Education Matters: The makings of a good teacher

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

There are two trials by ordeal to which aspiring teachers are subjected before they are placed in a classroom and given a full-time job.

First comes practice teaching, which is the culmination of a year of requisite educational prep courses that are, as any teacher will tell you, entirely divorced from the reality of the classroom. Student teaching — real practice in a real classroom — is the only meaningful preparation for the profession. It is a leap into the great unknown of a classroom filled with minds that go from inquiring to resistant, from outgoing to painfully shy, from involved to apathetic, from self-motivating to slug-like.

You’re lucky at this stage if you like what you see and you think you made a good career choice. Some are not so lucky, but forge ahead anyway into a career that they are possibly ill-suited for.

Then there is substituting, which involves a special kind of torment for an aspiring teacher — getting paid to stand in for the regular teacher whose students, even the good ones, are programmed to make life miserable for the sub.

From a student perspective, substitutes are a welcome relief from the routine of the regular classroom teacher. The expectations for the day are always less demanding, the confusion of the substitute is easily exploited, and his/her presence is an irresistible target for just about every kid in class.

Who doesn’t remember the rallying cry, “Get the sub”?

Looking back on that four-month period of my life, I clearly recall some of the trials and tribulations that went along with being a sub. My arrival was always greeted with great rejoicing for the one-hour respite from their daily grind.

When each class began, the comedians immediately made themselves known to me and usually had the support of their classmates. Their main mission was to convince me that the regular teacher let the class do pretty much whatever they wanted to do. “Mr. _______ always lets us work together, sit where we want to sit, go to the bathroom whenever we ask, listen to music through earphones, eat if we’re hungry, sleep if we’re tired, etc. etc. “

On good days I was left with a creative lesson plan by the regular teacher. On bad days I would get six hours of “Read and answer the questions at the end of the chapter” instructions or be forced to sit through five showings of “Pioneers Westward.”

These bad days often brought on an epidemic of headaches and requests for passes to the nurse, as well as seat switching and name swapping. (I once substituted for a junior high school orchestra class in which half of the students switched instruments. From that day forward I have put into a special category of respect the junior high school orchestra teacher.)

I learned never to write anything on the blackboard (today they are white boards) beyond a short sentence. Presenting one’s back to a classroom of students for a prolonged period is not always advisable.

I learned how it felt going from school to school making acquaintances among my peers but not getting to know them as colleagues. I got used to briefly familiarizing myself with students but never really getting to know what makes them tick. Every day of substituting was a brand-new experience with a new setting and a whole new cast of characters.

Presently, our school district has an amazing assortment of substitutes. Some have been known to sit for six hours behind a desk with a newspaper propped in front of their faces. Some are shocked, and perhaps even overcome, with the challenges of unruly classes.

But there are a good number of individuals hoping to become full-time teachers who genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of young people, even if it is only for a day. They learn early how to defuse the mischief-makers, how to add to the day’s learning instead of just implementing lesson plans, and how to be more than just a baby-sitter for the day.

They’re the ones that will hopefully find full-time jobs.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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