Saturday, November 3, 2007

mother bear and the substitute

Mrs. R. was in my class substituting til lunch today. The time and initial has been changed to protect the hopefully innocent. I can only assume this innocence. I was at an offsite Teacher Research meeting working on my professional project. Love my school. Love my administration who supports me personally and professionally by giving me time to work on what I want to work on. But I digress. I came back in time to enjoy a real lunch with a few friends basking in the fact that I had a productive morning. I was met by the sub who had come looking for me. Immediately and with no regard for who else was also enjoying lunch in the teacher lounge, she began telling me negative things about the morning, her voice tinged with emotion and specifically about one student who "...drove her crazy" among other things. "Hi, are you Mrs. R?" I asked. She slowed enough to reply yes. I smiled semi-sincerely and thanked her for her information while thinking about how many of my colleagues and additional substitutes (lots of us were out for Teacher Research that morning) also "received" the information.

While my literacy partner and good friend went to get our students from recess I went to the class to prepare for the focus lesson on reading log responses. A parent volunteer walked in to prepare the "Tuesday" communication folders that go home to families each week with school announcements, forms, newsletters.

Reflecting on the event in the teacher's lounge, my mother bear protectiveness kicked in. I began thinking about how our staff works hard to maintain confidentiality out of respect for our students and families, right down to the preschoolers, how we do not speak about a student's difficulties unless we are seeking consultation and someone needs to know, and how we would directly deal with an issue in private in a professional way teacher to student, teacher to parent, and teacher to teacher. That's when Mrs. R. walked in asking for her water bottle. I had just cleaned up her leftover coffee cup and a few sundry papers left on my desk. I had been looking for her written information and feedback required by substitutes when they are in a classroom. I noticed much of the carefully written plans I left were not completed. I had not seen her water bottle and told her so. I didn't mention the plans. I didn't mention the missing note. Again, she began talking in detail about the student with whom she had difficulty, again speaking publicly and negatively about an eight year old, again with no regard for who else might hear the comments. It was at that point I introduced her to the student's mother who was organizing the "Tuesday" folders for me.

At the end of the day after hearing a few comments about the unprofessional behavior (yelling, leaving a student alone in the hall) of this teacher I sought her out hoping to catch her before she left our school. I found her, asked to speak with her privately and let her know in the future (though with me there wouldn't be a "future") I would prefer she speak with me privately about a student issue. I also asked that she put her positive (there had to be something good!) and negative feedback and information in written form in the event I should follow up later. Mrs. R. apologized. I accepted her apology knowing she didn't have the luxury of knowing each of my student's challenges and knowing substituting is tough work. I suspect she had no idea why I would defend a student whose change of routine created such disruption for her. He may have been the reason she couldn't get through the plans. He is in fact a challenge behaviorally...but he is making progress and hey, he's my "cub", my challenge and I'm the only one who can say that!


organized chaos said...

This made me smile although I could feel my blood pressure rise as I continued to read. Last year I had a sub who:
1) bribed my children with money (yes, dollar bills) to be good
2) Called one of my students a 'b'after dismissal while my smart cookie was still in the classroom bathroom
3) told me I had the worst class she had ever had and asked how could I call them 'sweet' on my sub plans?
It was a day we had team planning and I'd even had to run out of the trailer to help her manage my kids when they were walking by us. She was a retired teacher from our county.

Times like this really illustrate how fabulous the culture in our school is. I am sure there are places where attitudes and actions like these wouldn't stick out as odd. I'm glad at our school they are few and far between.

Jenny said...

You've reminded me of why I value some substitutes so highly! It's a challenging job that doesn't pay exceptionally well. There are many who do it semi-well or poorly.

Good for you for following up! I hope your message hits home, at least a bit. Those kids are lucky to have you as an advocate.

AMY S. said...

you ARE lucky to have a school culture where confidentiality and respect of students is the norm, and behavior like this the exception. I'm green with envy. I love the Mama Bear metaphor and can certainly relate.

Blink said...

Amy S- I count my lucky stars everyday (night?) that I work at my school. I have been in other schools where the environment was a world away.

Tree said...

Your post also made me realize something I need include on my sub plans: directions on how to inform me about the day’s successes and disasters.