Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Art of Substitution

Before we moved to Delaware, I was a substitute teacher for three years. I worked, on average, two days a week--all ages levels, all subject matters, including special needs classrooms where help is always needed. This was the most perfect and most ridiculous job for me to have. I am the daughter of two teachers. My mom did her fair share of substituting when we were growing up. Teaching is the last thing I wanted to do. Ever. Period.

In the early 2000s, I was leading creativity workshops to make extra cash and still be flexible for my kids' schedules. Then, 2008 happened, and the economy tanked. I would prepare my workshops and though I had a list of people signed up, only one would show. Or the class would be canceled altogether. I worked hard on my plans for these classes. A friend of mine had been laid off of her job during this time. She told me about emergency teaching certification. I decided to go for it. As a substitute teacher,  I could still make my own schedule and teach the plans that someone else had spent hours to prepare.

This became an especially interesting prospect for me. I am a planner. My Myers Briggs personality profile is ENFJ. For E, N, and F, I could pretty much go one way or another and land in another letter's camp, but I have earned my J for judging. The letter is deceiving. Don't think that this one is about judgment. It's the part of the personality that pertains to planning versus spontaneity. When we took our kids to Europe for ten days, I printed out a twenty-page booklet filled with our itinerary and maps, train schedules and restaurant reviews. I left nothing to chance. I am also that person who peruses menus online before I go to the restaurant. I write lists. And more lists.

So, to have me show up in a classroom not knowing anything about what I would be doing or what equipment I would need to use was a frightening and strangely exhilarating possibility for me. It has taught me that I can think on my feet. I can solve problems, and I can deal with the unknown. I can go with the flow.

I have developed a new skill set in all of this. I have learned that I can read people pretty well and understand when a high school student is asking to go to the nurse but really means that she is meeting her boyfriend in the hall.  I can figure out how to use a smart board or locate specific art supplies in walls of unmarked cabinets.  And don't even get me started what this has done for my sense of direction. I used to be able to get lost in my driveway. With subbing, I not only had to find my way to about twenty-five different schools, but I had to navigate parking without disrupting bus drop-off.  Once I was in a building, I had to get to and from my classes and figure out where other places, such as offices and faculty lunch room, were located. Finding the faculty lunch room is especially hard--usually a closely held secret. Look for that unmarked square on a school map. But even if you find it, be ready to give the secret password.

Every day is different when you are a sub. Some days I would be using a chair lift to change adult diapers on physically challenged students or helping autistic students to use iPads to communicate. I have taught everything from art to driver's ed, middle school wood shop to high-school biology. And I have taught first graders during full moon in mercury retrograde on the day before a long holiday break. I loved teaching, and I believe I am good at it. At the very least, I would come off of a day of subbing feeling very proud of myself because I knew I was setting fire to any preexisting mental blocks I may have had.

When I moved to Delaware, my emergency certification for Pennsylvania was no longer valid. I thought my subbing days were behind me. Within a week of moving into our house, I met our neighbor Betty, an art teacher for a private school. I gave her some of our leftover moving boxes to move her art classroom. I told her how I had been an art sub, and she lit up. They were always looking for good subs. Private schools didn't have the regulations of a public school. My degree in Fine Arts would be enough for me to qualify. I have retained my status as a teacher. I only sub a few times a year, but it is enough to keep up my skills and to challenge self-imposed limitation.

Yesterday's adventure had me teaching high school students. It was the first time I had set foot in a photography darkroom in twenty-five years. I  also made rotations in the computer lab, 2D art room, and ceramics lab. In doing all of this with confidence, I am beginning to believe I am ready to bring my creativity workshops to the Wilmington public. A friend of mine has opened the Art Garage, so I have a venue I could use. I am grudgingly coming to accept that teaching, in one form or another, is in my blood, and that it energizes me in a way that few things can. I may be the teacher, but I am the one who is receiving knowledge. And for those lessons, I am very grateful.

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