A Funny Thing Might Have Happened

by Will on December 17, 2012

You see a lot of funny things as a substitute teacher. One time, I subbed for a teacher who didn’t need a substitute at all. When I arrived and found him in the classroom, thumbing through papers, I presumed that he must be leaving for a field trip or a training day. So I asked him what time he expected to go. He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, and left it at that. He returned to thumbing through papers. I was confused, but decorum and good sense dictate that a substitute teacher should not question a full-time teacher’s sanity. So I just waited.

The first period class was raucus and rude. Many of them smelled of marijuana. This teacher did fierce battle with them. He went around and assailed students personally about their poor grades or the fact that they had obviously come to class high. It seemed to me that the guy was starting more fires than he was putting out, but it is unseemly to question a teacher’s methods in front of his students, so I stayed quiet.

After perhaps fifteen minutes of strife and posturing from our hero, he completely flipped out. He literally threw himself on the ground, pounded on the floor with his fists, gritted his teeth and yelped out angry complaints. He announced that he couldn’t take it any more and was quitting. He then stormed off.

He hadn’t left me anything like a lesson plan, so I tried to be inconspicuous (I’ve since learned that this is the worst strategy, but at that moment I felt pretty embarrassed). The kids talked and goofed off, expressing near-unanimous relief that the teacher had left. They didn’t bother to wonder why there just happened to be a substitute present for this auspicious event. I rather wonder if the teacher had pulled this stunt before.

After that period let out, the teacher returned. He said something like, “Sorry, I felt like I had to make that point.” He left it at that. I asked what he wanted me to do. He said something like, “Well, you can help me.” He didn’t tell me how, and there weren’t any obvious avenues for helping him most of the time. I felt completely superfluous for the remainder of the workday. The day seemed extremely long. It tired me out even though I basically did nothing; having nothing to do is really the worst punishment of all, as all children know, but many adults forget.

During the long afternoon, the teacher pronounced one of the most bizarre statements I’ve heard from anyone in eduction: “Oh! We gonna read Shakespeare… Me like Shakespeare!” I understand what he was trying to convey: “I’m street like you, man! I still dig Shakespeare!” But the use of object pronouns as subjects, while normal in the dialects of the West Indies, has never been a feature of the Black Standard English spoken here in the United States. So that choice of wording was strange and probably didn’t get his point across.

That teacher had around a dozen degrees and certificates from different schools and institutions adorning his wall. He really thought he was a rock star of education. He no longer works at that high school. I am glad he doesn’t.

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