*© Diane Diederich – istockphoto.com*

I have been substitute teaching 1-2 days/week, mostly with the 8^{th} graders that I taught fall semester during my first student teaching block. I don’t know how teachers get over giving their students up to the next year, another grade, and new teachers year after year. These were the first students that I taught and they will forever be important to me.

Today, I subbed for their Math teacher. It was odd to spend so much of my day on testing – NY State Social Studies Test for the first two sets, NY Regents practice test with the next class, review book with AIS students, and a practice test with the accelerated class. Yes, there were three tracks today in 8^{th} grade and the 10^{th} graders were part of a one-year course spread to three-semesters to help students be successful on the NY State Regents test that has become a requirement for graduation. Perhaps this plan was partly due to having a sub but at least two of these activities were on the preprinted calendars for the class.

It was most amusing that the students assumed I wouldn’t be able to help them with math. The comments today included:

- “I didn’t finish my quiz because I ran into a problem and didn’t think you’d know how to help me.”
- Another girl was questioning a problem involving graphing a formula. I provided two options: 1) solve the problem algebraically to be as close as possible to y = mx + b and graph that, or 2) leave the formula in its initial form and make a table of possible x and y values, then graph them. She told me that she would take the quiz home for help from her father. I told her that it wasn’t a take-home test and her regular teacher would help the next day.
- Another group didn’t believe my explanation that trig was involved in a triangle-depth problem until two other student groups confirmed it. They all expressed surprise that I remember sohcahtoa and knew how to use it!

Tonight I have the pleasure of reading Paolo Friére for my last class of my master’s degree. It was a nice antidote to a day in a middle school classroom. I am continually amazed by his description of man’s inhumanity to man but deeply inspired by his thoughts on critical literacy and pedagogy. In any classroom, probably in any group of people, there is oppression and a need to examine its structures and practices. From Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friére, 1970), “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.” I look forward to having my own classroom.