Being the change

I had to chuckle on Friday, when I got a phone call to substitute teach for the high school.  The substitute caller switched my assignment to from 4th grade to high school.  I was a little nervous about teaching at the high school level, until the sub caller told me what class it was for.

It was for Home Economics.

I laughed and told her I was probably the last person a Home Ec teacher would want for a sub, given the state of disarray my home is often in.

She said, “oh, that’s all right, the only other option is a man”.

I said, “Well, I’ll give it a shot”.

I’m glad I did.  It was an easy day –  a test, some worksheets, and movies.  One class –  Housing – had a video of “The Secret Lives of Rooms” and the other class – Foods II – had a video of “Cooking Basics: Meat”.

On days like this, where there is not much for me to teach, I end up wanting to fall asleep.   And I don’t want to spend the time reading, and I don’t want to spend the time just “babysitting” and watching them like a hawk and be a very strict substitute, so I improvise and make some attempts to connect with the kids and teach them something, even if it’s off-topic.

For the most part, I really enjoy teenagers.  It’s hard for me to believe I’m at least 25 years older than them.  I still have a youthful sense of humor, enjoy some of the same tastes in music and am at least marginally aware of what the kids chatter about these these days, like dating, football games, and flesh-eating zombies.

I ask them about themselves, and talk about my girls, funny stories from substituting, and what I used to do for work (I was in the biotech field for 12 years).

I had some great little moments.  Like when we had a short discussion while they were working on their worksheet on ‘Meat’ about swear words (because inevitably, I’ll hear a “sh*t” or an “f-bomb” being dropped while they are working).   My ears will perk up whenever I hear one and try to make a teachable moment out of it.

A male student (yes, surprisingly, there were a number of male students in Foods II class) told me a story of a person he knew that never swore, saying that swearing was for people who weren’t very intelligent.

Well, I had to politely disagree.  I think I’m fairly intelligent. I think, at times, I have a decent vocabulary, and yet, sometimes I do believe swearing is a valid expression, just not in class.  I relayed the point that research has shown that swearing actually reduces the perception of pain.   Another male student nodded his head in agreement and had said he heard of that.

We also talked about the etymology of the f-word, but I didn’t have wikipedia at hand to back me up when I told him I thought “Fornicating Under Consent of King” was a myth.

I’m learning a lot from them, a lot about me and a lot about how to communicate with more compassion and humor and I’m learning to lighten up.

Because it was Friday, and I was a lowly substitute, there was no homework for the day.  So after my first class, I decided to give my own assignment.

There was a very-rarely-seen, low-tech, dry erase board – something even I know how to handle.

I gave the kids a homework assignment of my own:


“Be the change you wish to see in the world” which I have always heard attributed to Ghandi.

Now, before you say “he really didn’t say that”, I would have to agree – now.   But apparently, as I was fact-checking it for this blog post, it’s not.

While it may be reminiscent of a bumper sticker, I think it was something the kids could easily carry with them, instead of the closest thing he is reported to say:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

I don’t know.  I survived my angst-and-abuse-filled teenage years with a few well-chosen bumper-stickerish quotes I often repeated like mantras:

“To Thine Own Self Be True” ~ William Shakespeare

“That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies Closer” ~ Sun Tzu (The Art of War)

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”  ~ Theodore Roosevelt.

I have to say, regardless of who said it, I felt really pleased when one of the students took a look at the board and smiled and said, “I really like that”.

I really do too.

This entry was posted in education, inspirational quotes, teachable moments. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Being the change

  1. One of the things I enjoy the most about “fresh blood” is the things (e.g. quotes) that have impacted me, that I want to see impact others, have their original power.

    I see most adults are like me: if they come across a popular quote that doesn’t hit them when they discover it, repeated exposure is most likely to inoculate against it ever having full value in their lives.

    Talking about subjects that feel ‘old school’ to me when they are new to others– that seems to fill them with fresh power, because the others just *crackle* with something like electricity as the new ideas take root. So. fun.

    And speaking of one-liners: I am a big believer in small, pithy sayings. I won’t agree concise talk is the only talk that has value, but when that’s all the room you have to hold on to something– when this is my finger-tip hold on reality and all that is good– I like my ideas tight:

    If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. — G.K. Chesterton (My response to crippling perfectionism)
    In times like these, it helps to know there have always been times like these. — Paul Harvey (countering anxiety)

    I have loads; so many useful. I have been so thankful to live in an age where words and ideas are so accessible.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Amy Jane –

    So true. I have been impacted most of my life in positive ways by these little nuggets. Sometimes, the one-liners were the only things my mind could hold onto when I was extremely distressed.

    It’s extremely comforting to know that ‘there have always been times like these’. It keeps anxiety from spiraling out of control. I still have my down days, but at least it’s not anxiety where I’m on edge and irritable.

    Thanks for those two. I am going to start collecting these little pithy sayings and put them in my planner that I take with and make an attempt to post them whenever I substitute.

    I want to keep doing this. I might just reach a young person that needs some comforting and reassurance.

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