Tales of a substitute teacher

Jun 13 2013 - 2:00pm

Since last fall, the members of the Wednesday morning coffee club have taken journeys as far away as the blue ice of Antarctica and the sweltering heat of Costa Rica. I chose an expedition through the Ogden city school district. It was either that or a trip down the Danube. 

What was I thinking?  At times, it seemed so granola. What could go wrong? The first hint was the application form which required three letters of recommend -- no family members. Well, that narrowed things down a touch. You guessed it, I asked the coffee bunch and they came through. With my grandfather's worn briefcase, new white skivvies and a plastic pocket protector, I was officially a substitute teacher.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to corral genuine, made in the U.S, pencils? You probably think kids come to school with the appropriate tools. 

Even if they did, and they don't, a functional pencil sharpener is an anomaly. Pencils made "over there" have the lead east or west of center, so the sharpener just grinds, and grinds and grinds -- a child's dream. 

Something else all kids, all ages, love, the rest room.  I looked. Here is not much there, just the standard porcelain with nasty tile floors. Even so, it is the "go to place."

From day one, no, scratch that. From minute one, day one, I discovered the kids had left something at home. I expected glares, "who me?" looks and even a distasteful attitude, but never in my wildest imagination, disrespect. My naivety was acted upon when, at the office one morning, the manager told me and a young, genteel lady, we were switched. It seemed her assigned class would "eat her alive." 

My assigned class would be more to her liking. For seven hours I was the goldfish in a school of piranhas. I reached into my bag of tricks and too many years of experience. I had students in the hall, some at the office, desks turned various directions, and some just standing next to me. The minutes put on brakes.

The weeks rolled by.  Paper airplanes and spit wads are still very popular. When one took flight, I challenged the culprit and asked, "Did you throw that?" Without exception, the answer was "No," or "Who me?" "Just tell the truth," I would say. Still, "Nope, not me." 

As a society, can we really expect different behavior? Mendacity is the new normal. The president, the attorney general, IRS chief and HHS Secretary are currently implicated in compromising situations when the truth would set them free. The whistle blowers have spoken and no one knows "nothing." 

An enterprising kindergarten teacher at Shadow Valley constructed a box she labeled "tattle tale box." It was always stuffed with advice and exposes. Even the littlest ones know the rules. Most days I welcomed good behavior and often there was chaos.

What do parents teach their children? The community has rolled out the red carpet. Show up and learn. Simple? People are so used to having free stuff they forget schools, grounds, books and teachers are not free. Someone paid for every last ream of paper. It is taken for granted, often times abused and tossed aside. 

Most teachers set excellent examples and work hard to foster good study habits. Parents need to step up every minute of every day--to take the time and become involved. Good manners can be a starting point followed by a willingness to get things done. Parents will  make the difference.  

Why do I continue on my substitute journey? In every class of 30 or so, there are usually six or eight students who come to class prepared, pencils sharpened, paper at the ready. They are on task, listening, ready to learn. One minute in, these eager minds stand out as bright as neon. Their willingness to go along with the system and gain something in return is beyond their years. The kids who ask for help, I'm there for them. That's my responsibility. My journey.  

Other students? Well, they know and will tell you often, "You can't touch me." Goodness, I don't want to touch them. I don't even touch door handles! I explained that there are no excuses for not working and staying on task. No excuses -- none. 

It's sad but a majority of these kids don't even respect themselves. 

One anxious playground monitor shared she is troubled because this majority will run this country some day. Behavior is learned at home. For these kids nothing is their fault and free stuff is necessary.

One coffee club member succinctly stated, "either follow the rules of successful people or choose to: drive a crappy car, live in a crappy house, eat crappy food, with your crappy friends." I'm  anxiously waiting for the  new school  year. I miss "my" kids.

Potts lives in Ogden.

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