Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Greatest Subbing Story Ever

With my last post fairly serious and political, I thought I’d lighten the mood some with a quick story about probably the greatest subbing ever.

As of now, I have a full year, plus a few months of subbing under my belt. I feel that I have become fairly accomplished as a substitute teacher, being able to read classrooms better and pinpoint personalities that I may need to watch for. I can improvise a lesson with little description fairly easily, and I know what to do to fill time should the issue arise. I'm still improving, of course, but I do think that I'm getting to be a pretty successful teacher. 

That wasn't always the case. 

You may recall a blog I wrote about the Joys and Also Headaches of Subbing. In it, I share some of the best stories I'd collected from my time substituting around Saskatoon. The first story was of my very first day of subbing ever, where I found myself in a kindergarten classroom for an afternoon, and the only plan was for exploration time. To entertain a few children, I decided to show them how to fold an origami bird. 

It went poorly. 

When I tell that story to teacher friends, they immediately cringe at the combination of "kindergarten" and "origami." But how was I supposed to know? I was a brand-new teacher, fresh out of internship! Ok, yes, I could have used common sense, but I decided that trial by fire was a much better way to learn. 

Thankfully, it didn't hurt my report with the school. After that school year ended and the new one booted up, I found myself subbing at that school a lot. I would be in for one teacher or another a couple times every month, and I got got to know a lot of the staff and students. Generally, I taught upper elementary and junior high, but there would be the odd time I'd be in a younger grade for a period during my spare period. That continued into the following year, where I found myself teaching a grade 7 class nearly once a week. I liked bumping into students I'd taught last year, who would then bug me, asking if I remembered teaching them in so-and-so's class (usually I did) or if I remembered their names (usually I didn't). Because I had been almost entirely with the older kids, I kind of forgot that this was the school I had subbed in a kindergarten class two school-years ago. 

Well, during one of the days I was teaching grade 7, I was placed in a grade 2 classroom for a period, so that the regular teacher could get a little extra work done with some students one-on-one. This was nothing new, and I'd been in grade 2 rooms before, so I quickly adjusted and tried my best to get to know the kids in the short time I'd have. I wandered around, supervising their writing worksheets, checking work and asking questions. They were seated in table groups, so I would usually crouch down beside one student and ask how they were doing and answer any questions they had. Of course, few of them had to do with school. 

"How old are you?"

"What's your first name?"

"Are you married?"

"Do you know how to fold an origami bird?"

Wait, what?

I looked down at the small child that had handed me his completed worksheet. I was taken aback by such a specific question. It's like...he knew me. No, that couldn't be it. I'd never taught this class before. Maybe it was just a hobby of his?

"Um, yes, I you?"

"Yup, I do, because you showed me how to fold it two years ago!"



I couldn't believe it. This kid had remembered my train-wreck of a lesson on folding origami, and now was trying to show his grade 2 teacher how to do it every chance he got. 

And I can't even remember kid's names from a week ago. 

I left that day in the best mood I'd been in in a long time. It was amazing to see the impact I had - even as a very inexperienced first year teacher - on a student. And as a sub, no less! I'm sure once I get a classroom of my own, I'll be able to see these kinds of things more often. That's the perks of the job. But I got to experience this as a substitute teacher, which feels like blind luck. And I'm pretty sure that I will never experience something that awesome in the teaching world. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Let's Talk About Guns

Can I talk about gun stuff?

If that makes you excited, then, well, I’m sorry. This isn’t fun gun stuff, like blowing up stuff and hunting. No, this is about gun control.

I know, I know. It’s basically the opposite of fun. But lately I’ve had some weird, conflicting feelings about it, and I’d like to share them with you.

Why you? Well, I grew up in a place where gun control was looked down upon. Whenever it was brought up in the news, all I ever heard was that it was - more or less - dumb. I’ve long since forgotten why; for me, I eventually just accepted that it was bad, no questions asked. I mean, government control is bad, right? No one wants the government all up in their business. That means higher taxes, more regulation of personal rights, and just more hoops that we have to jump through to get what we want. People have to be trusted to do what’s right. When they don’t choose that, then the government steps in. They are there to regulate the country, not to micromanage our lives for us.


I know that not everyone agrees with this, but I feel that most of the people I grew up with – friends, family, etc – held this view, and therefore I had this view. I’m not saying I simply accepted the view around me blindly. Sure, the alternate view wasn’t popular, or even talked about that often, and I have found that I am strongly influenced by those close to me, but as I grew older and began to evaluate and test my beliefs away from those who had taught them to me, I found that I still believed much of what I had grown up with. I still would prefer that the government have more of a laissez-faire approach. The government deals with the world stage and national concerns, while the public deals with the stuff that affects daily life.

But maybe not with guns.

This may sound a little ironic. And I get it. I’m conflicted with these views that I hold myself, and I can’t imagine they’d be very popular among my friends and family back home. But just let me explain my reasoning, and then you can point out where I’m wrong (since my readers are primarily friends and family back home).

As you may have guessed, these thoughts are strongly influenced with the Las Vegas shooting, where a gunman opened fire from a hotel window at a concert across the street, killing 58 people, the highest death count in mass shootings in the U.S. Another 546 people were injured (according to Wikipedia). It’s crazy and sad and heartbreaking. And yet, I couldn’t help but simply shake my head when I heard.

“Really, again?” I thought.

It seems like we’re all just waiting for the yearly mass shooting to hit the States. Remember the shooting in a gay nightclub down in Orlando last year? 49 dead, over 50 injured. Or what about the white supremacist who killed 9 people in a Charleston African-American Methodist Church in 2015? The San Bernardino shootings, where 14 were killed (also 2015). The frustrated college student who killed 6 and injured 14 in Isla Vista in 2014. Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, where 20 kids were killed. Also in 2012, when a kid opened fire in a movie theatre screening Batman, killing 12 and injuring 58.

And those are just the ones I remember from the news filtering up from the United States to Canada. That’s 110 deaths in five years. There are countless others (nearly a literal statement) that I flipped through, trying to trigger my memory. Virginia Tech, 2007. Columbine High School, 1999. There’s too many.

For comparative sake, I looked at what the internet had to say about Canada. I know we like to pride ourselves on being “better than Americans”, but are we really? Slavery existed up here, too. And residential schools are a huge black mark on our history. So, surely, we’ve had issues with mass shootings.


Well, there was a shooting in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017, where 6 died. A year before, 4 people died (including a teacher) in La Loche, Saskatchewan. In 2014, 3 were killed in Moncton, New Brunswick, before the gunman was taken out by the RCMP. 4 died in a Claresholm, Alberta shooting in 2011.

And that’s pretty much it. In the last six years, there’s been a little less than 20 deaths in Canada related to mass shootings. The biggest mass murder in Canada’s modern history was in 1972 in Quebec, where 37 people died, but that was related to arson, not firearms. Gun related, the highest death toll is 15, coming from the Quebec school shooting in 1989. According the list I found, no other massacres hit double digits (unless you start going back to pre-1900).

What if you compare it to the world? Barring terrorist attacks, the United States sits in 6 of the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in world history. Even more upsetting is that, apart from the Norway massacre in 2011 (which was a lone-wolf terrorist action), none of the shootings that happened outside of the USA occurred after 2009. Two of the deadliest world massacres -  and probably the most talked about lately – which occurred in Australia (35 dead in 1996) and Scotland (17 in 1996), were met his very harsh gun laws. Since then, no mass shootings in either country.

So what do we do with this? That’s where I get stuck, and resort back to the old Canada vs USA comparisons. In either country, I don’t think you can buy fully auto weapons. Semi-autos are widely available, but carry higher restrictions (I think) than those that are just single shots. It also depends on the power of the weapons, probably…I feel that I’m in slightly over my head. Can you believe I’ve never bought a weapon? But in Canada, it’s a bit harder to go out and buy a gun than it is the States. You have to go to a dedicated outdoor store or gun shop. In the few times I’ve gone shopping in the States, I’ve found high powered weapons in the weirdest places. Like WalMart. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you should be able to go to a store, get some apples, maybe a Lego set, and then, why not get a firearm.


It’s fairly obvious that gun regulation is stricter in Canada than in the United States. And, yes, it hasn’t stopped certain people from getting weapons and committing awful crimes. But there’s got to be something that can be done. Just look at the numbers I pulled, which I found in just a few minutes of googling. The United States is the only country in the world that regularly experiences mass shootings with dozens of people killed. In nearly every other instance, governments have responded to major losses in life with harsh rules. Again, this bars terrorist attacks, because I believe that those incidents, as sad as they are, are truly unpreventable. However, mass shootings resulting from lax gun laws seem to be very preventable.

Yet the United States continues to argue that nothing can be done. No, something can be done; it just sucks to do. Guns are cool. Paperwork and regulations are not. But you know what else isn’t cool? Constantly wondering whether you are going to be a victim in the next mass shooting. Because it’s no longer a “what if” question – it’s when, and how many will die this time. As Canadians, we can sit back comfortably and complain about strict gun laws and argue that we should have concealed weapons so we can protect ourselves if a shooter ever pops up. But chances are, they won’t. This is hardly a Canadian issue. We can still ask “what if”…what if a shooter shows up? What if I whipped out my gun and stopped a massacre? What if I was a hero?

What if I couldn’t be sure if the person behind me on the sidewalk had a gun and was also mentally stable? What if criminals had easier access to high-powered almost fully-auto weapons? What if I was just one step away from being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I don’t want to have to ask those questions. I can’t imagine the fear that some Americans live in, or the sorrow that some experience when they lose a loved one to a crime that was preventable. I don’t have a strong stance on this. But I’m tired of seeing that another Average Joe found his way to a dozen weapons and somehow managed to kill dozens of innocent people. Criminals will always find ways to secure the tools they need for crime, but these crimes aren’t committed by criminals. They’re committed by regular dudes people don’t expect to shoot up a place, and have good records and can legally buy weapons. So maybe a few extra laws would prevent these people from having the firepower to carry out their sick thoughts. Even if that means sucking it up and going through a few extra steps to afford a firearm for shooting clay pigeons.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Joys of Subbing, but Sometimes the Headaches

It's been a while since I've posted anything here, due to a combination of having a bit of writer's block and being fairly busy with working as a substitute teacher. If I'm ever going to get that full-time contract, I really have to figure out how to come home and not be completely brain dead.

But the other day I found myself lamenting to my wife that I have all these teaching stories and not enough time to share them with friends. So many times I've found myself in situations that I could only laugh about afterwords, and I'd love to be able to let people into the secret behind-the-scenes world of being a teacher. However, I've now been subbing for almost a year, which has left me with far too many stories to simply tell. I'd get bored before I finished them, let alone the person listening. It might be more efficient, therefore, if I wrote my stories down for anyone to read who may want to. I may write about more fun teaching times in the future, but for this omnibus, I think I'm going to stick to the most consistently mind-numbing and regularly hilarious, Kindergarten.

Kindergarten is, nicely put, not my forte. I just don't seem to have those nurturing and patient attributes that make the great kindergarten teachers who they are. I think I'm too full of sarcasm and puns. 5-year-old's don't get puns. I've tried. Yet for some reason, I've gotten into the good books of a couple kindergarten teachers around the city. Maybe it's because I'm better at making sure the kids are having fun than actually teaching them, so they all end the day happy and tell their teacher about their new teacher and how much fun he was. Or I'm just more available than the good teachers. Whatever the case, I'll almost always take the job, since I like getting paid and I'm a glutton for punishment.

Another reason I find kindergarten so difficult is that every single kindergarten teacher organizes and teaches their classroom completely different than any other teacher. I've been to several now and no two rooms are the same, nor is the program. So it's always an adventure in figuring out how everything runs. Luckily, most kindergartners are more than happy to tell you when you're doing something wrong. There's not many feelings similar to being chastised by a 6-year-old. But enough backstory. It's time for the front of the story.

My first subbing job ever was an afternoon in a kindergarten classroom. It was in a brand new school and the foyer was designed as a huge atrium, letting in loads of sunlight. There was even a balcony on the second floor, so you could look at who was going in each room. The initial view was breath-taking. But I wasn't needed over there. I was in the kindergarten room, which was right by the front doors. When I entered, I found a room with a few tables and the rest of the space filled with experiential objects, from play sets to jars of  rocks to shelves full of books and paper and colours. On the desk, I found the brief lesson plan for the afternoon, written on a large post-it:

Thanks for coming in! It read (or something close to it), For this afternoon, the class has exploration time. Let me know how it went!. There may have been more, even a reason why she was away, but the gist was that: exploration time.

What the heck is exploration time?

I flipped through a few books and piles of paper on her very cluttered desk - if kindergarten teachers have one thing in common, it is that their desks are almost always completely covered in piles and piles of paper - until I found some semblance of an explanation. And it was exactly as I feared. Exploration time was a time for the kids to explore the toys and materials around the room. And that was all they had to do for the remaining 3 hours in the day.

As the kids returned from lunch, I introduced myself and let them know what the plan was. Of course, this was nothing new to them; it was May and they had been doing the same routine since the very beginning. I watched as they got out thing after thing until everyone was playing in a different pile of materials. This continued for about thirty minutes, at which point I became incredibly bored. I had come to realize that my being here was simply for supervision. In an effort to entertain myself, and potentially to entertain a few of the kids, I began to make origami flapping birds. Instantly, three kids were fascinated and wanted birds of their own. Then three more wanted birds. Then five more. Then six more after that. I started by trying to teach the kids some of the folds, getting them to make their own, but I soon became a drive-through window, where kindergartner's would place their orders, then go back to playing with whatever they were using before. As the recess bell rang and everyone went outside to play, I sat in a too-small chair, folding bird after bird after bird as fast as I could, so that everyone could have one. I really had overlooked the herd-mentality of six-year-olds.

Finally, the end of the day was near. 15 minutes before the bell, I called everyone's attention and said that it was time to clean up. The moment I finished speaking, the home bell rang, reminding me that since today was Thursday, it was early dismissal. 15 minutes early. I hurriedly tried to get the kids to put some stuff away, but a few began to panic about missing their buses and eventually I just shooed them out the door, leaving me in alone in the middle of Hurricane Kinder. I spent an extra 30 minutes picking up paper, markers, rocks, streamers, costumes and plastic food and throwing them wherever looked like they would fit because I had no idea where any of it was supposed to go. Then I wrote a quick note to the teacher, thanked her, and got outta dodge.

I learned a lot from that first paid teaching gig. Like, don't do origami with anyone under the age of 10, or that Thursdays mean the bell goes 15 minutes early (but I'd forget it frequently), or that doing origami for children is a way to make your head nearly explode.

Seriously, don't do origami with little kids.

From time to time since then, I've found myself back in kindergarten rooms, and each time was an adventure. Once a girl peed her pants. Another time, a girl puked her guts out it the calmest manner I've ever seen. Another little girl began to bawl when the toy phone was taken from her because, as she said, "I was talking to my MOM!" Come to think of it, I've been around a lot of screaming, sometimes with multiple offenders. But I have never wanted to curl up into the fetal position more than when I was teaching one particular child about numbers.

Recently I found myself teaching three days in a row in a kindergarten class. How the school division has decided to organize kindergarten is, where there are lots of kids, have alternating classes. So on Monday and Wednesday, the teacher would have one group, and on Tuesday and Thursday, she would have another. Fridays would then alternate between the two groups, so every other week, a group would go two days in a row. Simple, right? Anyways, I found myself teaching a group on Thursday who would be back again the Friday. Excellent, I thought, I'll actually be able to remember most of their names.

It also gave me a familiarity with the routines of the classroom, and one of the days' activities had half the class work on little games that would test their colour matching, number recognition and shape identification. A teacher or EA would then go around and check their work, giving them a sticker when they finished or corrected their errors with some guidance. Over the three days, I began to roll my eyes when a student grabbed a number word game, since most of the kids still couldn't read. One kid in particular seemed very attracted to these games, yet was potentially the weakest reader in the class. When I went over to check his finished work, it was pretty clear that he had just randomly guessed pairing the dotted clouds to the number rainbows. So I removed his errors, encouraged him to count the dots, then left to check a few more student who were finished.

When I returned, he had rearranged all of them, yet there wasn't a correct pairing in the group. I sat down beside him and decided to help him through his counting and word recognition. And by that, I mean trying to count along with him and getting him to stop on the right number. For example, I'd say, "Let's find the one with eight dots." He'd then pick one at random, and we'd count together to check if it was right. I would then say, "Does this have eight dots?" to which he would nod, yet not five seconds earlier, we had just counted 4. I'd then patiently remind him what we counted and that we should find another. We only did this little exchange eight or nine times before the EA passed by and whispered, "Most of the class can't read yet. Just pull a few words and have him find the dots." That sounded like a much easier task, so I pulled the three easiest ones: four, two and zero. And I started with the trickiest, four. I laid out all the dotted clouds, pushed away the other rainbows, and asked the child, "Alright, can you show me which cloud has four dots on it?"

He then proceeded to flip over every cloud to see if there was the answer on the other side. Which there wasn't. All that was there was the number 35, which was the number of the game he was playing. I had set all the cards right side up, dots showing. I'm not that terrible of a teacher. But after flipping so many, he'd show me the 35 and ask if this was it. "No," I responded patiently, "we don't need to flip over the cards. The dots are all on the front." I then figured I'd help him out a bit. I pointed to the four-dot cloud. "How many dots does this have?"

"1...2...3...5!" He announced proudly.

", that's not quite right," I replied slightly less patiently. "You know what comes after 3. What comes after 3?"


"Right! So how many dots are here?"


"Oh, remember to count the dots. Let's see, 1, 2, 3..."

"...4, 5, 6..."

"No, no, there's not any extra dots there."

I was running out of ideas at this point at how to guide the kid to the number four, so I changed my strategy and went for the easiest number I could think of - zero.

"Alright, can you find me the cloud with zero dots on it? The one with no dots?"

He began to flip over every cloud and show me the number 35 again.

"No, we don't need the back side of the clouds," I said slightly more impatiently. Another classmate sitting on the other side even started trying to help, repeating what I said, but quite a bit more patiently (because he just joined the party). "Just find the cloud without any dots on it. No dots. Zero."

He again tries to flip them over. I cringe inwardly.

Then he tries counting some of the dots. I try to dissuade him, repeating, "Find the one with zero dots. The cloud that doesn't have any dots on it. No dots." This ploy fails, and he continues counting, somehow getting up to 9 on one that only has 4.

I try a few more times to guide him to zero without pointing to it, but it's no use. Even if I showed him which one, he still wouldn't get it. The background knowledge either isn't there or isn't being accessed. I...I just can't anymore. So I sit and watch him count and flip the cards, suppressing the urge to just hold my head in my hands and weep softly.

Suddenly, the lunch bell rings. I stand up and announce that it is now lunch, so all the games have to be put away. He looks up at me with disappointed eyes and says, "But we didn't get to finish."

I shrug. "Well, I guess we just ran out of time. We have to clean up now so you can go out for lunch." But inwardly, I cheered. No more numbers. No more counting. No more flipping those bloody little clouds.

So that's some of what I've experienced in kindergarten. It's always entertaining to get called for a kindergarten class. Mind-numbing, teeth-gritting, headache-inducing and eye-rolling, but also entertaining.