Tag Archives: teaching

A Day at the Zoo

I’m such a weenie, I was wishing I had a zoom function on my phone’s camera so I wouldn’t have to stand so close to the cage to snap this picture.  I could scarcely believe the secretary was leaving me alone and defenseless in the Carlin Combined Zoo all day.

Actually, it was 7:20 AM at Carlin High School.  This dude (real name: “Dude”) greeted my arrival in a biology classroom today.  The class also housed a turtle, 2 chinchillas, a ferret (another reason Nevada is waaaayyyy cooler than California), and a snake.  The kids told me the snake had gotten out of its cage and was lost, but their teacher hadn’t told anyone because he didn’t want to freak them out.

“Did he ever find the snake?”

“Oh ,yeah, it’s back now,” they said.

“Good, because if it wasn’t, they’d be looking for a new sub right now.”

The furry animals were cute.  The ferret put his little ferret feet on the thin bars of the cage, quivering his whiskers and hoping a student would poke their finger through the bars so he could rub against it like a cat or lick the salt off with his little ferret tongue.

The chinchilla hunkered in the corner of his cage, nose twitching wildly.  When a person slithered a hand through the cage door to pet his downy soft fur, he clsoed one eye, flattened his bowl-shaped ears and dodged the hand, looking pissed off. 

I really wanted to pet the cute little sucker, but he was kinda scary.

The kids said, “Oh, it’s fine – you can pet him.”  After watching 2 high school girls successfully pet the chinchilla, I worked up my courage.  Yes, I will put the first ride on a colt and tie down an 8-weight steer outside, but I get trembly when petting a small indoor pet in a cage.

The chinchilla ducked my hand and darted across the cage.  I snapped my hand back so quickly it hit the door frame and rocked the cage.  I laughed, then made myself stick my hand back in for one good, solid pet on the back.  I couldn’t show fear; it would ruin my image as a strict disciplinarian. 

Actually, I’m pretty positive my propensity to blush 18 times per day has already done that.

Yesterday, I spent a day with zoo animals of the bipedal variety.  The Spanish and English classes I taught were impressively disorganized and chaotic.  The teacher left a sub note dated 11/13 (yeah, that was definitely a Sunday) and had written “Dear Bev” at the top. 

After a day of handing out worksheets only to have the kids tell me, “We’ve already done this one.  We turned it in 2 weeks ago.  Our teacher is crazy,” I did what I had to do.  I had them put away their papers, stack their textbooks, and we watched cartoons.  The animated Rio rocks!

Some of the boys wrote a message in Spanish on the whiteboard for the next class.  Literally translated, it  read, “Hello, class.  You love me because you are poor and white.”  Then they drew a ninja. 

Thanks for reading,
The zookeeper


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You Just Can’t Know

As horrendous as Friday was, that’s how good today was. 

For comparison: on Friday, a high school boy looked at me and said, “You’re the cutest sub we’ve ever had!” then winked at me across the room.  Not okay.  A middle schooler later asked me if I had a black eye.  “No, I’m just tired, but thank you….”…..for destroying the last milimeter of self-confidence I possessed for the day.  I was drinking wine by 4:30. 

Working at Capriola’s assauged my frazzled psyche.  Cleaning jewelry cases and vacuuming the staircase calmed me right down.  On my lunch break I checked out Mish Mash and Muddle, a consignment store (that’s a five-dollar word for “thrift store”) and scored an imitation leather jacket for $11.  This jacket is seriously smokin’ hot.  If I wasn’t me, I would so hit on myself. 

And then the sixth grade schoolchildren today were absolute dreams to teach.  I have no idea why, but I just went with it.  They hushed up and listened when I addressed the class, telling their talkative friends to be quiet.  They read their history books.  They calculated their math problems.  They asked me for help.  They raised their hands when they wanted to share an answer.  They read silently. 

During free time, some kids played Go Fish, some played Apples to Apples, and one table played blackjack.  I wondered if I should shut down the gambling on school premises, but then thought Shoot, this is Nevada.  Blackjack is practically a basic survival skill, like honking your car horn while driving in New York City or shoving the bag of oranges under the front seat and telling the ag inspection station attendant, “No, we don’t have any fruit,” when driving over the California line.

I just made sure they didn’t gamble the rent money and no one had two hands on their cards.

The class was so quiet and studious that I got all caught up on my New York Times reading online.  I am now educated on the demise of “marginiality” (writing in the margins of books), lesbians and their sperm donors (yeah, TMI for me, too), female reporters in Egypt (the sexual assaults are horrifying) and the new season of Desperate Housewives: Miami (made me feel much better about myself).

I’m teaching high school art in Wells tomorrow.  I have no idea what to expect.  With subbing, you just can’t know 🙂

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I’m A Brunette?

When I was a baby, I had pencil-straight blonde hair.  As I grew up, it darkened and curled with glacial sureness, until I was a bonafide brunette who didn’t need a curling iron.  It took a while to think of myself as a brunette, though.  Some roots run deep.

I once changed a light bulb twice before I realized the lamp wasn’t plugged in.  Hmmm, I thought, another bad bulb.  We gotta switch brands or something. 

My junior year of college, I climbed two flights of stairs and walked down a long hallway to my professor’s office, only to realize I was in the wrong building. 

I frequently confuse Betsy Ross with Diana Ross, and therefore remain mute on American history trivia questions. 

I have recently outdone myself, though.  As a substitute teacher, I sign up for teaching jobs through an online system.  While working at a high school last week, the secretary came in and asked if I’d switch my next day of teaching from my assigned music class to special education, since I did such a good job the week before and the teacher had requested me.

“Sure, that’d be great,” I replied.  The secretary commented that I’d be there the next two days.  I said no, I’d only signed up for one day.

I checked SubFinder online and discovered I had indeed actually signed up for a two-day job.  I hadn’t realized that the one-day jobs and multiple-day jobs weren’t given any special differentiation besides carefully reading the start and end dates. 

I thought back to the previous week when a student asked me, “Are you going to be our sub all three days?”

“No,” I cheerfully answered, “I’m just here today.”


I re-checked my list of past jobs on SubFinder.  Yep, sure as shootin’, I’d signed up for a three-day job the week before.  I’d only showed up once. 

Mortified, I waited until the color receeded from my face to go into the office and apologize profusely for not appearing for work two days in a row. 

The secretary looked at me blankly.  “Oh, you weren’t here?” she asked.

I explained my mistake.  She said the other teachers never said anything; they must’ve taken the handful of students in that class into their own rooms for the two days. 

I don’t show up to school and I get requested by the teacher.  I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.  As long as the jobs keep coming, I won’t be picky how I got the referral.

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What Would You Take?

Yesterday I taught at a small school, so my classroom contained a mixture of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  They finished an assignment early, so I gave them a quick journal write to fill the extra time.

I told the kids to pretend that their house was burning down and they had time to grab only one item.  What would it be and why?

After about two minutes of silence, hands shot up one after the other.  The kids asked, “Does it have to be only one thing?”  “What if we can’t actually carry it up?”  “Can it be a bunch of little things in a box?”  “Does a dog count?” 

Seeing where their young, literal minds were going, I told the class, “The point of this exercise isn’t to determine how much you can physically carry from a burning building.  This is about priorities.  I want to know what you think and why.”

Once they were done writing, I asked volunteers (“volunteers” is teacherspeak for “whomever I call on when no one volunteers”) to share their answers. 

One kid said he’d take his mattress, because that’s where his money is hidden. 

“Why don’t you just take the money?” I asked.

“That would take too much time.”

Another boy said he’d take all his money, so he could buy food and clothing for his family until they could get a new house. 

One girl would grab a box on her desk filled with special gifts people had given her that couldn’t be replaced.  One boy said he’d be sure and grab his dog.  Another kid said he’d take his DS, which I understand is some kind of new handheld video game, so he could connect to the Internet. 

If my house were burning down around me, I’d grab the afghan my Grandma Shelley made for me when I was a baby.  She died when I was four.  Grandma Shelley made adult-sized afghans for everyone in the family, second cousins and in-laws included.  I’m so grateful I have a big afghan, rather than the typical baby blanket that no one uses after age two, to snuggle in and remember the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

What would you take?  And no, you cannot “take the fire and move it somewhere else,” as one boy suggested 🙂  More importantly, ask yourself “why?”


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Catching My Stride

At my very first Elko County subbing job last week, I was the only teacher at Adobe Middle School wearing jeans, Olathes and a wild rag.  The next Monday, I wore a wool skirt and low-heeled shoes.  All the other teachers at Northside Elementary were wearing jeans.

I wore jeans and a sweater to Spring Creek Middle School.   One of the students exclaimed, “I have the same sweater!”  Curse you, JCPenney juniors’ section.

Today, I wore jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, and a waist-length courdoroy jacket to teach Spring Creek High School math.  Evidently, there was a big basketball game and wrestling tournament, so every single staff member was wearing a piece of Spring Creek Spartans clothing.  My jacket smelled like smoke from the woodstove (I guess I need to learn to operate the damper more efficiently?) and I couldn’t decide if I felt like a hippie or an Indian.

It’s impossible to catch your stride in subbing, because there is no pattern.  I rose at 5:15 this morning to drive to work with plenty of time to prepare for my first class.  My first class turned out to be the teacher’s prep period, so no children actually arrived in the classroom until 9:10.  But there I sat, bright-eyed, caffienated and ready to educate.

My classes were Algebra One and Trigonometry.  I introduced myself, took roll, and the kids worked on review sheets.  I checked my email approximately every 37 seconds and read online Dave Barry columns, thereby establishing my reputation as the New Sub Who Smells Like Smoke And Laughs To Herself All Class. 

Every once in a while I turned away from the computer screen and scanned the classroom, giving the impression that I was closely monitoring the students’ diligence to studying.  In fact, I was relieving a wicked crick in my neck from turning to 2 o’clock to look at the computer screen. 

Subbing has got to be one of the most random jobs.  If there was a reliable set of rules, I would share them with the masses.  As it is, I feel like a a professional swimmer who was handed a tennis racket, given a pat on the back, and told “Make us proud.”  I just kinda flail around in front of the crowd, hoping someone claps once in a while.

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My New Intro

I taught high school math today, which I was NOT looking forward to.  The kids usually mistake me for a new student.  One senior even insisted he was older than me, which he wasn’t.

So, in the name of desperately needing money, I ate my breakfast in the dark of morning, warmed up my pickup and mentally prepared myself for a day of instructing people taller than me.

The school building was constructed from cinderblocks, similar to those found in military barracks and American prisons.  There was – no joke – a gate made of cyclone fencing in the teachers’ lounge.  The classroom felt friendlier; I could lock the door from the inside.

The biggest problem with subbing is that the kids collectively think they have the edge over me, since I don’t know their names, bell schedule, or regular routine.  I started introducing myself with “Good morning.  I’m your sub today.  My name is Miss Laubacher.  I realize I’m brand-new to this school and I don’t know anyone’s names or the regular schedule, but I still expect the same level of respect you would show your regular teacher or any other subs.  That means no talking while I’m talking, no cussing, no throwing things.  If you do these things, I’ll just kick you out of class.  Fair enough?”

The students nodded agreement and got out their notebooks.  I felt like a genius.

I learned that I don’t need to be Super In Control Sub Who Knows Everything.  I don’t even know where the bathroom is!  Acknowledging my ignorance, an underlying truth that everyone in the room already knows, seems to diffuse any potential power struggles.  Sometimes I can’t help them like their real teacher would; I have never taken calculus or organic chemistry.  I still insist they show me the universal respect of keeping their mouths shut while I stand at the front of the room trying to decipher lesson plans written by someone I’ve never met.

The kids were quiet and worked studiously today.  The classroom had a little portable heater under her desk, so my feet were toasty.  Even the cinderblocks seemed softer by the final bell.  Funny how using my brain to overcome my fears makes the day that much brighter.

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Children And Chickens

I taught second grade today, which is like being pecked to death by a chicken.  Small children in doses of about four at a time is fun; twenty-three against one is an unfair fight.

I am just not used to dealing with people who cannot tie their own shoes or find the gloves their mothers stashed in their coat pockets.  You’d think hanging out with the Chico State AGR frat boys would have prepared me for this experience,  but it didn’t.  I lose my patience after the 13th “Do NOT talk while I’m talking.”

Some days I feel like an automated voice-command robot wearing a plaid skirt and black leggings.  My vocabulary is reduced to “Don’t run in the hallway,” “Show me how you stand in a nice, straight line,” “Don’t play on the ice,” and “Do you need help zipping your coat?”

The kids don’t deliberately misbehave; they simply have the attention span of microwave popcorn.  They are at the door, they are at their desk, they are getting a drink of water, they are asking to go to the bathroom, they are hugging me, they are shoving a marker up their nose…they are everywhere!  All twenty-three of them! 

To add to the merry chaos, their regular teacher left me a note that included these instructions:
“Calendar Math: Start them, as the students the numbers you write them.”  Didn’t make a lick of sense to me, either.
“Pick up students.”  From where?  And then, once I located the little beggars, they all put their coats on and I didn’t recognize a single one.  Wandering the playground, shading my eyes from the sun while looking for the group of students entrusted into my care for the day does not cultivate the competent persona I was going for.
“As you work with the red and purple reading groups, the rest of the class will do centers.”  I never did figure out what ‘centers’ were,    but that didn’t stop me from commanding half the class to do them.  The kids would come up and ask, “What center are we on?” 

“Pick your favorite one.” 

I endured 12-degree morning recess duty wearing a knee-length wool skirt and leggings.  That was a poorly thought-out clothing choice.  For afternoon recess, I told the kids to put away their books, put on their jackets, and sit quietly at their desks.  After a few quiet but warm minutes, a little voice piped up “Are we in trouble?”  Glancing at the clock, I realized I had to take them outside and freeze at some point.  Sigh.

Tomorrow I have sixth grade math.  Middle school is a beautiful thing; changing classes enables children to experience new teaching styles, practice high school-type schedules, and, most importantly, teachers catch a break.  If a kid is lipping off the entire hour, just make it to the next bell and he’ll be gone. 

Happy learning!

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Mrs. Teacher

I’m substitute teaching for the winter, which is kind of  misleading title for the job.  It’s more like “crowd control and public speaking in front of  semi-hostile audience.”  In my first days of subbing in the fall of 2009, I saw the wide eyes and beaming smiles of the schoolchildren when they looked at me and said, “YOU’RE our sub?!  Awesome!”  I congratulated myself on being such an innately approachable, warm-hearted, likeable person that children immediately adored me.

As soon as the first bell rang, the kids were throwing paper, chewing gum, talking loudly, and wandering the room at will.  I quickly discovered the wondrous powers of a seating chart left by a benevolent teacher: If I, the Unknown Sub, can tell the students “Kevin, take your hat off, Amanda, go back to your regular seat, and Garrett, turn around” within the first two minutes of class, they’re mine.  They shut up and spend the rest of the hour trying to figure out how I know everyone’s name.  Round One: Miss Laubacher.

I always introduce myself as Miss Laubacher and tell the kids they can call me “Miss L” if they prefer.  Only people under the age of seven are permitted to address me as Mrs. Teacher.  With the primary grades, I am too busy trying to get their grubby hands off my necklace and/or earrings and repeating myself (“Pick up a yellow crayon….a yellow crayon…..no, that one’s green.  Don’t eat it!”) to care what they call me, just so long as all noise ceases at 3:00.

I taught study hall at an Elko middle school last Thursday.  I haven’t subbed in almost a year, so I was a little nervous.  Before the first bell, I told myself “Don’t be scared.  They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” the same thing I tell myself when dealing with rattlesnakes or wild hogs.  As it turns out, the kids were exceptionally quiet and well-behaved, so I basically got paid to read Newsweek articles online all day. 

I enjoy looking at life from kids’ point of view, which varies widely with each grade level.  It’s so refreshing to remember we are fundamentally all just people, going through the same phases of life during different time periods.  Underneath the generational fashions, technology changes (cell phones are to today’s fourth graders what boom boxes were to ’80s high schoolers), and worn-out tales from the old days (“I walked twelve miles one way to school….”), we’re all just bodies of flesh and blood with thirsty souls and insecure egos.  We’re not very different, but we’ll still never agree on which radio station to listen to.

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