Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hostile Territory

Few jobs are more unfairly difficult than that of a substitute teacher. They are harassed by rooms of tiny yet vicious individuals bent on total humiliation. I imagine the experience is similar to that of being hunted by a pack of velociraptors. And woe to the substitute teacher who stumbles upon a classroom full of students who actually like their normal teacher. You may as well try to poison yourself with the whiteboard cleaner before first period. At least you might make a few of them cry.

Sadly, this effect does not dissipate with age and experience. My charming LSAT instructor recently took a Saturday morning off and did not report at the usual time. Rather, a defenseless substitute took her place, cheerfully wrote her name on the board and turned expectantly to a roomful of eager learners. And these charming adult students respectfully made the time as easy as possible, remaining attentive and responsive to all four hours of soul-killing drudgery. Right? Wrong.

The new teacher was at huge disadvantage, having been in the unfortunate situation mentioned earlier of taking the place of a beloved and trusted instructor. Alas, with no asps or cyanide available she was forced to make the best of the situation. It was deeply tragic to realize she was also dumb as a post.

Now, “dumb as a post” must be taken in a relative context. This young woman scored in the 99th percentile on the LSAT. This essentially writes her ticket to any law school she should choose to grace with her presence. And yet excellence at something is not a sufficient condition for educating others in that subject. For example, explaining a confusing question with many different but related parts is certainly a delicate business. Shockingly, making up additional analogies that somehow might demonstrate the same relationship does not help your students understand. It leaves them sitting there going “but why does the Beluga whale only eat broccoli in summer, and how does that help me understand why some species of sea turtle can do cartwheels and others cannot?” Allow me to promise you that this confusion will soon lead to rage and shouts of “take that reticulated opossum and shove it,” followed by an uprising.

Fortunately for the sub, no volleys were fired. No spit balls were thrown and no scuffles broke out in the back row, but the class did not fail to demonstrate their total lack of interest and respect. Papers shuffled constantly, side conversations broke out like a rash and half the class came back five minutes late from break. The other half didn’t come back at all. And of course, everyone became a Question Guy.

In retrospect I would like to apologize to this sub, wherever she is, and congratulate her for valiantly fighting on in the face of impossible odds. She may be confusing and bumbling and infuriating, but she is brave and deserved better. And I wish her all the best. As long as she never comes back.

No comments: