Sunday, February 9, 2014

Substitute Teaching versus Volunteering in Schools in Stockholm

When I first found out we might be moving to Stockholm I started looking into teaching jobs.  I found a few schools in the city that taught in English, at least some of their courses were in English, and I decided to get my documents together in case I ended up needing them.  When we were in Stockholm in June I walked by one of the schools that I was most interested in working at.  It was in the same area of the city where Jake was going to be working and I thought that would make it easier when we started looking for apartments if I had an idea of where my school might be.  When we left Stockholm in June, we knew Garmin wanted us to move so I started filling out applications and getting my cv (similar to a resume but a little bit different), reference letters and cover letter together.

While we were in Stockholm this summer I walked past the school I was most interested in just to see what it looked like.
I thought it was funny that it said "No Child Left Behind" and "Tough Love."  I wonder how they would feel about Love and Logic? 
I knew that I needed to find something to do while we were living in Stockholm or else I would go stir crazy but I wasn't sure I wanted a full time teaching job.  Jake and I really wanted to travel as much as we could while we were living abroad and teaching doesn't really allow you to take vacation days whenever you want like most other jobs.  Plus, if you have ever taught you know the first year teaching a new grade or subject it is a lot of hard work and long hours.  I wasn't sure I really wanted to put all of that time and effort in for just one year.  So I started looking for a part time position or a support position.  Part time positions don't really exist but support positions do.  There are classroom assistant positions that I'm sure would be more flexible with time off but I could not find one available.  I did still apply for some teaching positions and just prayed that I would find a place to work with kids over the next year.

Unfortunately, we didn't get the work permit approved until after the school year started in Stockholm so that really made it difficult to find a job since all the schools had already started for the year.

I had an interview with the school that I walked by this summer after we got settled to see if they might have a place for me.  I interviewed with the "Tough Love" school and it went well but unfortunately they didn't have any positions available and they didn't really understand how to use me as a volunteer.  They did put my name on the substitute teaching list but I realized a few days later that I didn't have my Swedish personal number (like a social security number but you need it for everything over here) which meant I couldn't sub.  So I took my name off the list until I got my personal number.

I found out about another school that also taught some subjects in English and contacted them.  They seemed interested and interviewed me but again they didn't have any positions.  They were willing to let me volunteer.  I was so happy because I just needed something consistent where I could meet some people and continue to work with kids.  I started going on September 16th everyday from 8:30 until about 2 or 2:15.  It was great getting back in the classroom and working with kids again.  I really enjoyed it.

Side note: I was working with Swedish 5th graders (which is the same age as 6th graders in the US).  Grades here are a little off from the US.  In the Kansas, they put you in kindergarten if you turn five by August 31st.  In Sweden, they don't have kindergarten.  They just start with first grade and to be in first grade you have to be 7 years old during that calendar year (not school year).  So all kids that turn seven in 2014 will all be in 1st grade that year.  Kids are in compulsory (primary) school from ages 7-16 and then they can go to Upper Secondary School called Gymnasium from 16-19 years old.

We started taking a Swedish class at Folks University the month of October so I just volunteered from  8:30-11:30, ate lunch at school and then headed to Swedish class.  After I finished the Swedish class I realized I was so busy still trying to get everything done that needed to be done after moving to a new country and it seemed silly to be stressed out when I was just volunteering.  So I cut my volunteer days back from 5 days a week to 3.5 days a week.  So I continued to volunteer on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and a half a day on Friday.  That was going really well especially since I could take off time to go to Taiwan, Beijing and Amsterdam.

Before we went home for Christmas I was starting to feel like I needed to do more than just volunteer.  While I was volunteering I really only helped kids and I didn't get to teach or do small groups like I was hoping I would.  There were a handful of times that I subbed for teachers if they were gone but since this school doesn't hire substitutes I subbed for free. Instead of having subs the teachers have it in their contracts that they will sub for classes a certain number of times each month if necessary which is great if you are already getting paid but I wasn't.  I enjoyed subbing because it meant I could actually teach the class but it is a lot more work than volunteering and I felt like I should be getting paid.  I talked to the principal of the school to see if I could get paid for the hours that I subbed but not the hours I was just a classroom assistant.  I told him I had another school I was going to contact to see if I could start subbing there after Christmas but wanted to see if they could use me first.  He got back with  me and said they couldn't do that which was fine.  I just wanted to check before I started subbing at another school.

After Christmas break I called the first school that I interviewed with and put my name on their substitute teaching list.  I got my first call to sub two days later.  They wanted me for four days the next week and I would be subbing for junior school math.  It was great!  I actually got to teach for four days in math which was awesome!

I taught 4th and 5th grade students during those four days.  Their math lessons are typically in English which was great and since I was teaching one subject I only had to learn the plans for 4 different lessons since I just retaught those same lessons to different classes throughout the week.  I taught the 4th graders how to tell time and elapsed time which I was used to teaching with my 3rd graders back home.  The 5th graders were working on 3D shapes and volume.

Subs are paid a little bit differently in Sweden.  Instead of being paid for a full day or a half day you are paid by the hour for the number of lessons you teach.  So even though I was at school from 8-3:30 that first day I only got paid for the hours of actual lessons which was about 5 hours.  The hourly rate is really good, about 225 kr an hour or $35 an hour but sometimes there are big gaps in the schedule.  One of my days the first week I had a lesson from 8:05-9:05 and then my next one wasn't until 11:45 so I had 2 hours and 40 minutes of unpaid downtime :(.  Thankfully the secretaries do a good job of trying to fill in your down time with other random classes so that first week I did an art class almost everyday so my schedule had less down time.

My plan is to continue to volunteer on days that I'm not subbing so I can keep a consistent routine.  I thought I would probably sub one or two days a week but my first four days of subbing turned into a full five day week plus a four day week the next week.  So I might end up subbing more than I thought which I completely fine by me.  I miss my volunteer school.  I miss the kids and the staff but I am really enjoying the fact that I am teaching again.  Plus it is really nice to get paid :).

I am not a huge fan of senior school (grades 7th-9th which is really 8th-10th graders by US standards).  For one I'm just not as comfortable around them and if anyone is going to be able to tell that it will be the older kids.  But the main thing that I struggle with is the lesson plans that I'm supposed to do.  With the older students the lesson plans are usually "have the students work on _______ for the whole hour" which means I give them directions and then do classroom management for an hour instead of being able to teach.  I will probably continue to say yes to senior school for another week or two so the secretaries get used to me saying yes so they will hopefully think of me first.  They already know that I prefer junior school but I have still been willing to do senior school so we shall see if it gets better.

There are a few differences so far that I have noticed between my volunteer school and my substituting school.  At my volunteer school they call the teachers by their first names.  That took a long time for me to get used to and to be quite honest I'm still not a fan.  I feel like the students think they are equals with the teacher and therefore aren't as respectful as they should be.  I think it is pretty common in Sweden for teachers to be called by their first names.  However at the substitute school the teachers are called Mr. and Ms. which I really appreciate.  I guess all of the women are Ms. regardless of their martial status.  In fact after talking with the volunteer school principal he thought it was so strange that teachers aren't called by their first names.  He thinks that it is strange that kids don't know their teachers' first names and that some even try to keep it a secret.  He couldn't understand how you could build a relationship with a kid if they didn't even know their first name.  Well sir, I have a few good stories for you :).

Kids at the volunteer school don't seem to have many consequences for behaviors.  In general I would say about 80% of the kids are well behaved and even better behaved than kids in the US but the last 20% could use some discipline in their lives.  They aren't completely unruly but they get away with more than they should (although the most difficult behavior that I've seen here doesn't even come close to what I've seen in the states).  The only real consequence is an email or a phone call to parents which does seem to work because parents are very involved which isn't always the case in the US.

At my substitute school the kids can receive a behavior note if they are being disrespectful, chewing gum, being physical with another student, if you see or hear their cell phone in school, etc.  The kids in junior school (grades 4-6) really respond to behavior notes but the kids in senior school seem less phased by it.  Depending on what the kids do they can get 1-4 points on a behavior note and 4 points in a week earns them a detention at the end of the week.  When I subbed for junior school 95% of the kids were awesome!  It was so refreshing to be teaching and for them to be listening and respectful.  There was maybe 1 student in each class that was a little hard but nothing compared to what I've dealt with on a daily basis in the US.

At both schools the kids and the staff eat for free.  The staff gets to eat for free because they are supervising the kids.  No more duty free lunches.  That was a hard adjustment but now it isn't so bad.  The food at my volunteer school was pretty good the first semester but then they changed suppliers and it isn't as good this semester.  They have a small salad bar which usually has cold corn, cucumbers, shredded carrots, peas, etc.  Very rarely does it actually have lettuce and there is never any salad dressing.  The hot food used to be pretty good but now isn't that great.  Each meal has some kind of meat (chicken, pork, beef) or fish with either rice, potatoes or noodles and then some sauce.  There is a vegetarian option but that is only for people who have specifically requested it.  You can have water or milk to drink.  At the end of every meal in Sweden you eat knäckbröd which is basically a big cracker.  They put butter on it and sometimes seasonings.  We used to have fruit but haven't had any in a long time which is too bad because it was nice to have fruit with lunch.

This picture is from my volunteer school.   I had Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, shredded carrots (which I have almost every lunch) a few peppers and knäckbröd.

The food at my new school is really good.  They have a full salad bar with lettuce and dressing along with several other things.  They have three hot food choices at each meal.  They have a meat, fish and vegetarian option and you can take any or all of them.  They also have a pasta salad bar with cold pasta salad as well as toppings and other things like hummus and cottage cheese.  You can have milk or water to drink and they also have knäckbröd with butter and seasonings.  They have a daily soup and regular bread.  They also have fruit and each person can take one piece.

I hope I can continue to sub over the next few months.  It has been so fun learning how different schools work in Sweden compared to the United States.  The great thing about kids is that no matter where you are kids are still kids no matter where they live :).

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