The Signing Sub

I left work with a smile on my face and a jump in my step.

This year, I started working as a substitute teacher in the local public school system around my University. Within just a few weeks of venturing back into the worlds of elementary, middle, and high school, I had subbed for every grade from Kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade.

In each class, I try to learn a little bit alongside the students. In an Algebra class, I re-taught myself how to factor equations and then helped students who got stuck. I practiced comprehension skills in a 5th grade reading class. I taught Spanish to Kindergarteners, and brushed up on my vocab for colors and animals. In middle school band, I practiced sight-reading and explained rhythms to students. I engaged in little moments of teaching and witnessed small epiphanies as students understood new concepts, but these experiences remained pretty inconsistent. I also found myself in many classes where the students got a free period to work on assignments for their other classes, which is pretty much code for them to just hang out with each other and goof off.

Each assignment provides new opportunities and challenges, and ample room for growth. After a particularly tough run of substituting and feeling slightly depleted and hopeless about this work, I found myself praying for some guidance about what to do. I knew that I didn’t have to be powerless, but I didn’t know what that looked like for me, at this time, in this situation. I started to think about how I could possibly find more fulfillment in this endeavor, as well as actually provide something beneficial for the wide variety of students I work with. I considered the skills I have and the gifts that I have been blessed with, and thought about how I could try to incorporate them into substitute teaching.

I did some research, and found out that a few nearby high schools offer American Sign Language as a foreign language option. As this was my minor in college, I became excited at the idea of perhaps getting to work in some of these classes. I drafted an email to a few of the ASL teachers, said a prayer as I hit send, and within two hours I received multiple responses and scheduled a few new assignments into my planner.

On my first day in an ASL classroom, I did not use my voice to speak. I used only American Sign Language to communicate and teach the day’s lesson. I fingerspelled the students’ names to take attendance so they could practice receptive skills (and as a plus, I didn’t have to try to pronounce all the names!). I got to use my abilities to help facilitate the learning environment, as well as practice a language that I find astoundingly beautiful and fascinating. I actually left work feeling hopeful and eager, a strong sign that I was on the right track.

The ASL teachers now refer to me as “The Signing Sub,” and I honestly embrace that nickname wholeheartedly. By finding a niche where I feel confident and valuable, I became more effective at my job and found greater personal fulfillment in the work.

Like my newfound specialty, we all can contribute to the world around us in our own unique way. God has given us each gifts designed for a specific purpose, and no one else can do the things that we are each designed to do. Situations in our life may seem impossible or hopeless at first, but through prayer, trial and error, taking risks, and self-advocacy, we can find creative ways to use our skills. To do this, we must work on fostering and recognizing our talents and abilities, honor their value, and use them for good. Then, by sticking through and learning from the hard times, we can figure out ways to make situations better for ourselves and the people around us.

What we do may be something simple or it may be something big, but it is all meaningful.

In Joy, Monica

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:10


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