Carol Duda is an elementary school teacher who has recently been working as a substitute while going back to school herself for an ESL (English as a second language) certificate. Typically, her day as a substitute begins at six a.m., when the phone rings with a call requesting her to fill in at a school in one of the three districts in which she is registered as a sub. Then she calls one of the people who have volunteered to drive her, or a cab when necessary.
When she arrives, she enters the office and states her presence. She asks the principal to show her the correct room and then to read her the lesson plan as she records the information. Usually, the principal helps in finding the right handouts for the day. If not, the kids know the routine and are a big help to Carol. "I will only sub for grades three through six without an aide," she says, "and so far, no school has given me an aide."
Carol manages the tasks associated with teaching by calling on those around her--primarily the children. They sometimes help with the attendance, or a co-teacher will help. After the none-teaching tasks, she talks to the students about herself, and they tell her about themselves. "I try to remember details about them for the next time I'm called there," she says.
It's a good day when the students are self-directed. They know the schedule and what time they're due at the lunchroom, for example, and don't try to go early. It helps if the regular teacher has left enough work. "I have been in a few situations where I had to stretch the prescribed lessons," she says, "so I always have extra plans up my sleeve." The students generally know where they are in the book, and where their ancillary texts are located. They assist Carol, who is totally blind, in using the teacher's manual. For instance, when going over math homework, they will find the answer page in the manual and a good student will then help her with corrections. She always asks the principal which students can be relied on for tasks like this.
The children really want to help. "They want to hold my hand down the stairs," says Carol. "I find myself telling them that if I really need help, I will ask someone." Otherwise they do things like jump up to hand her a piece of chalk when she is about to write on the board. When going to lunch, someone always hands her the white cane she uses since the death of her guide dog.
No school ever made an issue about the dog coming into the classroom. Only on one occasion was it a problem. A child in one class refused to enter the room because she was deathly allergic to dogs. Carol, always enterprising, went to the special ed. class next door and asked them to dog-sit. They were happy to oblige. The dog, which was flexible, passed the day as the object of an impromptu lesson on guide dogs for the blind.
There have been disasters, like the day a class decided to act up. Their behavior was so horrendous that Carol wrote a note to the teacher saying that she would never sub with that class again. When she was later called to substitute in another class in the same school, the children presented her with a tape full of apologies for their rowdiness.
"I think the difference between teaching children and adults is just that older students have more sophisticated ways of misbehaving," says Carol. She says she would have liked to have subbed more than she actually has. The three communities in which she had registered for work were all different, from most welcoming to not so. In one system, she was called only once. She says, "Where the opposition is coming from, I don't know. I'd like to pursue it further, though."
Carol's experience shows plainly that a blind teacher can do day-to-day substitute teaching. It takes flexibility and ingenuity, but otherwise is no different from the teaching challenges we face every day in full-time teaching jobs. If you decide to sign up as a substitute, dust off your scouting motto: "Be prepared." Then remind yourself of the best advice to student teachers: "No matter what happens, stay calm."
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