I pause outside the classroom door before entering and take a deep breath. What will this group of students be like? Eager to learn, or resistant to knowledge of any sort? And what sort of substitute teacher are they expecting?
Whatever the answer to that last question, I'm probably not it. I take a certain pride in this knowledge as I stride into the classroom with my shaggy hair and black leather jacket, maintaining an air of nonchalance even as I can almost hear the students thinking, "Wait . . . he's our substitute?"
The couple of minutes before class officially starts are always the most awkward, and so I pretend to be busy looking over my notes while I secretly gauge the energy of the room. The vibe I get is generally positive. Good. I look up, meeting their now expectant gazes, and flash a brief smile as if to say, "No, I'm not the dreary middle-aged guy you were all probably expecting. Cool, huh?"
I take attendance and start talking about the topic of the day, logarithms, all the while monitoring my connection with the class and striving to maintain it. Am I moving too quickly? Too slowly? If I lose them for a minute, it can be difficult to get them back. It's just like being on stage.
Scratch that. It is being on stage.
The class goes well. Of course, a handful of students never take any notes or show any interest whatsoever, but most do. More importantly, I get the impression that at least some of those who do show interest normally don't.
The class ends, the students leave, and I am left in the classroom, alone. I'm really good at this, I think to myself. A tiny but persistent voice somewhere asks, "so why not do this full-time?"
But I know the answer immediately: because experience has taught me all too well that if I were to do this for an extended period of time, removing the word "substitute" from my current designation, then whatever quality it is that makes me a particularly good teacher would fade away, and I would become that very stereotype which I now happily defy. I know that as soon as it ceases to be a role and becomes a defining feature of my existence, a vital part of myself is lost.
In truth, it's easy to be the cool young teacher when you don't have the responsibility of being available to the students having problems, of grading all of the homeworks and tests, and of ultimately failing those students who don't succeed.
And so I leave the classroom and the building, shedding my "math teacher" persona as I walk to my car, knowing that I can call upon it again when necessary.
In the meantime, I have other roles to play.