John W. Boushka  (Virginia)  Update on my own substitute situation.

 

April 2006: latest (informal retrospective “performance appraisal” and self-evaluation)

 

In March, 2006 I accepted an hourly assignment assisting scoring of certain SOL (Virginia Standards of Learning) materials (mainly in May). This is a non-instructional job. I can’t be specific here other than that, so I will go on to my main concerns about my experience in the classroom through the end of 2005.

 

I had considered making a “career switch” to classroom teaching, as noted below. I want to make a few remarks about all of this now.

 

Am I an educator? Well, yes. On my own, I have accumulated a great deal of research material (augmented by personal narratives) and placed all of it “on the table” with the idea of showing the visitor (to my books and websites) how to “connect the dots” and how different social and political problems link up in surprising and sometimes self-contradictory ways. I do presume certain literacy and maturity on the part of the reader. I would like to believe that what I have been developing would be useful to the media (including the movies), universities, and, at least for more mature students, high schools.

 

But let’s return to classroom teaching. Between April 30, 2004 and December 8, 2005 I fulfilled about 223 substitute teaching and assistant assignments (counting days separately) in Arlington and Fairfax counties, Va. About 15 or so of these were after-school “extended day” assistance in elementary and middle schools in Arlington; about twenty or so were as teaching or instructional assistants. About 180 days were spent as “substitute teachers” on a variety of academic subjects, mostly in high schools (a few for a while in middle schools). In May 2004 I had one day as a Public Health Training Assistant at a Fairfax County high school. I did not know what this position was before accepting it. It involved working with the severely disabled and could involve custodial or personal hygiene duties (I was not asked to perform these). I had a similar half-day in Arlington that same week. Given my background and other remarks I have made about that, I decided immediately that I would accept no more of those particular assistant assignments.

 

Many to most of the academic substitute assignments were very interesting. Some were with honors or advanced placement classes, with students who were very able to work on their own with little or no assistance (like what one would see on “It’s Academic” or “Jeopardy” – some students were preparing for AP tests that would given them college credits). The range of maturity and talent among public school students within any grade level could be very extreme.

 

The assignments typically had lesson plans of varying detail, and they were to be followed. On perhaps ten or so occasions I realized I had missed some detail of a particular lesson (such as failing to collect a homework item; in one case I failed to collect all of the graphing calculators). These miscues did not lead to formal complaints. It is significant that school districts in Virginia have a “no fault three strikes and you’re out rule” for substitutes, where a principal or administrator can request that a particular substitute be removed from the list for a particular school without cause or explanation.

 

Some assignments did involve working with special education students. What was difficult for me was the personal attention that some of them demanded. Because of my background, I am not used to giving people attention beyond what one normally encounters with adults or “persons of reason” in a workplace. At two middle schools in Arlington in early 2005, I generated a “memorandum of complaint” and was removed from those lists. In both cases the administrators noted the inability to maintain discipline without outside assistance. In both occasions there were many students who did well, but there were a few who could become disruptive if they did not secure the attention that they wanted. With my temperament (as a kind of “disguised space alien”) and lack of training, I was not prepared to give them the necessary kind of communication. Severe discipline problems were uncommon in high school, but did occur a few times with low income or otherwise disadvantaged students, and could present potentially serious situations.

 

Since my “professional” training is mathematics (M.A., 1966), I did take and pass the Praxis II test in September 2005 (below). Could I become a classroom teacher? There is a real shortage of math teachers, right? Normally getting licensed means taking 180 clock hours (15 credit hours), a $3700 investment for a course given only infrequently in northern Virginia in convenient circumstances. But it was apparent that, at least now, most of the demand was with younger students in lower grades or with disadvantaged students. Teaching them would not be about “higher mathematics”; it would be about making connections to people developmentally not in my orbit. There is a practical need especially for male “authority figures” and “role models” (playing on family values) in public school classrooms. This is a problematic issue for someone who was raised as an only child and reached the age of 62 without raising a family. I know, this sounds politically incorrect, and classroom teaching (requiring interaction with disadvantaged students) might be fine for someone raised in different circumstances with more “blood loyalty” family experience (such as responsibility for younger siblings) even without his own family. But I cannot fill that kind of need, somewhat driven by large scale economic and social injustices among different groups.  I also do not want to be rated on the job with how well I perform with specific racial or ethnic groups, as I do not believe in making public policy that way.

 

There is also the Internet issue. The public school system is somewhat a sheltered world and a separate society (in that respect, ironically like the military). That is because curricula must be age-appropriate and acceptable to parents. This does not present such an issue in math as it does in humanities. But I am already a “personality” on the Internet. In fact, at the very end, there was a potentially serious complaint from one principal who apparently was disturbed with one particular item (a fictitious script) on my own Internet sites (created by me with my own resources) that someone had found. She may have felt that if the item were read carelessly by immature people, it could set me or even other teachers up for false accusations. (The personal site(s) were never mentioned to students but they can be found by students through search engines such as Google; they were mentioned to teachers.) The moral of this is that whatever the curriculum, students with widespread computer access can find their own material on the Internet. This can lead to very good things (almost any legitimate academic content can be enhanced with Internet access), but also very grave misuses, as we know from media reports. The moral of all of this is that school boards will have to develop blogging policies (even off duty) for teachers, even substitutes, although they would be stricter for permanent teachers.

 

It is possible that there could at some point develop more interest in math teaching specifically at the upper grades. That could, at some point, become appropriate for me. But as things stand right now, pursuing teaching would be like joining the military. I would have to shut down all of my own Internet sites because of the conflict that they can cause with established approved curricula. As I noted, the public school world is an intentionally sheltered and somewhat artificial one. Teaching is a public service job, and is much more about personal outreach than academics or subject matter for its own sake.

 

Even so, I would like to think that the “connect the dots” model that I have developed could be presented to schools some day.  

 

 

Aug. 16, 2005.

 

I have previously stated in public that I would not continue substitute teaching into a new school year (after one full school year) without making some kind of commitment towards eventual licensure. As I outlined, I believe that for substitutes to be expected to make such commitments is in the best interests of students and teachers and conforms to general ethical standards for the school systems.

 

Accordingly, today I have signed up and paid for the Praxis II Mathematics content test, to be given in Washington DC on Saturday Sept 17, 2005. This does require some commitment from me. The  test costs $115 (including registration), the extra books and study materials will be about $80, and the graphing calculator about #110, a total of about $300.  The graphing calculator, however, may eventually turn out to be useful with some of my other business ideas.

 

I hope that this will lead to at least one long term substitute assignment during the first half of the school year (ending in January 2006) for at least one high school in northern Virginia.

 

Early in 2006 I would have to make a decision about investing in the full fifteen credit hour (secondary school only) certification, which costs over $3500.  The decision would be predicated in part on the expectation of employment after the course. A successful long term substitute assignment would increase my potential value as a permanent teacher hire after completing the licensure (for the fall of 2006). There are serious issues with respect to my never having been a parent and having little experience with younger children or people with serious learning disabilities. I believe that with my kind of background I can be very helpful to more mature (“do the right thing”) students (at least in high school), who benefit from interaction with someone who has spent a long time in the “real” business world. This contrasts with the needs of less mature students who may need disciplinary manipulation and close personal supervision and motivation (“pseudo fathering”).  This strikes me as a profound issue for the culture of public education today and I cannot say yet how it would play out for me.  What I would bring to the table in an education employment situation would be academic excellence and broad experience with the world of employers and business (particularly with technology and media issues) and the ability to communicate this to students.

 

I also understand that for most teachers, education is their Career. There is a whole culture in public and some private education centered around notions of differential instruction, tailoring content and delivery to varying maturity levels of students, a notion that contradicts my own philosophy of stimulating critical thinking. Having outside interests to blend with teaching is controversial.  If I have discretionary authority to grade students (and decide who passes or graduates), then I would not be able to offer my own self-published content the way I do now (I still could circulate my material privately with agents).  A lot could hang on what happens this year.

 

Even so, I think there could be hidden opportunities to work with blended curricula and so that the curricula further stimulates critical thinking skills. For example, mathematics can help us think logically about social and political issues. I would hope to be able to find a niche in education where I could work this angle. 

 

There is one other downstream opportunity, and that would to become a studio teacher, supervising the education of legal minors on motion picture and television sets. Generally, this job requires both elementary and secondary certifications from at least one state. Students who work on motion picture sets typically are very gifted and much more mature than other children or teenagers at any given age. (Just look at the many examples today in the movies and on some television series, such as TheWB.) 

 

Update – On Saturday, September 17, 2005 I took the Praxis II Mathematics Content Knowledge test in Washington DC.

Update (10/20/2005). My score on this test was 159.  The qualifying score in Virginia is 147.  I will post details about my future actions in the reasonably near future.

11/06/2005.  I will continue with permissive substituting (from a substitute assignment system) through the end of 2005 (max of ten jobs a month unless there is a long term sub assignment in math), with two permissive assignments in January 2006. After that, only mathematics and technology assignments can be accepted. If a long term assignment has not been secured by the end of Feb 2006 or if I am unable to commit the resources to further pursue certification by 2/28/2006 the substituting will stop. In the event that a long term sub assignment is secured, a few files from this site (dealing with schools) will be removed or blocked after eleven school days of the assignment.

 

Update – On Dec 12, 2005 I decided not to pursue teaching as a career change. I have resigned from substitute teaching in all jurisdictions. Since Dec. 8, 2005 I have not accepted any more substitute teaching classroom assignments. I have some more general comments about teacher free speech at this link, as free speech was a consideration in deciding not to pursue it.  I do realize that it is conceivable that I could have pursued formal classroom teaching and gone underground as a way of “paying my dues” and following a prescription similar to what I have suggested for gays in the military (no “self-promotion” or “publication” while in the service). It is an open and disturbing question whether I could command the respect of less advantaged students (and been able to discipline them when necessary) without “equal rights.”  This is almost a spiritual question. Yes, you can look at the Gospels for one interpretation, a kind of “quasi solidarity” without changing the system.  There is another objection: by “no child left behind,” a permanent teacher is performance-rated on how well he performs with respect to specific racial and ethnic minorities. I do not like to give deference or preference to people based on any group membership.

 

Update Dec. 2006. I am reviewing this idea of teaching again. I will not give all the details yet (beyond what is on the blogs). I have resumed subbing in Jan 2007 for a limited number of jobs while I make a decision.

 

Blogspot entry on licensure 12/2006:  http://billboushka.blogspot.com/2006/12/could-i-pursue-teacher-licensure.html

 

Update: I decided to stop subbing and notified the school district in Sept. 2007. More information coming on my main blog during the last weekend of September, 2007.

 

John W. (“Bill”) Boushka

Contact me

 

There is more information about studio teachers at http://www.studioteachers.com