Dressed down in a hoodie and T-shirt, he looked every bit the young, enthusiastic teacher ready to handle whatever this class of lively fourth graders could throw at him.
And while ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. admitted to feeling a little apprehensive when he introduced himself to students at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy last Wednesday, he soon felt right at home.
“Until today, I haven’t been in a classroom as a teacher since 2004. That’s 16 years,” he said.
“When I came in this morning, I was a little overwhelmed. I looked at the lesson plan and I thought, ‘How am I going to to keep the students engaged and teach them until 2:35 p.m.?’”
“But you know, it really is like riding a bike. My teacher hat came right back on. All those skills came flooding back to me quickly and I got right back into the classroom mode.”
“It reminded me why I became a teacher in the first place. It’s been pretty awesome.”
The students were clearly excited to have a VIP leading the class which included his own nine year old son Gregory III.
Gregory revealed his dad had been feeling pretty nervous about the challenge.
”He studied the lesson plan really hard last night to prepare for today and he told me his plan was to stick closely to it,” he added.
Dr. Hutchings received a unanimous thumbs up from the children of Mr Orndorff’s class who thought he made a first-class sub.
Ten year old Navy Hall gave high praise.
“He is a really good teacher,” he said. “He really interacts with us and he makes the lessons fun. I think his experience as superintendent definitely helped him in the classroom today. We would definitely have him back.”
His return to the classroom was part of a wider plan for all senior ACPS leadership to go back to school once a year and sub for the day.
The intention, said the superintendent, was to keep staff familiar with the fundamentals of why they do what we do. And to remind them of the challenges of teaching and how policies that leadership create work in reality.
After his positive experience last week, Dr. Hutchings said he now plans to teach several times a year.
“Once you get into leadership roles, teaching is not one of the things on your to-do list.”
“So I made the decision last year that Central Office staff really needed to get out into our schools and substitute teach for two main reasons: Firstly, to make sure that we are reconnecting with the classroom — because it’s important we understand how the policy we create impacts our students in our schools. And also to remind us why we are a part of Alexandria City Public Schools. Our kids are the reason why we do this work and I think this is the best way to remember why we are in this business.”
Who better to assess our superintendent’s performance than his administrator for the day, Dr. Patricia Zissios, Lyles-Crouch’s long-standing principal and one of our most experienced educators.
“He was wonderful,” she said. “My assistant principal and I stopped by a couple of times this morning just to lend some support if he needed it but he had everything under control.”
Next month the superintendent will be visiting his alma mater T.C. Williams High School where he will become a teenager for the day to get a better understanding of what school is like from a student’s perspective.