Jake Brown: a substitute who’s the real deal

Libby Eggert, Staffer

On a bustling Wednesday afternoon, I sit down on the balcony with Jake Brown to talk to him about his experience as a substitute teacher.

Before I can pull out my computer, one of my friends walks out from the choir room; she greets me, then makes eye contact with Brown and says, “Hey! You were my English sub today. Have a good day!”

Brown, a 24-year-old who smiles after ever sentence, says this happens a lot: students recognize his patterned ties and button up shirts and acknowledge him without really knowing who he is. “All the time,” he responds between laughs.

Most students will remember Brown as the substitute teacher who rewards good behavior by telling a funny story from his college years or world travels in the last five minutes of class.

Some substitutes may not feel fully devoted to education, but Brown has a purpose behind why he works so hard engaging students.

After graduating from Fenwick and majoring in political science at Benedictine University, Brown planned on going to law school. He interned at his dad’s law firm with the intention of one day taking it over, but realized it wasn’t his career path. He decided to follow his dream of teaching, one recommended by friends and reaffirmed by taking a gap year to travel.

“In Pompeii I got to walk through an amazingly preserved Roman city that’s 2,000 years old. Going inside the pyramids, hiking the Great Wall of China and doing other history-based things in all the other countries I visited gave me a really amazing perspective of the history of the world.” After realizing he wanted to use this love of history in teaching, he started subbing at OPRF as an “opportunity to test out something I want to make a career out of.”

As he starts graduate school this semester, he plans on staying at OPRF to gain more experience before student teaching, with hopes of one day working here.

The 2018-19 OPRF State Report Card notes that 41.2 percent of teachers missed more than 10 days of school in 2019.

Absences for paternal leave, personal healthcare, care of a relative, or allocated personal leaves are allowed and expected of any person balancing work and life. But teacher absences can significantly affect students’ long-term success: a district in Cobb County, Georgia found statistically significant statistics that show the more a teacher is absent, the worse students score on standardized tests.

Finding good subs is difficult for schools nationwide: it’s a heavy financial burden (the Georgia school district spent $8.5 million of substitutes in 2008/2009), and not a lot of people find the position appealing. But Brown’s engaging personality and familiar face helps keep students motivated, without the absence disrupting a teacher’s long-term-curriculum.

Brown is one of the few substitutes at OPRF every day, the same as a full-time teacher. Using an online scheduling system, Brown can see teacher absences weeks in advance. Given the significant amount of faculty, Brown has a lot of agency over his schedule and can pick what classes or which teachers he subs for, and always tries to end up in a Civics, History, or English class.

Although he typically doesn’t communicate with teachers he subs for, he has gotten to know teachers during his free periods and lunch breaks, and loves to learn from their experience. Because Brown hopes to one day be a teacher, he is excited when getting lesson plans from teachers and engaging with students: one day, he brought a history class a water bottle he filled with water from the Nile River. Right now, he’s working on reading all the English books in the OPRF curriculum so he can be prepared for any class he ends up in.

Several weeks ago, Brown was a substitute for the Trapeze class. Although other teachers may have taken attendance and had us work silently on our stories, Brown talked to us about the latest issue and even made suggestions. He told us stories about his college friends, cracked jokes, and our laughter could be heard from down the hall. Being here every day gives him an opportunity to be engaged in OPRF beyond the classroom and maintain connections with students and teachers. “I always like getting more involved with OPRF in any way I can,” he says.

Brown ended our interview by telling me a story, the same way he does when subbing: A student walked up to him in the hallway, telling him they had been crying at lunch and having a panic attack. But they wanted to thank Brown, because the story he told was “absolutely hysterical” and “had turned (their) day around.”

For most students, he finds the promise of a funny story keeps them engaged and gets them to follow the lesson plan, instead of being disruptive or taking advantage of the teachers absence. But on a personal level, he gets a chance to create a connection with the students he only gets to see for 47 minutes and “try to make someone’s day every day.”