10 December 2008

A Challenging But Ultimately Rewarding Blog Post

"Thank you for your interest in one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in education--substitute teaching."

So begins the Welcome page introduction on the Oakland Unified School District's substitute teacher website.

I don't believe they're being ironic.

Let's take a look at two key words from that sentence. First of all you've got "rewarding." In what sense? The frickin pay? That's about the only reward and its not much of one at that. There's none of the "psychic income" that then California Governor Jerry Brown said classroom teachers earned (I'm sure his remarks excluded subs). On the worst days subs are treated like so much trash. On an average day they're largely ignored as they preform perfunctory tasks. On most days they're bored to tears.

Why do it in the first place? The only reason is to help pay a few bills while you work on something else, as I'm currently doing. Schools like me because I show up on time, am presentable and don't run screaming out of the room before the end of the day. I also avoid confrontations with students. Too many subs try to lay down the law and over step their bounds making difficult situations worse. Mellow subs are the best for students, schools and themselves.

Okay the other word in that sentence I want to look at is "challenging." How I've come to hate that word In education! It’s a euphemism, usually for difficult. You can't say a student is a jerk, you say he's "challenging." You don't even talk about problems with a class or student, you talk about "challenges." Educators of all stripes are always talking about "looking forward" to this or that "challenge". Actually we don't like challenges, we'd like things to be easy. If there's going to be a challenge we accept that fact, roll up our sleeves and do our best.

The use of "challenges" is an example of the dilution of our language. Here's another example of what I'm talking about:

"Bob had a substance abuse problem when at the time of his incarceration for possession of a controlled substance."
Translation: Bob was a junkie when he was jailed for drug possession.

Perhaps the worst case of language fear I ever heard was when the woman in charge of disabled students at our school got on the intercom during homeroom and asked for student volunteers to work with fellow students who had "special needs."

Damn! I just have ordinary needs. I wish mine were “special” too.

I'd love it if people talked and wrote less like a sales brochures and more like a Cormac McCarthy novels.

Now that's a challenge.

1 comment:

R. D. Finch said...

As someone who has worked in the past as a sub, I fully understand what you're saying. It's the most thankless job I can imagine. Too often I made the mistake of trying to "lay down the law." I wish I'd discovered the wisdom of the mellow sub sooner, but I was too afraid that if I let the students walk all over me, I wouldn't get called to work again, and where I live there's only one school district. I admire your attitude and your persistence. And thanks for describing the work so accurately.