Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cult of Personality

One of my favorite people to follow on twitter, Jason Buell, had a series of tweets lately that got me thinking.

Read from the bottom up.

I've had subs twice this week (jury duty on Monday and out for a meeting for a couple of hours today) and it has not gone the way I would have liked.

I've come to the realization that I have a similar problem to Jason. My students are pretty fabulous with me. They mostly work hard, get along, and do what they should. I give them a lot of independence and choice and it works. But when I'm not there, it falls apart.

I'm clearly missing something in the development of our classroom community. I want them to be the way they are with me because it helps them learn and because they are thinking about treating each other well. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong but it's something I'll be thinking about a lot.


Alex T. Valencic said...

Coming from a background of being a sub for three years, I think that you shouldn't beat yourself up too much about this.

I was given an assignment to sub for a high school English teacher who had already missed the first two days of the week due to a child's illness. Her morning classes were pretty wild.

I came in, established some ground rules pretty quickly, and got the class going. I left her detailed notes at the end of the day and she responded by emailing and thanking me for all the work I got her students to accomplish. I immediately became her top choice sub, and her students all loved me.

I don't think it is so much a matter of what you are doing wrong as what the sub is doing wrong: not establishing him- or herself as a teacher, and rather letting class take control.

However, it would probably help to set some strong expectations for the class and offer a reward for a positive report. I do this with my kids, now that I am teaching full-time and seeing the classroom from the other side!

Deb Frazier said...

Jen- I have been thinking about this very thing. Each year It's my goal to establish a classroom community that makes the right choice because it feels good. It is my hope that they make choices that make them feel good even when no one is watching. This expectation is pretty good (with the few exceptions that we are 6) when I am in the room and focused and ready to go, staying a step ahead. But on those days when I am "off" my game even a tiny bit pieces become more challenging. As I am typing this I am thinking the guest teacher does not get the opportuniity to be 100% "on" and ahead of 6! The kids need us to be ready for them, and "on" to set that great example of making the right choices becasue it feels good. When we aren't I guess 6 is just too powerful! It's all a proces...

luckeyfrog said...

I have basically a marble jar for whole class rewards. Due to some time as an interventionist where I had lunch/recess duty every day and got an inside view of what the kids are like when a sub is there, I now make a BIG deal out of those times. (Also, kids talking during a fire or tornado drill is a huge pet peeve of mine.)

So, those things are a part of my marble jar system. Normally, a class compliment is worth 1. A class compliment at lunch/recess gets 2. Emergency drills are worth up to 3. While a sub is there, the kids have a chance to earn 5. FIVE. The kids are always amazed when I announce this, and it's a big motivator because 5 go a long way towards filling the jar.

I don't love to do extrinsic motivation, because, like you, I think it's nice for the students to do it for pride and not a prize- but they don't fill it very often (only twice so far this year) and I think it's worth it to be able to have special rewards for EXCEPTIONAL class behavior during those special times.

Jenny said...

Alex, Congratulations on the full-time job! That is wonderful. I also did a lot of subbing before I began and thinking back on that would be a useful exercise. Thanks.

debf, "It's all a process..." So true. I should frame that as a reminder all year.

luckeyfrog, You have clearly thought a lot about this. Thanks for sharing your thinking. More marbles for times when the regular teacher is gone makes so much sense to me. You've given me a lot to think about.

Angela Watson said...

I used to have a system similar to LuckeyFrog, though I used beads instead of marbles as an individual reward system (more here:

My last year of teaching, my class was absolutely horrible every time I was out. I resorted to awarding 5 beads to students who the sub did not report negatively on (normally kids only got 2 a day, so this was a huge amount, on top of however many the sub wanted to give out, which could be a lot), and took away 5 beads (gasp! the only time I threatened this!) for those who caused problems.

The stakes were huge but it STILL didn't work for my biggest troublemakers. Several students started keeping their own lists (in addition to the sub's list) of who had refused to work or follow directions while I was out. That told me that the kids felt very much like there was no one in control in the room and were clinging to any semblance of order they could create. The lists were extremely long and detailed and almost every child in the class wanted to conference with me personally about what happened while I was out because it was so distressing to them.

It really made me feel like a failure as a teacher. Then I realized that my classes were not like that every year, nor were they like that with every sub. One year I used a sub who almost always gave me a great report; the following year, she had such a tough time that she wouldn't sub in my class anymore! My procedures and expectations were the exact same; only the kids were different.

Some groups of kids just don't handle change well, and I think that's especially true in high poverty schools. The kids I've taught don't respect authority unless the authority has earned respect, and that's not always the case with subs.

I don't have a solution for you (obviously, which is why I'm rambling), but I agree with Alex that you shouldn't beat yourself up too much over this. It's a pretty typical problem for every teacher I know, including some really exceptional ones. :-) I think back some more...I do remember one thing that helped a LITTLE bit with that class. Since they all wanted to conference anyway, I started requiring that for every student. I called them over to my desk one at a time during morning work and asked them how many beads THEY thought they earned while I was gone, and why. Most of them were very hard on themselves. Some of the troublemakers denied problems and I read some of the sub's notes to them and asked for their explanations. It wasn't a perfect system (and a really annoying way to start my day) but they WERE slightly better behaved for subs after that because they knew they'd have to personally account for their behavior to me face to face the next morning.

Raimo said...

In the Scandinavian countries the political and economic elite controls the media. No one can criticize the elite in the mainstream media. Any one who criticizes leading politicians elsewhere, being a state or municipal employee, will lose his or her job.

The Social Democratic Party of Finland has created the cult of personality which surrounds Finnish President Tarja Halonen and her predecessor Martti Ahtisaari. The Finnish elite has declared November 16th as the Martti Ahtisaari Day since 2011.

Censorship in the mainstream media makes Finland, Norway and Sweden dictatorships, ruled by the political and economic elite.