Crazy Things Students Say

I’m a full-time author. At least two days each work week (when school is in session), I substitute teach at the local middle and high schools.
Due to a shortage of licensed substitutes, my state allows any person with a Bachelor’s Degree to go through the training and application process and attain what is called a Restricted Substitute License. Although I hold no teaching degree, I have more than a decade of experience in education.

Why would I subject myself to such a topsy-turvy schedule? Two reasons:

  1. It’s not conducive to creativity to spend everyday in an office without interacting with other people (and social media doesn’t replace actual human face-to-face contact)
  2. Most of my publishing contracts are “royalties only” and the schools give me a much more regular (and at this point, substantial) paycheck

Since my dream is to write fantasy novels for young adults, this subbing thing keeps me engaged with their worldview and voice.


Heard at the Middle School

“If you’re an author, why would you be a sub?”

Why indeed! I generally give them reason number two as outlined above. I have been known to use other reasons, as well, but not to the same student.
Yes, this is a common question. For some reason, they think a published author should be SO famous and well-paid that they wouldn’t submit themselves to the degradation of being a substitute. (I don’t find it degrading. I actually enjoy it…most days.)
“Are you the sub?” Isn’t this obvious? I’m always amazed by this question.
“YES!” I never know how to respond to this unabashed joy that they have a substitute. It would be ego-affirming if it was because they liked me so much, but the reality is much darker. Any sub is preferable to the regular teacher.
What does that mean? Is the teacher mean? Are subs easy? What?


Heard at the High School

“Do people ever call you Miss Texas?” (Do you need context for this? My last name is often mispronounced as Houston by students.) “I’m from Texas, and I’d like to call you Miss Texas.”
Well, thank you, freshman male student. Now I can feel like a beauty pageant contestant–for an hour of my life.
“At least I had a dad.” I’m not sure this one needs any explanation. FYI, the student was laughing in a pleasant manner when he said it. (And no, it wasn’t directed at me.)
“You look familiar” (and after I say I’ve subbed often in the building) “No that’s not it. I think it’s from Facebook.”
Just when I’m wondering if my author page is blowing up with my young adult audience, the bubble is burst.


“You were one of my suggested friends.” (What does that even mean? I know she meant FB suggested me as someone she might know, but what is a suggested friend?)
“Hey, I know you!” I’m squinting at the skinny junior boy at my old alma mater. I definitely know the kid in the back of the row beside him.
I try the, “I subbed here two weeks ago” response.
“No, that’s not it.” He gives his forehead an exaggerated pound. “The middle school. Right?”
“Are you sure you can remember that far back?” Three years is a lifetime for teenagers. But I smile and assure him that he’s nailed it. Too bad he doesn’t smile so proudly when I hand him the essay assignment a few minutes later.
There are priorities. Writing class is rarely one of them for high school students.
These teenagers offer me plenty of smiles. And eye rolls. But best of all, their vivacity contributes fodder for future fiction. (Yes, I do love my alliteration.)
So, I’m glad that the state hasn’t changed the substitute teaching requirements just yet. I’m on my way to being licensed for three more years of inspiration from the world of public school.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve heard lately?

The Author and the Creative Writing Class

It’s rewarding to walk into a classroom and have a student say, “You’re the published author.” For someone whose dream is to write for the young adult audience, it’s especially thrilling.
I would know. I do. And it happened to me.
The next words from this thrilled student’s mouth? Care to guess?
“What did you write again.”
Yep. The face was memorable but the book title was not.
Although, several students recognized the cover of the book I had discussed with them in November, months before.


And then there was the creative writing class.
What I Expected
When the middle school English teacher gave me “freedom” to teach whatever I wanted to her creative writing class, I smiled. Maybe I sent the clouds scurrying from the radiant beams of joy.
“We’re finishing up a unit on mystery and suspense,” she wrote. “They have stories to read to the class.”
Long stories. I was impressed.
The fact many of the stories read more like horror? Not as impressive to my anti-scare self.
Based on the reaction from the regular English students (noted above), I expected the writers to fall all over me.
Not even a smile when I mentioned I was a published author. Oh-kay.
I did get a positive reaction when I told them we wouldn’t be moving on to the poetry writing unit. Cheers all around.
When I offered to comment on their rough drafts to see if they might want to make changes before they turned the story in two days later? Not a single taker.
My published status meant nothing to these young writers.
“I would have flipped if a published author offered to read my stories,” a little voice inside me whined.
Reality Bites
The forum the teacher used for sharing the stories invited only positive comments once the author finished their reading.
“I liked the description.”
“Loved how real the characters were.”
“You did a great job building tension.”
Sometimes what they said was even true.
I itched to mark up these stories. Several of them had great premises. Others were a mashup of every police show and horror movie the student had seen.
My lips were sealed.
And I didn’t get to comment on even one story of the nine that were read over the first two days I worked in the room.
Happily Ever After
None of these stories had a happy ending. Apparently, suspense stories involve the narrator dying (in two cases), lots of minor characters’ deaths (in over half the stories) and fathers who were really mass murderers (in three instances).
Yikes! Should I report this to the authorities? Perhaps these stories had a hint of auto-biography in them.
I offered the class two choices for our Friday writing activity. As I expected, they chose the “finish the story” write around.
I selected nine young adult genres (not mystery or suspense), and wrote down a first line. Most of these I took from published books of that genre. A couple leapt from my imagination reservoir.
And they wrote.
But the suspense unit was still too fresh in their minds. With the exception of a few stories, the variety of authors chose to steer the contemporary diary toward suicide and murder. In fact, the actual horror story was less horrifying than some of the others.
On this occassion, however, a few of the students asked me to “finish” the stories that didn’t find resolution.
There were three. Two of them didn’t involve murderous parents or homicide in any form.
It was great fun pulling all their threads together. My favorite? The fantasy, of course. Although the steampunk story had a more interesting plot line.
An author teaching creative writing might not be the smooth fit you’d imagine. Even if imagining is what you do for a living.

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Back in the Classroom

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to play school. She didn’t care if she was the teacher or the student, she just loved school. That little girl jumps for joy every time I get a call to substitute teach.

If you know me at all, you understand I have a LONG history of spending time in the classroom. My longest employment was with the St. Helens School District, where I worked as a classified substitute and temporary classroom aide for six years before getting a regular job.

My first two years were as a cashier in the cafeteria at a grade school (while still taking the temporary overload classroom aide positions). Finally, I managed to land a job as a special education instructional assistant at the middle school. I was there for seven years before leaving to pursue this writing gig.

Now I’m back in the classroom. Because this writing gig feeds my soul and keeps my hands and head flying in numerous directions, but it doesn’t pay well. Not with all my contracts being for royalties only. And I don’t push or publicize my self-published titles.

The Position

When I began pursuing my English degree, I planned to get a restricted substitute teaching license when I finished. That was 2010. At the time, there was a shortage of substitute teachers and some of our best subs had degrees in anything BUT education.

All that changed in 2012. School districts all over Oregon were down-sizing (had been since 2007). Suddenly, there were more licensed teachers than positions. The substitute pool became bloated with all these graduates who couldn’t score their own classroom.

Most of the districts rescinded their use of the restrictive substitutes. People who had these licenses were allowed to continuing working until the expiration. No new licenses could be issued.

When I graduated in July 2013, that was still the state of things in the substitute teaching world.

This fall, the substitute pool was depleted. Not enough people floated in the thing to cover vacancies.

The major school districts went on a recruiting campaign. They sent out a flyer to all the school reinstating their use of restrictive substitute licencees to fill classroom teacher roles.

The secretary at the middle school where I worked kindly forwarded the email to me. Her note: “There are plenty of people here who would love to see you subbing in our classrooms.”

Alrighty, then.

soitbegins

The Process

First step: Attend a half-day conference-like event at the NWRESD (Northwest Regional Education Service District). They supply subs to most of the districts in northwestern Oregon.

At this event, you found out how the process worked, completed an interview and filled out an online application form. They would notify you within a week or two if you were selected to continue in the program.

Hurray! I was selected.

Step two: Register for the ORELA Civil Rights examination and pass it ($95).

Then November happened. As you know, I was writing a novel in three weeks and taking a week-long vacation to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving with my sister.

Step three: Attend a full-day training session at the NWRESD offices.

This is where we learned about the expectations of the job. Also, they gave tips and tools for surviving in a crazy classroom. The best part was acting out different scenarios.

Yep. I can still perform the role of snotty, rebellious teenager with pizzazz.

We also filled out all our employment forms and had our photos taken for an identification badge. I still have yet to see that badge, so who knows if the paperwork is even ready.

Step four: Complete the fingerprinting and background check process ($74)

I performed this step the Monday before Christmas, but the state never acknowledged it until a month later.

Step five: Submit the application with the appropriate fees and information (including certified transcripts). The fee had to include a $99 expedite fee or else you wouldn’t see your license until June. Just in time for it to expire. The application fee was $129.

Step six: Get a bunch of emails from the state acknowledging every slip of paper they get. However,the email stating what is still required – which is what the HR gal said they would send – never came.

Ever.

Two month after I sent the application (does that sound like expedited service to you???), I got an email stating my license was issued. There would be no paper license mailed and I should print the email for my records.

The Payoff

When I wrote this post, I had been in the classroom four separate days. However, I haven’t completed a payroll cycle yet.

I’m hoping theirs a payoff. It seems like the figure was $150 per day (before taxes, of course), I haven’t seen any actual money.

If you do the math, you can see that I’ve spent close to $300 to get the license. And it expires June 30, 2016.

Here’s hoping the renewal process involves fewer hoops and red tape. The next license will be good for three years.

I’ve discovered a renewed ear for teenage dialogue already. Getting back among my target audience is one of the primary reasons for going through all this rigamarole.

The State sent me a questionnaire about the fluidity of the process. Do they really want me to complete it? I think my numbers will skew their data toward the negative end of the scale.

The good news: I’m out of my office and in the classroom, interacting with teenagers.

I’ve missed these guys.

Cure for Bullying?

One of the blogs I follow faithfully has been addressing the subject of bullying. It seems like bullies come out of the woodwork in digital areas like social media and blogs.

In recent years, bullying has been a huge subject in the news. Numerous teenage suicides have been attributed to bullying. It isn’t just peer bullying either; some of the most atrocious bullying has been teachers to students.

We tend to think bullying is something kids do. Everyone has to learn to deal with the bullies. Eventually, they grow up and the vile need to put others down or make them look bad disappears. This isn’t the case.

Bullies just get older. They feel empowered to continue their hideous behavior because no one has managed to stop them or convince them of the error of their ways. They up the stakes and suddenly stealing lunch money from the nerd down the street isn’t meeting their need for excitement or validation. Their need for – whatever it is that motivates them to bully.

You can read about one woman’s experience at work here. Can anyone believe that an employer would let such behavior go on unchecked? Maybe if it was the owner who was acting this way, but it wasn’t. One woman ruined a company and caused many people to lose their jobs.

One bully. If one bully can make a fracas, what happens if one ally steps into the fray?

In another post, Kristen Lamb shares some scientific data that indicates bullying behaviors can be stopped. How? Stop feeding the bully.

No, I’m not advocating physical starvation. However, some genetic qualities surface because of reactions in the brain that simulate pleasure or satisfaction become associated with these qualities. Behaviors like bullying and aggression are two such characteristics.

To starve a bully, we need to steal their satisfaction. How can you do this? Let’s take a lesson from my oldest son first:

He was in sixth grade, entering middle school. Before school and after school while waiting for the bus, he played catch  with some boys. A few 8th graders decided to have a little fun with this scrawny little jock-wanna-be. He came home covered in mud, with his shirt ripped off, with his hood dangling from his hooded sweatshirt and his backpack straps snapped in two.

You can bet Mama Bear was on top of that. Those bullies would be sorry – if they could still breathe when I finished with them. My son told me not to contact the school or their parents. He wanted to deal with it.

He laughed along with their pushing and shoving. He shrugged and submitted, pretending it was all in good fun. They couldn’t get his goat. They couldn’t make him cry. He wouldn’t shove back or try to get them to stop. Suddenly, it wasn’t fun for them anymore and they stopped.

It took about three months for this resolution. My son wrote a few stories about bullies for language arts assignments during this time. He maintained excellent grades and continued to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

I won’t say I didn’t bite my nails during this time or that my blood didn’t boil when another item of ripped clothing came home – courtesy of the bullies. I will say that my son handled the situation in the way he determined was best. At 12, he understood that if he didn’t give the bullies what they wanted – a scared crybaby or whiny tattletale – they would leave him alone.

That’s the essence of the scientific data. We can starve bullies of their satisfaction. Don’t engage them. Stand up as a unified front against them.

I don’t have the patience that my son displayed at 12. (He obviously inherited that trait from his father.) I prefer to be the change. I would rather step in and stand beside the person being bullied. I’m the one who got her face pounded in for telling the bully to stop.

I’m also the one who got spanked in the principal’s office for smiting the bully in the mouth when they spouted off filthy lies. In either case, I am not someone who can be a bystander. Injustice infuriates me. People picking on the little guy because he’s defenseless ignites a fire of ferocity under my feet.

What do you think? What’s the cure for bullying? Can a regular girl like me (or you) stop a big, bad bully in their tracks?

Feeling Pressure: Learning to Perform under It

Image courtesy of 123rf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One of my professors assigned two papers that are due at the same time.”

This from my youngest son, a young man who believes he’s headed into the marketing industry. I’m sure once he’s there, his employer will never assign him multiple projects that share the same due date.

Yeah, right. What universe does he plan to live and work in? Certainly not the American one. Continue reading “Feeling Pressure: Learning to Perform under It”