Column: Music Teacher for a Day

By Susan Parker
Tuesday March 27, 2007

“We need a music teacher,” said the woman on the telephone in charge of hiring substitute teachers. “You know anything about music?” 

“Not really,” I said. 

“Doesn’t matter,” she answered. “The music teacher has left lesson plans.” 

“What grades?” I asked. 

“Kindergarten through fifth,” said the woman. “How hard can that be?” 

I was up for the challenge. I quickly scribbled down the school’s address and got ready. I tried to remember the theme song for Working Girl. I wanted to dress for this assignment as Melanie Griffith had done in the opening credits: sleek, tight suit and sneakers. Sneakers, I’ve got, but alas, no suits.  

While driving to the school, I went through the scales, then thought about my personal history with music. Piano lessons at seven. Drop-out by nine. But I had read the autobiography of Tina Turner (Ike was a wife beater), and the life story of B.B. King (sex at age eight and a lot of time on a tractor). Additionally, I’d seen Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Four Tops and a host of others in live performances. Most recently I’d attended a stadium concert given by the Rolling Stones, and then there was that horrible night at The Independent with The Tubes. I’d seen the movies Lady Sings the Blues, Ray, Walk the Line and Dreamgirls. I thought I knew every lick and lyric performed by Elvis and The Beatles. How hard could today’s assignment be? 

School started at 8:30 a.m. but because I was a “Specialist” I didn’t have class until nine—15 minutes with the morning kindergarten class. By the time I found the classroom, set up my CD player, and met the children, class was almost over. We did a few wiggles and jumps and then I gave them their coloring assignment.  

“We’ve done this before,” they shouted when I handed out the Xerox sheets of cars, buses, turtles and snails. (What thing is fast? What thing is slow?). “You’ll have to do it again,” I said. Then it was time to go. 

Back to the teachers lounge for a 15- minute break, then on to first grade, where we wiggled and jumped again, but this time for thirty minutes instead of fifteen. When I handed out the same Xeroxed sheet of cars and trains, the kids complained. “We already did this,” they said. “Do it again,” I replied as nicely as possible. 

Returning to the teacher’s lounge for a thirty-minute break, I learned that my next two classes, second and third grades, were canceled. It was School Spirit Day. Classroom teachers and their charges would be upstairs in the auditorium listening to student council speeches. The other “Specialists” and I got to stay in the lounge. I read the newspaper and ate free popcorn. 

When the assembly was over, it was time for lunch. Classroom teachers had thirty minutes to gulp down their food, but as a “Specialist” I had an hour to kill.  

I did crossword puzzles and ate more popcorn. 

The next class was fourth grade. I knew what they would say when I started the lesson. “Been here and done it,” they shouted as I gave them the hand-outs, this time pictures of animals. “Color them anyway,” I said, “while you listen to the music.” 

On to fifth grade where I taught a lesson that made no sense, but we struggled through it. Since they had done it before, they were actually a big help. Then it was a rush to meet the afternoon kindergarten class, set up the CD player, wiggle for fifteen minutes and give out the coloring assignment.  

Two forty-five. School was to end at three.  

“What should I do now?” I asked the school secretary.  

“Now,” she said. “You can go home.”