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Famous and not-so-famous subs

Teacher Absences & Subs

Did you know that Albert Einstein worked as a substitute teacher for two years in Switzerland? Or that John Scopes (of the Scopes Monkey Trial) was a substitute biology teacher in 1925 when he suggested the concept of evolution to his class, broke Tennessee law and found himself front and center in the trial of the century?

Just as surprising are these three examples of “substitute teachers” who made history more recently.

Japan: Robot worked as substitute teacher

Japan, the civilization that brought the world the first remote-controlled toilet flusher, unveiled the first robotic substitute teacher. Her name is Saya and, in anime fashion, she is young with shoulder-length black hair and big, saucer eyes. Wearing a professional, if somewhat dowdy, lemon-yellow suit, Saya subbed for fifth and sixth graders in April 2009, where she displayed the six emotions with which she had been programmed and which are familiar to many subs: fear, disgust, anger, sadness, surprise and happiness. On her first day, Saya took attendance and shouted, “Be quiet!” which sounded a lot like my first day.

Montana: Regular teacher asked to fill in for himself

Newspaper editor Laura Bell, of rural Montana’s The Big Sky Weekly, reported the following story on March 18, 2009. In Ophir School, located a couple miles from Yellowstone National Park, high-school music teacher Dave Johnson was fired because he let his certification lapse. The school board agreed that finding another music teacher in rural Montana would be difficult, but they had to let Johnson go; they could lose their accreditation if they kept him on. Pay attention to the next part of the story. In Montana, a person with only a high school degree can work as a substitute teacher. Johnson asked if he could substitute for himself through the end of the year, when his two last credits would be completed. (The answer was yes, although Bell later informed me that Johnson chose not to return to his classroom.)

London: Crowd control experts sought as substitute teachers

London’s Guardian education editor Polly Curtis reported this story on April 13, 2009. In an unidentified north London school, described only as being not particularly rough, bouncers, prison officers, policemen and soldiers — all people with experience in crowd control — were being recruited to fill in for absent teachers. One advertisement read, “You might be an ex-Marine, police officer, bouncer, fireman, sportsman or actor. Whichever it is, we need someone who thinks they can get involved in a school environment and control the kids in schools.” It was a cost-savings measure. Newer teacher contracts were limiting the number of hours that teachers were required to cover for absent colleagues and more outsiders were being hired to lead classrooms.

Carolyn Bucior

Carolyn Bucior is the author of Sub Culture: Three Years in Education’s Dustiest Corner. She blogs for the Huffington Post and has written features, humor and op-eds that have appeared in the "New York Times," "Chicago Tribune" and "Milwaukee Magazine." She has won two first-place feature-writing awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.