The Ephemeral Educator

Life as a substitute teacher, or reserve teacher as they’re called in Minnesota, has proved to be a lot different than I had envisioned it to be. I went into the experience expecting a lot of worksheets and videos and not a whole lot else. I mean, I had done it before when I lived in Utah and it wasn’t that big of a deal. A relatively easy way to make ends meet for a while.
Boy was I wrong.

My first indication that something was different this time was when I realized that to be a substitute in Minneapolis you have to be a licensed teacher. No problem. This wasn’t a problem not because I have a license, but instead because I found the loophole. A bachelor’s degree and a form signed by the superintendent and, wala, you’re a sub.

As I began making the circuit around the city, subbing for various schools, grades and courses, it became apparent to me that something more was expected of me than to baby-sit and read the newspaper. There were actual lesson plans. Ambitious ones too.

One class I taught was made up of about 30 Somali middle schoolers, all who had moved to the United States within the last year and a half while fleeing persecution in their home country. The students, some of who were just getting used to the idea of being in a classroom, were expected to translate the numbers 15 to 20 into English, Spanish, Arabic, Somali and Oromo. The last one I had to look up, because I wasn’t even sure it was a language. (Oromo is a traditional oral language in Somalia – it has only recently been written down.) Without the correct answers I attempted to fuddle my way through by having the students come up to the front of the classroom and write down the answers on the overhead projector. However, my genius plan backfired and lead instead to a giant disagreement, one in which I had no way of intervening. This was only the warm up.

Some days I have loved the ephemeral nature of this job. I can go home and completely forget about the problems of the children in my classroom. Some days I become frustrated by my inability to make a lasting difference in their lives. I suppose this is the tug of war felt by most in the teaching profession. Wanting to make a difference and trying not to be consumed by it. So much for my easy job.

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