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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

When the Teacher Leaves the Classroom

We have all experienced it: walking into a class and at the front of the room stands an unfamiliar figure. Suddenly, you realize you have a sub today. Let the rejoicing begin! But, there might not be as much fanfare when your teacher doesn’t come back and that unknown person becomes your teacher for multiple weeks.




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Recently, five WJ teachers have needed long-term substitutes for various reasons, ranging from maternity/paternity leaves to taking on administrative positions. In order to be considered a long-term substitute, a substitute has to work for 11 consecutive workdays.

According to social studies resouce teacher Ty Healey, when a long term substitute is needed, he asks colleagues for recommendations and then contacts the county human resources department. Although being certified in a subject is helpful for teaching, it is not required.

“The main criteria I look for is someone who is professional, reliable and who will fill in well while the teacher is out,” said Healey.

Even once a long-erm sub gets the job, picking up where a teacher left off is very difficult. However, familiarity with the subject definitely helps to foster credibility.

“Substitute teachers don’t always get a warm reception from students,” said Michele Thoms, who served as a long-term substitute teacher for the classes of math teachers Mike Egan and Scott McGaw. “When the students in the classes realized I was a math teacher and knew what I was talking about, I think that earned me some respect and made my job easier.”

Thoms said she does try to connect with her new students, but it is challenging when she only spends two and a half weeks with them. Despite this, Thoms said she received a “warm welcome” from her colleagues, but at times, students can suffer from not having a regular teacher.

Sophomore Taylor Swift, who has Egan for honors Precalculus, described Thoms as “super nice” but complained that mistakes involving timeliness were made. According to Swift, there were times when students would not have enough time to review for tests, which is why for one test, Swift said, Egan changed it to be out of 46 instead of 50 points because students performed so badly.

Thoms agreed that students, at times, may suffer from not having a regular teacher. However, Egan prepared extensively for his 13-day paternity absence, leaving Promethean Flipcharts for daily instruction and spreadsheets with daily objectives and homework assignments.

No matter how many materials original teachers leave in anticipation of their extended absences, some do still give their substitutes leeway as far as teaching goes.

“Sometimes, [Egan told] me how he would like things done, but other times he [left] the decision to me and [let] me do what I think is best,” said Thoms.

Egan feels he left his students in good hands.

“Mrs. Thoms is a qualified math teacher, which is not easy to find,” said Egan. “Beyond that, she maintains communication with me and the rest of the math department, while caring for the learning of all of my students.”

McGaw was absent from school for approximately five weeks while recovering from a traumatic car accident at the beginning of the school year. Like Egan, McGaw could see the students were kept on track via weekly communication and through checking grades on Edline. He was grateful for Thoms’ work and would recommend her to any other math teacher.

“In my mind, I was blessed to have such a great sub,” said McGaw.

Curtis Bullock, who formerly taught full-time tenth and eleventh grade English at WJ, has replaced English teacher Stephanie Gilbert while she is on maternity leave for the remainder of the school-year. Gilbert feels her abscence has been much easier due to the fact that Bullock is a familiar to the WJ community.

“I was delighted to learn that my substitute was a returning WJ teacher,” said Gilbert. “So, in my mind he’s not really a sub. Knowing that I was handing my classes to someone WJ respects made me feel much more comfortable with my decision to step away from the classroom for a while.”

Although Gilbert has not been checking with him regularly, Bullock likes how the teaching of Gilbert’s tenth grade English classes has been going.

“I think I’ve sort of stopped being ‘substitute man’ and become ‘teacher man,'” said Bullock.

Gilbert made sure that Bullock kept her students up to pace. She gave Bullock a binder with every day planned for nine weeks at a time.

Sophomore Zach Doyle said he has benefitted from Bullock’s teaching.

“I really enjoy Mr. Bullock as a sub,” he said. “I think that he is an interesting and effective teacher.”

Bill Pignone took over social studies teacher Nathan Schwartz’s classes while he was on a two-week paternity leave. Overall, Schwartz was pleased with how Pignone kept the students on track so he could review and discuss the content when he returned.

“Mr. Pignone did a great job following the schedule I set and my students really excelled by completing all the work I gave them,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz felt that being able to take a paternity leave was extremely important.

“As a large educational community, one of our goals is to create an environment where students and teachers feel that they are valued and respected,” said Schwartz. “By allowing teachers to take leave for one of the most significant experiences in their lives, the birth [of] a child, we set an example for both teachers and students that WJ is a place [that] cares and treats with respect the talented professionals who teach here.”

Social Studies teacher Micah Wiggins was away from the classroom for a different reason. He filled in for assistant principal Nicole Morgan while her son was born on Sept. 25. Wiggins had his share of substitutes; Troy Goodfellow was originally planned to cover for Wiggins, but due to personal reasons, had to leave the long-term sub position only part-way through. The school eventually brought in Lyat Katz to take over as Wiggins’ long-term sub after Goodfellow’s unexpected leave.

Wiggins hopes the different teachers were not too overwhelming for students.

“I think it’s a matter of trying to make the transition as smooth as possible from one teacher to the next because I have a style of teaching [and] Mr. Goodfellow had a style of teaching,” said Wiggins. “Trying to make the transition between all the teaching styles is probably what’s most important.”

Senior Georgina Beven did not mind who was teaching her ancient medieval history class.

“The subs were really nice,” said Beven. “Overall, it didn’t change the class much. I think [students] just felt they could talk to their friends more than when Mr. Wiggins was there.”

Senior Johnny Marshall had both Katz and Thoms for his ancient medival history and Algebra 2 classes.

“Overall the subs were really nice and I felt like I learned a lot even though our actual teachers weren’t there,” he said. “But I’m glad to have them back.”


HANNAH FLESCH, ANDREA LINDER, FLOR MARTINEZ, KATHLEEN SEALE, ABBY SINGLEY & MIKLOS SZEBENI CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.

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Katie Levingston
Katie Levingston, Online Editor in Chief
Although she seems quiet on the outside, 2010-2011 Online Editor-in-Chief Katie Levingston is bursting with energy on the inside. A former young Parisian in her second year on staff, Katie models her life after certain television shows, namely Gilmore Girls and Friends. She is unnaturally familiar with said sitcoms; she longs for the day when she can eat anything she wants and spend all her time at Central Perk in the Village. Nothing happens to her in real life, it all happens in Stars Hollow or in Monica’s apartment… okay? When she’s not practicing her speed-talking, she plays a mean clarinet in many different musical groups and spends inordinate amounts of time editing videos for the website. Among her most pressing decisions in life are what to order at a restaurant and which scarf to wear that day. She is insanely proud of her thick curly hair when it cooperates. She’s super excited to be a part of the up-and-coming wjpitch.com. Her doppelganger Anne Hathaway says, "Hi!"
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