tampabay.com

Teaching comes with rewards

By JACK BRAY
Published June 14, 2006


"Good morning. My name is Mr. Bray. You can call me Mr. B."

For the last eight school years, that was the usual introduction I wrote on the board when I substituted for a teacher at some of the best elementary schools in Pinellas County. It wasn't long before I simply had to say, "Hi ... I'm baaaack."

Since, for personal reasons, I may not be "baaaack" next semester, I couldn't resist looking back.

After 13 years of retirement from the television broadcast business, I came to Dunedin to work as caregiver in a group home for low-income elderly. Two years later, I left and enrolled as a substitute teacher. I suddenly went from helping the very old to teaching the very young, from helping folks move about to telling kids to stop moving about, from "speak up" to "quiet down."

I had doubts at the very start. Never having taught children, I wondered what it would be like. For that matter, how would I know what to teach? Well, I knew I could only learn what it would be like by doing it. And I found out in the orientation class conducted at School Board headquarters in Largo that teachers leave "lesson plans" for their sub.

Make no mistake. It wasn't always easy. Usually, in some classes, a handful was a handful. There were days when I questioned what I had gotten into. Easily answered. I simply never went back to those classes.

Not surprisingly, I discovered that the size of the class could be a major factor that determined whether I would have any problems. It amazes and angers me that Florida parents needed a state constitutional amendment to demand and get smaller classes. Whenever I subbed in a class of 20 or fewer, the behavior, attention and retention were dramatically better than classes with 10 or even just five more students.

The teachers for whom I subbed and, for that matter, all teachers, have a tough job. They don't earn nearly as much money as they're worth. Their teaching is too often interrupted by bad behavior of some students. Their creativity is stifled because they are slaves to ordered tests. But, God love them, they do it because they love teaching children. That is the feeling I have sensed with every teacher I have been privileged to meet.

The parents of all those incredible children who gave me challenge, excitement, joy and love also have a tough job. Some parents, of course, need to discipline their progeny some more, but, basically, they are raising good kids. It's been a privilege to teach them for a few hours a week. (Or try to teach them!)

Now, my thoughts are of those children. There were many unforgettable moments with them that I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life. Nothing can match the look in a student's eyes when you know he or she "got it." To be loved ("I love you, Mr. B" scrawled on a scrap of paper brings me to tears) and respected ("You're the best sub ever," also on a scrap of paper) were emotional bonuses to the intellectual thrill that comes with teaching. They have captured my heart.

Did I say I may not be back? Oh, how could I leave those wonderful kids?

Jack Bray of Dunedin is 75 and has substituted in 362 classes. For anyone interested in subbing, he recommends visiting www.pinellas.k12.fl.us, then clicking "employment," then "substitute teaching." Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.