Substitute teaching

3 Sep

I am currently switching jobs, leaving a private school to become a substitute teacher at state shools. As a substitute teacher, it has been made very clear that I am expected to follow instructions without challenging them in any way. I’ve also been told that if, years from now, I decide to become a full teacher and prove to be competent enough for a school to hire me and keep me, I will have the right to start voicing my opinion and express disagreement. The way I see this is that by the time you have worked long enough and hard enough, you will be unwilling to lose the respect and influence you’ve gained. You’ve fought too hard to risk losing your job and, though you may voice your critical opinion, you are unlikely to act on it if the results are too confrontational. According to Paulo Freire, “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects”.

In my teaching job, not only am I alienated from my own inquiry and decision-making, but I must impose the same limitations on students. I have to spend our time following a method that many students consider boring, inefficient, and too easy (which is absolutely true). However, the fact that I must comply with the curriculum has been expressly stated to me by the school, and the rythm required to complete these mindless exercises leaves very little time for other endeavours. When a student told me that he would be willing to work if only the subject matter was more challenging and he knew he could learn something, I told him we had no choice but to work on this book, but I also said that we would do something different during the next lesson. This will be a small act of resistance: each week, I will prepare some extra-curricular activities and make them as participative and stimulating as possible. As things stand, although I secretly respect the ones who resist automatic obedience, the fact that the curriculum bores students forces me to be very authoritarian to maintain order in the classroom. This so-called professional attitude makes no sense to me since I want to be a radical teacher. Only, being a substitute teacher puts me at risk – I can be fired at any time and/or never hired again. I wish students resisted. I wish more established colleagues resisted. The real question is: how can I resist in the present circumstances, and how much do I risk for it?

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