Friday, December 26, 2008

Words of Encouragement that Went Horribly Wrong

Also titled: Sometimes, it’s Better Not to Say Anything.

I remember I ran into my old music director some time ago when I first began substitute teaching. I was surprised to bump into him during a “sub assignment” and I sat down with this “master teacher” to play catch up and compare war stories. I also hoped that he would share some words of advice to a newly graduated teacher.

I was really hoping.

You must understand that this man had a long and distinguished career with the school district and when I met him at this school, he was close to retirement. All of those years of instructing students would certainly lead to a treasure-trove of knowledge.

While I was not looking for a grand “passing of the torch” ceremony, I had hoped that he would share good solid information that would help me survive the realm of teaching.

I had just graduated from college and I was not employed as a full-time teacher. To make ends meet, I took a part-time job working in a deli while substituting. Perhaps he could share some pointers as to how I could survive the bureaucratic tendencies of my new school employer. Perhaps he would tell me about upcoming sub opportunities or, better yet, share valuable information that would led to my full-time employment.

I was certainly hopeful that he would share one invaluable knowledge "nugget" with a young teacher, such as me, and I cheerfully began a conversation with him.

It started out light and cordial. We discussed education credentials and scrutinized some of the state college education programs. After the thoughtful discourse, the conversation took a serious turn and the young teacher became a student once more.

“So,” the master began, “you’re substitute teaching now?”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed the young teacher while her countenance beamed. She then held her breath and waited for the master to speak.

“I just have to say…” chimed the wise master – here is the nugget of information! It took him years to aquire, assemble and refine this knowledge and now he shares it with someone he deems suitable.

He chose me - of all people! Me! Well this is pretty gosh-darn exciting and I cannot wait to scamper home and scrawl this in the personal journal. Maybe I should put this in the computer and print it out in a fancy font – it would look really cool in a frame! Sweet!

And this is the wisdom that I never received in college – you just can’t buy this stuff, you have to experience it. Live it. Breathe it.

And so, what was the nugget of information or vast treasure-trove of knowledge?

“I just have to say,” chimed the wise master, “that substitute teaching is one of the worst jobs EVER!!! I would never, ever, EVER do that in a million years!!!”

The young teacher stood in front of the wise master, her eyes wide as she gazed toward him in disbelief. She uttered a muffled syllable, “uh?”

The master carried on, oblivious to the crumbling walls that supported the young teacher. “Oh that is just the worst job in the world! I just would never, EVER do that! NEVER!”

I don’t remember too much after his last, “NEVER!” While these words were not the “final nail in the coffin,” they were added to my list of “why I don’t want to teach anymore.”

Perhaps he meant these words as encouragement for me to find full-time employment because the substitute teaching was not steady work and it had limited benefits. Whatever the reason, he told me something I already knew. Hearing him speak those words helped me evaluate my chosen career and set me on a new path.

At any rate, the school district lost another substitute teacher that year. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. Or waited until summer break.