Instructions for breathing

I think we all know that I can be a rigid and picky person.  Keep that in mind as I complain that no matter how simple and straightforward the directions I leave behind for a substitute teacher, the substitute teacher generally finds some way of not following them.

This year's National Poetry Month poster from the Academy of American Poets.

This year’s National Poetry Month poster from the Academy of American Poets.

I went to AWP last week, as I generally do (though I skipped it last year).  Since I’m no longer attending for NLNRU, I was happy that my summer conference was willing to pony up in exchange for attending the  conferences/colonies/centers caucus and helping to staff the table in the book fair.  I got to hang out with MW and catch up with the other conference staff; I heard the Elizabeth Alexander/Frank Bidart and Jane Hirshfield/Sharon Olds readings; I spent time, either planned or unplanned, with friends and former students and teachers from virtually every institution I’ve worked in.  I pocketed many pins and pencils and pocket notebooks for my students at SA–plus National Poetry Month posters for all my SA colleagues.  Here’s what the poster looks like.  You can order one for yourself here.

Anyway, I was only missing four class meetings over two days, because of my currently light schedule (though that’s probably going to change some; just hang on until the end of this post).  I left some very simple instructions.  On Thursday,the two classes (one senior, one junior) had in-class writing assignments, which I placed into a folder with the day’s instructions stapled to the front; on Friday, both classes (juniors) turned in essays and had reading time on the current novel.  Since there would be two sheaves of papers, I clipped two medium binder clips to Friday’s folder of sub instructions, and noted “Please clip each class’s set of papers together.”

  • Thursday’s sub successfully administered both in-class writing assignments, but only seems to have collected one of them.  (I’ll have to ask the class tomorrow–I didn’t see them today.)
  • Friday’s sub, a different person, successfully collected both sets of papers but tried to clip both sets together using large paperclips from the bowl on my desk, which didn’t work so well, because the sheaves were large.  He left both medium binder blips attached to the folder of instructions.

The binder clips thing is silly, I admit, but it gives you a sense of how little common sense there seems to be sometimes.  The not-collecting thing, unfortunately, happens all the time.  You write, “They should turn in the assignment at the end of the block,” and you come back and the sub has written a note to the effect of “They weren’t all finished at the end of the block, so I let them take them home to finish for homework.”  NO.  NO NO NO.  

I have actually gotten to the point where I put the instructions ON whatever it is I am having them do–I actually wrote “Turn it in at the end of class” on the students’ handouts–so that at least the students will know what it is I intended.  But if the sub doesn’t follow my instructions, well, he is the grownup and they will usually listen to him, right?

I realize that we are fortunate that the school is willing to use a substitute teachers’ agency (as opposed to requiring that classes be covered in-house) and that the teachers are, actually, usually fairly experienced and competent.  It’s probably mostly the control freaks among us who find fault with them.


this is actually pretty bad news…

Dr. Tea’s husband is sick.

It’s serious.

And in addition to being stricken to the heart for her because she is my friend, and a wonderful person, and, to be honest, my favorite person at SA–which, as you know, is full of people I like and respect–I am also, as her department chair, the person who figures out what we do about the classes she is going to need to miss while the doctors figure out what they can do for Mr. Tea and then start doing it.

She doesn’t want to go on leave right away–they are still trying to get a picture of what the next weeks/months are most likely to look like, and for now Mr. Tea wants her and their younger daughter (a high schooler) to keep going with their normal activities as much as possible.  She also wants to keep going in the usual way because it’s something to focus on.  (And, although we have not said this, she might need that leave later.)

So we are going to set up three in-house subs for her–Viola, Orsino, and me–and those people are going to stay abreast of what is happening in her classes, and be ready to step in if she needs to take a day off or leave early or come in late.  It might be that we will have to take over the classes altogether, but it’s also entirely possible that we might just sub here and there.

We’re still working out what to say to the students, and whether to send a message home to the parents now or to wait until it progresses beyond occasional assistance, but the essential plan seems to be in place.  We’ll get paid per class meeting, I think (although that may be different for me, I’m not sure), but both Orsino and Viola have said to me that they would do it without compensation, too.  I think it makes sense to compensate–it will be easier for Dr. Tea to take time when she needs it if she knows people are being paid.

I hate the reason that we have to do this, but I’m unbelievably grateful for people’s generosity, for their willingness to help, for the obvious love and care for Dr. Tea that have been pouring forth all around.  I’ve only known her for six years, and I only know Mr. Tea a bit, but she’s been at SA for–sixteen? seventeen?–years, and she is pretty deeply rooted in this community.  I’ve had a lot of moments in which people have allowed me to see how much they care about her.   That’s a privilege, and it makes me feel that I have put down some roots here as well.

And that I might be able to sub for her classes with some degree of competence.  At least I know how to use binder clips.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bardiac on March 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Tea. And thank goodness for communities with people who care for each other.


  2. Posted by Pym Fan on March 5, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Subs who can’t manage to use the provided binder clips would drive me CRAZY! (Good thing I’m unlikely ever to have to deal with that situation.) I’m impressed by the outpouring of support for Dr. Tea that you describe. That’s quite a community. I hope Mr. Tea has some equally supportive friends and/or coworkers…


  3. Posted by meansomething on March 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks, friends.


  4. Oh dear — that is distressing news about Mr. Tea. One of those moments where nightmares start coming true. (Or at least people being seriously sick is one of my nightmares.)


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