teaching

Substitute for Love

“I couldn’t find the worksheets you wanted me to hand out-,” the note back from the substitute teacher began.

Oh, you mean this pile right next to the note? The one that has a post-it reading “Third period handout” on it? You couldn’t find that one? Okay, cool cool.

“I saw Ferris Bueller in your cabinet,” the letter continues. “So I showed the class that. We made it to the parade scene.”

Thanks. Good to know from which point I’m won’t be continuing the movie that they weren’t supposed to be watching.

Ah, substitute teachers. The educational suppositories. If only I could just give my students the day off, like in college. Chances are they’d be less-far behind.

We had an incident with a sub recently that got me thinking back on some of the best sub stories.

And of course, all of these stories are “alleged.” Probably didn’t happen. For entertainment purposes only, as my bookie used to say.

First of all, I understand the thankless nature of being a substitute teacher. I’ve done it a few times. When I do it during my prep period, it’s not too bad. There’s a good chance I’ll know one or two of the students. It might even be a non-shithead! We can all dream, can’t we?

I’ve been the other kind of sub, too. The poor, poor paragon of power amidst a sea of hormonal wannabe Che Gueveras. No rapport, and even though you’re pretty sure the offensive lineman sitting in the seat that belongs to Jocelyn Nguyen, you can’t really prove it.

Some subs go the intolerant dickhead routine, writing everyone up, including poor Jocelyn for letting the quarterback be sacked last Friday. I heard about one sub that walked the entire class to the admin office. And I’m sure every single one of those students stuck around en route.

Other subs go the disinterested route. Look, I’m just here to read my book and if y’all could just create the illusion of decorum, then we can all make it through the day.

Allegedly there are substitutes who are approachable and nice and enjoyable to the students, but I’ve never seen one. But hey, if a woman can sue the state of California that Bigfoot exists, then I maybe there’s a mythical, quality substitute teacher, too. Living with Elvis and Hitler in an airplane on the moon.

There’s a reason that most teachers are loathe to take days off. Its a pain in the ass. You have to write a lesson plan that is way more detailed than a regular-day lesson plan. If I didn’t tell the kids yesterday to bring their textbooks tomorrow, then I’m going to have to find something in the nether regions of my filing cabinet, which means I have to go in or hope that the teacher next door to me can figure out my filing system in time to get something off to the copy center all while getting their own shit in order. There can’t be any direct instruction or anything beyond basic comprehension questions, and the basic comprehension questions aren’t going to take the students very long, anyway.

Plus, as noted again, it’s not like the sub is going to follow the lesson plan anyway, unless the most difficult thing they have to do is push play. Hell, pushing play ain’t as easy as it used to be with LCD projectors and external speakers and SMART Boards. So here I am, two o’clock in the morning, hoping to stave off the squirts long enough to e-mail off an exercise in futility. I might as well go into work. My usual genuflection at the altar of the porcelain god goes something like this: “It’s two a.m. If I can make it the next three hours without puking, I’m going in.”

And did I mention that unused sick days roll over and if I can bank more than 180, I can retire a year early? I’m sixteen years in with over 120 banked, so shit, howdy, guess whose students are going to be catching his Spanish flu in the morning?

Of course, sometimes a sub-plan isn’t left, or the worksheets truly are missing, and then you really do have to put on the Ferris Bueller. Having subbed, I know that the third-worst thing is having no lesson plan. Actually, I take that back.  No lesson plan is the second-worst thing a sub can encounter. The second-worst is a lesson plan that I can tell is only going to take fifteen minutes to complete. Have students do the first five vocab terms, then right in their journal about their last bowel movement. 

The worst substitute lesson plan?

“The students are working on a project. They know what to do.”

We, who are about to die, salute you.

At my school, we seem to have a new batch of subs this year that have been interesting, to say the least. There’s a new variation on the “tough ass” guy, and that’s the “I know you’re trying to get over on me.” Dude, you can’t let the kids know you fear them. It’s blood in the water and they’re one sniff away from a feeding frenzy. Add to that a little wrinkle of technophobe, and you have the hilarious recent substitute in my department, who kept screaming for the students to put their phones away because she knew they were filming her and putting her on the YouTube. The students were not doing anything of the sort. Prior to her meltdown, the substitute hadn’t been doing anything worthy of taping.

And yeah, there’s use for technology in the classroom. I can now put my assignments on Google Classroom and cut out the substitute middle man. If I were a sub, I’d love showing up and seeing “the assignment’s on Google Classroom.” As long as the first slide on Google Classroom doesn’t say “Work on Project.”

But you know what? At least, if the students have a laptop out to be on Classroom, they shouldn’t be a nuisance. If they’re occupying themselves trying to get around the district’s porn filter, the substitute is in the clear.

Hey, speaking of porn and substitutes…

And again, let me say this is all alleged and probably never even happened. I’m a wannabe fiction writer, after all. This is surely all made up.

One of the teachers in my department needed a sub last week. None of the rest of us got a good look at him, but by most accounts, he was a well-mannered twenty- or thirty-something who followed the instructions on the lesson plan. The day went off without a hitch.

Then the teacher came back.

The next morning, she was futzing around on her laptop, doing the usual e-mail checking and whatnot. When she minimized the browser, guess what was hiding behind it?

I bet you can’t guess.

Want a hint?

It starts with porn- and ends with -ography.

I was the first teacher she came to. Just kind of casually, while I’m teaching my class, she pops her head in and wants a little advice about the naked lady on her computer.

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Give her some clothes, maybe?

“Should I mention it to the principal or do you think I’ll get in trouble for it?”

Not really sure how the reporter of this particular incident would get in trouble. Would the principal think that, after working for the school for five years, she randomly decided to download a pornographic picture to her work computer and then, rather than just delete it, she reports it so nobody would suspect her? And how conveeeenient that she just happened to download said porn right after a sub day. The perfect cover! What level of inception is this?

By lunchtime, everybody knew about it. The principal told her to alert IT, but more importantly, every other teacher in my department knew about it. Of course, the rest of us are all men, and we were rather upset that she hadn’t bothered to “run it by us” before shipping it off to IT. I mean, how can we make a bona fide recommendation on a course of action without seeing the evidence? We strive to be professional and thorough!

But alas.

A few things to get out of the way first. It hadn’t been set as her wallpaper, which was my first thought of when she said it was behind her web browser. Had it been wallpaper, I would guess virus. But shit, I can’t even read fivethirtyeight.com through our web filter or update Microsoft Word without consent, so it’s hard to believe some random porn virus is making it onto her hard drive.

It also wasn’t a website. It was just a jpeg, or maybe a bitmap. I don’t know what type of file, because she didn’t show me. Or any of us. We don’t know if the model was blonde or brunette, and let’s be honest, that’s the truly lacking bit of info.

We debated if it came from a student or the substitute. Neither option looks good for the sub, by the way. He’s either walking around with a porn flash drive, or else he’s giving students unsupervised access to the teacher’s laptop. As a teacher, I’m almost more comfortable with the former.

We’re now pretty sure it was the sub. The logistics make more sense, particularly with what IT found out. The picture came from an external device at 2:06 PM. Woo-hoo! That was my guess! Looks like I know the mindset of pervs!

Also, my co-worker wasn’t off-campus that day. She was at a “leadership meeting.” I know, I know. We mock our students for ditching class but staying on campus and then we do the same thing. They don’t even serve beer at these leadership meetings! So shortly after school ended, she went back to her room. She said the substitute was fumbling around with something around her computer. In retrospect, probably taking the flash drive out and putting up the web browser to cover up the incriminating photo. This might also explain why the dumbshit didn’t REMOVE the incriminating photo. Because, let’s be honest, this wasn’t the first time he’d climbed upon this particular horse.

Come to think of it, I bet he has a picture that fits that description.

At first I found it funny. I mean, who hasn’t been in a situation where you’ve got ten minutes to spare and are pissed that there’s no porn within reaching distance? I can’t tell you how often a flash drive o’ porn would come in handy. You know, you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Or you’re at the farmer’s market and those melons just look so scrumptious. Everyone says long walks on the beach are romantic, but what if you’re having a long walk by yourself?

Maybe this guy was just exercising his right to take a break at work. Remember back in the good old days when we had cigarette breaks? Now nobody smokes, and all of a sudden we’re tied to our cubicle until lunchtime. Those rat-bastard business owners were the culprits behind the anti-smoking campaign, because now we have no excuse to stop working once every ninety minutes to feed an addiction.

Maybe it’s time to institute the mid-morning and mid-afternoon masturbation break! Come on, you know all of those people who work from home get them, why not the rest of us? We need we get the CDC to classify porn as an addiction! Who’s with me? Show of hands! Wait, where are your hands?

The CDC classifies addictions, right? That’s why The Walking Dead started in Atlanta. The zombies are just junkies shuffling toward their next hit. I make that same groaning noise most Saturday mornings.

The more we heard about this particular story, however, the less funny it became. As the layers peeled of the onion, or the clothes of the porn star, the substitute came out like a less-polished knob.

As I mentioned, the picture appeared on the computer at 2:06 PM. What I didn’t mention was that school is over at 2:20 PM. So there were students in the room when he whipped it out of his pants. The flash drive, that is. I hope.

Maybe he was just getting it ready, hiding it behind a browser so that he could be ready to reward himself for a (hand-) job well done as soon as the students left the room. Nothing’s worse than having to wait to open windows when the urge to wank is upon you, right? I’ve heard tell of some teachers doing the same with a flask in the desk, so who am I to pick one vice over the next?

After lunch, my co-worker asked her final-period TA about the substitute the day before. “What was going on the last fifteen minutes of class? Were the students up and walking around? Was the sub out talking to them?”

“No, he was behind the desk.”

Woo hoo, I win the prize again!

“What was the substitute like?”

“He was really nice.”

So far, so good.

“He talked with me a lot. Joking around with me about stuff.”

I warned you it was going to go south, right? Because this is when it became not as funny for me.

Because what, precisely, made this guy think he absolutely could not delay seeing a naked woman while in a classroom of thirty teenagers? Was it just a rough end-of-day? Or was it one particular conversation with one underage girl? When I was thinking of it as a simple “wank at work,” it was funny. A victimless crime. But if it’s a more focused action… well, I don’t know. Huzzah for not following through on your urges, I suppose. But there are plenty of temp jobs where I’m sure he could wank away till he’s chafed raw. Then why would you become a substitute teacher, where there are always other people in the room?

Oh course, we all know the answer to that one, right?

Look, I like porn as much as the next guy. Or at least, that’s what I thought. But I’ve never carried it around on a flash drive, a twenty-first century version of pocket pool. I’ve never been so consumed to see nudity that I use another person’s computer in a room occupied by thirty teenagers. I’ve also never forgotten to take down said picture on said other-person’s computer. I mean didn’t he see the “Danger, you’re pulling out” warning when he removed the flash drive?

Or did he just think the pull-out warning was for the picture? Hey-ho! I’ll take “The Obvious Joke” for $500, Alex!

Most importantly, I’ve never spoken to a seventeen year-old girl and then felt the overwhelming urge to see a naked woman right then and right there. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. So maybe I don’t like porn as much as the next guy. And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that.

 

 

Teacher’s Anonymous

Hello. My name is the Wombat. And I’m a teacher.

Whew. That felt good. Admission in the first step.

I’ve been teaching for… (let’s see, take off a shoe to keep counting)… thirteen years now.

Why did I start teaching? Boy, that’s a loaded question. I mean, who can ever really remember that last thought of sobriety before your world changed?

But that’s why organizations like Teacher’s Anonymous exist. If any group needs anonymity more than alkies, it’s us, right? Shoot, you see a guy with multiple DUI’s in a bar, you roll your eyes and think, “poor guy can’t beat the sauce, let’s call him a cab.” You see a teacher in that same bar, you wag your finger at him and scold, “Shouldn’t you be setting a better example?”

Hell, even a guy with a sarcastic blog needs to call himself the Writing Wombat.

But I’ve been spending more time around new teachers and future teachers, and it’s got me trying to think back,  to peel back the fifteen rings off of the tree. Or the onion, as the case may be.

  1. Time off.

Next Monday, I won’t have to get my ass out of bed unless I want to. Same with the day after and pretty much every day for the next two weeks. And then I’ll repeat that in March. And did I mention June and July?

Any teacher who says our vacation doesn’t factor into their decision to teach is a liar. After sixteen or more years of getting two weeks off every Christmas and a couple of months free throughout the year, everyone faces that “moment of clarity” when they get a real job.

“What do you mean I have to work Christmas Eve? AND the day after? Oh hell, no. Is there something I can do to get those three months off again? Teach, you say? Yeah, hook me up with some of that.”

Then again, we’re not allowed to take time off when we want to, like normal human beings. So let’s toast to round two.

  1. Autonomy.

My class, my rules. Yeah, I can get used to that really quick.

I still have to teach. I still need to make sure school rules and general decorum are enforced.

But it’s not the cubicle world I had known before taking the plunge. No boss walking by every few minutes because he has nothing better to do than micro-manage.  In my mid-twenties, I had a few jobs that fit the Office Space mold perfectly. Have I worked for some Lumberghs in education, too? Of course. There might be more of those smug, un-self-aware, horrible idea-spouting bastards per capita in education than any other professions. “Hey, I taught one year of PE before becoming an administrator, but I think you should teach World War II before World War I.”

But at a high school, I don’t have to see these yahoos as much. A typical high school has two-thousand students, one hundred teachers, and maybe fifty other staff. Overseeing that is a principal, and maybe two or three assistant or vice principals. Doing the math (damn, I have to take my shoes off again), each administrator has about six hundred people that they are in charge of, five hundred of which have the tendency to pull fire alarms and sneak spliffs in the bathroom from time to time.

So, as long as I am professional, teach my students, and have a track record of success, I don’t have to constantly deal with someone telling me they don’t like the way I wipe my ass.

You’ve never had a boss comment on your defecation technique? Just me? Hmm.

  1. Sage on the stage.

I know we’re not supposed to teach this way anymore, and I usually don’t stand in front of the class and blah, blah, blah for a full 58 minutes. But it cannot be denied that the teacher is the foremost expert on most of the content and skills that are on display in any given classroom. Power is an aphrodisiac, and knowledge is power. String enough pithy clichés together, and you get close to understanding what it’s like to stand in front of the room of students. You’re the medieval noble and clergy all rolled into one. That’s two of the three Estates! But unlike ancien regime France, they ain’t no Robespierre and this ol’ Marie Antoinette ain’t eatin’ no nuthafuckin’ cake.

Did I mention I teach history, not English?

  1. Creation.

Come to think of it, comparing myself to a petty nobleman or medieval Pope is selling what I do short. What I do is nothing less than the creation and maintenance of an entire worldly ecosystem. Yeah, baby! Crush that up and feel it coursing through your veins. If I want to teach the Cuban Missile Crisis as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure wherein three-quarters of my subjects (ahem, “students”) start World War III?  Done. A 20-minute abridgement of The Matrix to convey Plato’s Cave? No problem. A March Madness bracket to determine the most important person in European history? I do it every year. And the minions are always tricked into a debate over economic systems when Karl Marx “happens to” run into Adam Smith in the Elite Eight every year, never knowing that their benevolent dictator had that match-up all along.

Oh, and Class of ’14, who had the audacity to put Otto von Bismarck past Joseph Stalin into the finals? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am THE LORD…

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the scope and sequence of content. Planning the short-term and long-term goals so that they coincide and build together. Looking back over what worked before and what needs to be tweaked. Finding the happy medium between content and delivery.

There are some that don’t seem to enjoy this process. “Yeah, I just have them do a graphic organizer out of the book. I don’t really have anything to add to that.” Really? Then why the hell did you become a teacher? For the grading? Are you one of those alcoholics that only drinks for the hangover?

  1. Entertainment. I’ve got 150 potential sources of hilarity every day. And if I bring some grading home with me, maybe mix in an adult beverage, and I can’t help but guffaw. There will be a forthcoming blog entry with some of the best answers I’ve ever gotten. That post will be why I have to remain anonymous.

Think back to high school. Remember how all-consuming it was? Remember how you had all of the answers to any question life could throw at you? Remember thinking you were pulling one over on your teacher? But when you look back now you realize that he or she was barely holding back incredulous laughter? Yeah, take all of that, but subtract out the drama of teenage angst. And the acne. And the cool kids reminding you of the time you put your pants on backwards in third grade.

That’s teaching. Every year, you get the same kids. They change their names, but they look and act the same. Hell, I’ll have a goofball sit in the exact same seat that his doppelganger sat in two years ago. And he’s shocked, SHOCKED, that I’m always ready with a comeback.

“Hey Mr. Wombat, did you miss me yesterday?”

“You were absent?”

“Yeah, what did we do?”

“Oh, yesterday was the party. Too bad you missed it.”

So there you have it. Five reasons for the twelve step process in my thirteenth year of teaching. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go complain about having to work for four WHOLE more days before having ONLY two weeks off.