Glorified Babysitter

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Muhammad Naeem | Contributor

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” This is a famous line from George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman, and some people often use it to denigrate the profession of teaching. On the other hand, there are people who consider teaching to be a very noble profession which comes with tremendous amount of responsibility towards students. I have used both sides of the argument at different times in my life, depending on the occasion and the context of my conversation. I am not a teacher, so I can play devil’s advocate without any qualms. It will then come as a surprise if I tell you that my passion in life is teaching.

Yes, I am not a teacher, but I love to teach. How is that possible, you may ask. Well, I have taught all six of my kids, a ton of my nephews and nieces, and even a friend or two. I was very busy during COVID restrictions, and my wife used to joke that I should actually become a teacher, even though it is a little late in life to chart a new course. I did entertain the idea of maybe acting as a substitute teacher, because it is much quicker to get a certificate to be a substitute teacher than to become a credentialed teacher.

Eventually I followed through and just recently I had the opportunity to attend my first day as a substitute teacher at a prestigious local middle school.

I was so excited. I had no lesson plans, as I had no idea what I was supposed to cover, but I made my own plans to teach kids the secrets of learning Algebra. I was going to share my life-hacks, my surefire ways to solve even the most difficult word problems, and most of all, to cut through the standards and get to the core of the subject matter. I prepared my briefcase—I am old-fashioned you know—and I wore my best shirt and tie. I was at the school early and I was ready to mold young minds, to lay the foundation of knowledge upon which they would build their entire future.

A wave of disappointment took over as I found out that the principal teacher just wanted me to give them an exam. There was no teaching to do, there were no instructions of any kind, there was going to be no sharing of my knowledge that I had spent decades acquiring. All I had to do was to proctor the test and collect the answers at the end of each period.

No matter, I was at least going to review the topics covered by the exam questions, thus giving me some satisfaction that I had played the role of a teacher. The class was not interested. When I asked the students if they were ready, only a few mumbled that they were not. When I asked them if they wanted to review the topics, a few mumbled no.

They just wanted me to give them the test and get out the way, which I did. As I walked around the class while they struggled to recall what they had—or rather, what they had not—learned, a realization hit me. I was looking at our future doctors, engineers, and maybe even teachers. A few were working with confidence, a few were taking a little longer to put their thoughts together, but the majority of the students were just lost.

Thoroughly, completely, lost. Their body language spoke volumes about their lack of preparedness, their non-existent study skills, not to mention the skills required to even take a test properly. Some spent the whole period, lost in thought, hoping for the answers to magically appear, which they didn’t. I looked at the papers that were turned in early, only to find many questions left blank, with no answer given.

I asked the next period students if they were ready. The answer was a resounding no. When I asked why they didn’t prepare for the test, did they not know there was going to be a test? The reply was that they were busy with other things. That’s when they all appeared to be just like my sons. I knew exactly what they were busy with: video games. After playing until the wee hours of the night, there was no time to study for the exam, or to do homework, or to review notes.

During the third period, I didn’t even bother to introduce myself. I simply passed the test in complete silence. Fourth period came and went. I don’t even remember what happened. I spent the fifth, and the last, period just staring at the clock, hoping for it to move a little faster so that my first day of being a substitute teacher would come to a miserable end. During that period, it dawned on me. I was not a real teacher; instead, I was just a substitute teacher. Kids didn’t think of me as someone who could even review their materials with them, despite my education and experience. I was just a glorified babysitter.

I then remembered what my wife always says about our sons. She says that not all students can become doctors, engineers, and so on. We also need good fast-food workers, good car wash workers (that sounds comforting to me, for some reason), and fast and quick warehouse help. We can be proud that in my sons, we have raised excellent employees for the minimum wage crowd, and I can see from the students that I came across during my first adventure as a teacher—sorry, as a substitute teacher— which is not a real teacher—that we have a wonderful crop growing to fill all the mediocre jobs out there. So, let’s revise Shaw’s words: Those that can’t, teach; those that have no chance in [h-word] to even teach, become substitute teachers.

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