Dear Colleagues,

In honor of Substitute Educators Day, I write this letter to you, the “guest teachers” who worked in my various classrooms over the years. First grade, second grade, computer lab – you covered them all, ably, at a moment’s notice, and to my eternal gratitude.

The reasons for my absences varied. As a teacher of young kids, I seemed to get knocked out every winter by strep throat and pink eye and bronchitis, and, well, you name it. From the depths of my illnesses, I would try to conjure up lesson plans and leave them for you. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t muster them for each day I was out. Despite that fact, you relied on your own teaching skills and in some cases your prior knowledge of the kids in my class to create your own learning experiences for the class. Sometimes you worked with my colleagues to figure out what should be taught.

And, always, you left me notes so that I knew what had been accomplished, what was left to do, who needed special attention, and who helped you in ways big and small. I’ve never had the chance to tell you, until now, how important those notes were to me. Not so much the academic progress portion, though of course that was good to know, but more so when you revealed your personal connections to the students, either during moments of academic support or when the children coalesced around something you did or said.

Apart from allowing me to take time to recover from colds, flus, and other illnesses, you also gave me a chance to get better as a professional. There were the various professional learning experiences I had in my school, at my district, and in the wider region. You made that possible. I also attended my very first national conference, in San Francisco (at the time I was teaching and living in Massachusetts), because you were available to cover for me the two days I was out of the classroom.

Though it may have seemed to you like an ordinary assignment, for me, it was a watershed moment. I was able to see myself as an educator who was part of a larger network of like-minded teachers. I was exposed to ideas from schools and districts around the country, and I myself was able to share innovative practices from my corner of the world. I saw and heard about a bigger educational picture, firsthand, as opposed to reading about it in newspapers and books. I loved it.

In retrospect, I can draw a straight line from that experience to my now long career working in nationally oriented, educational non-profits.

All because you were able and willing to be a guest teacher in my classroom.

Thank you for bringing your best self to my students and focusing on helping them stay engaged as learners. Thank you for being creative and thinking on your feet when you needed to. Thank you for answering the sub line calls, which often came in the wee hours of the morning. Thank you for making it possible for me to rest at home, and at other moments take flight outside the walls of my classroom.

Thank you for being the best guest teacher you could possibly be.

Paul Oh