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Adapting to the Environment

By Cindy Reitzi

People and animals evolve to be better suited to survive in their current environment. If the environment changes, so must the habitants of that environment. -

Every time a physical environment is changed, all the plants and animals in that environment must adapt to the changes or become extinct.Slow changes give living things time to adapt by the process of evolution over many generations. Fast changes usually don't give living things time to adapt, so they must either move elsewhere or become extinct. - ,Wheeling Jesuit University/ NASA-supported Classroom of the Future

This year I am working multiple jobs and taking occasional classes, so I have days when I feel like the kid in the Far Side cartoon, who says to his teacher, "May I be excused? My brain is full."

It doesn't help that with our current ham-handed, call-out system (SEMS), our district has made finding substitute teaching work yet more difficult. Calling in to get jobs reminds me of calling a government bureaucracy or large corporation and going through a phone tree more entangled than the Kennedy clan family tree.

The new system is costing me money since I miss evening calls, and therefore potential jobs. I get fewer full-time assignments AND I have less choice (something all subs value).

Some days I feel like I'm leasing myself out to the highest bidder with the best perks - a long-term assignment in a favorite subject or fun, part-time assignments just to keep my morale up. (And I don't expect much response to queries for improvement to the system from the "higher-ups" since my "higher-up" is on the district negotiating committee to rid me of my pesky sick-leave benefits. Let's just say, I'm not expecting a whole lotta love there).

So, a few years ago, I determined to adapt to my changing environment. I decided to advertise. First, I got neon, glow-in-the-dark paper to make flyers. Never put anything on white paper if you want to get a teacher's attention - it'll get lost in the 8x10 "sea of troubles" stuffed in teachers' mailboxes.

Next, I folded it in half like a card, since the change in shape was also distinctive and invited teachers to open it up. Last year, on the front flap I put: "I'm back in the saddle again, swimming in the sub pool and mixing my metaphors," which was generally popular with the English teachers.

This year, in a nod to popular culture, I tried: "Go ahead.Make my day!" (with the ellipses all in smiley faces) on the front flap, which opened to "Call and request me!" followed by my name and sub number. On the inside, I put the following general information along with my home phone number, inviting them to call:

  • I am a frequently requested professional in Madison schools and I sub in all subject areas. I usually have a sense of humor.
  • I have 16 years of experience as a "guest teacher." . I am a certified teacher in English and Social Studies.
  • I will follow your lesson plan and leave you a detailed note.
  • I will not put my feet up and read the newspaper while your students go nuts.

Teachers usually like the "usually have a sense of humor" and the newspaper lines best. Another trick I learned to adapt to my difficult environment was to get teachers' master schedules at each of the schools where I work. These are really handy since they indicate whether a teacher is full- or part-time and what classes he or she teaches.

Since SEMS never tells me the percentage of my assignments if they're not indicated as full-time hours, at least I can take a stab at what percentage I might be working part-time. The posters worked as one adaptation to an irritant in my environment; I got more work and the danger eased for the time being.

My troubles are few in comparison to others, but if my small corner of education is any indication of stress in the environment, then we've got ripple effects ahead. School personnel do not operate in isolation, and generally the people who make top-down school policies are rarely those who feel the pinch down under.

There's a limit to how many times we can do the survival-of-the-fittest "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" adaptations before quality education is vulnerable to the way of the dinosaur.

December 1, 2005

Education News