Monday, June 11, 2007

Thoughts on Subbing, Part I

I hope this is the first of a series of posts examining my experiences as a substitute teacher. The series will probably meander quite a bit; if you happen to read this, feel free to ask questions in the comments and I'll answer them as best I can.

So I work as a substitute teacher in the very same high school I graduated from. It's around 1500 students in a semi-rural/suburban town of 14,000 or so.

Returning to the school after five and one-half years away has been an incredibly strange experience. One the one hand, so many things are the same, and the similarities have allowed me to slip into a role there far easier than I could have at a completely new school. On the other, the school has been completely reorganized and renovated. The school is now divided into four separate "small schools," each with its own curriculum, area of focus, administrator, and hallway. Apparently this is something of a trend sweeping the U.S. at the moment, though I believe my school was among the first to adopt this system (it got a grant from the Gates Foundation to help defer the costs of setup; the grant disappears after three years). The academy system, as it's often called, is now in its third year, and I hope to use this space to think a little bit about the consequences and results of such a system.

For this post, however, I'm just going to throw out some more background and call it good.

As I mentioned, SSHS (small schools high school, for lack of a better term) is divided up into four separate entities. Each entity has a name and a focus: Physical Systems focuses on engineering, mathematics, and vocational classes; Social focuses on the social sciences, economics, art, and home economics; Living focus on science (especially biology) and health; and Information focuses on publications, web & computer programming, advertising, and other information technology paths.

In theory, no academy is below or above any other, and students from any academy are given the same chance to attend college. In practice...well, I'm not so sure that's true, but I'll get into that in more depth later.

At the end of their 8th grade year, or perhaps at the beginning of their 9th, students are asked to pick an academy based on their interests. After the beginning of their sophomore year, students are not allowed to switch academies.

The small school system has been controversial in the community; the last school board election or two have had candidates who run for or against the academies and the superintendent who installed them (without much say from the teachers, I am told).

I should also mention that there's been an incredible amount of turnover among the teachers in the last 4-5 years. Some of it has to do with the introduction of the academy system, and some of it is due to changes made in the state public employee retirement system. I hear also that the school has a real problem retaining quality teachers - they tend to stay for 1-2 years and then move on.

I think that's enough for now - in the next post I will try to elaborate a little more on each academy in terms of classes offered, staff, and the 'character' of each, as it were; as a sub, I've had the opportunity to work in all four (unlike most of the teachers), and I hope this perspective is enough to lead to some interesting observations.


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