Substitute fills
a daily need

Kuulei French takes over classes
from English to mathematics

Encouragement from my daughters, who are both certified teachers, was my first step in becoming a substitute teacher. The second was taking a great training course through the adult education program at Waipahu High School.

However, despite all the preparation and encouragement, my first assignment was a mind-boggling experience. Over the years, I've realized there are always new challenges, even with added experience.

We have to be very versatile in taking assignments. I may be in English class today, mathematics tomorrow and biology the day after. It is both challenging and exciting for me to wear all these different teacher hats.

One of the most important things one needs to learn is classroom management. A teacher needs to have self-discipline to keep each student focused on the day's lesson. I take my responsibility with each class very seriously. I want the teachers I sub for to feel that they've left their students in good hands. I have gained a deeper respect and appreciation for all of our public school teachers since taking on this challenge.

Students come from many different kinds of families with different values, and you need to understand that in the classroom. However, profanity, which has become so commonplace in our schools today, and disrespect are not tolerated in my classroom. Substitute teachers are, at times, the objects of ridicule by students. I've had to bite my tongue many times. I just take a deep breath and re-focus myself.

In addition to the classroom challenges, substitute teachers also face another challenge. Although I work regularly as a substitute teacher, I do not have any rights to benefits. This makes it extremely difficult for many substitute teachers who fill a dire need each day in our public schools. I have recently started working with Local 368 in support of their efforts to organize substitute teachers statewide. I am chair of the organizing committee for Waianae, and am really excited to be part of something that will make lives better for all substitute teachers.

My primary teaching experience has been in hula, which I've taught for 33 years. I mainly have been an entertainer and vocalist for 30 years. I have been in many different bands and have done many different styles of music -- from Hawaiian to heavy metal. I've worked in hotels, restaurants and clubs on four islands and the mainland.

I have been a substitute teacher for only two years and have found it extremely rewarding. It is music to my ears to have a student smile and excitedly say, "Hey, Mrs. French is our sub today!" I know I am building friendships and relationships that will last even after the school year has ended.

Being a teacher must be in my blood. My mother is still a public school teacher on the Big Island at the ripe age of 74. My grandfather retired from teaching and became a substitute teacher when I was in elementary school. I'll never forget his words at the end of a school day: "A teacher's work is never done!"

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