Thursday, March 8, 2012

Discouraged

Some days I really enjoy subbing.  Other days, it's a really tough job to do.  Some days it's downright demoralizing.  Today was an odd combination of all of these:  an "easy" day of subbing that left me totally discouraged. 

I had been called in to supervise classes while teachers attended CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings.  This morning I arrived to find that a couple of the meetings had been canceled, and the two remaining ones assigned to me were at 8AM and 2PM.  To justify a full day's pay, the school office had me assist in supervising 8th to 12th grade study halls - all day long. 

What an eye-opener.  And boy, do I really respect the staff whose job it is to mind study halls all day, every day.  They have to keep track of everyone assigned to their study hall.  They have to know who is present, who is absent, who has signed out to go someplace else in the school during that period, and who is skipping.  Some study halls are small (a dozen students or so), while some are huge (one has over 125 students). 

There are always many students who use a study hall wisely, to catch up on work or get ahead on homework, and to study.  Often they make equally appropriate use of it for pleasant down time with friends, and the conversations vary wildly between quiet and private, and loud and obnoxious.  There are also always a handful or two of students who use study hall to pick on others and horse around, to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior and see what they can get away with.  I saw plenty of all of this today.

How utterly depressing.  The amount of foul language among the students in everyday conversation is staggering.  The F-bomb, other swearing and explicit sexual references and insults are rife.  The students who are trying to study or mind their own business separate themselves as much as possible from the rest of the group.  It only takes a handful of disruptive students to turn a chatty study period into an exercise in crowd control for the staff.  I can hardly believe the number of students who think it's okay to just walk out of study hall and do what they want.  And the only thing the staff can do is call the office and let them know that so-and-so is AWOL or disrespectful or disruptive, and write them up for a detention, which the students often skip too.  Where are the consequences?  Where are the parents?

One thing is perfectly clear to me now:  I will resist any attempt to have Safety Guy placed in a large-group study hall at any point in his high school years.  It's just NOT a good place for a young man with sensory issues related to noise, social issues related to Aspergers, and difficulty minding his own business and staying out of other peoples' conversations.  Nothing but trouble could come of him being put in such a situation every day.

Some of the behavioral issues I saw today are definitely related to our American culture, the "do what you want" mantra so prevalent in the media and the "child rights" movement.  (Yes, I know I'm not being PC here - but since when did the rights of children trump the rights of society to expect reasonable, respectful behavior from minors to adults?)  Some of the issues are certainly related to parenting (or the lack thereof).  And some of the issues are related to a distressing tolerance of disrespect I've seen in the middle and upper grades of this school district, which has to be tracked back to the administration and school leadership not exercising stricter discipline from the middle grades on up.

I don't tolerate the disrespect when I'm teaching.  There are limits, and kids I work with find that out right away if they push the boundaries.  I've said to them, "Give respect, and you'll get respect.  I'm not unreasonable, but you do have to work with me and mind your manners."  I've got a reputation now for being a fairly strict substitute - not a pushover, but not nasty and dictatorial either.  And there are many very good and strict but fair teachers in this district.  But we can't teach effectively if there are no real, attention-getting consequences for inappropriate, disrespectful student behavior.  It's not fair to us as professionals to be unsupported and disrespected, and it's not fair to the majority of students who ARE respectful and show reasonable behavior who can't learn as much because some of their classmates are acting like entitled spoiled brats.  And it certainly does no favors to the students themselves who spend the first 18 years of their lives thinking they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with no need to listen to authority figures and with no serious consequences.

I'd love to have an educational Nanny McPhee come visit our school.  Until then, I'm praying that I can talk to those students who will listen, and guide those students who are making poor choices, help where I can, and teach those those students who are willing to learn, wherever I'm subbing.