Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The day there were no subs...

I expected last Wednesday in Rachel's class to start out like the others, with the kids streaming in, saying hello, and sitting down to start their 'Do Now'. But Wednesday would be the day that I really saw an issue that teachers all over the country face. I happened to meet Rachel at the front entrance, and the first statement she had for me was a warning: "Today is going to be crazy, I'm really sorry". Turns out two teachers were out sick, and no substitutes were able to come out to Freedom, so Rachel had 16 extra students in both her afternoon classes. I watched, stunned, as kids filed in, those who were supposed to be in that period sitting in their desks, while others sat on the floor or along a low wall in the back of the classroom. Needless to say, they acted out. And who could blame them? Imagine yourself at 12, your day is scheduled a very specific way, and suddenly you get into class at 8:00am and your teacher isn't there. This means you're sitting on the floor of a classroom you don't belong in, and you have to come back in 3 hours. How do you hold them accountable for being disruptive? What else are they going to do, knowing that they'll be learning the same thing later in the day? I have to say that I was stressed out after only being there a few hours, and this is something that happens every other week. You can be an incredible teacher, and plan great, interactive lessons, and you still have to struggle with these issues. 

And I can't help but wonder, are subs so hard to find because this is a lower-income area? Do subs not want to deal with kids that test teachers and have larger problems they deal with daily than a bad grade? I'm sure that's not entirely fair, nor entirely accurate, but what do you think? How can we work, as professionals outside of the teaching world, to get classes covered for sick teachers? Do we need better pay/incentives for subs or within certain districts? Do we finally tackle the overcrowding issue at a national level? Rachel had too many kids in her classroom for half a year before it was taken care of, does that speak to a need for more changes? I'd love to hear your thoughts.



  1. Last Wednesday certainly was a crazy day. And honestly, no learning happened in my classroom. Which was disappointing because I had planned a pretty cool lesson. It required moving around though; an impossible feat due to the desk-less students sprawled across my floor. But this incident (which unfortunately is not an isolated occurrence) reminded me of why I am so interested in the overlap of health and education.

    The incidents of mental instability are higher in low-income communities. Furthermore, it is a well-known and understandable fact that students with mental health problems experience difficulties in school. As teachers of low-income students, we should lift these students up, tell them that they are important and can do anything they set their mind to. We should be available and open to talk about issues in their life. Instead, we sometimes abandon our students and pawn them off to other teachers. Some of our students stay up all night listening to domestic abuse. Some students cannot sleep at night because they are hungry or have a sibling in bed with them. They come to school looking for some respite and consistency and maybe to see their role model. When they get to school a sign is posted on the door telling them to go to another classroom and do nothing but sit. This devastates a student, who is already struggling with issues at home, and sends the message that no one cares. As a result of feelings of abandonment, the students acts poorly, looking for some sort of attention. But it is not just one student acting poorly, it is a whole class of students who feel let down and like no one loves them. So instead of teaching, teachers (the ones who show up every day, regardless of a sore throat or stuffy nose) are left dealing with behavior issues. And without teaching, there is no learning. And without an education, our students have little chance of changing their life trajectory. Bottom line: we need to care for the mental health of our students first and foremost.

    I wanted to end my reply with that bottom line, because it summarizes everything I believe in. But I also want to add one more thing. Kari has come to my classroom EVERY Wednesday for the past month. She is sending the message that she cares about my students and is willing to set aside time every week to support them. Just showing up consistently she is helping my student’s mental health.

  2. Eish! I know the difficulties of teaching an overcrowded classroom; it's near impossible! It sounds like you two responded with a really inspiring attitude, though. It can be too easy to get caught up in how a situation affects you - You can't teach your lesson as well, you are inconvenienced - but you really stay focused on the well being of the kids. Sounds like you're both doing a great job!

  3. Great dialogue here -- I agree that mental health is HUGE! A few of you have talked about teaching about mental health in the classroom. I'd love to discuss that more. How do we de-stigmatize mental health issues and make it ok to talk about (and get treatment for)?

    I would love to continue this conversation further on the blog and in class: mental health is SO important. What are the big and small things we can do now to help kids? Clearly, even having Kari come each week sends an important message to the kids that they are important. I love it.