During my fleeting tenure as a summer school English teacher in a Bay Area high school, one of my favorite jams was to tell the kids that “life is a story.” We had a lot of time to kill during those two months, and when we weren’t watching The Jerry Springer Show or CNN, we’d hold informal group conversations. Sort of like an “Ask Me Anything” type-deal. Many times I tried to work our reading assignments into the dialogue, but they generally were not interested in talking about Their Eyes Were Watching God.
At some point in the first semester, they were asking me all sorts of questions about my life, particularly my wayward youth. They were insatiably curious about how I wound up a summer school teacher—and a substitute teacher no less—when clearly I was the highest guy the room. There was no doubt about that. Anyway, I was telling them about the time I saved my friend from drowning in a quarry after jumping off a 50-foot cliff, and in order to clearly demonstrate the heroism and danger involved, I needed to diagram the location on the dry erase board. We spent the rest of the day developing this concept called “Story Time”, which basically involved me spending an entire hour telling a story, usually using the dry erase board to draw maps and diagrams, but also to spell out and define words they didn’t understand, like for instance, euphemism. Sometimes I asked for volunteers to act out certain scenes. As shoddy and lazy as my methods were, the kids loved it and I truly believe they learned something from me. Exactly what that was I’ll never know.
The following is a chapter of an extended short-story entitled “The Substitute”, which is part of an unpublished manuscript I’ve had sitting on ice for about a year. Though fictionalized and paraphrased, it is based entirely on a true story. Only the names and location has been changed.