Substitute Teaching Has Been an Adventure

When I was in high school, our Chemistry classes had a terrific substitute teacher during a difficult time. The original teacher, whom everyone to this day regards as one of the best ever, was fighting an aggressive cancer, a fight that did not last very long. The substitute not only had to fill-in, but she got her long-term license and finished out the year in a capable and professional manner. We came to like her, too, despite the shoes she had to fill.

I don’t remember many other substitute teachers. Twenty-five years after their high school graduation, these students may not remember me, either. For the moment, they do know. They know I try to pick classes where I have technical competence and/or a great deal of interest. Most kids have figured out that if I don’t have to spend my time with discipline issues, they’re going to hear a topic presented with care and related to the world in which they have begun to participate.

Armed and Dangerous.

Sometimes I get a few days notice and an opportunity to discuss the substitute assignment with the teacher. This led to presentations on the petroleum upstream industry and engineering in general for freshmen-level Physical Science. I drilled other Physical Science classes in the reading of the Periodic Table and the naming of ionic compounds.

Other assignments are a complete surprise. I walked into an AP US History class for which I was to be a sub for two days. The teacher had left behind a PowerPoint on Civil War and post-Civil War Reconstruction. I presented the first hour fairly dryly, but during the breaks between hours I was looking up the mentioned Supreme Court cases and other references. I’d never worked so hard for an assignment. We had a much better time the rest of that day and all of the next.

Co-teaching has been fun, especially in Math. There is often someone who has been absent a couple of days and has fallen behind. They are quite easy to spot: a kid who’s confused looks very much like the confused adults I have had to teach in the private sector. I jumped in, got her caught up, and she finished the hour happy that she was with her classmates. The main teacher noticed what I was doing and was thankful for the assist.

Similarly in Chemistry, one person had fallen behind regarding the principles of the Ideal Gas Law, and he was happy just to catch up over the weekend. I was not satisfied with that. I took him through Boyle, Charles, Gay-Lussac, and Avogadro. By the next Monday he was ready for PV=nRT.

The kids have been most surprised when I show up in Spanish class. I had the two semesters of Spanish in high school, but I kept up my skills with Duolingo and conversations with my co-workers from Halliburton. During one middle school class, we translated sports, and I could offer the literal translation of some of the terms. An example: archery was translated to “tiro de arco.” It means “throw of arrow.”

I do enjoy these times, especially when I don’t have to confiscate cell phones or document substandard behavior. It also helps that I don’t substitute every day. I have the utmost respect for our full-time teachers who not only teach every day but plan the lessons, attend the staff meetings, reserve the library and Chromebooks, and all of the other things that subs don’t have to do.

I have enough college credit in some areas to teach long-term or even full-time for some classes, but I would start out as entry-level, with no benefit from my 19 years as a corporate trainer and engineer. As things stand, I need to finish out my career in private industry. Perhaps again in another 25 years I can do the sub teacher gig for the rest of my days.