From the blackboard jungle to my whiteboard quagmire

Mr. Chips, Mr. Holland, Mr. Keating…

“Mr. Lucker – you aggrivatin’”!
“Why, thank you”!

That particular verbal exchange (and the resulting student stare of puzzlement at my response) has become one of my regular favorites with the high schoolers I have been substitute teaching this year. It’s truly a badge of honor, as the source of the aggravation usually results from one simple crime of mine: I try to make the students do the assigned work.

It seems like a relatively simple concept, for a sub to get the class working on what the regular teacher has assigned, but not in New Orleans – and not just because of the kids not wanting to work. It turns out there is a historical basis to lack of sub respect and sheer confusion at a sub seeking to actually teach, as for years, subs here have been little more than glorified babysitters. Some parents I have spoken with (who grew up around here) here have expressed shock that I am shocked that students are so dismissive of subs.

Up until just a few years before Katrina, when the state started tightening educational standards, the school district employed pretty much anyone for a substitute teaching position – this frequently included parents of students who found it an easy way to earn a few bucks while the kids were in school. You didn’t need any qualifications, per se…just the time and the innate ability to hand out restroom passes.

On at least two occasions that I know of this year, a parent at a school I have been at as a sub multiple times has supported their child’s refusal to do the work of a sub, essentially echoing another common refrain I hear quite a bit as a sub; “Subs are just subs. He can do work for the real teacher when she gets back”.

Compounding matters is the fact that many long-time teachers and other school staff are also products of this…system and at the very least, understand and tacitly support the attitude toward subs, and at worst, defend it as logical and find those who challenge it to be culturally out-of-touch. I have not, to this point, found anyone not from here who supports or even understands this apparently widespread believe that a substitute teacher in the classroom is essentially a free day.


At least most of the teachers I work for regularly understand the predicament and put an extra effort into putting their kids on notice that they expect the same effort from them that they get. Sometimes, that even helps.

Not that it is all beat-your-head-against-the-wall in nature, as yesterday proved.

A school I had been at multiple times, but a class and students and I hadn’t had before yesterday found me cajoling them to stay on task and finish the assignment.

A junior girl, exasperated, stood up in class, proclaiming, “Mr. Lucker! You….you…you…you….you a IMMIGRANT”! A male classmate attempted to clarify;”Did you mean he’s ‘ignorant’? “No!” she said, slamming down her pencil and plopping back into her chair, “He’s a immigrant”! The boy just shook his head. “I tried, Mr. Lucker. But she thinks your ignorant for tryin’ to make us do this”. I could only hold back so much of a smile that ironic.

“Thanks for the translation,” I said, turning my attention to the class at large, “…as soon as you guys finish up part one, you can turn in part one, and I’ll give you part two”.

“Damn”! said the girl under her breath.

I smiled, and kept walking the classroom beat.


3 thoughts on “From the blackboard jungle to my whiteboard quagmire

  1. Lillian Iverson January 30, 2010 / 9:38 am

    Do you think it will ever change?? Seems to be pretty much the same at all the schools you have been subbing at….


  2. Ron January 31, 2010 / 11:23 am

    These sub stories would make a great book. A Year in the Life of a Post-Katrina Substitute. Just a thought.


  3. Craig February 4, 2010 / 7:28 am

    I’ve got two words of you. “Ward. Bond.”

    When we saw him in the classroom, we knew we were in for a lotta “goop”.


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