Substitutes: more than just a last name

January 16, 2011 — by Samika Kumar

8:45 a.m. As the first bell rings, lethargic students flood into their English class. They are surprised to find assistant principal Karen Hyde, who informs them that their teacher cannot make it to school today because a thunderstorm knocked a tree down across the road on their teacher’s way to work.

Several minutes after the second bell, substitute Byron Hansen bustles into the classroom. An affable man with glasses and a 38-year teaching record that makes him invaluable, he introduces himself and takes roll.

All may seem so calm that the students may never consider Hansen’s perspective of the entire event. They may never realize that Hansen received the phone call to substitute at precisely 8:45 a.m.

This atypical day sounds rough. For substitutes, who are paid around $120 per day, the overall result is worth it.

“The only reason why I sub is that the faculty is nice, the students are nice and the overall ambiance of high school is good,” Hansen said.

Hansen considers himself retired. However, the students and staff who remember him as a substitute—and Hansen’s love for math—can still see his desire to teach.

“The exciting part is that I get to see the students who I had this year get older as they [go] through high school,” Hansen said. “People say, ‘Hi, Mr. Hansen,’ when I walk down the hall, and I like that.”

En Español:

Just as Hansen is known for subbing in math, substitute Paddy O’Regan is best known for taking over Spanish classes when teachers are absent, thanks to her fluency in the language.

O’Regan, a tall blonde woman with a seemingly native Spanish accent, was originally a middle school Spanish teacher and is now in her third year of substituting.

“My first choice when I became a substitute teacher was to substitute in Spanish classes only because [Spanish] is my major,” O’Regan said. “Spanish has definitely opened opportunities in teaching.”

After her three sons graduated from middle school, O’Regan wanted to teach high school Spanish. She used high school substituting to get a taste of what high school was like.

“I didn’t feel ready to apply for a high school position without knowing if there could be a positive relationship there,” O’Regan said. “I found I loved high school. I am definitely going to apply for a Spanish position in a high school.”

O’Regan has found that her positive substituting experiences have piled up and kept her eager to teach more. One of her most inspiring memories took place in a difficult class at a San Jose high school.

“I remember this one girl saying, ‘I want to be a nurse. After school today, I go to another program where I’m learning to be a nurse,’” O’Regan said. “I remember kids like that, and they amaze me how they just rise above everything that’s going on around them. They set their minds and hearts to something and take off.”

Teaching Tangent:

Substitute Lawrence Sher, a cheerful man with laugh lines, eyeglasses and a deadpan sense of humor, chose substituting solely to “give back to the community.”

“It was a chance to do something that I enjoy, which is sharing information and helping people,” he said.

Having substituted for 13 years, Sher finds that humor and patience help him most.

“I get to see a lot of different students from a lot of different places,” Sher said. “I work at all levels, all subjects. The vast majority of what I do is middle school, [where] you definitely got to have some patience.”

Though substituting requires patience, sophomore Aneesa Mazumdar believes more is needed for a substitute to shine out. Saratoga High averages 20 substitute openings per week. With so many substitutes circulating, it can be hard for one to become memorable.

“The most important thing is to be really funny and personable,” Mazumdar said, “because most students find subs to be standoffish and not very friendly. If you want your students to remember you, you [should] make an effort to get to know them and reach out to them.”

In the long run, substituting is an eye-opening experience, according to O’Regan.

“What I like about subbing is getting to know that really amazing things are happening in our schools,” O’Regan said. “In the media, you see California schools are the worst in the nation. I go to schools, and I see a lot of cool things going on. Sometimes I wonder, are the politicians ever in a classroom? A lot of really cool things go on in our schools, and I wish a politician would sub for a day, a week [or] a year, to just get out there and see what’s going on.”