Letting Off Steam Substitute teaching—aka babysitting

After receiving my honorable discharge form the United States Army on March 31, 1971, I entered El Camino Jr. College in Torrance to begin my pursuit for a teaching credential.

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By Pete Whalon

I wanted to be a physical education instructor. Five years later I graduated from Cal State University of Long Beach (CSULB) with my coveted teaching credential in Physical Education, with an English minor. I was highly motivated to begin earning a fulltime paycheck as well as instructing youngsters on the value of a strong body to go along a well-developed mind.

Unfortunately, in 1976 there were no teaching jobs available…NONE! The only viable option for newly minted educators proved to be as a substitute teacher. Then, hopefully, a person could work his way into a full-time position.

I began “subbing” in seventh and eighth grade classes in the two Junior. High School’s in Redondo Beach and the two in Manhattan Beach. Although I was a Physical Education teacher, I soon learned that if you were called to “sub,” they really didn’t care what your specialty was. They just needed a warm body for the day to show up to class until the “real” teacher returned.

Mentally preparing for my first assignment at Adams Junior High School, I remembered back to those halcyon days when I proved a sub’s worst nightmare at Redondo High. Now, I was about to enter my first classroom as a teacher. I was petrified!

After completing my first week of subbing, which included a science, wood shop and history class filled with disruptive groups of hooligan’s intent on testing my limits, I began questioning my choice of professions. By the end of each day I was thoroughly exhausted, mentally and physically.

The highlight of my week was being confronted by an eighth grader who looked like a linebacker for the Pittsburg Steelers. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate the fact that I had called him a big goon on the playground, at lunch break, for bullying a younger, much smaller kid.

He asked me how much weight I could bench press. After a short pause, I looked up at him and barked in his puffy face, “Unfortunately, you big goon, (I hit him with that one again), it was impossible to lift weights when I was knee-deep in rice paddies in the jungles of Vietnam, hunting down Vietcong sappers trying to blow me away!”

That seemed to impress him. He patted me on the back and replied, “Cool, you were in Nam. Welcome to Adams, I’m Billy Wilkins.” It proved to be the first time all week that I felt in control of a situation.

After five or six weeks subbing, I came to the stark realization that I was not really a “teacher,” in the classic sense, but more of a “babysitter.” And what is the best tool in a babysitter’s arsenal? Bribery! Over the next few weeks I developed a masterful plan that worked to perfection, which I will probable share at another time.

The moral of the story is—teaching, if teachers are doing their job correctly, is the most underappreciated, underpaid profession in the country. The job itself requires many hours, outside of the workday, spent on grading papers and meeting with or talking on the phone with parents at odd hours of the day or night.

And aside from the actual “teaching” part of the job, teachers must cope with the negative, behavioral aspects of the youngsters, which has gotten much worse over the years. So, I tip my hat to all good teachers and say to you, “Thank you and well done my friends, well done!”

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