In the last two posts I summarized my reasons for becoming a substitute teacher and my experience of the first day in that role. Today I offer my observations and philosophical deductions from that fascinating day in an unfamiliar arena.
First my observations:
- The school was extremely clean.
- All of the staff were nice and expressed appreciation that I was helping out.
- We wore masks the whole day, something I as a physician think is obsolete. (Covid is simply too endemic now).
- There was generally order between classes.
- Most of the school clocks were off; this has apparently been the case for some time – “Does anyone really know what time it is?”
- The students are behind due to the Covid pandemic
- Kids are mostly good even lovable, despite challenging us adults.
- When asked, about half the students said they thought they learned something from my instruction.
- Some kids came up to me to express their appreciation for my efforts or their regrets for bad behavior or just to introduce themselves. Others helped me when they saw me floundering.
- There are too many students in the classes to offer more than a modicum of individual support. I worry this leaves less versatile students struggling.
- The materials used today including technology are entirely different than what my generation experienced, but the subject matter is very similar to what we learned as children.
- Teaching young people is a powerfully purposeful activity. Of course it is hard to know the lasting impact one has, but it is likely substantial for some of them.
- We need to be sure to give every student a chance to learn by accommodating their particular differences.
- Teaching is a reciprocal activity; one both imparts and receives new knowledge as an instructor.
- Kids learn virtue though school – especially the importance of responsibility and care for others.
- Getting out of your comfort zone is exhilarating.
- Teaching middle schoolers is an excellent way to practice self-control and internal tranquility.
- We should wish to live in a country to which everyone wishes to pledge allegiance.
- Rewards not punishment is the means to elicit desirable behavior (I am reminded of Laozi).
- If kids think you care, they will cooperate and benefit from your influence.
- And last, it is both a form of supererogatory duty and a pleasure to contribute my pay for the day to the education of the very students who attended my classes .
To conclude, caring, virtue, self-control, finding new unpracticed purpose, and supererogatory duty are the philosophical lessons of my first day of substitute teaching. I also have to add that my respect for teachers is magnified by the experience.
Next time we return to contentment as described by the great Roman poet, Horace. Join me then.