Friday, October 2, 2009


"It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances." Oscar Wilde

When I got home last night, a message was waiting for me to teach History at the ninth-grade high school, called, The Freshman Academy. This year, the district is trying an experiment, and have placed all of the ninth-graders in one building, probably because the enormous high school is going through renovations or maybe to help the ninth-graders transition. Since this high school setting is new, I’ve been curious to see what it would be like. In addition, I was excited to finally teach History.

My classes would be a mix of College Prep (whatever that means) and Honors classes. All three classes would be preparing for a debate for next week and then watching a DVD on the American Revolution. I was pleased to see that the DVD finished before the end of class, so we could discuss exciting topics, such as; taxation without representation, various acts, and the colonists’ reactions to these acts. At least it’s exciting to me.

I’ve been thinking back to my experiences with substitutes. In elementary school, I don’t remember any subs. It must not have happened often or for any extended period of time. In junior high, my grade had a lot of rambunctious students, so I recall the principal coming in to reprimand the teenagers a number of times. I would simultaneously giggle at my classmates’ antics and feel sorry for the sub. In high school, we didn’t have substitutes. The school was so liberal that we didn’t have hall passes, could leave the campus as we pleased, had a smoking section, and could cut each of our classes three times during the year without penalty. And when a teacher was out, we had a free period. In my senior year, the district switched to the middle-school system, so ninth-graders invaded our school. Once that happened, we lost the smoking section and had to report to study hall when a teacher was absent. By the time I student-taught at the same school, much had changed and substitutes were used. One teacher told me that it had been resisted so long by the administration because substitutes cost money.

When I student taught, my teacher had surgery and was out for two weeks, so a substitute was called. This was great for me because the teacher hadn’t yet given me much latitude. Before he left, we discussed what I would cover, with the understanding that the substitute would stay on the sidelines. The only reason a sub had to be called was because I wasn’t yet a licensed teacher. Those two weeks were wonderful because I found my stride. I was glad that the substitute wasn’t the lead teacher because he acted and appeared timid, so he couldn’t get the students’ respect.

As a teaching assistant, if I wasn’t able to stay the day when my daughter was little, the teacher called subs from time to time. Some substitutes were competent and the students responded well. Some were awful and the students went in for the kill. It gave me a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Being a substitute is not a prestigious occupation. On “The Fashion Show” with Isaac Mizrahi, one designer’s outfit was criticized when the judge said something to the effect of, “She looks like a substitute teacher.” I suppose the judge was implying that the lot of substitute teachers are unfashionable losers. I’ll admit that I’ve seen plenty of subs who are not dressed to walk down a runway. While I’m a substitute, I hope I’m helping to overcome the substitute stereotype by actions and appearance.

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