So, yesterday morning at 9:15, as I am in the middle of eating my morning bowl of cereal, my phone rings.  I answer, and am asked if I can substitute teach.  At 10 am.  All I have to do is finish my cereal, change into work clothes, and make the 15 minute drive to campus, so I say yes.  The next thing I know, it’s 9:45, I have parked T’s ginormous truck in the lot, and I’m using a lint roller to get the dog hair off my only pair of work pants.

So I go in the main building to see S, the program director who gave me a call, and she hands me a lesson plan (essential when you are teaching a 4 hour class), copies a PowerPoint presentation onto her zip drive, walks me over to the other building, and gets my laptop booted and the smart board calibrated.  The lesson plan says to start by going over last night’s homework, so I ask what homework they did last night.  Turns out, their homework is typically just reading the chapter for the next class, so they read chapter 8 last night.

Chapter 8?  Really?  Because everything I have been given to teach with is on chapter 9.

Fortunately, the class I am substituting for is the class I’m going to start teaching in a few weeks, and I’ve read the textbook already, so I at least have a passing acquaintance with chapter 8, which is about test taking strategies.  The chapter 9 lesson plan starts with a suggestion to take the self-assessment that’s at the beginning of each chapter, so we go with the chapter 8 assessment.  There are only two students present (out of 3 enrolled) so when I find out both of them feel that anxiety is a problem for them while they’re taking a test, it’s easy to spend the rest of the hour going over the log list of tips for dealing with anxiety listed in the book.  We get a 10 minute break at this point, so I spend 3 of them bolting across the parking lot (in the rain) to see if I can get a copy fo the correct syllabus from S.  Only S isn’t in her office.  So I bolt back across the parking lot, thinking hard about how I will deal with the next 3 hours.

I run into L, another program director, who asks how things are going (I’m sure I look like a crazy person, all whites-of-the-eyes, at this point).  I tell him I have the wrong syllabus.  He points me to an admin person in the building I’m teaching in, who can pull the correct lesson plan for me.  It feels like it’s taking forever, but we find the right chapter and she prints it out for me.

As I walk back to my classroom, I scan the syllabus, and see phrases like, “have students complete exercise A from page xx in the Instructor Textbook.”  Uh, there IS no instructor textbook for this class — all the material is online, and I still don’t have access to the publisher’s website.  So I am still screwed.

Well, time for hour two of class!  Another task on the wrong syllabus was to go over students’ term papers and answer any questions they had.  We already touched on them in the first hour before I got us back on track, so I just dive right in.  I help student A with her outline while student B goes to the computer lab next door and prints a copy of her outline from her email.  Then I help student B choose the right printer in the computer lab, while student A works on her outline a little more.  They both work in silence for a few more minutes, and then it’s time for the second break!  And this break is 20 minutes — yay!  The only downside?  I don’t get a third break before the end of class — instead, I have to come up with another two hours of lesson.  Well, so much for eating during this “lunch” break — it’s all or nothing here.  My students head for the nearby gas station to grab some food, and I start planning.

One of the exercises that’s “in the Instructor’s Textbook” is essay writing practice.  Everyone writes an essay together, then they write essays in small groups, then they do it individually.  But I don’t have any essay topics for them to work with.  And then — well, if I was in a cartoon, a light bulb would have just appeared over my head.

I log on to MSN.com (thank goodness we have Internet access in the classroom!), go to the career section, find an article titled “How To Stand Up To A Rude Co-Worker“, and copy and paste it into a Word document.  It’s one of those online articles that has several pieces of advice, with a title for each section and then a short paragraph with more details about how to implement the advice.  Perfect.  I delete each of the section titles, and just write: “Thesis 1; Thesis 2” in their places.

Ok, now for the fun part.  I read the article aloud to my class, but at the end of each section, I have them come up with a title that sums up that bit of information.  Sometimes I have to fish a little bit to really get them to the point, but they mostly go right for it — the title for the first paragraph, “Be Objective,” becomes “Is it you or them?”  When we have them all finished, I compare their titles to the originals, and we agree that they got the exact same point, just in different words.  Then I tell them to do this when they are reading their textbooks, since they had already told me they have trouble trying to pull out main points from a dense chapter of text.  I see two cartoon lightbulbs appear over their heads.

Now that we have something to write about, I throw out an essay question — How can you assess whether a coworker is being rude?  We work up an outline together, and then they dictate full sentences to me while I type it all into a Word document on the board.  We do a little bit of editing and tweaking together, and by the time we’re done, we have a nice, neat little essay, complete with an introduction and a conclusion.

I throw a second question on the board — How should you handle a rude coworker?  We work out the outline points for the body of the essay together, and then I let my students loose to collaborate on an essay, since the whole class is a “small group.”  20 minutes later, they have written a perfect short essay answering the question, based on the information in the article.  I praise them up one side and down the other.  And then I have 10 minutes left to talk about ethics/academic integrity, and go over the list of dishonest practices (everything from looking at another student’s test answers and plagiarism, to copying lab exercises or sharing test questions with people in a later class).  And we’re done!  I made it through 4 hours of class on a wing and the Internet.  The students say it was a good class, I can tell they were engaged the whole time, those light bulbs were exciting to see, and I was packed up to go before they were — a good sign that they weren’t just waiting for the proverbial bell to ring so that they could bolt.

And aside from that one mad dash across the parking lot, I never felt frazzled or at a loss.  True, if there had been 10 of them staring at me and not saying a word (more students = less risk taking by opening their mouths), it might have been a different story.  But I walked out of there thinking, yup, I can do this.

I can teach.