Thursday, June 17, 2010

Here’s to Substitutes: Teachers and Green Beans

“Hey, it’s Mrs. Wolbert today! Mrs. Wolbert, you’re my favorite sub.”

“I’m a teacher, Caleb, not a sandwich. And the only reason I’m your favorite is because you think I’m nice, right?”

Caleb looked a little sheepish at that. He knew I was right. As a substitute teacher, I learned that I’ll have much easier days being nice and tolerant that being a toughie. (That advice doesn’t go for regular teachers, however; they need to be tough.)  But substitute teachers hoe a different garden. How many times have I heard that I’m “just a sub”? Or seen eyes – from both teachers and students – pass over me like I was invisible. “Subs” are just place-holders. We’re standing in for the real thing.

It’s ironic that I find myself substitute teaching high school English now and again. I got my teaching certificate when I graduated college, even though I didn’t really want to teach at the time. My mother encouraged me that even though I had different aspirations I should to take advantage of the opportunity while I had it because “You never know, honey. You just might need something to fall back on.” I did teach for a couple years after graduation, but I eventually got a job doing what I really wanted – writing. But after twenty-five years of writing employee newsletters, annual reports, sales literature, executive speeches and the like -- not to mention the company’s downsizing and merger – I’m enjoying the semi-retired life with my husband on a 150 acre farm and answering the 5 a.m. phone call to teach a day or two occasionally and doing some freelance writing.

And even though it’s not exactly something I was forced to “fall back on,” as my mother suggested, teaching, even substitute teaching, provides me a very pleasant way to keep my hand in, talk with intelligent people (yeah, the kids, too) and make a little, very little, extra cash, “pin money,” as they used to say. Some days, the kids are a real handful, ready to take full advantage of the sub. But if I’m firm at the start, keep order, and get the kids focused on task, then we can afford to spend the end of the class period doing something fun and I can be the “nice” Mrs. Wolbert, sub. And occasionally I get to really teach . . . and that’s fun. Sharing your enthusiasm for a subject and seeing in students’ faces that they’re “getting” it is sheer joy.

Which brings me to cooking. (Nice segue, eh? Joy. Cooking. Get it?) From time to time, we either have to or want to substitute an ingredient. Pasta for rice. Dried herbs for fresh. Bacon for prosciutto. Well, after seeing the diet success of a friend on the Atkins diet, my husband and I decided to cut back on carbs. We started using tortillas to make wraps instead of bread for sandwiches, practically ruled our potatoes (which I really miss) and just generally cut back on pasta and all things carb. When I found exotic (exotic for these parts, anyhow) mushrooms on sale at our local supermarket, I had to try them. But the recipe I chose, a wild mushroom ragout, called for using angel hair as a bed for the ragout. So, I subbed green beans! It sure made the plate nice and colorful. The ragout? It was good, but probably not something I’ll make again. The tomatoes and herbs seemed too rich for the mild mushrooms, overwhelming them. I imagine the mushrooms would have been better with a more delicate butter, wine, lemon, garlic sauce – and over angel hair! But it was still a good experiment. In the picture, you’ll see we also had chicken, simple pieces of white meat, egged and rolled in breadcrumbs and Parmesan.

P.S. If you know anyone who’d like to share their experiences (or your own!) about substitute teaching for an article I’m writing, I’d love to hear from you –rdwolbert at gmail dot com

Wild Mushroom Ragout
From Low-Fat Lifestyle Forum

• 2 T olive oil
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 lb fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
• 1/4 c chicken stock
• 3/4 c dry red wine
• 2 T tomato paste
• 3 T Italian parsley, chopped
• 2 t fresh sage, chopped
• 1 t fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 t fresh marjoram, chopped
• 1/2 t salt
• 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
• 1 lb angel hair pasta
• ¼ C grated Parmesan cheese

For mushrooms, try cremini, portobello, chanterelle, oyster or shitake. (I used cremini, oyster & shitake.) Heat oil in large nonstick frying pan over medium low heat. Add onion and cook until tender (5 minutes). Add garlic and cook another minute. Add mushrooms, stock, wine, tomato paste, parsley, sage, rosemary, marjoram, salt and pepper. Bring to simmer, cover and cook until mushrooms are tender (about 20 minutes). Remove cover and reduce sauce if necessary. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to pot. Add sauce and toss well. Serve immediately topped with cheese. Serves 6. Calories: 161, Fat: 8 grams per serving. 


  1. The mushroom ragu sounds delicious over pasta!

  2. Another time, I will try it with pasta -- next winter, I guess!

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