Baker makes English’s idiosyncrasies dizzyingly fresh. His wacky descriptive gifts are also on brilliant display ... The book is a sobering reminder of the minefield mentality that dominates our schools.
For such a long book, Baker makes few recommendations, most of them modest enough — shorter days, less homework, more attention to foundational knowledge. As a rule he’s on firmer ground when he questions sequence than when he balks at scope ... But any deficiencies one might find in Baker’s classroom management, and he finds plenty on his own, are not all his fault. Substitute reminds us how even the best teachers can only be a little better than the schools in which they teach ... Baker’s book may be the most revealing depiction of the contemporary American classroom that we have to date.
Substitute faithfully re-creates the grinding, sometimes stultifying routines of classroom life, from shushing the class to cleaning the dry-erase board. Unfortunately, this comes at considerable expense for readers ... The resulting book too often reads like a transcript, albeit one that highlights both the tedium and charm of teaching school ... Baker clearly loves kids, and the funniest, most poignant pages of Substitute capture their intelligence, humor, sweetness and exasperating energy.