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


You’re Supposed To Be Doing What, Now?

Today I was a Family & Consumer Sciences teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School. I have been very fortunate to have teaching assignments nearly every single working day for the past two months. In fact, so far I have had only one working day without an assignment. My schedule for this week is almost completely filled–I just have to find something for Wednesday. Why have I been so lucky? I’m not sure, really. It may be because the districts actually put a halt to hiring new subs for the year. (Interesting aside: one of my districts employs 200 substitute teachers, even though they only use, on average, 60 subs a day. Not sure why they have so many extras, unless it is just really that hard to find a sub some days.) But I think it may also be because I am willing to accept just about anything.

Which is why I accepted the aforementioned Family & Consumer Sciences assignment despite the very obvious fact that I had no clue what that entailed. I mentioned it at dinner last night, and learned that Family & Consumer Sciences is the modern name for what used to be known as Home Economics, or just Home-Ec.

Oh. Interesting.

Little known fact about myself (well, little known to those who don’t know me incredibly well): I never took any vocational education courses in high school. Even the one state-required course that falls under that category, Consumer Economics, was not taken, because I managed to test out of it my Freshman year. (I think that business classes are part of vocational education… Please correct me if I am wrong!) I had friends who took courses through the vocational ed program. I have a former classmate who is now teaching vocational ed at our high school. But I was very much the hard-core band/choir/drama geek who loaded his schedule each semester with math, science, language, social studies, and band/choir/drama. If I’d had an extra hour or two to the day, maybe I would have dipped my toes into the vocational pool, but probably not. It just wasn’t my area of interest.

So, armed with my complete lack of knowledge of this field, I went off to Mahomet-Seymour High School today wondering what on earth I’d be doing. The first class of the day was Food and Nutrition. I walked them through an introduction to a unit on eggs–Hey, I can handle that! I was an eggs-to-order cook for a few years while at the University of Illinois!–and that was that. The next class was Cooking & Culinary Arts. We watched a video clip of Good Eats starring Alton Brown. So far, so good.

Then we got to the Life Skills class. Um, okay… I think. We went to the computer lab and they spent the period finding articles online about positive peer pressure, negative peer pressure, and filling out a worksheet to compare/contrast the two. Oh, and they had to print out the articles. Except that the printer ran out of paper and instead of waiting for it to get refilled, they just kept hitting print. So several articles got printed about a dozen times. Oh, and someone tried to print an article but instead of highlighting the relevant portion, he or she just hit print and printed off a 34-page document, 32 pages of which were a list of the blog articles that had been published. Whoops.

And then we got to the area that left me completely baffled: Early Childhood Practicum. With two class periods at our disposal, we went into the bizarre basement computer lab so they could have a “work” day. (This is the computer lab that has film projectors and other antiquities lying around.) One boy seemed to be working on something that may or may not have been a  relevant project. The only other boy in the class spent the two periods on (he didn’t click on anything inappropriate, though). The girls all seemed to be shopping for prom dresses and checking out hairstyles that can do, despite the fact that prom is in five days.

It turns out that the girls were working on their projects, though. One of them is doing a wedding planning project, and, after browsing dresses, turned to cakes. Aha! I know about cakes! I suggested she check out the Sunday Sweets segment of Cake Wrecks. Victory!

Now if only I could figure out what the rest of them were supposed to be doing all day…



Last night, or, more likely, early this morning, I had a dream that I missed a teaching assignment at Washington Middle School in Ottawa, Illinois. Here’s the thing:

  1. I don’t teach in Ottawa.
  2. They don’t have a Washington Middle School. (They do, however, have a Jefferson Elementary, a Lincoln Elementary, and a McKinley Elementary, but none of those are the correct president. Oh, and they aren’t middle school. The middle school in Ottawa is Shepherd).
  3. Even if I did and they did, the district is, like most other districts (except my little sister’s, apparently), are on Winter Break right now.

There were other strange elements to the dream. I had apparently thought the assignment was at Washington Middle School in Washington, Illinois, which is where I grew up. I had initially gone to the old building where I had gone to middle school, but the building is now owned by the park district, since the school district upgraded to a new building several years ago. I thought the assignment was from 1:00-2:30 pm, which is a ridiculous assignment, but it was actually from 8:00-9:00 am, which is even more ridiculous. Also, my wife was dropping me off at work. Never mind the fact that Washington is a good hour and a half away from where we live. Oh, and she had apparently stopped on the side of the road in front of some guy’s garage, and he got really upset and started yelling and screaming at her for blocking his drive, because he had to go around the van (we were in the van we sold about a year ago) to put his trash can away. Then a police officer popped his head in the window and told her that she could park “over there” (a location that actually made sense to me). All this while, I was using the Google Maps app on my phone, along with the online substitute assignment site, to discover that I had completely missed the assignment and had gone  to the wrong school, the wrong district, the wrong city, and even the wrong county. At some point in the dream, I had thought that maybe I was supposed to be at the Washington Middle School in Peoria, Illinois, which is a town close to Washington.

I can only assume that this is a form of madness that comes to teachers who have not been teaching for a while, but wish they were. The fact that I actually looked up information for the Ottawa Elementary District 141 in order to verify all of this only contributes to the madness that are my dreams. The strangest part of all, though, is that I generally don’t dream. I tend to think in my sleep. When I do dream, the dreams are short and vague. This was long and vivid and detailed. Enough so that I woke up actually nervous that I had botched up an assignment!

Good thing I am on break!

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.