jeudi, décembre 14, 2006

The paradoxical meets the nearly impossible

Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week I traveled to Lancaster County to attend classes for potential substitute teachers. I have to admit that the idea had not occured to me until a friend who earns a living as a painter told me she was thinking about this as an income source in between other assignments. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it was. I like children, both eager and ingenous young ones and the more complicated, drama-prone questioning older ones. As a parent, it would offer me an unparrelled opportunity to find out something about standards and practices in teaching-assuming they have improved since I was last in elementary school. It would also, I thought, be a good way of earning mortgage money (boy did I turn out to be off-base about that) whilst preserving some flexibility so that I could take writing assignments. I'd be home at about the same time as my children. As to the demands of the job? Hey, I'd led worship services for little kids in a day school, taught Sunday school classes, and worked in academic institutions where sometimes the faculty acted like big hard could it be to act like a den mom to two dozen eight year olds for seven hours? When I showed up for my training at the Lancaster County IU, with perhaps a hundred other professionals of all ages and stages of life, I realized that the art of being a substitute teacher had paradox, incongruity and frustration engrained in its very being. Teaching is a deeply relational discipline-but few of us are good at meeting 25 new people and remembering their names in the course of a day, let alone getting to know them. Each child has his or her own learning style-what can they possible learn in the company of someone who sees the lesson an half an hour before they do? I'm definitely a right-brain person-making lists, following a set schedule doesn't just mean I have to use my shadow side, but have to find where I mislaid it yesterday-underneath the mismatched socks, maybe? I wondered, and asked one speaker, how a person who is not compulsively organized would fare in this environment. Finally, there is the whole question of compensation. In many districts substitutes are paid less than I pay my babysitter. In another sign of how messed up we are about compensating people fairly for doing work that few of us have the backbone to do, aides in emotional support classrooms are paid 60.00 a day. My conclusion? Anyone going into this for the money, or because they thought it was going to be a cakewalk was going to be quickly dissilusioned and disappointed. But as I chatted with my desk set neighbors-a retired teacher, a former director of development, a communications generalist, a singer-I realized that most of us were there for a whole grab bag of reasons that had little to do with making a fast profit. Their motives were as mixed as mine. All in all, however, the school system would be very fortunate to have us show up on any given morning looking for the lesson plans, the cafeteria and the bathroom. As I observed my colleagues, what I saw was a group of highly trained professionals who still hoped-against hope-to have a positive impact, even for the space of a day, on the life of someone else's children.

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