“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams
I thought I would take a break in our extended discussion of contentment to record some reflections on my first day as a substitute teacher. In my philosophical journey, I have gradually come to believe that educating and mentoring young people might contribute to my subjective assessment of life as meaningful. I offer the following three reasons: (1) It offers a unique opportunity to fulfill supererogatory duty (as a counter to past and present vices) especially if I donate the salary paid to me to the very classes I teach, (2) It adds a novel professional purpose to life, and (3) It holds out the promise of a limited ‘metaphorical immortality’ in the form of lasting (if uncertain) influence on some who will outlive me.
Originally I thought I would like to be a direct mentor to one young person at a time through Big Brothers, but was stymied by some logistic issues. With the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors causing a teacher shortage in my community, it seemed fate prodded me to help out in the public schools. Näive as it sounds, I thought I might just call the local Board of Education and try substitute teaching on the fly at my former elementary and high schools only to learn that this would not be possible. Instead I had to complete a full application for employment by the local public school system. After a surprisingly complex, application process I was officially hired as an Emergency Substitute starting August 10, 2022. Interestingly orientation was limited to two brief training videos and a 47 page substitute teaching manual.
“Ready to go,” I first inadvertently signed up for a 1st grade class (I was hoping for 3rd or 4th grade), but the teacher and school wisely found a more experienced substitute. Still in that same week, I next selected a 7th grade math and science class at a magnet school (Noe Middle School1), and asked the regular teacher to contact me to help familiarize me with details and expectations. This was the beginning of a fascinating experience. The teacher, a smart, confident amiable woman in her 40s called and reassured me a physician would make an excellent substitute for her classes, especially since the current science module was built around tissue healing on a child with a broken foot. She had prepared everything I would need and assured me that expectations for substitute coverage are limited, mainly she hoped I could keep the class from degenerating into utter mayhem. Any progress on the curriculum would be an added bonus.
(continued next post)
1Sam V. Noe was a former superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School system.