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FEATURE: The “Sub” Way: Teach Fresh

Your teacher isn’t here today. You ask yourself, “which sub is going to fill in for my A set?”. Substitutes have become an integral part of the CB community and make teachers’ and students’ lives easier, one of the reasons why CB substitutes love their jobs so much. I sat down with Mr. Polo Lopez ’08, […]

Your teacher isn’t here today. You ask yourself, “which sub is going to fill in for my A set?”. Substitutes have become an integral part of the CB community and make teachers’ and students’ lives easier, one of the reasons why CB substitutes love their jobs so much.

I sat down with MrPolo Lopez ’08, a substitute teacher during school and head men’s volleyball coach after school, to get a better idea as to why he decided to become substitute at CB.

“I chose to become a sub because I wanted to be active at CB, my alma mater. It is nice to be in this environment again, seeing students grow on the same campus that I did. And in tandem with coaching, it seemed like a good way to connect with students on and off the court,” says Lopez.

Another regular substitute and football coach, Mr. Larry Morla ’08, also chose to become a substitute at CB because he was a former Falcon and also saw an opportunity to coach. But both Mr. Lopez and Mr. Morla made one thing clear to me — they find their career appealing because of the “unique connections [they] get to make with the kids on campus and on the field,” as Mr. Morla aptly articulated.

As a former athlete and student, returning to Christian Brothers as a substitute caused Mr. Lopez to notice many differences in facilities and classroom decorum.

“Now there are two gyms. I wish we the same facilities when I went here, but it’s nice to have the gyms and weight rooms for the volleyball teams I coach now. Another thing that has changed is access to technology. iPads in the classroom is insane to me because in high school we barely had cell phones. And even if you did own a cellphone, it was against all the rules to have it out or even have it turned on in your backpack, which I don’t think any of these students could imagine in this day and age since two screens are available to them at all times. But I would probably say it is the same amount of distraction.”

Ironically, the Spongebob theme song projects from an iPad. Mr. Lopez turns toward me, laughs, and says “Ope, there is one going off right now as we speak.” As you will find out later in this article, Polo does not stand for shenanigans like that, and calmly instructs the students to turn it off, followed by a “Thank youuu.”

“There’s actually a lot of funny moments I witness as a sub – -just like that one. I had a kid ask to do push-ups instead of turning in his assignment. I took him up on the push-ups, but also made him turn in the work. That was about two years ago and was pretty funny, especially because it was Noah Wadhwani ’17 of all people. Yeah, I just name dropped. Oh, and I also had a someone today have a debate about why books exist. That was interesting.”

The interview is interrupted by a group of freshman football players leaving for their afternoon game. As they are exiting the classroom, Polo yells after them, “good luck guys.”

“Honestly, the best part of being a sub is the ability and freedom to just connect with the kids. In the classroom, I try to give the kids a break from the normal stress — academic, social, emotional, whatever stress affects them. I like to joke around and get to know them a little more.”

Although Mr. Lopez has a fairly laid-back approach to teaching, he does draw the line when it comes to certain behaviors and attitudes.

“I definitely do not stand for disrespect to me or others. As long as they are being productive, I’m happy. Walking through the hallways, I enjoy the spontaneous interactions and conversations I get to have with students. And hopefully it’s part of somebody’s day, or maybe part of somebody’s day that they just kind of go ‘oh yeah, someone took the time to talk to me and cared enough to take interest in me today’. I am very aware of how stressful [school] can be, so it’s nice to have somebody to say ‘hey how are you?’. If I can provide that, awesome, and even if it doesn’t change a student’s day like I hope it will, I’m still going to do it.

Mr. Lopez also expresses his gratitude for an exceptional staff community at CB.

“I love talking to and swapping stories with other subs and teachers. Especially with my sister — Mrs. Singer — who is also a substitute here. She and I always talk, we just had lunch today actually. ”

Mr. Morla chips in that “The best part of being a sub is the fact that I don’t have to provide work for [the students] because most of the time the assignment is available on their iPads. That’s the easiest part of the job. But I don’t think there are downsides to the job. Actually — the worst part is subbing for the freshmen. They are so rambunctious and unfocused. I actually have to constantly nag them to work on their assignment, whereas the upperclassmen just get their work done without a problem. All I can say is, having freshman on block days makes for a very long day.”

Mr. Lopez also is not a fan of some parts of the job.

“There is always that technology hurdle — which I think I am over — but it always rears its ugly head, especially when KBFT time rolls around I go into that Mr. Crabs meme mode. But the only real, reoccurring downside is not being familiar with the territory, but it teaches you to be adaptable. There are definitely better systems of organization in some classrooms compared to others. A lot of times teachers will forget to put up an assignment dropbox on Schoology and I think ‘okay, well that ruins all motivation for the kids’.”

Mr. Brendan Hogan ’95, once a substitute and now a full-time teacher, says that “The best thing about being a sub is that it is really easy because you don’t have a lot of expectations except that the students don’t harm one another and do their work. You are given a set plan to lead the class. You don’t have to do any lesson plans, you don’t have to do any grading. But the catch is: it is hard to control a classroom at times, and it is really hard to make a living [as a substitute teacher].”

Mr. Hogan can also relate to the general experiences of our resident alumni-subs. The video production teacher went through an interesting, but fairly common, transition from subbing to teaching.

“After college, I began remodeling some homes in Hawaii, but I also wanted to maintain a connection to Sacramento — my hometown. In addition to that, I wanted to bring in a little more income. Just like today, there was a significant teacher shortage in most schools. Back then, the city schools paid more — so I started there. My first day on the job at Genesis High School, a kid came up to me and said ‘I got kicked out of Johnson for punching a teacher in the face and I will knock you out.’

“After I handled that situation smoothly and became pretty popular with the kids and the administration, they wanted to hire me back because they saw I could handle those situations and rowdy kids. From then on, I continued subbing at various public schools until my sister, a senior at the time, asked me to sub at CB and I was like yeah sure that’s a good change of pace and more money. When I came here it was like ‘Wow, this is where I fit in. I really like being here,’ which made sense because I’m an alumnus. When I began as a substitute teacher [at Christian Brothers], [Former KBFT Director] Brother Roch was gone for two weeks and he had decided there would be no broadcasts. But I was thinking ‘We can broadcast. I did this stuff in college. This is my wheelhouse.”

Brother Roch, the founder of the video production program, came back and learned how capable Mr. Hogan was when it came to running KBFT. Like many teachers do, Brother Roch and others asked Hogan if he would like to become a full-time teacher someday. Mr. Hogan would respond, “No, because the only thing I can really teach is KBFT and Brother Roch already has that locked down.”

Lucky for Hogan, Brother Roch decided to not return the next year and pursue other projects, so Hogan stepped in as the KBFT mentor. Having gone through the transition from sub to teacher, Mr. Hogan shared why subbing is so valuable for anyone interesting in entering a teaching career. He also says there are a lot of other teachers on campus who can back him up on that advice, like Mrs. Spinneli and Mr. Hunley.

Mr. Hogan explains that subbing “gives you a couple of things that you can’t get anywhere else: student-teacher rapport, managing of a classroom, relating to students, and allows you to see if you actually like teaching before going through a full-blown credential program. It’s not just a test-run for you, but for the school as well; schools can see if they would want you as a permanent teacher. But the job becomes exponentially harder when you are promoted to a teaching position and are in charge of creating and delivering the content. That’s the big difference between subbing and teacher — oh, and don’t forget the pay difference.”

Now that Mr. Hogan has gone to the dark side, he does explain that taking a day off and having a sub fill in for your class is not always a relief. In the case of video production classes, many substitute teachers are unfamiliar with the technology, classroom dynamic, and types of projects in Studio 608. Sub days make it difficult for Mr. Hogan’s students to make progress because he cannot be there to answer specific and obscure questions about editing, cameras, etc. So naturally, when a sub cannot answer those questions, the students get behind on their work, making both the student’s and Mr. Hogans projects more challenging and intensifying time constraints.

Although subbing poses some challenges to the video class’ schedule from time to time, Mr. Hogan tells me that he and other teachers would not be able to get work done during his free periods without subs. He also admits that teachers, when fulfilling their sub requirement of one class per week, do not pay as much attention to the students and the assignment, but try to ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ so to speak, by bringing in their own work to finish.

According to Mr. Hogan, teachers who sub during their free block are less likely to closely monitor what the students are doing–watching Netflix, playing games, or completing the actual work. In contrast, subs are there to be attentive to only the students and can better manage the unfamiliar classroom. Hogan concludes that substitute teachers are much more helpful than they are a nuisance.

“Having an outside sub mitigates the amount of subbing teachers have to do and increases the productivity of the class being subbed, and helps the full-time teacher who could use an extra set to improve their own classes,” he says.

Christian Brothers has recognized the value of having regular substitute teachers on hand because of the other obstacles posed by teachers subbing during their free sets and have invested in subs to provide us our quality education. It’s hard to imagine a CB without our hired subs — they are an integral part of our Lasallian community, and are even more special to CB, because most are alumni. Make sure to show your substitute teacher some respect and appreciation next time you see them.


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