Since I’m now a retired teacher, many people have asked if I would be substituting.
That would be “No.”
I already paid four years of those dues.
Subbing is definitely not my jam.
- Getting called – or having to go online – at 6:00 a.m. to find out if you’re working that day. Hate it.
- Working in a different classroom every day, with plans left by an overworked teacher who probably had to come in at 5 a.m. – in yoga pants and a hat, sweating and feverish – to write up plans and make copies and organize supplies and, and, and… Hate it.
- Being considered either a fool or a b!%@h by students who don’t even know you. (You’re a fool if you fall for the tom-foolery, and you’re a b!%@h if you don’t.) Hate it.
But during those four long years of early wake ups, confused classrooms, and disrespectful students, I learned a lot. And the lesson I remember the most vividly is this: Everybody is complicated.
I worked in the small Wisconsin district in which we lived. There were 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 1 high school, which included a day care center. I subbed at every one of those levels – from preschool to seniors. We saw a lot of each other, those students and I.
The high school was hard for me. Many of the students were taller than me. And wittier. And bolder.
Sometimes, bold showed up as soon as they walked through the classroom door. They’d turn around and announce to the hall, “HEY! WE GOT A SUB!” Or, “Oh, no, it’s Burton.” Or something under their breath with the unmistakable tone of an insult.
These responses were not directed at me personally; most students treated all subs equally, with either respect or disdain. But it hurt nonetheless.
Truth be told, I kept a score card of my own. Let’s just say that when certain students showed up, the adorable Nancy Kay moved to the back of the bus.
And it was usually those girls. Snippy little clique members who thought that anyone outside of their tiny circle of the Acceptable was an idiot. And even some of the Acceptables existed on the fringe: they were iffy from day to day. So, watch out, everybody. And make way.
Ugh. Why did they have to be so mean? Was it really their goal that everyone around them felt small and worthless? If so, they were stunningly successful.
Then one day…
I was assigned to be a teacher’s assistant in the daycare center. Yey! It was always fun to be with the Littles. Not easy, but fun.
The daycare center was also a preschool and served two purposes. It was open to community members, including the school staff, who needed child care during school hours. And it was a clinical setting for high school students in the Home and Family classes. Students were required to work at the center 2-3 days per week during study hall.
And, by “work,” their high school teacher meant to work. They assumed the position of a paid staff member. They kept a journal of their assignments and experiences. There were detailed guidelines. It was serious and not an easy “A.”
Okay, back to then one day… As I looked at the schedule for this particular day, my stomach did a little flip. For there, during the 9:45 – 10:35 time slot, were the names of three of them. The leading ladies, no less. Ugh.
I braced myself for eyerolls and sass.
They walked in together. They put their books down and quietly sat down on the carpet while the Director finished up the read-aloud. But within just a few seconds, the little ones noticed them.
Ka-BOOM! That room exploded with joy. Those snippy little snarky high school girls and sweet little 4-year-olds created a cloud of giggles and delight.
And for the next 45 minutes, I saw three young ladies sparkle and shine. The snip and snark had vanished.
Same girls. Different setting… a setting in which their spirits were set free.
And this was not school vs party. Or chemistry vs the beach.
No. They were in two classrooms in which the expectations were set very high.
But there was magic in that preschool where I saw with my own eyes the very best of those girls. Those girls who could turn 50 minutes of math into endless misery. Those same girls who mysteriously turned into teachers and friends as they sat on the reading carpet.
We aren’t talking here about how the education system makes only round holes – no matter what your peg shape (although I could write volumes on that).
And we’re not talking about giving bad behavior a pass. Every teacher in every setting, formal education or not, has the clear obligation to nurture individuality while weaving lives of good moral fiber.
It’s not about “this generation” or that character building program or “what’s the policy on disrespect?”
This is about this: people are complicated.
Every single person we meet is chock full of quirks and talents, large and small, wild or tame, dark or light. Every soul is a labyrinth of rooms and closets, stairways, hallways, nooks, and crannies. Some have a basement, some an attic. Some souls are neat and tidy. Some, not so much. Most, a little of both.
Every single one is different, but one thing is true: the view through one small window will never reveal the whole of their soul. If we never take the time or energy to look past that one unpainted back room full of junk, well, shame on us.
People are complicated. And wonderful. And worth every single minute and ounce.
I praise you, God, because [we are all] fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Psalm 139:14 – modified by author.
So, tell me: Were you ever surprised by someone you thought you knew?