The “sub” way (i’m so clever, right?)

Thursday 5 February 2009

So now that I’ve been in a few different classrooms, at a few different schools, in a few different situations, I thought it might finally be time to talk a little bit about my experiences as a substitute teacher.  When I moved back home after Thanksgiving, the hope to earn a little money and still have some flexibility in my schedule made substitute teaching seem like a pretty good deal.  Plus, with a few years of actual teaching experience, I thought it could be a good way to use some of my skills and reconnect with the teaching profession as I ponder the possibility of returning to “formal education” at some point in the future.  (I mention “formal” education there because I think I’ve decided that I’m called to be an educator, it’s just the idea of what area/subject it might be in: math, special education, social justice, systemic racism, etc.)

FYI as you read along: Thus far, I’ve subbed for a HS Science teacher, a MS Special Ed. teacher, and lastly an 8th Grade Math teacher.

One thing my substituting experience has taught me thus far is the realities of how I, as a teacher, treated my subs, and just the general expectation a teacher has of a substitute.  When I was a teacher, I never gave the sub too much credit, especially if I didn’t know who it might be.  Maybe because of the subject material (HS Math), or maybe just because that’s the way it is, when I was preparing in advance for being away, I’d often schedule tests or quizzes for the day I was out, to make it “easy” for the sub (in my mind): it doesn’t matter how much a sub knows about the material, they can still proctor a test (hopefully!).  They very well may have taken Algebra II or Geometry in HS, but who’s to say they would be able to help a student calculate the value of an interior angle of a regular octagon, or better yet to teach them how to do such a thing?  There were times when I would give out WSs or bookwork (especially if the absence was unplanned, i.e. I was sick), but I think sub as proctor was probably the norm for me.  So that fact that  as Science (Anatomy, Biology, Physics) sub I monitored WSs and bookwork came as little surprise to me — and really, I don’t think I would have done much of a job teaching the students the muscles of the leg, thigh, and groin area anyway.  It wasn’t surprising, but at the end of the day, not too rewarding.

My second experience, this past Monday, was in a MS Special Ed. classroom.  I had a student teacher, which was nice, since the environment wasn’t familiar to me, and the small number of students during any given period was also quite enjoyable.  Since there was a student teacher who had report with the students, I didn’t do as much “teaching” or working with the students as I might have done if I was alone, but I was still able to work directly, both one-on-one and in small groups, with students during the day, so it felt much more rewarding than my first experience, which, really, left me kind of depressed.  It was a good sign for me, as I’ve thought about maybe switching to work as a Special Ed. teacher if I return to the classroom, so this was a nice introduction to one of the possibilities such a career could afford me.

My third experience continued the trend of feeling more valued and gaining more reward in my work — and that shouldn’t be too surprising, as it so happened that I found myself returned in a Math classroom.  While the “emergency sub plans” (every teacher has these, just in case) called for me to proctor general diagnostic tests all day, that soon went by the wayside when the teacher, who had meetings in the school, showed up to get me some actual lesson plans.  I mentioned that I was a math teacher by trade, so she looked at what she would have done and decided to just have me carry on with that plan of action!  Victory!  I would finally be “teaching” again, like the “good old days!”

It was a pretty good day.  Some of my general past shortcomings as a teacher came out (classroom management, motivation to learn), some of them possibly because I was a sub, universally required to gain less respect than one’s “normal” teacher, but it still felt good.  It took a few classes to recognize the general abilities and challenges students had with the material, but I caught on and adapted my teaching style and examples — four classes had the same material, and that fourth class was the most well behaved and did the best, as a whole, on their assignment, which I would claim to be a good sign of success (at least in part — let’s not oversell this, as I’m sure there will be much supplementing of anything I did in future classes).  There was even a funny fiasco where I thought I had destroyed the dry erase board with a permanent marker thrown in for good measure — even with the challenges of the day, it made me c:

And then today I got a call from the principal of the HS I attended (though he wasn’t there when I went to school), seeing if I was available tomorrow to substitute for the math teacher I had from grades 8-12, at his request.  In the words of the principal, “That way they can at least still do some math.”

So I’ll likely have to take the good with the bad, but maybe things are going to turn out OK after all c:

on vocation and discernment

Saturday 26 April 2008

A little while ago I was asked to write a short article for the newsletter of the campus ministry I attended at college. Here is what I wrote:

There are two big words I remember hearing during my time at ULC: vocation and discernment. Pastor Lloyd reminded us all that during our time as students at Northwestern, our vocation was just that – a student at Northwestern. And when it came time for me to leave that place, it was a process of discernment I used to figure out where I would venture next. How could I “decide” where God was calling me? I needn’t worry if I had made the right decision, for I was assured that God would use me wherever I was, whatever I was doing.

I think about both of those words – vocation and discernment – as I approach the fourth anniversary of my graduation from Northwestern. After graduating in 2004, I spent my first two years teaching HS Math in the northern Chicago suburbs. However, I also spent the summer of 2005 and 2006 in Ohio, working as a camp counselor, as I had a few years during college. From there I moved to Milwaukee as a part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps – a year-long program where I lived in intentional community, attempting to live simply and sustainably while exploring spirituality and working toward social justice. My placement was in an “alternative” HS, co-teaching Math to about 100 students who didn’t quite fit into to standard Milwaukee Public Schools. This past August, when my LVC year was over, I moved to Washington, DC to take a position recruiting for LVC, in which I traveled around the Midwest, sharing about LVC at colleges and universities. I was recently hired to remain on staff to continue working with recruitment initiatives until Easter. And after that? – well, who knows!

It’s interesting to think I’ve now spent nearly as much time out of college as I did in college. But am I any closer to finding “my vocation?” A common definition of vocation is that of Frederick Buechner: “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And what happens when you throw the idea of discernment into the mix? Mustn’t we allow ourselves time to figure things out?

What I’ve come to believe is two-fold: First, our entire lives are a process of discernment. From the time we can talk, we’re asked something like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Thus begins one process of discernment. As we age, we are constantly discerning the kinds of relationships we want in our lives and if there might be a significant one among them. As I move around and do different “jobs,” I’m continuing to discern where to go and what to do next. And even if I come to a place I’m happy with, I’ll continue to discern whether to stay in that place and position or to maybe do something else.

Which flows into my second realization: Our vocation isn’t some job that’s perfect for us, but truly is, “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.” In all my different locations and positions, I feel I’ve been filling the hunger of the world around me while finding deep gladness throughout. There might not be one “job” I’m called to for life but instead many positions which fulfill my vocation.

So as I daily discern where God is calling me, I think of my vocation always in light of Micah 6:8b — “Do justice, loves kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

eric (CAS ’04) was a peer minister for three years while at ULC. You can learn more about LVC at and read eric’s blog @