Q and A with Barron
Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.
Outside of rock stars and athletes, there aren't many people who can get by with one name. One name says ego. One name says unique. And then there's Portland substitute teacher Barron, who likes his one and only name because it is simple, direct and, he says, nonhierarchal.
The unassuming Barron is big on hierarchy. As in big against it.
For most of us, the student-teacher relationship was, outside of home, the place we first learned about hierarchy. Student and teacher. Slave and master. But student and substitute teacher, well, that was a different matter entirely. Most of us probably owe an apology or two to subs in our past.
But don't worry, Barron understands. He's been subbing five days a week in Portland high schools for 20 years and he's looking forward to another school year - on his terms - starting up.
Portland Tribune: You're a permanent substitute?
Barron: I'm an oxymoron.
Tribune: Why not just take a regular teaching job?
Barron: What is routinely expected of teachers is humanly impossible. I get the best half of teaching, which is actually helping students learn.
Tribune: And I always thought substitutes got the worst of it. Explanation, please?
Barron: I don't like homework. I'm a full-time teacher without taking it home with me.
Tribune: You've written a Web site guide to substitute teaching where you say that all classes fall into four basic categories. What are they?
Barron: There are social classes where the students are talking so much they don't even know there's a substitute. There are the motivated classes where they'll probably start working before the bell and not care whether there's a sub or not.
There's the anxious class which is malleable, and they wonder what kind of a person is going to be in charge of their class that day. It's important to put them at ease as soon as possible.
And the angry class. They aren't always angry at the sub. They have a lot of hostility working and they direct it at each other.
Tribune: You step into a new classroom. How long does it take to figure out which class you've got?
Barron: A minute.
Tribune: And what is it you're seeing?
Barron: It's everything all at once. I can almost feel it sometimes.
Tribune: But does it work in reverse? What different attitudes might you bring into classrooms?
Barron: In some ways I'm like an actor on stage and whatever my mood was before, that has to be secondary. That's why I bring props and wear a costume for the act.
Tribune: Your costume?
Barron: The traditional jacket and tie.
Tribune: Awfully tricky for a guy who doesn't believe in hierarchies. But then, you claim knowledge of certain subjugation tricks to keep the kids in line?
Barron: I can't reveal my secrets here. They're the same ones used by almost everyone, and once you recognize them you won't fall for them.
Tribune: Let's assume your students don't read the Tribune?
Barron: Ideally subjugation is not necessary.
Tribune: Yeah, sure. But if it is?
Barron: They call the teacher Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. And we always call them by their first names. That's a big one.
Tribune: Any more?
Barron: I get this out of a book on primates. The teacher is the alpha male in a baboon troupe. What do alpha males do? They keep their manes well-groomed. They settle disputes. And they reassure the rest of the troupe.
Tribune: Have any students offered to groom your mane?
Barron: Humans groom each other all the time, symbolically rather than physically. 'Hi, good morning, how are you?' That's grooming. It serves the same function as 'May I pick mites out of your hair?'
Tribune: But for the record, do you have mites in your hair?
Barron: No. But baboons probably don't have mites either. It's symbolic for them as well.
- Peter Korn