Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jane Addams: Great Place for Substitutes

I am happy to report that in my years as a substitute teacher, there was one school where I was guaranteed to command a decent amount of respect.

At Jane Addams Middle School in Lawndale, the principal Frank Noyes commands a great deal of respect with students, but more importantly with his staff. A fatherly type who brings a motherly overshadowing elementary flow to the school, Noyes would visit classes on a frequent basis, almost like a “broken window” move, putting out fires before they started. In one class, he pressed his students to watch their language on his campus, as he refused to tolerate “F-bombs”. When one student escaped with a snide smile, the principal tore him up in front of the students – “You think it’s funny?!” Taking the student outside, Noyes continued to upbraid the young fool for making a face about the whole thing.

This administrator expected his assistant principal to visit every class where a substitute had been assigned for the day. On one occasion, I was covering a class of sixth graders. One kid became argumentative early on, refusing to listen or to be quiet. When I called security to have the student removed, he continued to talk back to security. I tried to calm down the situation as best as I could, but to know avail, as he kept whining and interrupting security ---“You know what,” the security staff told me, “I am going to take him to the office, because now he is arguing with me.”

Fifteen minutes later, the young boy – Darren – returned quietly class to pack up and pick up his stuff – he was going home for the day.

That was not the only time that I witnessed a student getting sent home for disrespect towards a substitute teacher. While passing through the main office during lunch time, I witnessed a parent, apparently breaking away from working, sitting in the front lobby seething. “What do you do?” He barked as the principal walked into to summon the parent into his office. Another student was being sent home for the day, and the Dad was just going to have to suck up the inconvenience.

That approach is both valuable and necessary – parents have to start shouldering the responsibility for their kids’ disrespect, especially at the middle school level, when a character of rebellion can take hold at an early age and not shake loose unless a cop,  a court, and an indictment are involved next.

The principal had no problem suspending rude dudes. His staff also prepared a short list of particularly difficult students, reminding them periodically that they were on probation with the administration at the school. As students were divided into academic clusters labeled according to Ivy League schools, the teachers for each cohort also acted as unofficial deans, checking in with substitutes at the end of every day to find out how the day went. Any students that I wrote up, they would follow up and hold accountable. They really backed up their substitutes at the school, and there was no surprise to me why so many guest teachers requested to cover classes at Jane Addams.

I should not neglect to mention that Noyes’ fatherly approach to the whole school was very enduring. In many ways he operated like a real “father of many”. He participated in after school activities with the students and the staff. He even prepared a school calendar highlighting student activities throughout the previous academic year. The administrators and front office personnel also distributed gift cards wishing happy holidays and happy birthday to staff. The family atmosphere certainly contributed to the high morale of the school and provided students with a safe and secure environment for learning.

Leuzinger High School even lost one off the high school math teachers recently to the middle school, and normally educators in a high school setting avoid middle school if they can, as the  early-adolescent student population is more challenging than the high school set. Yet Noyes’ administration and the familial connections were a boon and a draw for a teacher who was looking for more support and less hassle. I am certain that that math teacher is having a successful time in a school where even substitutes can get the job done with suffering neglect or disrespect.

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