Apr. 20, 2018

The Substitute

When I lived in Toledo, I went to Scott High School. At the time, it was reputed to be one of the worst schools in the city. There was a student body of about 1,500 students with a ratio of one white person (or other descent) to every 100 black students. That’s 97.3% Black Americans attending class. Being Caucasian, I was one of the 2.7%.

I loved the school and the teachers that taught there. Some of my best school memories come from my years as a student in that school. That’s not true for all though.

We had a substitute teacher for English. It was my freshman year and our regular teacher had moved to another state so until they found his replacement, Mrs. Levine substituted. I noticed that on her first day she was so jittery she stammered a lot while teaching.

On the second day, another one of the students pointed the stammering out and she openly admitted to be scared to death.

“I’m afraid to work here,” she confessed. “It scares me just to park in the parking lot.”

“What are you afraid of?” one of the students asked.

“I’m afraid of being attacked,” she answered, surprised that the reason wasn’t obvious.

I silently shook my head. At the end of class, I dawdled until I was one of the last leaving the classroom.

“Mrs. Levine,” I called out to her quietly. “You should have never told us you were afraid. If you’re afraid and some students know it, they will eat you up.”

She nodded her head and said, “Yes, I realized that after I said it. I don’t know what to do now.”

“Don’t be afraid,” I answered. “Just because their skin is darker than ours does not always mean they are worse than white kids. We’re all the same inside.”

I’m guessing I didn’t help ease her mind any. She taught one more day and then we had a new replacement: a substitute for the substitute.