Substitute Teaching and Mom’s Advice

My mom told me (Didn’t yours?) : “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

That’s why I have never said much about substitute teaching, which I have done a lot of in the last 30 years to try to make ends meet, a trick I have seldom been able to master.

I met a lot of wonderful kids and a lot of brilliant educators in hundreds of schools all over New England. I met one sixth grader in a middle school in Dorchester who quoted a poem by Mohammed Ali: “Why do men fight and kill each other like animals?” I didn’t have an answer for him, except to say he was asking the right questions. The other teachers said he was a problem child because he wouldn’t sit down.

I met a lot of brilliant educators, too, but it seemed that the system always attached an adminstrator to them to act as a remora. If you’re unfamiliar with Dilbert cartoons, I should explain that a remora is an eel that attaches itself to fish and sucks the life juices out of them.

Don’t take my word for it; ask the educators you know. I’m not making this up.

Whenever they put together this next study on what to do about education, notice that they never talk about supporting teachers. They always talk about what to do TO teachers to make the system work. Incentive programs, ‘super teacher’ awards — things that absolutely rule out giving any assistance, under any circumstances whatsoever, to people who tackle problem students and turn them into honor students.

The reward systems always give the benefits to ‘high-performing’ schools like Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts, which has three theaters and several swimming pools and withhold them from Jeremiah Burke High School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, ten miles away, that has the old kind of desks that were attached to the floor, but they’re all falling apart and there’s a pile of busted desks in the corner, no theaters, no swimming pools– you know, ‘low-performing’ schools.

Just keep rewarding those ‘high-performing’ schools, you stupid buttheads. (Sorry, mom)

Most teachers and department heads with whom I have had to do did not treat me as a colleague, and so I have nothing to say about them. In fairness, they had to deal with lots of subs who didn’t bathe or launder their clothes, but in my opinion this explains, but does not excuse their attitude toward me, a person of whom they knew nothing.

But I am happy to report that I recently subbed at Great Falls Middle School in Montague, Massachusetts, where Principal Jeff Kenney, at the morning assembly, introduced all the subs — guest teachers he called us — and explained to the students why it’s important to treat your guests well. That has never happened before in 30 years of substitute teaching.

And you know something? These kids were paying attention. They better send out a bulletin to the bureaucrats: CODE ONE — somebody attach a remora to this guy, he’s educating students.

Jeff has introduced some other innovations at GFMS that are really helping students. I’ll tell you about them if you promise not to tell Remora-Central.