I haven’t mentioned Bryan’s goings on at school much because we’ve been so busy in the rest of our hours. He’s had a pretty impressive start to his career at Tech. After the orientation presentations, the professors chose him to teach a class rather than learn how to teach a class and just teach one lesson during the semester. He has his own section of precalc and now that he is a quarter of the way done, he’s had amazing reviews. The professor who organizes the TAs and teachers of precalc came by to shake his hand because he had the best evaluations she has ever seen. His average scores out of 5 was 4.9. You know, it’s basically questions about how well his students feel he is doing as a teacher. He has been commended by professors for his homework, got a decent grade in the class that 5 out of 6 people failed last year, and is having fun at it too. He’ll often come in to the yurt after a math session in the a-frame triumphant, wanting to share the crazy math shit he’s been up to. He had a breakthrough moment last week where a professor was writing out a proof and got stuck. Bryan saw the route to take and impressed the professor, his classmate, and himself. While everyone who knows him knows he has his math chops and has never doubted that he is phd material, this was the moment he too felt that way. It’s pretty exciting! Now, I’m not suggesting that I understand what he is doing, mostly because it looks like this:
A lot of what he is doing for homework is solving problems and then writing eloquent proofs that illustrate why the solution is accurate. At this level, the WAY you write it matters. The more elegant the proof the better and I’ve always been impressed by Bryan’s writing ability, so even though I don’t have a damn idea what they say, it’s fun to try to read them aloud. You try:
“What are you going to do for work in Michigan?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that both obvious and, as the months went by, a little painful question. I’d explain how there were ZERO teaching jobs open in the area. I’d explain how I was applying for staff jobs at area colleges, hoping to do coordinating work for academic success centers, or orientation programs. And then, I’d inevitably say, “I’ll substitute teach if I don’t find anything else.” Simple. Good answer. I never actually thought it would come to that though. Sure, it didn’t sound THAT bad. So I’d watch a person’s class for the day and come home with no homework, which, last school year sounded pretty damn fine while I graded piles and piles of essays and worksheets. I fantasized about leaving THEM the piles and piles of paper from the day and heading out for a long ski. I did, however, acknowledge that subbing is basically almost all (besides the grading) the parts I don’t love about teaching. Like establishing rules, boundaries, expectations, and dealing with students testing throughout the first few months of school. Except you’d be doing it every time. And students tend to try to get away with everything annoying or naughty on sub days. These are not my favorite things about teaching.
About two weeks ago I finally starting getting calls, a great relief to me and our checking account. I have had nearly all decent days and one terrible day. I’d say that’s pretty good. I have a couple favorite schools and am getting to know the kids a little bit. I’ve already had my first experience seeing a kid out in public. Even though I’m not usually up in front of the class teaching (though I have tried to teach algebra, have taught algebra two semi-successfully, have taught some chemistry, and have covered transitive and intransitive verbs with kids), it’s exhausting work since the kids are always trying to test you. I miss teaching American literature terribly.
For me teaching was always at its hardest in the first few months of the year when I was establishing my expectations and the students were not impressed with them. By spring, however, 90% of us were on the same page and hopefully even on the same team. Team get-to-the-end-of-the-year, mostly, but still. I laughed more and so did my students. I gave more breaks and also pushed them harder. They trusted me and took chances and laughed at my corny jokes and didn’t laugh at all when I would get swept away by that final beautiful chapter of Mockingbird.
Mostly what I’ve realized, or at least what I feel right now, is that it’s hard to make the struggle worth it as you sub.
What I mean is that it’s worth the struggle when you are teaching something you love. At least in the past seven years, I could always, without fail, fall back on my subject. I LOVE books and stories and I REALLY LOVE American literature. It’s my thing. Some English people love Shakespeare. I think he’s okay, but I’d take Emerson, Fitzgerald, Poe, or Plath any day of the week. So at least when I was struggling with behaviors or paper loads, my passion was genuine and even if my students rolled their eyes at my enthusiasm, I believed in those writers and the ability for their words to shape lives. I knew, even if I couldn’t admit it, that as we slogged through Emerson’s wordiness, at least a few kids really got it. They could see that Poe’s “The Raven” was the perfect telling of the never-ending nature of grief or that Emerson knew his shit, having an awful lot in common with their own beliefs about nonconformity and self-reliance. Handfuls read Fitzgerald’s hopelessly long descriptions and heard the lyrical beauty I tried to help them appreciate. And even if they never told me, I knew that it mattered to some of them. It’s awfully hard coming home after a really rough day, or even after a really solid day, and not have shared that with the students I worked with.
I did coordinate the most competitive kickball game ever known to man in the girls’ only 9th grade pe class though. I guess that’s something?