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Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Are you our sub?!"

Last Thursday, I was asked to cover a couple of classes because of a sub shortage.

Most of us know this phenomenon. When there are not enough substitute teachers, we are asked to give up our planning period to ensure every classroom has a responsible adult.

And it sucks. We all have too much to do already and our time is precious. In some districts, teachers are paid for the hours they contribute. In my district, we are not.

But, because of my various roles and responsibilities, I am lucky enough to have two planning periods. Plus, I have a student teacher this semester. So when I am asked, I always say yes, no matter how busy I am.

Anyway, I "subbed" for an hour in a Biology class. It was easy. The kids knew what to do and mostly did it. I had a few of the kids the previous year-enough to provide that critical mass of "Actually A Teacher" you need to make such situations painless.

At the end of the hour, I packed up my things to leave. The bell rang and kids poured out into the hall ahead of me.

Before I could forge a path into the crowd, the next class began filtering into the room.

One of those kids was Sameem (you guessed it, that's a pseudonym). He looked at me, raised both hand in the air, and shouted "Are you our sub?!"

He looked so eager and happy to see me that it made my day. I had to tell him that I was actually leaving, but I did say hi and encourage him to come see me sometime.

I also asked him how soccer was going...I remembered he played...and he had two black eyes and a huge X of tape across his nose.

He shot me a look (you know the one), then said it was actually going well this season.

It was nice to see him. I haven't seen him much this year. He probably has an English teacher whose room is on a different hall.

Sameem is a treat. He is an excellent student: hardworking, sharp, willing to take risks, kind to his peers. He is also one of the very few Middle Eastern males in our district.

Last year, he often wrote or talked about being teased and called "Osama" and other such names in middle school. His complaint wasn't really with his peers. Prejudice, ignorance, even bigotry from fellow students was something he could handle.

What bothered him, and both broke my heart and made me LIVID, were his recollections of how blind his teachers were. It hurt him more for an adult to ignore or fail to stop a taunt than the taunt itself.

I think he was so sensitive to his teachers' responses because he loves school so much. Sameem is proudly grateful to be in this country getting a solid education. To him, teachers are special and should always help and protect students. When that didn't happen, it was really hard for him.

I work really hard to make my room a safe space and I think most other teachers do too. But Sameem reminded me that we still miss things that can be harmful.

Until I saw him again, I was worried that high school might have become a negative experience for him, especially with the recent overseas bombings and angry political ignorance--sorry, I mean, rhetoric...

In those two minutes we talked, Sameem's behavior and comments reassured me. If he is experiencing any bullying based on his heritage, it is clearly background noise in his life.

It's nice to have a kid be excited to see you. It feels very positive. The good thing isn't my feelings though. The good thing is Sameem's overall positivity. I hope he does stop by sometime to tell me all the details.

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