The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.


New Adventures, New Blog!

Many have asked–okay, only one, actually, but it sounds better to say many–and I have responded!

I will continue to blog my experiences as an educator, but I am moving everything to a new site. Actually, I’ve already moved the content; I just need to sit down with the missus and have her do the awesome designy stuff she does. (It is possible that this will simply entail changing the title in my current header… we shall see.)

Anyway, after much internal debate and mutterings against those who are squatting on the domain name I wanted to use, I have decided that I with henceforth be blogging at Adventures in Teaching Fourth, found at Please update your bookmarks and come on by! I should be having a new post up shortly describing my adventures in organising my classroom with just two weeks of prep!

And with that, I really am done updating Adventures in Substituting – cheerio!

Taking a Break

So it has been almost a week. I taught on Tuesday, but not any other day this week. When I started this blog, I had the goal of writing at least once each day during the week. Of course, I had also planned on having teaching assignments on each of those days, which would provide the much-needed inspiration for blog topics. This week was the first time that I had missed a day at all (not including holidays). I’ve had a total of 48 blog posts (this one included) in the nine weeks since I started writing about my adventures. Not bad, considering that I should only have 45 total. Of course, some of the posts have been really late in the day, but I’ve tried to get them out there.

I need to figure out how I can better track who my visitors are. I can track the number of unique hits to the site, which is why I know that on October 20 I had 43 hits (the highest to date). I also know that I tend to average 14 visitors on any given day. So I’m interested in figuring out who you folks are who are stopping by and visiting.

I also need to figure out what exactly I’ll be doing over the next two weeks. As I’ve indicated, I am planning on spending a lot of time putting together my philosophy of education. It has been something hovering on the back-burner for several months, and I had a friend recently ask me to share my philosophy with her. I want to have something that is fairly concise but still covers the points that I believe are most important. However, I don’t know if I will be posting every single day during the break. I will be home every day while my wife is at work, but I want to use the time to read, to write, and to catch up on things. So we’ll see what happens.

As always, if you have any topics you’d like to read about, please leave them in the comments. Otherwise I might just default to posting videos of awful holiday music. And as much as we all love terrible music, I’d rather keep this focused on education. So if you don’t see a post here every day, don’t worry. It just means that I am taking a break, as well!

Tacos and Motivation

As I posted on Twitter last night, and mentioned yesterday, parent-teacher conferences are continuing today in the Champaign schools. I am hoping that my colleagues are having several (if not all) of the parents of their students coming in, so that these oh-so-important conferences can take place. My fear is that tradition will hold, though, and the parents who come in will be the ones who already meet with the teachers regularly, and the parents who really need to be there are going to be the ones who never show. But such are the challenges of public education.
In the meantime, I need something else to blog about, so as to not waste the time of my devoted readers. So I put out an open call yesterday for topics, and I was given two responses: tacos and what led me to become a teacher. I tried to touch on this latter topic with my very first blog entry here, but it is possible that it was missed. Furthermore,  I think that I can expand on the question of what led me to teach. And, in a very odd way, I am going to connect it to why I like tacos.

I first began to entertain the notion of being a teacher near the end of my 4th grade year. This was the year that I was in a combined 4/5th grade class, taught by Ms. Kathy McNamara. Ours was an experimental classroom funded by the Christa McAuliffe foundation. (At least, that is what I always thought it was called. I am now not so certain that such an organisation exists, and it is possible that it was actually a grant through the Christa McAuliffe Center at Framington University, but honestly, I am not sure. I do know for certain that Christa’s educational goals and vision were a major contributing factor to the development of our classroom, known as the Classroom of Tomorrow.) Regardless of the source of the establishment of the COT classroom, as we called it, Ms. Mac was an amazing teacher. She focused on project-based learning, experential learning, peer-teaching, group work, and differentiated instruction in a way that I had never experienced before. Of all these activities, the peer-teaching was the most important. I learned that I enjoyed teaching, and I was good at it. From that day onward, I took every opportunity to teach that I could, whether it was formal or informal. I became a teacher. Now I am a professional educator, as well.

So, I am sure that at least one of you is asking, “Okay, cool, but what does that have to do with tacos?” I’m glad you asked. And if you didn’t, well, I’m going to tell you, anyway. I like tacos. They are delicious, they are nutritious (or, at least, they can be, if made well), and they satisfy several different needs at once. If I could, I would probably eat tacos every day. My wife and I have recently started making tacos at home, and we are always glad that we do. If we had more money, I am positive that we would have tacos more often. Tacos are the everymeal. If you want meat, you can have meat. If you want hot and spicy, you can have it. If you want veggies, you’ve got it! Cheese? Plenty! Crunchy one day, soft the next? No problem! Tacos are so variable that they can always give you something new, something exciting. Want to know what corned beef and ketchup tastes like on a soft flour tortilla? Go ahead a try it! (Note: It is the most disgusting thing you will ever put in your mouth. I know. But that is another story for another day.)

When it comes to vocations, education is the taco of the professional fields. It is satisfying, it is healthy, and it meets several different needs at once. In addition to just being good at teaching, I want to know everything. I know that I won’t know everything at once, and I probably won’t ever know everything there is to know, but I want to know as much as I possibly can. I can’t be satisfied with just knowing some things, or a little bit about everything, or even a lot about one thing. I know that there are people who are satisfied with this, and I am glad that there are. If everyone in the world were like me, this would be a very dull place indeed. But I want to know everything about everything. And so I chose to become a professional educator. It is the only field in which I can be paid to learn and to live vicariously through my clients (in this case, my students). One of my heroes of education is a woman named Esmé Raji Codell. I love the concluding paragraph of her autobiographical work, “Educating Esmé: Diary Of A Teacher’s First Year”. In it she makes this keen observation about teachers:

People snicker, “Those who can’t do, teach.” But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing. I could never, ever be an opera star, a baseball umpire, an earth scientist, an astronaut, a great lover, a great liar, a trapeze artist, a dancer, a baker, a buddha, or a thousand other aspirations I have had, while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional [of her students who have graduated], as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins… I experience a teacher’s great euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me: Thirty-one children. Thirty-one chances. Thirty-one futures, our futures…. Everything they become, I also become.

As a teacher, I want tacos every day. And as a professional educator, I can have them, through the lives of my students. As a substitute teacher, I am richly blessed to not have 15, 20, or 30 students, but hundreds of students. Knowing that my brief encounters with them may have a lasting impact on their lives, in the same way that that one brief year with Ms. Mac changed the course of my life forever, is what motivates me to teach. It is what helps me wake up in the cold, early hours of the morning and head off to school each day. If and when I get a job as a full-time self-contained general education classroom instructor, I will continue to be motivated by this desire to do everything in the world, to know everything in the world, not just through my own efforts, but also through the efforts of my students. Maybe I’ll celebrate the end of each year with a taco party, too.

Why I Teach

It is Thursday morning, and I have a teaching assignment this afternoon. I promised myself I would get this blog up and running this morning, though, so here I am. Where do I start? I don’t want to jump in with musings on teaching quite yet. No, I’ll save that for this afternoon. I’ll start with the very beginning. According to Fraulein Maria, it is a very good place to start.

Why am I teacher? I was asked to write about this a few years ago while I was still in college, and I happened to stumble upon my paper (short essay, really). I have found that it is still applicable to me today, although I have made some edits here and there. So here goes:

Rainer Maria Rilke, an author of the early 1900s, published a series of letters he wrote to Franz Kappus, an aspiring poet who wanted Rilke’s advice and approval of his work. The work is aptly and simply entitled, “Letters To A Young Poet.” In the very beginning, Rilke suggests to his young friend that the only way to know if he [Kappus] would know if he was to be a poet or not would be to examine himself in the middle of the night and see if there is anything else he can think of doing other than writing poetry.

Although Rilke’s advice was offered in the context of writing, I have found that it has many applications in my own vocational goals. I have often asked myself, “What do I want to do with my life?” When I wake up in the morning, I know that answer. I want to teach. I cannot think of doing anything else with my life. A student once asked me why I wasn’t a lawyer, or a doctor. I responded, “Because I am a teacher.” It seemed self-evident to me that that was what I would be, because it is what I was (and still am today). For many people, the decision of a permanent vocation is made in high school, college, or sometimes even later. Not so for me. I made the decision to enter the professional teaching field nearly 13 years ago, shortly after I completed the fourth grade. The decision to teach was influenced in part by my fourth grade teacher, but also by my life-long desire to learn and share what I have learned with others.

I often had individuals, both those I had known and near-strangers, tell me that I would make a great teacher. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to teach. Perhaps the earliest true teaching experience I had was when I was 12 years old. I was enrolled in a church Sunday school class that had no teacher. My classmates and I were unable to find the individual in charge of the program, so we took it upon ourselves to take charge of our classroom. (In retrospect, I don’t think we looked too hard for him.) I was made the unofficial teacher for the classroom. Each week for six months, I would go to our church library and get the lesson manual and supplies needed for our class. Often I would prepare the lesson ahead of time. At the end of this six-month period, the Sunday school president finally noticed that we had no adult teacher. When he asked where our teacher was, the entire class explained that, in lieu of our teacher (whom we had never met), I had been teaching the class. This experience was particularly noteworthy to me because the Sunday school president’s son was in my class. Shortly after that, we had a “real” teacher assigned to our class, but even today, those who were in our class that year talk about what a great experience it was for us to teach each other, while I lead our class in learning.

I continued to seek out opportunities to teach all people whenever the chance arrived. Throughout my experiences in the public education system, I would lead study groups, help my peers, and give guidance to my classmates. About a year after graduating high school, starting in November 2002, I had the opportunity to serve as a traveling lay minister for my church for two years. During that time, I was assigned to the San Bernardino County area of California. This area was very different, culturally, economically, and socially from my small hometown in Illinois. I was able to learn much about others’ cultures and beliefs, which have been a very positive influence on my ideas of diversity. One family, in particular, I was able to get to know quite well was the Oliver/Woods family. This was a low-income, African-American family consisting of a recently divorced mother and her five daughters, ages ranging from 14 to 8 years old. By getting to know this family, I was able to learn how to tailor teaching to those whose experiences and background were very different from my own, but I was also able to learn that there are many things about all people that are universal, such as the desire to learn and know more about the world around us. While there were many moments when things I said were not understood, due to our cultural differences, these moments of confusion allowed us to discuss them and develop mutual understanding. From this experience, I learned how easy it can be to overcome potential barriers by building bridges of tolerance and understanding.

Another aspect of my work during these two years was to provide community service in the neighbourhoods in which I lived. At one point, we had the opportunity to volunteer at the library of a local grade school. Here, again, we had the chance to get to know children of various backgrounds and learn more about the diverse culture that exists within our nation. Another time, we helped a family with several home improvement projects. As with the Oliver/Woods family, Ana was the mother in a single-parent home with several children. As we helped with the projects around the house, we were able to help the children become involved in many tasks that they may not have been able to participate in otherwise. This experience taught me the importance of not under-estimating children because of their racial, ethnic, cultural, or economic backgrounds. They were often eager and willing to learn and to help, and we were more than willing to help them do so.

Teaching is so much more than presenting information from a textbook. It is also more than creating a classroom that is open to diversity, although these are both important aspects of it. The best descriptions of teaching I know comes from a movie I saw some time ago: “A teacher has two jobs. To fill young minds with knowledge, yes. But also to act as a compass to give those minds direction.” The true teacher is one who guides students to a personal, life-long quest for knowledge, so that some day the student can, as Elbert Hubbard once observed, “get along without his teacher.” To “get along” is to be able to learn, to appreciate, and to understand the changing world in which we live, and it is my hope to be a part of that process.

That is why I teach.