Substitute Institute

The Institute of Substitute

“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” 
― Ivan Illich

Guest teacher. Thats my latest title. Not sure if the administration and high school culture is trying to phase out the idea of a substitute teacher but it does not appear on any documents. Guest does seem to have more room for respect than substitute, tho the students still alert each other when they find out before class that there is a sub. I dont think it matters much, just an interesting adjustment to a system doomed to fail itself.
I gave up my sweet shift and position at one of the coolest coffee shops around (of course I acknowledge bias, but lets be real, the valley of the sun is not swimming in fantastic hangouts… no offense if you’ve got a favorite, and no a corporate joint does not count). I mention this cause I was overdue for a… ahem…career change. I had actually typed up different cover letters and sent them off in different directions. I blame the economy (for everything), the recession (for a seemingly dried up workforce) and corporate cultural hegemony (in phoenix).

I could have tried and wasted more energy in more directions. I do still. And really, subbing is supposed to be a temporary situation. So, I’m always looking, as well as constantly trying to dream up more small business projects and hustle design along the way. Besides, once that sun hangs high in the sky the education jobs out here will be dry…
I have told a few classes of students that substitute teaching is like flipping burgers with a bachelors. Not quite the lowest you can go, but a common baseline for interested workers with a high school diploma, I mean Bachelors Degree. Lots of “retired” teachers, a few new soon to be teachers, and then just a random spread of people with bachelors degrees and no other job.
The ‘choose when I want to go in’ part is great, but sometimes its a crap shoot. Its like watching the free listing on craigslist for free junk, or bidding on an ebay item last minute while 5 other people do too. A sub job (any high school in phoenix metro) pops up on the site and sits there until someone grabs it, which is usually a few hours. You can watch the site listings at any time but most teachers call out early in the morning. Recently, I have been checking the site by phone (not an app, but at least it can be done in seconds from under the covers). So you can get a job at 6 and be expected to be at any school by 7:30. Show up with your lanyard/id, grab the attendance roster, grab security to open the classroom, and babysit, I mean teach.
To babysit teenagers is the (bad) running joke. Guest teachers are also often set up to fail, tho you cant really blame a teacher who is unexpectedly out. Often the answers are not readily available, so unless you are already familiar with all material, you have to stumble back through it with the students. Often the answer sheets are no where to be found, so if its polynomials or the unit circle, you best be up on your maths. I will try to quickly find the students who ‘get’ the material and have them help me work through the problems for the rest of the class. Sometimes, it seems that no one gets it. Sometimes theres no book to look back on and see the course of the material. Then what? Struggle? Or talk about something else, I guess.
Youtube is my ‘go to’ when we are unable to come up with any assignments, or if the work is quick or lax. It seems like every classroom in phoenix metro has computer access, a projector and some sort of sound system. I typically favor socially conscious rap or friends with music videos, but I always also encourage students to request videos. Its interesting, I had kind of assumed that lots of students already know each other and are familiar with each others interests, but that’s not the case. So sometimes, it just lets the students loosen up a bit and peer into the preferences of their peers. I don’t lean on it, but I really love having the projector option around.

I gave up on my first day. Well, in a sense. Somehow I was under the grand illusion that these students were hungry to learn and combined with my super abilities to make fun of everything and engage even the most withdrawn individual, we were gonna kill it! The demon of ignorance, that is. Or at least really enjoy our time together and learn a little something…. Maybe one thing?… Nah, fuck it.
“You smoke weed?” That’s the question I get asked the most. What am I supposed to do, lie to these guys? Is that how I can help them, by pretending that I escape the vices of our culture? Pretend that I don’t appreciate the concept of self and recreational medicating? I quit answering no. Sometimes I don’t answer. My favorite response is “why, do I smell like it?” Often I bypass the answer by mentioning the current changes in law. The first time I was asked was my 1st class, my 1st day. At least in public school. This was by the kid with the vaporizer he hit in back while I was taking attendance.
“Aye! Put the vaporizer away” I defeatedly eject, shaking my head in disbelief ever so gently, as a vapor cloud is ejected and quickly dissipates from the lungs of 1st periods class clown.
“He knows what a vaporizer is!”…they snicker to each other.
“Man, I could outsmoke your whole crew!” Just kidding… My ego is not quite that fragile.
Really I deflect questions about my personal substance abuse levels, my not so popular views against all laws pertaining to partaking, and other views I hold that are not widely embraced (yet).
It wasn’t him. He actually said hi to me later when he was with his friends, so it didnt feel like his behavior was hostile. Just defiant. It wasn’t just the other class performer either, who kept rolling around the back of class with the roller chair. I could easily win in a roller chair race too. Just kidding. But I’m not above it. I love anything that rolls. Those are the main incidents that stand out that day. The main issue though, was a general lack of interest in the subject matter. Thats where the teacher is supposed to come in. I get it. It just felt upstream. I celebrated the content. I mean shit, the content was about banks! I love banks. I mean, I hate banks, but I love talking about how fucked up they are. Andrew Jackson was kind of a badass when it comes to the bad business of banking. So I read aloud. I pointed out how important it was, and more importantly it is now, to know about money, how its controlled, and its critiques. It felt like I was out of place regarding the students and the teachers expectations. I wasn’t gonna write kids up. I wasn’t gonna stand over them and make demands about performance. So, I gave up my expectations. I still wanted to give something.
I decided to read out of the book I was reading. It happened to be Paolo Frieres “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. I had just started reading it. I read from the intro. I wrote conscientização on the board and challenged them to say it. Then I wrote the definition and had them read it. It means critical consciousness, and more thoroughly, to be critical of society and inequality. The book encourages educators to cultivate it in students. I felt better after that.

I browsed job listings on Indeed for 2 hours right when I got home.

I had to get over the idea that I was going to teach. It can happen, just not like I imagined. I mean I was a high schooler. I didnt care that much either. Lower your expectations pard’ner. Its a job first.
Now I feel like I’m just trying to understand it all. I’m the student. I’ve been mistaken for a student by other students. The other day a principal walked in to chastise the wearing of pants a little low, and again I felt like a student. I like to think I’m a cultural anthropologist attempting to understand the limitations of schooling, here and now. Learning the structure of the system as well as the diverse interests and ways of the teenager. My interests are in facilitating the development of culture, teaching is just a part of that. I open up a lot more now. I let the students know a bit about me. Now we trade music and discuss popular culture. I’m open to learn from everyone. This is no different. Now I’m just a peer with more years. And you can see it in the heightened comfort levels of the students. Still just getting started and comfortable. I really enjoy it so much more now. I’ll handle what the teacher expects and when theres a little bit of free time, I got that covered too. I’m into education and no school can stop me.

One Response to Substitute Institute

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *