Sex, Tigers and Videotapes…an Artist’s Day



It’s a tough economy.  I’m an artist.  Artists are like the canaries in a mine shaft, first they stop breathing and then the economy goes into the toilet.  In hard times artists have to try and find ways to make ends meet.  Before doing art full time I was a high school teacher.  I’m told I’m one of the lucky ones who have the right certification and experience to be a substitute teacher.  I thought easy money.  On Friday I subbed for Mr. R who teaches 7th through 12th grade science.  Here are the highlights.

  • I arrive at a quarter to eight.  The secretary opens Mr. R’s door.  I find a lesson plan.  Before I’ve had a minute to read the plan in come about 16 ninth graders.
  • They are all talking at once.
  • The boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other.
  • The boys have their “tough guy” looks on their faces saved for substitutes.
  • The girls start drawing and popping gum. As far as they are concerned I’m invisible.
  • I can’t figure out how to take attendance. I need to take roll on Mr. R’s laptop and with the wild group in front of me I don’t dare take time to do that.
  • I decide to go role-less.
  • I start them on their Physical Science worksheets.  I find that they haven’t finished their worksheets from the day before.
  • I still foolishly believe that if I’m nice I might be able to teach them something.
  • I tell them to finish both worksheets and that Mr. R is still sick and won’t be back until Monday.
  • A kid I’ll call H. starts to make barking sounds.
  • I tell him to stop.
  • The other kids wait to see what I’ll do.
  • Everyone has to go to the bathroom. I only let one go at a time.
  • H continues to bark after I tell him that if he doesn’t want to work that’s fine, I still get paid, but he would have to read and be quiet.
  • H barks again.
  • I tell H that if he does that one more time I’m going to strangle him.
  • H says, “You’re threatening me?”
  • I say, “Get out of this room and go to the office.”
  • He slams the door on the way out.  The room is quiet.  All eyes are on me. 
  • I leave the room to make sure H has made it to the office.  Yes, he’s there and is telling the secretary that I almost “choked him out”.  He has a very dramatic way about him that’s almost endearing. 
  • I’m back in the room.  The period is over.
  • The next few periods go ok.  These are juniors and seniors and a small group.  They do little work but are quiet and don’t glare at me or throw anything sharp.
  • Then comes two periods of what Mr. R calls “The Armchair Naturalist”.  This means I stick a tape in the video recorder and the students write down the names of critters as they show up in the film.  Today the film is “The Tiger”.  This is boring.  I try to talk during the film to drum up a little interest…tigers are beautiful, right?  The 7th and 8th graders don’t think so, but they watch and are quiet.  I relax in the dark.  This was fine for about ten minutes.  All of a sudden I look up and the beautiful Indian tigers are shown happily mating on screen in full living color. The class is appalled.  The girls cover their eyes.  The boys laugh nervously but they are turning red enough for me to see their embarrassment in the darkened room.  I make light of the scene thinking it would pass quickly.  No.  It goes on for another three or four minutes.  I finally get up, turn off the video and tell everyone to finish their naming worksheets and turn them in.  I give them a couple of extra questions to answer. You’d think I’d pulled out their fingernails.  The bell rings.  Class is over.
  • Prep period then lunch and then the gym.  As a sub I’m not shown where the teacher’s lunchroom is.  I finally find it and eat a dry peanut butter sandwich with a root beer that I had to get out of a vending machine for $1.25. After lunch back to class. We have a special speaker in the gym even though I’m supposed to be teaching advanced math.  The speaker is a jock who looks like he just got out of the Marine Corps. 
  • The girls immediately hate him for no reason.
  • The boys act crazy.   One is running around like a little electron and won’t settle down. Remember these are 7th graders on a Friday and it’s the last period of the day.  He attempts to have them do isometric exercises. 
  • They glare at  him and kinda sorta do what he wants.  One girl sits down on the bleachers and goes limp with a loud sigh. Another hurts her knee and needs ice. The electron boy spins.They scowl at the Marine and kind of half do what he wants. Finally they get some free time to run and throw basketballs.  
  • The girls notice my sketchbook.  They gather around.  “You drew these?” they ask and for the first time look into my eyes.  “Yep,” I answer.  I wasn’t a substitute any more.  I was an artist.  I was now magical.  It was the best moment of the day.
  • The bell rings and I run to my car. 


3 thoughts on “Sex, Tigers and Videotapes…an Artist’s Day

  1. Nancy Coffelt

    OMG. I’m a canary? Really? What if I want to be an emu or something instead?
    That’s okay, emus are probably toast too anyway…

    Arf! Arf! Drink it off and shake it off, that’s what I say.

  2. Lee Russell

    Skill set for teachers…lion (tiger) taming. That or we need the freedom to ask the kids what they really really want to learn more about and then let them. Maybe the education system will reorganize itself into a more organic Reggio Emilia way. One can only hope. But, look at the story you got out of it!!! Sad, mad, but funny…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *