Substitute teaching is a rewarding experience

Last school year, I had the honor of being called to work in the classroom on two occasions. It was part of the program that asked central team members to offer support to campuses.

I don’t have the honor to call myself a teacher. I’m a central staff team member who works in the Communications Department, and one thing of which I am certain now is that teachers are superheroes. After substituting in Debora Castro Torres’ kindergarten classroom at Stevens Park Elementary School, I realized that she and her students are superstars. 

In fact, I told Israel, one of her students, that he was a superstar after he was the first to finish his work, which he did without errors. 

He carried those words with him all day. 

“Miss Arroz, I’m a superstar,” he said, to which I replied, “Yes, you are,” trying to hold back tears of joy. It only goes to show that words are meaningful, and if used wisely, can make a significant impact.

By the way, I gave the students permission to call me Ms. Arroz, the Spanish translation for Rice, my surname.

When I first heard that I was going to substitute for a kindergarten teacher, my heart sank a little because I was scared. I have a first grader at home who is full of energy. I imagined a classroom full of children like him. Was I ready?

I went through a range of emotions—from happiness to fear and anxiety—but mainly I felt hope that it would be a day of learning and discovery; mostly for me.

I was right. I needed to have this experience in the classroom, probably more than the students needed me to be there.

When I arrived at the school, I sat in my car and prayed I would do a good job because I was determined to succeed in this assignment. I took a deep breath and walked in. 

That day, I got a firsthand look at how much of the emotional, physical and intellectual labor it takes to run a classroom. I think everyone in Dallas ISD is important and plays a vital role, but teachers and paraprofessionals—you all are special. What would society do without you? Crumble and fall, surely. What a gift you are to the world. What do you give someone who has changed your life forever by giving you the gift of reading, math, science and art?

I’m a Dallas ISD team member, but I’m also a parent who has a child who attends a school in the district. Educators give parents and families peace of mind knowing that there’s a person out there who cares deeply about your child and is going to do everything possible to ensure that your child learns, eats a healthy meal, plays and is safe. They take care of the social and emotional needs of children throughout the day. For that, and more, I’m deeply grateful. 

I might not have known just how much teachers should be appreciated every day had it not been for this experience as a substitute. Here was a classroom full of smart young minds who clearly adored their teacher and loved to learn because this is the culture that Castro Torres has cultivated. 

The kids were brilliant. They knew what to do by heart. They pulled out their tablets, pencils, got up to recite sounds and vocabulary, danced to songs about learning, and everything that the lessons called for. I simply had to follow the lessons she graciously left on the smart board, with links and detailed instructions.

The students had mercy on me and helped me along saying, “That’s not how we do that Miss Arroz. We have to do this first” and so on. They showed me where things were kept and were patient. If this is any indication of what future leaders will be like, I’m incredibly hopeful.

There were times when they got a little excited. I remember being in school and totally taking advantage when my teachers were absent and a substitute teacher was present. I was always chatty—and on days like that, I chatted even more. 

But these kids, Castro Perez’s students, were kind, thoughtful, compassionate and showed me that their teacher was not only an incredible educator, but an incredible human being. I saw the teacher through her students. They are a reflection of the care, love, commitment and perseverance of their teacher. They are her mirror.

One of the many things that impressed me was that each table had a leader, but truly, all the kids showed leadership skills.

Even as it was time for dismissal and the families came to pick up the students at the end of the day, I felt a deep sadness. I was going to miss the students. By that time, I had learned their names and was getting to know their personalities. 

This is what teachers go through every day. What an honor to have been in this space even if only for a moment.

One of the students, Eliani, drew me a picture as a parting gift. We were talking about the weather and she drew a picture of flowers and trees in bloom. How fitting, I thought. This is what Castro Perez has created—a garden, her classroom, that is in full bloom. 

We published a story about Ms. Castro in The Beat this year. You can find it here.

This story was written by Communication Services team member Priscilla Rice.

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