Being a New Orleans sub for nearly a full school year now affords me some unique opportunities to interact with some of the same schools staff and kids on a regular basis – especially now that I have been to some of these schools ten or more times each.
As the year has progressed and my networking has taken hold, I’m getting requests for my services on a regular basis – mostly from individual teachers, though at times from school administrations. From the school’s perspective, I’m a good call to make because I know the ins-and-outs of how a school works, its culture and expectations, that sort of thing. From the teacher’s perspective, they know that I have a viewpoint apparently not shared by a large number of local subs: that I won’t put up with a lot of crap, and that I won’t hesitate to deal with issues. Oh, and that things should go on as usual, and work should get done.
In fact, the gig I am spending most of this week on came by request from a teacher I had met on previous visits to a favorite high school, and who asked for my business card after hearing students coming to her class from the one I had and complaining about me – that I made them work! She had to be out most all of this week, and called to see if I was O.K. with that before assigning me the gig in the Kelly Ed Staffing computer system. We also spoke for about ten minutes yesterday, where she reiterated her appreciation for me actually trying to teach in her absence, and she told of a story of a sub they had to tell Kelly not to send anymore: after returning to her classroom the day after this other teacher subbed, she found things in disarray, and lesson plans untouched. When she asked a student what they had done while she was gone, the kid shrugged and said, “I was talking on my phone…I don’t know what the rest of the class did”.
I’ve heard similar stories and gotten similar calls from other teachers at other schools, so I have come to learn one thing very well: simply showing up and doing my job tends to elevate my standing in a school relatively quickly. As Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, “Eighty-percent of life is simply showing up”.
It also helps that I am an adaptable quick study, even tempered, don’t take slights personally and (most importantly) have a macabre, off-beat enough sense of humor to appreciate – or at least tolerate and process – the most absurdist of situations and children populating New Orleans high schools.
Like the kid who last fall offered to steal me a car each time I came to sub at his school.
After encountering me arriving at school in my old (fully paid for, running well) Ford, he approached me later in the day at the end of class.
“Mr. Lucker – you need a new ride”.
“You tell me what kind of car you need, and what you want to pay, and I can get it for you”.
“I can find you whatever car you want, Mr. Lucker…and you tell me what you want to pay for it”.
Kid, exasperated, “You know, I can GET it for you”.
“No thanks, man, I’m good”.
I’ve been back to that school recently, but that rather oddly likable young man isn’t there anymore. I haven’t asked, but I’m certainly hoping he hasn’t progressed from car procurement to license plate manufacturing.
Then there is the rather surly young woman I had in class this week who would argue with me on the most banal of points. When I mentioned her name in a conversation with another teacher, I was told “I think she’s cranky because she just got out of jail”. News I could certainly use.
One of the more bizarre aspects of subbing at a school repeatedly is the IBMish nature of kids memory. One of the charters I visit frequently has a group of sophomore girls who seem to find me something of a curiosity, and always engage me in some sort of fairly in-depth conversation. On my last visit, two of them walked into my classroom and said “Hey, Mr. Lucker, you know we was talking to you about that baby stuff the last time you were here…” like we were picking up where we left off the previous afternoon.
Only I hadn’t been there for three weeks.
This pattern has repeated itself on numerous occasions – picking up right where we left off after a week, two weeks – a month – like a computer bookmark. I don’t have that level of pick-it-up-right-where-we-left-off with people I have known for years. I guess I must be making some sort of positive impression…but it is weird to be left scrambling for the details of some previous conversation when I can sometimes encounter 300 or more different students in a week, if I work at a different school each day. Fortunately, many of these conversations (and conversationalists) are vivid enough they stick with me.
Like the ‘baby stuff’ girls I mentioned.
A group of three young women were talking in class one day about a pregnant classmate, and how they would not find themselves in such a position. I was drawn into the discussion only after my facial reaction to one of their comments caught one of the girls eye. As I was strolling around the room observing group work, she had made the comment that “It’s all them boys fault when you get pregnant – so you just can’t let them finish.” Seeing my perplexed look, she said “Aint that right Mr. Lucker? The boy is supposed to stop it before he gets to the end and makes the baby, ‘cause them not stopping when they can is what makes the baby so it’s on them when a girl gets pregnant”.
“Please tell me you didn’t learn that in science class here”. To my relief all three girls shook their heads.
“No, that’s what my mama says” said one, to which the others nodded in agreement.
“It’s the boys fault if you get pregnant cause they get a warning and know when they should stop…everybody knows that”.
“And you can’t get pregnant from a boy who never done it before” said girl number two.
“It’s always the boy’s fault, Mr. Lucker. He can stop it. And condoms don’t work”. Added the third. They all looked at me for affirmation.
“Why don’t you just not have sex then you won’t have to worry about it” I replied. Three quizzical faces stared back at me silently. Fortunately, it was the last class of the day, and the bell was about to ring. Saved by the proverbial chimes, I was.
At least I gave them another option to think about.
Of course, the bizarre perspectives aren’t confined to the students. I had a gig a month or so back at a real hard core inner city high school, and the classroom I was subbing in was used by another teacher during planning period. I had nothing else to do, so with the other teacher’s blessing , I sat in on his GEE (Graduation Exit Exam) review class. This was a class for juniors and seniors who had already bombed the test once – a test they need to pass in order to graduate.
The guy teaching was thirtyish, African-American guy, very engaging. The sample test questions that day covered 1960’s American history. He first stumbled over the Kennedy years, talking about JFK getting assassinated…then losing the election…all in 1965. (?) We made eye contact, and he must’ve sensed my bewilderment (imagine the students confusion as this continues) and asked me what year it was Kennedy was shot. “1963” I replied. To which he said (asked) “So then Johnson came in, right”? “Yep”.
He fumbled around the rest of the decade, confusing LBJ with Nixon a couple of times, and wondering about how long the war in Vietnam was, mentioning that he had “no clue why were in that war”, but the topper was when he scrolled down the test page on his Smart board to an essay question about the moon landing. He read through the question, pointed out the photos of Neil Armstrong coming down the ladder, and Armstrong’s footprint in lunar dust, and then added this priceless caveat:
“But for my money, none of this ever happened”. A disinterested group of nine students didn’t react – but I did, sitting bolt upright from a more relaxed pose. “There is no way this could have ever happened. It couldn’t. If Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, who took the pictures of him on the moon? And anybody can make a footprint with a boot in some sand. This whole thing was shot in a desert in New Mexico or something. But if they ever ask you this on a test, this…” he said, pointing to the projected paragraph and pictures, “…is the information you want to give them”.
And THAT should clear up any confusion those kids might have had about American history.
I encounter slight variations on all of these incidents on a weekly basis; mid-stream conversations jumpstarted after weeks of dormancy, bizarre teacher antics, implied felonies. It’s like my life has a set of Internet bookmarks in place, and that I can walk into a school now, and know immediately which life-site I’ll be jumping to that day. I think that might end up being my new nickname; ‘Bookmark’.
That, and as people keep telling me about our New Orleans experiences ‘You should write a book, Mark’.