Dooper's Memories: OPRF's substitute teachers were memorable

Opinion: Columns

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By John Stranger

I can't remember the names of the substitute teachers I had in grade school because I had so few. It seems the teachers I had at Holmes School were a hardy group of men and women who were rarely absent from school. I do, however, remember four substitute teachers I had during my high school years.

I had Mr. Hawkins — aka "Hawkeye" — a few times in history and math. He was a stern man who told us he had taught for 40 years in a Chicago public high school. He never sat down during class but instead paced the aisles and suddenly he would be standing behind a student simply staring at him or her. He was constantly on the alert for idlers. He was a scary man but a good teacher.

During my junior year, he was our teacher for three days when Mr. Sullivan, our Algebra 2 teacher, was ill. Mr. Sullivan had a test planned, and Mr. Hawkins told us that over the years he had devised a special punishment for cheaters. No one asked him what it was because cheating was dealt with very seriously anyway by all of the teachers, and only a goof would test the system.

I never again had Mr. Hawkins as a substitute, and I never regretted it.

Mrs. Austin substituted only in English. Her favorite story was that she married into a family that had been early settlers in Oak Park. This didn't mean much to the students, but she repeated the story every time she taught a class where I was present.

She was a nice person who was quite knowledgeable in poetry. I had Mrs. Austin occasionally during all four years of high school.

Miss Lane was another substitute I encountered only in English. She told us she had worked in advertising in New York City before moving back to Oak Park. She introduced my English 4 class to a way of writing persuasive essays that served me through my college days and was the model I used when I taught English at Elmhurst College.

One day our American History teacher had to leave because of an emergency, and the class was surprised when Dr. Youngert, the superintendent, filled in as our substitute. At the time, the class was studying the Civil War, and I thought Dr. Youngert would either read the textbook to us or give a lecture on good citizenship. I was wrong on both counts because he pulled down the map and took us on a tour of major battle sites, telling us who won certain battles and why. It was a great lesson.

Since Dr. Youngert constantly walked the hallways, teachers would sometimes invite him into their classroom. As it turned out, he came into my plane geometry class one day and both he and my teacher, Mr. Doolittle, explained a difficult proof in a very concise manner.

Another time, Dr. Youngert visited our College Algebra class, where many of us had questions regarding the homework assignment until both he and our teacher, Mr. Chandler, unraveled the mystery surrounding these tough problems.

It wasn't often that I had a substitute teacher, but when I did, the teacher did a good job instructing students he/she did not know well, and, in return, the students gave the teacher the respect he/she deserved.

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