Where I’ve Been Lately

The view from my R.V. Scheide’s door at Shasta High School. Smoke from the Delta Fire and an ongoing construction project create an ominous landscape. Students were excused this day because of the smoke. Photo by R.V. Scheide.

I never really wanted to be a teacher, and now I know why: It’s hard work.

That’s where I’ve been the past six weeks, teaching, on a long-term substitute gig at Shasta High School. I’ve been subbing in Shasta County for the past three years, but I’ve never worked more than two weeks in a row until this job, which started on the second day of school in mid-August, just as the Carr Fire was winding down and the Delta Fire was about to spark up.

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After spending the past six weeks supervising five classes of 30 students each, I’m telling you, I’m beat. I was beat after the first week, to be honest. I don’t know how real teachers do it, year-in and year-out.

The subject was computer-aided drafting, which until lately I knew next to nothing about. In order to grade their work, I had to complete the same lengthy tutorial as my students, in a powerful cloud-based CAD system called Fusion 360. I also had to learn the school’s complex grading program. Between taking roll, grading CAD drawings, recording scores and making up multiple choice quizzes on various engineering topics, I’ve been busy.

As a rule, I don’t write about individual students, but on the whole, I can say the 150 or so kids I’ve been hanging out with these past six weeks are alright. Generation Z, some people call them, boys and girls born in the 2000s who’ve grown up with the internet and smart phones as facts of life. It’s true that kids these days love their phones, but as far as I can tell, they’re not all that different from the kids I graduated with 40 years ago.

The same cliques—the brains, the jocks, the normies, the class clowns, the alienated—still exist. It was somewhat mortifying yet at the same time comforting to see students sporting the same punk rock attire I wore in the late 1970s. By and large, they were not entitled, politically correct snowflakes, as is often said of college students nowadays. Things have changed, sure, but what really struck me was how much things have stayed the same.

The ubiquitous cell phones actually came in pretty handy for controlling students, most of whom are concerned about their grades and continually check them on the school’s website using their phones. One or two missed assignments can cause your grade to drop from an “A” to a “B,” and believe me, they notice it.

From my desk, another software program I had to learn enabled me to watch and control all 30 computers in the room. It’s devilishly fun remotely shutting down the computer of a student watching music videos during class and threatening them with a 5-point deduction if you catch them again. More importantly, as a disciplinary tool, it works—instantly.

So that’s where I’ve been lately, riding herd over Generation Z. My goal from the beginning was to get as many kids up-and-running on the software as possible before my inevitable replacement (district rules limit long-term subs to 30 school days, which is six weeks). Once they got a handle on the software, they were free to create their own designs and print them on the 3-D printers in the back of the classroom.

This remarkable technology is one thing that has definitely changed since I was in high school. Fusion 360 is indeed a powerful 3-D computer-aided drafting program. If you can imagine it, you can design it in Fusion, and then manufacture it with a 3-D printer or a CNC milling machine.

When I took wood and metal shop in high school, we made wooden lamps, sheet metal toolboxes and other rudimentary items. It never occurred to me that I could design and build something really cool and intricate, for example, custom aluminum motorcycle parts. With Fusion 360 and similar programs, today’s high school students already have that creative power at their fingertips. I’m envious of them—I might have been a maker if this technology had been around back in the day!

It was encouraging to see tomorrow’s makers at Shasta High School, the students already enrolled in what’s known as the STEM pathway (science, technology, engineering, math), who are taking the prerequisite calculus and physics courses necessary to go on to college and become professional engineers. As has been widely publicized in recent years, the United States has a shortage of such engineers across all fields. We can’t make America great without them.

Similarly, there’s a shortage of STEM teachers at all levels. From my own brief immersion in the field, I can say it’s highly rewarding when a struggling student has an a-ha moment and finally solves the puzzle of their first three-dimensional drawing. As a teacher, their struggle is your struggle, and it’s a rush to see them succeed. I think that rush is why many teachers do what they do. It’s addictive.

But man! Teaching, real teaching, is hard! As a substitute, I’m usually in-and-out quickly and don’t experience the daily physical and emotional grind inherit in keeping 150 high school students on task and in check. These past six weeks, my mind has been occupied by little else. It was like my head shrunk, and only had room in it for what happened in class that day or what I was planning for the next.

When my replacement arrived, I was sad to be leaving my students, and some were even sorry to see me go. Mostly, I just felt relieved.

Like I said, teachers, I don’t know how you do it. My hat’s off to you.


R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
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35 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Teachers do have a hard job and the pay is not really great, especially here in Arizona. In Wyoming teachers were paid more to retain them but here in Arizona, lowest teacher pay in the nation, the powers to be don’t seem to care.
    When I worked at Shasta High as a custodian there were times, due to Friday night programs, that I would go in on Sunday to clean my area. There were always a few teachers also there doing extra work to help their students.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Subbing pays pretty well, relative to the average wages in Shasta County for the available jobs. Real teachers get paid a lot better, as they should, and have decent retirement benefits. I don’t know what’s up with all these states that pay teachers poorly, but there needs to be a reckoning.

      • Avatar Anita Brady says:

        Don’t ignore the Windfall Elimination Provision penalty. For the 25 yrs I taught, I qualified for a small CalSTRS pension (certainly not enough to live on). My previous careers, age 15 thru 35) qualified me for Social Security– but thanks for Congress, is is reduced by 66%. If my husband pre-deceases me, his Social Security amount will also be reduced by the same amount, though he was not a teacher.

        Moral of the story, don’t go into teaching as a second career.

        PS– does your income as a substitute teacher add to your Social Security?

        • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

          My wife is a teacher/administrator in a local school district. She has also been an equal partner in my consulting firm for over 10 years—she’s the CFO. We have to take more in salary than draws on profits, so she still pays a ton of Social Security payroll tax. She’s never going to see any of it, nor any benefit from the Social Security tax she paid prior to becoming a teacher at about 35 years of age. It’s a colossal screw-job.

        • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

          Subs aren’t in the the CalSTRS system, they take Social Security out of my check instead.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    So nice to have you back, R.V. Take a rest – then do more of your in depth sleuthing.

  3. Avatar https://homeasap.com/richardgoates says:

    Excellent Work R.V! Glad you survived! It is different today with the being attached to the phones and all that. There is no going back, technology will continue to exponentially accelerate. We either have to step our game up or step off the ride.

    In Sweden, they pay the teachers about 4X what they pay them here in the USA.

    A friend of mine was a teacher and a Nanny. When she got to the U.S and saw what the Teachers made she became a Full-time Nanny that uses her Teaching Credential to work with the kids she takes care of! Go Figure! A Nanny that makes almost as much as a Teacher here.

    I am guessing that is not the only Country that does Education Different!

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Public school teachers make pretty good money in California, and the health and retirement benefits aren’t too shabby. I may just get a credential one of these days.

  4. AJ AJ says:

    ahhhh . . . . the reality of the day-to-day grind. I opine that 99.9% of the teachers across the country really care for their subject matter and their students and put their money where their mouths are. An awful lot of the non-teaching population tend to think of it in terms of, “Oh, you get three months off in the summer and look at all those 1 to 2 week holidays you get during the year.” Nope! Like Bruce said, you can drive by most schools during those “time off” periods and find a number of cars in the parking lot. Teachers putting in their own, unpaid over time . . . . and that’s not even counting the time spent at home reading and grading papers, doing lesson plans., etc. And then there’s the continuing education classes one needs to take to stay current. Being a teacher in the performing arts meant that many of my weekends were spent with the kids going to festivals and overnight performance trips. Believe me, 48 hours on a bus with 35 students does NOT constitute a rejuvenating week end. And yes, the payoffs are also a reality. But NO ONE should ever go into teaching for a secure pay check. If you don’t love your subject and/or your grade level, do yourself and your kids a favor. GET OUT!!

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Today I think that three months off in the summer is more like two months. It always rolls around too fast my real teacher friends tell me. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if you were teaching a subject you yourself weren’t interested in. That’s one thing I’m worried about getting a credential. What if I get stuck in a job with a subject I don’t like?

      • Avatar Anita Brady says:

        At least at Secondary level, school districts can force you to teach a non-credential subject if they file for you to have an emergency credential. They have to re-up each year, but I saw several teachers stuck for years teaching classes they didn’t want to.

  5. Avatar George Koen says:

    And here I thought I won the battle and drove you away. It is good to hear some positive thoughts on this young generation. In this supremely negative climate it was good to hear. Welcome back to the war room generalisimo.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      George, you’d be the last person to drive me away! These past six weeks on the longterm sub, I totally lost the will to write anything. I even stopped doing Facebook–which was actually a lifestyle improvement.

  6. Avatar Richard Goates says:

    Well stated Bruce and A.J, Similar to other Professions many don’t realize what is actually involved. They see the time off in the Summer etc but they don’t see the fact that many teachers spend a LOT of their own personal money just to have School Supplies! My Ex Wife spend an average of 15-20% of her take-home pay on School Supplies just to run her classroom! Allowing 1 pencil per pupil for the year just isn’t realistic! And No, she isn’t teaching there now.

    Everyone else’s job is “Always” easier, right?

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I’ve been to many different classrooms the past three years and many of the teachers buy their own supplies.

  7. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    My twin brother teaches robotics and science at Shasta High. His wife, our sister and our brother-in-law are also all teachers and the amount of unpaid hours they pour into their jobs is astonishing. They purchase supplies from their own paychecks and they always go the extra mile to make sure each kid is getting everything they can out of their education. While I moan and groan at them when they have summer months free, the truth is they have more than earned it. And even during those months they are taking classes, learning curriculum, contacting colleagues and researching upcoming subjects. The hours are far more than full time.
    It’s heartening to hear the kids aren’t too different from kids in any other generation. But the tools they have access to? Incredible!

  8. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Hey R.V., I was worried enough about the long hiatus that I asked, and was told about the long-term sub situation. Good to have you back.

    Teaching’s tough, but of course it gets easier if you stick with a subject for a good while. During my few years as lecturer at UC Davis, the task was substantially easier after the first year. The second year, you’ve got your lecture notes and you’re kind of polishing your routine. Refining your jokes, like a comedian prepping for his HBO special.

    That said, I don’t imagine you had much expertise in CAD or 3D printing when you started this latest gig. I’ve never taught a class where I was starting from about the same level of expertise as my students. I’ve occasionally thought about re-entering the world of teaching biology, maybe with the regional community college district, but the demand is for anatomy teachers. I’m golden when it comes to physiology, but I’ve never even taken a general anatomy class (neural system anatomy, yes). I’ve held a human brain in my hands before a lecture hall of students, but I’ve never carved on a human cadaver. I hate rote memorization as an intellectual exercise going back to when I was learning my times tables. The prospect of having to learn the names of people parts the day before I teach them scares me off.

    • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Steve, a fact from when I worked at SUHSD. The students in the computer classes at Shasta designed a computer setup for the district. The setup was so difficult that the program had to be dumbed down for the teachers. But, fear not, those students were hired by the district when they graduated. That was a dozen years ago.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Back when I was a beginning college student, I thought I might become a psychiatrist, right up until I had to take anatomy, which was a rote memorization class. I don’t like it either!

      It was very challenging and somewhat humbling to have to learn the CAD software at the same time as my students, because with all the other things a teacher has to do, there was no time to learn the software, and the kids were passing me up.

  9. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Anita, Calstrs must be different than CALPERS. As a custodian, with a 30 plus Social Security career before being hired by the school district, My CALPERS was reduced because I had SS, not the other way around. That was CALPERS rules and had nothing to do with Congress.
    California does pay it’s teachers better than most other states. Of course the cost of living is higher in California. A recent study in Yuma, Arizona showed a lot of Yuma teachers taught in California and lived in Yuma.

  10. Avatar annette moell says:

    This was refreshing to read. Long term sub teaching is the real deal. In day to day sub work you come in and follow lesson plans that teachers thoughtfully take a couple of hours to set up so the day will be a smooth one. You teach that day and clean up and write a note with how the day went. With long term sub work you are it. In all ways. The day is considerably longer and responsibilities so much more in all ways. It challenges your brain to think in new ways. Best perk of all is summed up like this. Picture a five year old who has been with you since the year started. It is the sixth week of school and this child looks up at you and asks, “do you work here?” Thank a teacher near you. They all work tirelessly regardless of their title.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Speaking of five-year-olds: the Assistant Superintendent subbed for a kindergarten teacher. It was time for them leave the room and go somewhere – cafeteria or recess, something like that – and the Supe told the little ones to line up. They had no notion of what “line up” meant, and the Supe said it was like trying to round up a herd of cats.

  11. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I have really missed you. I taught high school for over 20 years and subbed before that. I still have nightmares…. High School, Steven Powers is not the same as college level teaching at all. Like R.V. wrote about, having 5 classes of 30 students every day is what makes the position so challenging. Could you teach at Shasta College? That would be the perfect place for your skills and knowledge. Great article. Thank you R.V.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I probably could teach at Shasta College, if the right position presented itself.

    • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

      Joanne — I’m sure it’s not the same. But I did attend a community college my first couple of years in college, in large part because I was on my own financially and it was affordable. This was back in the Pleistocene, when all of the instructors were full-timers and taught full loads of classes, much like high school instructors. It was called “junior college” back then, and we used to mockingly (but not undeservedly) describe it as “high school with ashtrays.”

      Of course, most of the ashtrays are long gone.

  12. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    I’m glad you haven’t gone away for good, R.V.

    By the way, since my son is now at Shasta College and needn’t worry about being portrayed as a butt-kisser, I can tell you that you were one of his favorite subs.

  13. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    When I was in elementary school, my 5th- and 6th-grade class was a combo GATE class run by a teacher who I still regard as the best I’ve ever had. She was a strange duck—a task-master with high expectations whose teaching philosophy was that free-range learning was best. To this day I have no idea how she pulled it off, but we spent little of our time sitting at our desks through structured hours of instruction. By far the best years of pre-college schooling I received.

    During 6th grade that teacher had a bout with cancer in the middle of the year and was out for a couple of months, so we were provided a long-term sub. The sub was a young woman, freshly minted, and had rigid ideas about classroom management. We were having none of that, and we crushed her—after about a month of daily strife she fled the room in tears and never returned, and the school principal took over the class until our teacher returned. To this day I feel a guilty about running our long-term sub off, and wonder if she gave up on teaching. I hope not.

  14. Avatar Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    I watched RV take on this challenge and was amazed and pleased to see him rise up and take this challenge head on. He reported in almost daily and it was interesting to see him quickly learn the tricks of the programs and most importantly the tricks of the kids. As his brother does he quickly figured out how to get the kids to do the work. Not an easy job.

    Perhaps everyone should experience one day teaching to find out just how tough a job teaching is. It makes my blood boil to hear some trash teachers as the problem that the kids don’t do well. As a parent and an observer of many school systems most times the problems are not with the teachers but really rest on the backs of administrators. I watch teachers struggle having to march to some wrote plan most likley desinged in TEXAS and is basically learning the test, no way to learn.

    We need to quit inventing new systems and go back to teaching the 3 R’s and then add on the needed addition. A much stronger VoED program is needed as the unfilled jobs indicate the need.

    Good job son.

  15. Avatar Candace C says:

    Nice to have you back R.V. – I’ve missed your writing.

  16. Avatar Colleen Adams says:

    I agree with you that kids these days are not the rotten and entitled brats that many people claim they are. I am 45, and I have a 24 year old, and a ten year old. Volunteering in the classrooms and teaching random art classes after school throughout the years, I see that they basically act the same way we did, except that my kids and their peers are way more tolerant and kind than I remember kids being. These kids don’t seem to think about sexuality or disabilities (or other things that might set you apart from the norm) in the judging way that my peers did. My son works at Dutch Bros in Redding, and he actually says that the only customers who act like entitled, bratty jerks are people my age and older… go figure. Anyhow, teaching is hard work, and you are lucky to get some experience there, even as a sub. I’m sure the kids were happy to have you!