So this year is my first year subbing since I was a newly minted graduate who couldn’t get a job out of college because I graduated at semester. I did get an offer from a school in a tiny mining town in southeastern Kentucky called Letcher Middle School. I drove the day after Christmas in the biggest snowstorm since 1988 in Indiana. I got about 15 miles from my house before I had to hit the brakes for stand-still traffic at 5 a.m. because a couple inch thick sheet of ice had covered the road. I didn’t quite get stopped the correct way. It was more like how Luis Mendoza from D2 Mighty Ducks had to stop; I had to use the snow drift padded guardrail to stop myself from rear-ending a cop car. I would eventually get my car out and make the trip down, (listening to songs on my computer because my radio had gone out), and praying that I would have enough gas to get me home because I had left my wallet at home in the rush to leave that morning. When I got there, everything just clicked, I had the best interview I had yet, and they would call me to offer me the job 2 days later. The problem was that I had a long time girlfriend at the time who wanted to live in the town she grew up in, in Southern Indiana, for the rest of her life. So I turned them down. We then promptly broke up. Funny how life works like that.
But I eventually found my bearings, married the love of my life, got a great job, and now have two beautiful children. Now that I am back subbing, due to a personal choice to leave a school district that I felt was poisonous with politics, and so that I could devote myself to the podcast full time, it has brought up some of those memories of subbing back when I was 23, not 29. See, back then I had only taught in predominantly white, middle-class school districts. I never felt uncomfortable. I never tried to feel uncomfortable. Some of that may have been because of my fragile emotional makeup at this time, but I honestly didn’t feel like leaving that comfort zone. I also was in a different place in life that I find myself now. Either way, it’s always strange to walk into a space that is somebody else’s and be in charge of it for a day. I honestly can’t think of any other profession that is like that. Athletes maybe? I mean how weird is it when you go to the doctor’s office and the doctor you normally see isn’t in and they bring in the nurse practitioner that you have never met in your life. You could have a migraine, your knees could be pointing the wrong direction, and you haven’t pooped in 12 days, and the nurse practitioner could ask you “How are doing today?” and you would say “Fine” because you aren’t telling this stranger any of your business. The last thing you wanted to do today was to try and explain your lack of bowel movements to this weirdo. It took you 6 months to tell your original doctor that you would like a band-aid for a papercut.
All of that aside, I have been tasked with substituting for some great teachers this year in the incredibly diverse Ritenour School District. This last week I had the pleasure of subbing at the International Welcome Center, a school dedicated to preparing primarily Spanish speakers to transition to the traditional setting at either the middle school or high school level. It was such a strange experience for me. I found myself immersed in a culture and language that I knew very little about. Now, I didn’t have to do much teaching because the teacher had given them a big packet to do, but what struck me was the what they were learning. They were learning how to speak English at the most basic level such as greetings, days of the week, etiquette, etc. Things that I hadn’t even thought about how to say since I was in elementary school. But that wasn’t the thing that struck me the most. What I was astonished at was how much those students wanted to learn. I mean, there was no student slacking off, nobody was spending the entire time on their phones, there wasn’t much desire to socialize. The main priority for every student was to learn English, so they can better themselves through education, and hopefully help their families. I can honestly say that, other than maybe my AP World History class, I have never seen a more dedicated group of students that I saw on that day.
I think the thing that blew me away the most is the stark differences between the traditional student that I am subbing with and these students are their desire to learn. I just couldn’t help but think about how many times a day I hear a student trying to get out of class, how many times I have to stop and correct students, how often I have to wait for them to stop talking to give them directions, how often they try to find the easy way around the problem to avoid doing work, in the traditional setting. But you have students who have had little formal schooling and who don’t speak the language that it is being taught in, but they crave learning. It made me think about how much we take for granted, that we have been provided this education. It has only been in the recent history that every individual in the U.S. has had access to a “free” (Insert Libertarian Property Tax Rant Here) education. Why do students who grew up in the system and speak the language that the material is being taught in seemingly not use up all of the resources afforded to them? I will not start to hypothesize why, as that is for the Marzanos and Deweys of the world, but I wonder what it would take for a classroom to genuinely yearn for knowledge like secondary English speakers. If you figure that out, let me know, so we can all get rich together.
Challenge yourself this week.