Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Accept No Substitutes.

Well, there are actually one or two substitutes who have worked in our room who are really, really good. But this past week has seen two subs who should just do something else entirely.

Let me start by saying that the room I'm working in is a zoo. Loud noises, crying, and things can get physical when someone escalates. And that's just the other staff members! Ba-dump-bump. But seriously folks...

Most of the kids I work with have an autism diagnosis. Many of them are non-verbal (but very vocal!), some of them are very verbal and therein lies THAT particular challenge, and all of them get frustrated with their challenges. Can you imagine trying to communicate something as simple as "I need to pee" or "I'm thirsty" and not having anyone understand? Not to mention "Man, I wish you'd just SHUT UP AND STOP BOSSING ME AROUND!"

Many of our kids work with one person only, some are in small groups, and a couple spend some time in general ed every day. So here's the math: there are fifteen kids + twelve staff assistants + two teachers = a daily dose of "what's gonna happen next?!" But for all the chaos, there is such a level of commitment and trust and we're-all-in-this-togetherness that going to work every day is a gift. Sometimes, I won't lie, it takes more than coffee to get my ass out the door and in to work. No, I don't put anything IN my coffee, I mean I have to give myself a pep talk. But most of the time, it's a joy to walk into the school and greet our kids and see the faces of the amazing staff that I work with.

This past spring has been more challenging than ever, though. One of our two amazing teachers is on maternity leave, so we have a long-term substitute (who is amazing) AND a student teacher, who has had to learn things so quickly on her feet, not just about teaching kids with lots of challenges, but about managing and juggling a staff as huge as ours. It is no easy task, and I don't think there is another program in our district as large as ours. Our other teacher has stepped back a great deal to let the student teacher have at it, and most of the time it goes smoothly, but there are days when it's just a clusterf*ck. People snip at each other, nerves are frayed and everyone is so ready to put this year to bed and get back to normal.

On Friday, we had four staff out. FOUR. On the same day. Luckily, we got three substitutes. I say luckily with great amazement and a slight tinge of sarcasm, because finding subs who will work in our room is not the easiest thing in the world, but trickier still is finding subs that we will allow to come back. Our checklist of do's and dont's is long and strange:
Do be quick on your feet.
Don't wear a dress and heels. Or anything you care about getting dirty or torn.
Do have a good sense of humor.
Don't wear too much perfume.
Do ask questions of other staff.
Don't ask questions of other staff when they are running down the hallway after a student.

The list goes on, and luckily we actually do have a few subs that we are always happy to see. They meet all the above criteria and more. In fact it's more likely that we will get the good than the bad. But in the last two working days we have seen two for the record books.

On Friday, one of the subs fell asleep. On her feet. While nearly two dozen people sang and danced around her. I'm not making this up. All the staff silently looked at one another with alarm on our faces, worried that she might topple over at any moment. Apparently she was on medication. So here's another for our list:

Do not take medication that makes you fall asleep on the job.

And yesterday we had a substitute who didn't meet the most basic criteria:
Do have a heart.
After silently following her student all morning (a student, I will add, that is easy and fun), she announced at the lunch table in the cafeteria that she was leaving at lunch time because she was told the job was learning support, and she NEVER would have accepted it if she'd known she had to work with "THIS classroom." The words came out with such disdain, I'm surprise she didn't spit on someone. One of my co-workers told her "well you should leave now, then. Not everyone has what it takes to work with these kids."

And don't let the door hit you on the way out. Bitch. Her loss.

My co-workers are the most amazing group of people, and the kids we work with are full of so much heart and courage, it is an honor to go there every day. Even on the hard days. Especially on the hard days.

UPDATE 6/9/09:
As I walked into school today, I saw Sleepy (as she has come to be known in my head) walking out with an orange safety vest and flag. SHE WAS BACK subbing in another part of the school, where I'm told, she sharpened pencils and did nothing else.

Except draw a paycheck.



I, Rodius said...

Wow. I don't think I'd be up for the challenge. They're lucky to have you. I don't think I'd quit in the middle of the first day, though. I don't think.

Melissa said...

Well, seeing as how I'm the teacher out on maternity leave I am not shocked by your selection of subs....I am however curious as to which staff told the sub to leave if she didn't want to be there (that is usually my job! :))....I have a pretty good guess! I miss you guys too and it won't be as crazy next year. Our Principal already said we are not allowed to have any more student teachers as it is too disruptive to the class. Oh the SCC how I miss thee!

Donna said...

I had no special ed experience before two years ago when I became a high school para. Never have a seen a job with such crappy pay that requires such an enormous amount of personal resources just to survive in it! I moved into a different special services position this year (more academic issues, i.e., kids who failed a class/classes trying to recover credit and lost time), but I still had some of our most challenging kids in my room 2 hours a day. People who say paras are a waste of money should have to follow ours around for a day, or a half day, or an HOUR! Imagine convincing a 180-pound autistic young man that he has to do something he doesn't want to. And you can't touch him, you can't yell at him, you can't do much of anything except be gentle and quiet and firm and hope that eventually he decides to go along with your plan.

You are an angel my dear!

anniemcq said...

Melissa, I'm not telling, but you do need to know: it was five minutes before she was leaving anyway, and it was cleared by Michelle. And do you know the kicker? The Sleeper? She was back today subbing for Candy. She sharpened pencils all day and didn't take a reading group. I almost choked when I saw her walk out in her orange vest as I was coming in to school!

Amber said...

For real?They let someone who is on meds that make you sleep go work the crosswalk?For real?That is outstanding..........I would have choked if I seen her too:)

Alycia said...

Bloody hell Anne, that's completely unreal. I can't believe EITHER of them. WOW!

You do such an amazing job - all of you! Much patience under fire.

Melissa said...

I really wish I could pick and chose the job that I wanted for the day!!! How rude! If she was any kind of person and stayed through the day she would have realized that our class is wonderfully perfect in its own quirky way! There really needs to be stronger regulations on subs! They shouldn't be able to leave and get another job!!! They need to stick it out, it is 6 hours of their life for goodness sake!! The other kicker is that she got paid for the entire day because she was there for 1/2 the day....ridiculous!