The Fairer Dickson
My wife has been talking about me letting her do a post here. And so, after a careful reading of our wedding vows revealed I could be in big trouble if I refuse, here’s what she’s come up with. Enjoy!
In today’s world of political correctness and hypersensitivity to litigation, you’d think that it would be relatively difficult to get hired as someone who will be alone with large groups of children at a time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Greetings from the fairer Dickson. Richard has been forced graciously allowed me a guest post on his blog. I just finished wrapping up my first year post-college as a part-time substitute teacher, and with the kaleidoscope of new experiences awash on my conscious, I thought it might be therapeutic to jot some thoughts down, and maybe take those so inclined along for the ride.
So there I was, freshly minted from UCF, degree in hand, realizing too late in my college career that I really enjoyed teaching and not so much hospitality management. With my mother being a teacher as well, I suppose teaching is in my blood, and what better way to get my feet wet than to delve into the shaping of our darling children’s minds for $75 a day? I rigorously rehearsed potential interview questions, scoured my resume for flaws, and lint-rolled my nicest suit at least 5 times, nervous that it would be challenging to convince this staffing service that I would be a prime candidate for teaching others’ offspring. Not really the case, actually: it seemed as long as your background checks and drug test came back clean and you didn’t blow your interview, you were in. No sooner was I finishing explaining what I’d do if a teacher left no lesson plans were they handing me my W-4 forms and having me stand on this X, smile for the camera.
6 hours of orientation under my belt and on I went picking up my first jobs. A huge learning curve on my part was the fact that until I was 14 I didn’t attend any sort of schooling institute. I was home-schooled until my freshman year of high school, so being on the inside of an experience that I never took part in made for some interesting observations.
First, a note for parents: although this was an endless source of amusement and bewilderment, I nonetheless wish to smack those of you who would name your boys Reality, Jacques (pronounced juh-QUEES), Ronjonerion; or your girls Princess, LeSabre, Maddysun, Tooprecious or Dayana (Diana). No, I’m not making any of those up, the list goes on. Really, do you not want your kids to be successful? I don’t anticipate a President La-a (La-dash-a) anytime soon.
I saw kids who were slaves to their stereotype, like the day where I was saddened but not terribly surprised to witness nothing but venom and apathy swirling around wannabe thugs and tramps, and watching a kid being rolled away on a stretcher at the end of the day. But I also saw kids with such surprising hope in their heart that you couldn’t help but do a double take, like the 6th grader who had holes in his shoes but showed me his book of poetry that he writes in daily, bubbling over with passion and wisdom beyond his skinny 11-years. I told him I looked forward to reading his published works one day, and I meant it.
Harsh as it sounds, some of the students I met should simply not exist, not because they’re bad kids necessarily, but because it was disheartening to listen and watch them flail aimlessly in the wake of the lack of support from home. It was easy to tell who was treated like nothing but a burden by those with no grasp of their reproductive abilities or subsequent parental obligations, no idea that their spawn’s only ticket out of the endless cycle of poverty and failure was their education. The same could be said for a lot of the severely handicapped kids; at first, I felt deeply for their parents, wondering what it’s like to put so much work and care into a person who may not able communicate or contribute back to them, until I found out that many of these kids live their lives in a group home, abandoned by parents who could not bear the daunting task of caring for them or who were permanently incarcerated and so had little other choice. When acting as a paraprofessional, watching the passion and intricate care put into these kids daily by their teacher was both moving and mind-boggling. It’s probably the only love some of them will know.
This job requires infinite patience, and I’m a remarkably patient person — just ask my husband. Yet the most frustrating thing about being a substitute was not the lack of resources or piss-poor facilities or the cluttered, disorganized teaching spaces. What kills me is that so much time is squandered trying to control behavior issues, hardly any learning gets done. I get it, they don’t know me, I don’t know them, what could I possibly have to offer? In my school days my brain totally shut off when I saw a sub; the difference was I at least had the sense to stay quiet and not cause trouble. Elementary students are distracted by the mere presence of another child, middle school students are distracted by themselves, and high school students are distracted by the opposite sex. My voice would often be sandpaper at the end of the day from having to get loud enough for them just to listen to what I’m saying and stop picking on each other. A singular student couldbe sweet, receptive, and full of potential. In a group? Kids often proved cruel and destructive. I never had a single day where someone wasn’t running up to me whining to make So-and-so stop antagonizing them. Middle school is a deeper ring of hell only desperation could force me to wrestle again. Everyone’s favorite phrase is “Shut up!” To watch them move from class to class made me rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t looking at a bloodthirsty jungle stampede instead of precious angels aching for knowledge. I am grateful that I had only one truly violent incident involving this beast of a 7th grader shoving a little wisp of a boy into a countertop, making a sickening crack when his head hit the edge. It was the first time I felt empowered to toss kids out of a classroom when the nonsense wouldn’t stop. Days like that make me even more grateful for the best days, when peaceful, interested kids allow me to actually continue their education uninterrupted by the absence of their regular teacher.
Even with all the daily soap opera that is our public education system, I think I will return next year. Some parting observations: Despite what I think is a simple surname, by the end of the year I’m convinced my name is Miz Dickenson. Mrs. Dickson is too hard, even for 12th graders (I can’t imagine if I’d gone in with my maiden name. Foarde? Linguistic butchery). Kindergartners won’t learn your name; they will only call you “Teacher”. Rewards for good behavior can be helpful but watch the execution, or otherwise you may have a handful of crying 1st graders on your hands. The worst thing a sub can do is give the students any kind of free time; lack of structure leads to chaos. Schools where your mother also teaches are always to be taken advantage of. Kids notice everything about you and really, ultimately, most of them want to do well; their futures can be bright and just need some direction to guide them into positive academic behavior. I’m happy to serve even a small role in that.
Except middle school.