Lessons From A Substitute Teacher | KERA News

Lessons From A Substitute Teacher

Oct 3, 2016

Nicholson Baker earned just $70 a day working as a substitute teacher in Maine public schools. What he gained, though, was a wealth of insight as to what happens in the American education system.

Today on Think, as a part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, Krys Boyd talked with Baker about his experience, which he writes about in “Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids

The KERA Interview

Nicholson Baker on …

… what most think about substitute teachers: 

“I always used to feel sorry for the substitute teacher when I was a kid in elementary school, because nobody respected him or her. The reason is because this is a person who is simply spackle. It’s a person who is supposed to repair a hole in the week, because the real teacher who knows everybody’s name and knows everyone’s personality and knows what they’re in the middle of is gone. And here is somebody who is just a body. The only difference is he or she is actually lower than all the students. You’ve got the principal. You’ve got the master teachers and the lesser teachers, and then you have the good students, and then you’ve got the bad kids and then you’ve got the custodians, and then you have the substitute teacher.”

... how hard school is for the students:

“I remember listening to a teacher scold a kid saying, ‘I’ve worked through sickness. I’ve come here when I could barely speak. You’ve got to push through.’ That’s sort of an idea that’s floating around now. This idea of grit … Although I understand that way of looking at life, and I believe in working hard of course, there’s another way of looking at it. That these kids have no choice. Sometimes they’re downright sick, they’ve got a fever. But sometimes they just are miserable, and yet they have to go to school. They have no choice.”

…. how exhausting a school day is:

“A good percentage of their time, 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent depending on the class, is going to be how do we get to a state of some sort of order so that these 20 kids, or 25 kids can learn something together in this one hot room. The thing is that honestly six and a half hours is a long, long time for people to be together. And the teachers get tired of it. They get sick of the kids they love so much. And the kids are definitely sick of it, but have no choice.”