I was a substitute teacher for seventh graders on Monday. And I experienced a bit of the time-warp sensation that becomes a big part of the lives of old people… especially crazy old coots like me.
My whole-day sub job was definitely happening on the 3rd day of February, 2020. And yet it took me back to 1988, 1996, and 2002 all in the space of three 50-minute periods.
I was visited by three former students from the past. They looked almost the same as I remembered them. They definitely acted exactly the same. And they had exactly the same kind of classroom behavior as they did before. And what was equally confounding, they were all in the seventh grade yet again and in the year 2020, apparently inhabiting new bodies with new names attached and attending school again at Dan F. Long Middle School in Carrollton.
Raul was a feisty comedian-type kid, too lazy to do the actual work, but more than up for a titanic effort at disrupting a class in order to avoid doing the actual work. He was up and out of his seat repeatedly, harassing the resident weird kid to make him bellow, and then blaming everybody in the room except for himself about the paper-wads and mini paper planes that flew when I had my back turned (an old trick from ’88), He got in trouble yet again, though this time it was not me who would be calling his mother to explain the need for some capital punishment at home.
And in that same class, Heather, Cotulla cowboy cheerleader from my seventh grade class in ’96, sat two rows over from Raul. Secretly laughing at everything Raul did, and laughing even harder (though without actually making a sound) at every punishment I gave out.
And two periods later, freckle-faced Pearl from 2002 was sitting in her customary front-row desk, laughing at all of my jokes that the other kids in that Advanced-Placement English Class for seventh graders were not quite sharp enough to understand.
If you teach for long enough, you realize that you are really only teaching the same kids over and over and over again. Names change, the years change, the technology and society around us change, but the kids are always the same. Heck, on Monday, three of them even looked the same.
Teachers are routinely put in charge of other people’s children. As a teacher, you are responsible for the care and well-being of under-developed human beings which you not only have to keep safe and clean and diapered (well, figuratively only, hopefully), but you also have to spoon-feed them whatever curriculum the wealthy, white pettifoggers with no teaching experience (I’m talking about you and your kind, DeVos) have foolishly decided is the proper thing to stuff into their little under-developed brains. And the kids never really change. The names change, but nothing else that is important. The pettifoggers eventually change, but not enough to make any real difference.
So, there you are. You are left with the task of nurturing future people. And everybody criticizes. Except, usually, other teachers. And you have to learn to love other peoples’ children. And, I discovered I still do. I still love even the bad ones, even after I have given up the game and no longer have any class of my own. And I don’t love any of them inappropriately, either. I know better than to touch them, especially the radioactive ones. Unless it is about touching the heart and the mind metaphorically. I know I posted before about hating 7th Graders. But you have to know them better than a substitute gets to know them to hate them. Loving them generically is much better for the soul, and even as a sub, I can still do that.