Reflections on Work

I am a substitute teacher. A good one.

Today's society tends to respect the white collar worker. They have clean hands, pressed clothes, college degrees, and better pay. Parents and students spend thousands (and thousands) of dollars on an education to attain the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Not going to college is almost unheard of, and when parents talk about wanting better for their kids, it usually means as an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or professor. The ever-elusive American dream is still gained through hard work and perseverance, but most have forgotten that, and today's version of the California gold rush continues on in too-many-to-count get-rich schemes advertised almost hourly.

When watching a live show at the theater, not many of us think about what's going on behind the scenes. It may be a tranquil scene on stage, but, trust me, backstage is busier than a beehive at any given moment. It can be downright frantic at times. The actors receive the accolades and recognition, but the show could not exist without the crew manning the lights, pulling the curtain ropes, and doing some heavy lifting in the back. If they do their job right, you don't even know they're there.

The blue collar worker. I tend to think of him like one of the backstage crew. And, honestly, he has MY respect so much more than most white collar people out there. Blue collar workers are the ones with permanent grease stains on their hands and under their fingernails. They are the ones who clean up someone else's dust, mildew, and mud, only to come home and do it again for their family. They get water sprayed in their face, dodge insulation, and feel the cold to their bones when crawling around under your house. They clean up after your kids in the classroom and wipe off graffiti that they try not to understand. And many do it with grace and a smile on their face, not caring what the rest of the world thinks.

My dad was the bluest of all blue collar workers. Early on in his marriage he worked at the steel mill for eight hours then put in eight or more hours at his landscaping business to get it going. He eventually quit the steel mill job, but he didn't cut back much on his hours. I have a college degree, but his common sense knowledge of how to run a business makes my head spin. I would never want to take over his business because I know I would run it into the ground. In his personal as well as professional practices, he has been honest and fair, almost to a fault. I can hear you wondering, "How does that happen?" Trust me...he has given up many of his own rights in favor of keeping his word or just doing what was right, with the idea that "what goes around, comes around." His reward was and still is an awesome reputation and well-deserved respect from people from every station in life -- old to young, rich to poor, business men to cleaning ladies. And God has taken care of him. He's gone through some scary times and rough moments, but he lands on his feet. He credits it all to our Lord -- rightfully so -- but it's because he was always open and humble before the Lord. He understood better than most about how he was the clay with God as his potter.

He has a successful business and a beautiful wife and family (thanks a great deal to the choices he made); he is a township commissioner and a board member for the local sewer authority. He always fights for "every man" with common sense, never political correctness. He is now enjoying partial retirement and snowbirding in Florida. But to this day, when asked what he does for a living, he always answers quite saucily, "I'm a ditch-digger." My mom wants to slap him when he says that, thinking he's putting himself down...but I've recently started speculating that I think he's saying it with a sense of pride. Like me, he knows the importance of the blue collar workers in our society, even if no one else does. Plus, he hates the administrative side of owning a business -- the paperwork, the politics, the red tape, etc. Put him in a backhoe for the day, digging a hole, and he's happier than a tornado in a trailer park! So, he's a ditch-digger and loves it.

Substitute teachers. That's how I started this post. We're pretty low on the ladder in the education community. Barely considered worthy to be called teachers, we are respected little and paid even less. If we do our jobs right, we are barely noticed, but make a mistake, and we might as well have a flashing "LOSER" sign on our forehead. I've experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly with subbing, but overall I love it. I've grown more as a teacher in the last two years as a sub than I think I ever have in my educational career. I've made mistakes, but I've learned so much from them. I've also done well and received compliments from both teachers and students. I've had teachers request me, and students are happy to see me. Teachers can usually step back into their classroom without missing a beat. Even without that outward evidence, I have an instinctual sense of self-knowledge to know that I'm good at what I do.

Most school districts are desperate for good subs...especially the bigger districts. So we are slowly gaining a bit more respect and gratitude, mostly from teachers (administrators are a whole other animal!). We are a necessity behind the scenes of education. We keep classrooms going and curriculum on schedule, while the kids are often trying to see how many subs they can send into early retirement.

So, when I check into the office, and they give me that substitute badge, I clip it on and walk down the hall with my head held high. I like my job, I'm good at it and I want everyone to know that. What more could I ask for? Well, higher pay and more phone calls would work! But in the meantime, as long as I'm able, I'll answer the call and do it well.