by Laura Johnston Kohl
I am an expert on education – from many points of view. I just retired from teaching last June 2014. I have taught Bilingual Kindergarten, Adult ESL, CPR in Spanish to factory workers, and in elementary and middle schools around California for the past twenty years. I taught middle school at Hidden Valley Middle School for the last five years, and 5th grade at Orange Glen Elementary School for the five years before that. And now, I am a substitute here in Escondido. I have worked steadily for the past two months, and have been to nearly all of the schools. Today, as I was leaving a 3rd grade class at LR Green, a darling boy hugged me and told me I was an awesome substitute teacher in his class. As I did duty after school, a parent honked as she was leaving the school and called out, “Thanks so much for being a great substitute teacher for my child.” That doesn’t always happen. But, today it did, and it made my day.
As a substitute teacher in the EUSD, you can call the automated call center to get assigned a job. I am interested in working, and in planning ahead. So, I call regularly and listen to the available jobs. I know my schedule about a month in advance. I am not a “last minute” kind of person. I have found out a little about myself while beginning to sub. I started out accepting all jobs in all of the elementary and middle schools. I know about the hoops substitutes in ALL schools have to jump through. So, I had to find my “fit.” I fit better in third through eighth grade classes. I like kids who are old enough to understand accountability. After today, I am happy that I am substituting. It is a win-win situation for me. I am saving money for my world travels, and enjoying my role in educating young minds.
I have to rave about a lot of things I have seen first-hand in our EUSD schools. There are many things! I met up with an outstanding music teacher who visits five elementary schools a week. His name is Mr. Rivera. I was so enthralled watching him teach third graders about rhythm! He brought a metronome to teach music theory. And, then he taught kids how to play recorders. For fourth and fifth grades, he has even more extensive music theory. He will also introduce them to a range of instruments. He was just terrific. He is fluent in both English and Spanish, but his most astounding talent is his form of instruction for kids of every level and all personality quirks. It was really wonderful to watch him in action.
Another highlight was when I subbed in the class of the amazing and inspirational art teacher at Bear Valley. She has students draw; she trains them; she inspires them; she opens up the world of art to them. My favorite art project on display in her room – no surprise for those who know me – was a platter of huge pieces of cakes – made from simple supplies like cardboard, Paper Mache, paints, and a multitude of other supplies. Some of the pieces were covered in strawberries, some in chocolate, some in star decorations, and all just delightful. Everything was so tempting. When I walked into the room, I was immediately swooning. And, the students were all engaged in the different projects set out by the teacher. It was wonderful. I wish all students could have access!
The next highlight has been meeting the teachers – both those I was covering and those I met on campus. All of the teachers were primarily focused on bringing up the skills of the students. We have a new curriculum in the district this year – Common Core. It is challenging, and transition into a new curriculum is always bumpy. Common Core affects each tested subject area. Teachers are working with it and arranging their lesson plans to do an excellent job. I was impressed with both the teachers and the lesson plans. Everyone uses cooperative groups so that the students take on different roles to finish assignments.
After working for five years at Hidden Valley Middle School, I have to mention the absolutely wonderful counselors. Our counselors take the care of the whole student. They work to provide food through Golden Share food every month, they work with students who bully and get bullied, and they work with students who have difficulty making and keeping friends. I was so very impressed with them. When a student had a crisis, the counselor was immediately available. I could not have asked for a more supportive and energetic team. Our students were well-served.
From my experience over the past five years, Hidden Valley also has the most spectacular Physical Education teachers. They really set the tone of respect and harmony in the school. They learned the names of all of the students early in the year and from that moment, they were on-point to create a fellowship among the students. They were first to see flags when issues were rising to the surface, and they would immediately work to get things resolved – and really resolved, not just covered over. They made an amazing contribution every day to the feeling of unity in the student body. They were at the forefront. And, the rest of the staff was delighted to back them up.
The schools nearly all have large, well-stocked computer labs. A lot of the classes have iPads and activities for the kids to learn new technology. They are making movies, or shorter features, and doing presentations for class. Teachers had great lesson plans so the kids could work independently and in cooperative groups to create movies or short projects.
Del Dios Academy has a fantastic dance group. They perform at the assemblies and have demonstrated what hard work and enthusiasm can create.
The facilities in Escondido vary. Some of our schools are very old. I know that renovations and upgrades are being done on nearly every campus. It comes as no surprise that the newer schools have much more space, improved décor, better parking for staff, and better amenities. We need to continue upgrading our schools.
The hardest part of teaching – in most schools I have taught in – is classroom management. Teachers are academically smart. The curriculum is grasped easily enough. But, discipline, planning, follow-up, parent contact, multi-level instruction, and remedial instruction are the more difficult aspects. Too many of the children in our schools have had horrific experiences. They bring those challenges to school. I have visited elementary schools where children walk in straight, quiet lines everywhere they go. I have visited others where the children monitor themselves and naturally walk reasonably quietly. Each school is unique, and has established practices for their specific students. Administrators and teachers have become experts in trying to meet these needs. In every school, “Buddy Teachers” help out fellow teachers.
Without question, teachers are the best co-workers I have ever worked around. I’ve been a social worker, a legal secretary, a government employee, and more. Teachers are the BEST. We need to support our teachers and take care of them. They are priceless.