lessons plans (and frankly when you are being paid that much for one day and you have a degree in that field, you should be able to conduct a days worth of fairly descent teaching). I think the woman in that article needs to realise the reality of teaching and what it takes to be a sub. Perhaps this is not the job for her?

LM said...

@ Miss Molly - I think our subs get maybe $70. a day.

Bronx teacher-lady said...

Outside of claims of lousy lesson plans, every single complaint the substitute teacher has is the responsibility of the school's administration, not the teachers, and therefore can only be rectified by the administration. Why is it, once again, that teachers are at fault for all that goes wrong in schools? As for being locked out of a building for 30 minutes, had the teachers been in the building, should they have left the children in their charge and gone and opened the door? Maybe the administration should have hire or assign someone the duty of door-opening,like a hall aide, security guard or custodian. The sub was most likely hired that day to cover a class for a teacher at the luncheon, which was an end-of-the-year (read: once a year) occurrence. I guess teachers should not be recognized once a year when all they do is needlessly take days off and cause every other ill in the school.

ms. v. said...

Until this year, I had NEVER even *seen* a sub in NYC schools. Never. Seen. A. Sub. We covered each other's classes, a sad state of affairs because losing your prep (for what amounted to about $25 a pop) added to your stress, making you more likely to get sick yourself... well, you can see where this ends up. One absence led to a cascade of absences. Fun.

Certainly there are both subs who try and those who don't, and teachers who take days off lightly (I worked with someone who took the end of the year - the last three days of school - to go to a softball tournament) and those who don't. The majority in both cases probably well-intentioned.

Teachers should leave simply-written sub plans (having the kids read a high-interest article, discuss, and answer questions is never a bad idea). Subs should come prepared with some ideas just in case (ask the kids what they are studying, play vocab bingo, that's what I did on emergency coverages when there was no plan).

Who exactly benefits from this level of divisiveness between teachers and subs?

Who's Peeking?