Thursday, March 05, 2015

Substituting, or, Still, the Students

When someone in my department is going to be away, especially if they know ahead, we often try to make plans for someone else to teach their class(es).  If you're suddenly sick, it doesn't work, but if you get diagnosed with, say, flu on Wednesday, then you know you're likely to be out on Monday and Tuesday at least, so you'd try to get some coverage. 

This works best with writing courses because of the way they're set up.  It works okay with lower level lit courses, often enough.

What the sick (or going to be absent) person does is either send an email to the chair or the department list asking for coverage, and giving specific information.  The chair may handle coordinating things if they ask.

So, this week, a colleague needed coverage and the call went out, and I waited part of a day, and then responded, and said I could take one of the classes.  At which point I was added to the emails about who was covering what, and what information we'd need, and so forth.

I'm sort of ashamed every time this sort of thing happens, because by and large, the people who respond with offers to help are our non-tenure track folks, who are teaching 15 hours a semester, and yet somehow find the energy to offer an extra hour or two to help someone else.

There are a few tenured or tenure track colleagues who regularly offer, too, especially one male, who's very helpful in these situations.  Otherwise, mostly women, mostly non-tenured/tenure-track.

So, today I substituted for a first year writing class.  You know all the stereotypes of subbing, and the horrid ways that subs are treated.  Let me tell you what happened in this class.

My colleague had given me information about what they did last, and instructions that they were going to spend their hour working on drafts, and consulting with each other as they found that helpful. 

I went in, made sure I was in the right place, and checked in with them about what they'd done, and yes, she'd talked to them, and then reminded them about what they'd need for the next class meeting.

And then I set them to work.  And they worked.  Some worked on a computer screen with white and text (that is, not a game or anything), some worked on paper.  Some would stop and consult with the student next to them quietly on occasion.  And then they worked some more.  More than a few consulted the text(s) they're using as they worked.

At the 45 minute mark (out of a 50 minute class), they started getting a little wriggly, so I reminded them again about the next meeting, and thanked them.  And they all thanked me and said good bye, or wished me a good afternoon, and packed up and left.

I think my colleague has really pulled this group into something special.  They were just there, doing what was expected.  Now sure, we have generally good students, but the way these students worked and handled things tells me that something good is happening in the course.

On my way back to my office, I got in an elevator with a student who was also going to my floor, and she said that she was a little scared because she was on her way to go see her writing professor for help with a paper, and she'd never done it before, and she was a bit lost, and scared to ask for help.  So I assured her that she was doing exactly the right thing and it would be fine.  And the elevator door opened, and off she went, so I hope it really was a good consultation for her.  But I couldn't help thinking how lovely it was that she was willing to confess to a perfect stranger that she was a little scared.  I think there's something lovely about a young person being willing to be not-jaded, if that makes sense.

Despite all the craziness, our students really are good people who deserve to have good educational opportunities, far better than they often get, and certainly better than they're likely to get around here in the near future.


  1. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Awww. That's all warm and fuzzy. Yay students! Yay colleague!

  2. That's really nice that the students were there and good and it wasn't a nightmare. It sounded good.

    I wish more people were willing to volunteer. I know how it is to be the one who is always doing "the thing," whatever it is.

    It's sweet that the student confessed to you. I bet you made her feel more at ease. Good!!

  3. Yay students!

    And I'm with you on the frustration of feeling like the resources and the will and the rules needed to give those students the best education you can just isn't there, or is sliding away...