Substitute finds joy in teaching teens

November 28, 2017 — by Annissa Mu and Mathew Luo

For Helen Jarrett, standing before an unfamiliar group of students as their substitute teacher still feels “nerve-wracking, yet exciting” even after five years of on the job.

Jarrett is a regular at Saratoga High but also works at Los Gatos High as well as Redwood Middle School. She said she enjoys subbing here because of its close proximity to her home and because her daughter Alena attends Saratoga High.

Alena, a sophomore, said she reaps many benefits when her mom substitutes. For example, when the weather is cold, she feels especially welcomed to stay in her mother’s classroom. However, because her mom has become well known around the school, she is often known as “Mrs. Jarrett’s daughter,” which she sometimes find mildly vexing.

Jarrett said she decided to become a substitute teacher due to the job’s flexibility. This allows her to spend more time with her daughter and also be around age groups she is fond of. Her previous job experiences all required public speaking, helping her tremendously as a substitute teacher.

“I love seeing all the students, hearing about their day and being a listening ear if they need to talk,” Jarrett said. “I also love walking across the quad or the hallways and having students say hello or smile at me. It means a lot to me when someone takes the time to do that.”

Jarrett also enjoys observing the different teaching styles. She said it’s interesting to see how teachers here all work hard but approach their job differently for a common goal.

In addition, she often finds amusement in the entertaining moments she has with students. Last year when she substituted for English teacher Suzanne Herzman, a student got confused and couldn’t tell that Jarrett wasn’t Herzman because they have a similar appearance. So when the student questioned Jarrett about an assignment that she didn’t know much of, it caused much confusion.

“In fairness it was towards the beginning of the school year,” Jarrett said, “and was first thing in the morning but it made me laugh so much.”

At other times, subbing can be tough, especially when students show little respect or think it’s OK to bend rules just because their regular teacher is absent.

“I know all of the students are good people deep down and I try not to take it personally,” Jarrett said. “I think it is just easy to forget that even though most of us subs have not necessarily gone to college for teaching, it doesn't mean we didn't work hard for the degrees we did get and that we have something to teach and share with students.”

In addition, she said that the occasional lack of information from teachers can be stressful. Because some teachers have to leave urgently due to an emergency, they may not have enough time to leave adequate plans, which leaves substitutes in a tough spot in terms of directing students.

Teaching a class of unfamiliar students can also be a challenge because it forces her to create a good rapport quickly.

Despite these struggles, Jarrett remains positive about being a substitute, having always been one who “likes a challenge.”

Her temperament has made her one of the most loved substitutes on campus. Sophomore Sejal Sripadanna said that students love her because she’s fun and lighthearted, but also knows how to get the class’s attention.   

“Everyone always gets excited whenever we hear Mrs. Jarrett is subbing,” Sripadanna said.


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