Sunday, November 14, 2010

High School Confidential

I'm slowly starting into a new pattern of life that involves waking daily at 5:30 a.m. to the cheery ring of my cell phone and the computerized voice of the automated subbing system.  I now can "press one to accept this job" with my eyes still closed and my head unmoved from the center of my pillow.  In general, a couple of hours from that time and a few snooze buttons later, I'll be sitting in front of a class of high school kids.

At this juncture, I suggest that we pause for a moment to consider how some typical high schoolers look versus how I look:

I may have stacked the deck a little in favor of my sisters by choosing a picture of me post-tilt-a-whirl at Six Flags, but still, those kiddos on the left are nine and seven years younger than I am.  (Also of some relevance: ten minutes after that picture of the roomies and me was taken a high school boy manning the line at the bumper cars tried to get my number.)

Anyway, I was understandably a little dubious about how I'd fare in a high school, but it turns out that North Dakota high schoolers are tamer than a class full of Chicago kindergarteners (I miss you, Chicago five-year-olds!).  It also turns out that high school subbing means knowing how to pass out worksheets and press play on the VCR.  Or, in the case of the "special foods" class I subbed, knowing how to taste and rate six delicious homemade apple pies.

Subbing in a high school does not seem to mean all of the things I learned to consider during my last two years in Chicago Public Schools.  I don't, for instance, have to plan in bathroom breaks, herd children through cramped hallways, or lead Dr. Jean songs.  In a striking exception, though, the special foods experience did teach me that high school kids serving crumbly pies creates as much of a mess as second-graders building gingerbread houses out of M&Ms, frosting, and Graham crackers.

Speaking of which, let's just take another moment to celebrate those second graders' success with that project, as well as the successful use of plastic tablecloths by Ms. Walsh and me:

The need to get a class full of fifteen year-olds to clean up pie tins also left me realizing that I do not have any ideas for how to refer to a group of almost-adults.  The old elementary standards--"boys and girls", "friends", and "children", all said in the ubiquitous sing-song teacher voice--don't really apply.  I guess I'm left with a booming "ladies and gentleman", which seems a little silly and is causing me to flashback to the sir-ing and ma'am-ing of my Louisiana high school experience.  For lack of anything better, though, I guess for the time being I'll be rather formally addressing the teenagers of North Dakota.


  1. The best solution I've come up with, and it sounds very upper midwest, is "folks."

  2. That's awesome--and so much better than what I usually end up saying--"C'mon, you guys!"

  3. I generally take the gender neutral route as well. I remember saying things like "Everyone listen up." Sometimes it helps to be even less specific like just throwing out there, "Stop that! Are you crazy?" No one ever really knows who you are talking to, but they all end up stopping everything. Mission accomplished. Plus it keeps them on their toes.

  4. Well, if it makes you feel better, I just go with "girls" at my all-girls Catholic middle school here--and once when I asked, "How are you, girls?", a particularly quick one went, "Fine, thank you, and you, girl?"

  5. yeah, it's easier when you only have to deal with one gender...I usually address my high-schoolers as "ladies", but occasionally "girls". I think maybe you could get away with "guys" as casual and gender-neutral?