Ashley Motley: What I Learned About Education Through Substitute Teaching | Opinion

Last month, I quit my communications job to work for an elected state official. Experiencing the stress of a “big job” in an election year, I was learning what the teacher shortage means in Kansas. I didn’t realize it at the time, though, and I still had a lot to learn.

But let’s back up for a moment. I have an 8 year old daughter in grade three who is on an IEP plan and a 3 year old son who we just transferred to the district public preschool program. My daughter has a rare genetic syndrome and was diagnosed with dyslexia about a year ago. His school experience so far has been a continuous mix of medical discoveries, understanding learning disabilities, navigating special education amid a global pandemic, and trying to marshal public and private resources. . My son is completely “I’m-all-in-let’s-do-this-school-thing-skinned-knees-on-the-playground”. He moves fast and strong, is creative and very curious.

I have been grateful for the support of dedicated educators over the past three years as we navigated my children’s school experiences. So when I needed to decide on my next step, I decided to become an emergency substitute teacher.

The process involves first going through a Kansas Bureau of Investigation background check and paying for fingerprints. Then I finished requesting my transcripts and completed the Kansas State Department of Education online application. Once my license was processed – about a two week wait – the final step was to go through district orientation.

The evening after receiving my badge, I arrived on my neighbor’s doorstep with a bottle of crisp white wine in my hand. She teaches fifth grade in our district and had agreed to sit me down and demonstrate how she prepared for subs in her class with an organized binder.

“Not everyone does it, but it’s best practice,” she told me calmly. “Be prepared for handwritten lesson plans from teachers who weren’t planning to leave.”

His plans were just as you imagine, with fun fonts, organized schedules, and important notes about each of his students. She had built everything with so much care that it would be necessary to know the personality of each of her students.

Then we found the soul of the conversation – that bubbly moment when I felt I had finally settled into my thoughts with a trusted friend and my thoughts were vocalized. “I’m scared,” I say.

And I was — of letting go of a teacher who had meticulously prepared lessons or having to leave suddenly, of losing control of classroom management, of learning that I might not belong to a class. After sharing these fears, my friend smiled and said quietly, “You will fail. It will happen. And that’s fine.

She was right. Since that conversation, I’ve been with high school kids learning language arts, middle school kids learning basic math, and preschoolers ready for story time. What I’ve learned is that to do it, show up, and be there for your students and the teachers around you, you’re blocking public debate about what public education should be. You put on a brave face and invoke your calm voice for the students.

Every time I’m in a school, at least one teacher says, “Thank you for being here.

My answer is always the same: “No, thank you for being there.”

It is a dangerous game for anyone to make decisions about education policy without setting foot in a classroom. I encourage all legislators and education lobbyists to spend at least a few days in the shoes of those they represent. Teachers are there, waiting to share their experiences – which sometimes differ wildly from the headlines we read. All we have to do is listen.

Ashley Motley currently works as an emergency substitute teacher in Manhattan.

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