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Published on February 29th, 2012 | by Staff 12-13

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The Secret Lives of Samo Substitutes

Lillian Kalish

Staff Writer

For Richard Cooper, Sean Pawling and Katharine Collins, subbing is not only a way to make money through educating students, but also provides them with the flexibility to pursue other passions, like acting, singing and writing.

Cooper is a well-known sub on campus, where he can usually be found guiding lost English classes. He is easily recognized by his Yamaka and what he describes as “strings” on his pants.

“The first question students usually ask me is, ‘What are those strings for?’” Cooper said while laughing. The strings are called “tzitzi” and they represent the Ten Commandments in the Torah.

Being a substitute has been quite influential for Cooper, who writes in his free time and is currently using his subbing job as inspiration for the novel he is writing.

“Right now I am working on a book about my experiences as a sub. I also tutor for the college application process and help students improve their writing skills,” Cooper said.

In addition to tutoring and writing, Cooper is also a part- time actor. He most recently worked on a small independent film called “Save the Date,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

“I only have two lines in it,” Cooper said nonchalantly. “My top priority right now is writing. In the past acting was my main thing, but not anymore. My thing now is to get students interested in writing. If Samo were to open a creative writing class I would be very interested in teaching it.”

While at Samo, Cooper has been helping students to hone their English skills and inspiring them to express themselves through the written word. Cooper will remain on campus as English teacher Jennifer Pust’s substitute until March 2 when she returns from maternity leave.

In the photo room, substitute Sean Pawling helped students express themselves through different mediums, including music and photography, until he was recently replaced by long-term sub Alice Hall.

Pawling played trombone during class and helped out the brass section of the music department in his free time. Pawling said he also learned a thing or two about photography.

“It’s tough substituting for a subject I know nothing about, but the students taught me a lot about photography. The two are not that different, music and photography,” Pawling said. “The camera is like an instrument. It is a barrier between you and vision and you allow that vision to come out through the technology and transcend it.”

Pawling didn’t always want to be a substitute. In fact, Pawling is also a musician. He went to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and got his masters degree in music from University of Southern California (USC). After college, Pawling traveled to Nepal and Thailand before attending the Colburn Music Conservatory. While in Asia, Pawling went on a 250-mile trek up Everest Base camp. In Nepal, he traveled back to the home of one of his high school friends where he learned about Nepalese culture and played music.

“It was mostly a relaxing trip,” Pawling said. “In Thailand I just hung out and found myself a bit. I had a bit of extra student loan money to blow.”

Pawling ended up getting his teaching credential so he wouldn’t have to jump head first into the music industry. By being a part-time teacher, Pawling is able to pursue his passion of musical instruction without having to worry about the financial instability of the music industry.

In addition to playing trombone with Los Angeles—based orchestras such as The American Youth Symphony (AYS), Pawling is also producing his own album.

“I have my band, the Sean Pawling Group. I play trombone and guitar, and we also have drums and piano. The sound is really unique. Just last month I came out with my EP,” Pawling said. “When I’m not subbing I teach private music lessons, guitar, trombone and sometimes voice.”

Another well known sub on campus is Katharine Collins. Currently Collins is subbing for Maria Stevens’ English class while Stevens is out on maternity leave. Before that, Collins was the temporary sub for Marty Verdugo’s social studies classes.

Outside of school, Collins is a part time actor. Collins got her start working on the stage and now she acts in a satirical web series called “Dog News.”

“I started acting when I was seven,” Collins said. “I auditioned for a play and I realized I really loved it — I’ve been acting ever since. I’ve done a lot of international stage shows. I went to Germany once and played the sidekick to the lead in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” which was really cool. Now I mainly work on “Dog News.” Our inspiration was “Fox News.” We make fun of society, the media and various trends and attitudes,” Collins said.

Collins explained that working as an actor has both advantages and disadvantages.

“Because of my web series, I’ve gotten a lot of auditions for new roles. I also have some flexibility. I get to do some improv comedy from time to time. The bad thing is that I often procrastinate. It is a balancing act when I get really busy,” Collins said. “I often hyper focus on either [subbing or acting] which can be bad. But overall I wouldn’t change it.”

In 2002, Collins started subbing at Malibu High School as a means to pay her bills.

“I needed to get a job,” Collins said, grinning. “I did some babysitting in high school and I realized I really like working with kids. I feel really lucky to have a job that allows me to do that.”

Collins believes she is fortunate to be able to pursue the two things she loves: working with children and performing. For substitutes Pawling, Cooper and Collins, substituting is more than just a side job. It is an easy way to pursue a passion, whether it is teaching writing, instructing music or just spending time with kids.

So, next time a substitute walks into class, who knows he or she could be chef, a part time model or maybe even a retired athlete. What can a substitute bring to a classroom? The possibilities are endless.


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