Substitute teaching – the pits

I had taught two years in private schools and decided to substitute in public schools. I went through the paperwork hassle and then to an interview. I was told not to expect school to be the way it was when I was young (prophetic words).

My first job was at Dunbar in Washing­ton D.C., which many years ago had an excellent reputation. The head office had an apathetic atmosphere, with the staff going through the motions. The bell rang for the first class and students traipsed into my classroom. Others stuck their heads in to make loud comments. I took roll with some difficulty and started a lesson getting minor cooperation. The lesson worked into liberal and conservative comparisons which they found interesting and said they wanted me back. The bell rang. There was a lot of jostling and fooling around between classes. Some students looked strung out on drugs.

In the next class there were hats on, eating, refusals to put out or stop snapping gum. I called the vice principal about some slouchers in back who wouldn’t come up front. They were taken out and I went on with the same lesson as before with the same good results. However, their manners were so bad, I had to strain to get anything across.

The next class had bad actors – loud and uncooperative. Only eight students, but seven wouldn’t control themselves. The eighth would put her head down ‘asleep’ when it got loud. Things had been building up and I had had it. I began telling them how school used to be run. They hooted and hollered – the gauntlet was down. We began a hot discussion. They wouldn’t stop interrupting each other and me in this room of bad acoustics. We set some ground rules – they would raise their hands. It didn’t work. I would walk away or hold my hand up to show I wanted equal time, but they kept it up. Then it got racial – whites were to blame.

Lunchtime in the loud and unsupervised cafeteria: we teachers had to almost yell to hear each other. Some looked as though they had been through the mill. (Slowly I began to feel the immense hopelessness I had felt in social work.)

The next time I was called to teach, it was at a Jr. Hi. in a run down neigh­borhood. The front doors had a prison look – metal with glass slits. The teacher in the next room told me to have the students write or it would be ‘over with’.

Two classes went tolerably well, then I had some problems and called the principal. She got so furious at the troublemakers, the veins on her neck stood out. (What job is worth that?)

During the lunch hour the teachers spoke of how male teachers had to physically handle some of the kids, how this generation was growing up without responsibility, and how everything was reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Final class: the students wouldn’t do a thing – big game. I called the vice principal as I was getting hot under the collar. He ejected five students, and he and I began a frank discussion with the students about discipline. They kept interrupting – no self-control. Eventually they brought up race; I said that could only account for 5-10% of the problem. They talked of a different value system. I said the Black Muslims didn’t put up with this, nor would any middle class blacks. They said such blacks were brainwashed. The day ended with some throwing rocks at me. I had to get two teachers to go with me to my car.

I taught another day in a wealthy white suburb – much the same. Another time I started to substitute in another state. After l5 minutes of trying to take the roll, I quit. (There were teachers to take my place.

All the years to become a teacher, all the taxes for a bankrupt system, all the kids losing valuable years, but most of all – all the panels, commissions, surveys, and court decisions ingeniously missing the point – traditional values:

Responsibility (the grandaddy).

Foresight (thrift, saving, planning).

The golden rule (relia­bility, honesty, good faith, fairness, manners, respect for property, authority, elders, and ethnic groups).

Law and order, authority, discipline, punishment.

Self-reliance, family teamwork, hard work, diligence, modera­tion, restraint, whole­some­ness, modesty, self-respect, one’s appearance, practical educa­tion, some censorship, some conformity.