A room without a view, my last day as a San Francisco substitute teacher

Mike in Summer School
Mike in Summer School | Art by Todd Berman

I’m writing these words in pencil, old-skool style, sitting in a windowless room in a fog-shrouded building perched near the top of Twin Peaks. Throughout the next five hours I get to deal with 37 teenagers, forcing them to stay put even though their absent summer school teacher left no lesson plan.

For the past eight years, I’ve been a “substitute teacher artist” at various San Francisco high schools. Today’s my last day.

The artist part of my job title comes into play when I take out my sketchbook to draw my students, which has surprisingly become a valuable tool for teaching. The longer I have taught, the more I’ve integrated art into my teaching…oh, excuse me for a minute

“Put the lighter away, please!”

…sorry, where was I?

Norman in Summer School
Norman in Summer School | Art by Todd Berman

Sometimes, a kid who has spent the last half-hour throwing paper, starting fights, shouting across the room – generally just bringing chaos into the classroom – will become engrossed in flipping through my sketchbook. The most troublesome (or troubled) students are usually the most curious about what I’m doing.

Even as I write these words, Mike and Norman, two teens bored out of their gourds, have approached me to ask if I’m an artist. As proof I quickly sketch their portraits.

As they watch me draw there’s a change in their facial expressions and body language. I’ve earned their respect, perhaps inspired them to be creative, and definitely delayed their next escape attempt – if only for a few minutes.