A 30-year-old clip from ‘The Simpsons’ is a beautiful love letter to substitute teachers
“The Simpsons” has been around for nearly 40 years, and amid the juvenile humor (cue the “eat my shorts” line), this show expertly weaves in some truly valuable life lessons.
No better example than this clip from Season 2, Episode 19: Lisa’s Substitute.
You Are Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)
For those who aren’t familiar with the show or its characters … First off, how is that possible? Second, Lisa Simpson is a young girl often ostracized for her intelligence and passion, both at school and at home. That is, until she meets substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom.
Mr. Bergstrom offers innovative and fun learning methods, which challenge and inspire Lisa. And for the first time ever, this precocious child is appreciated for who she is, feeling a little less alone in her environment. It’s sort of easy to see how Lisa develops a bit of a crush.
This episode came out three decades ago, and yet still perfectly encapsulates the immense value that substitute teachers bring. Even though they grace the classroom for a brief time, they can make a huge difference in a student’s life. Whether they’re assigned to a school for a day or for a month, substitute teachers ensure quality education, having enough enthusiasm to ignite a love of learning in students they only just met. Or, in Lisa’s case, acknowledge and nurture gifts that are already there.
Like Mr. Bergstrom, who dons a cowboy costume to help with a history lesson, substitute teachers have to be creative in their lesson plans. Not to mention multitalented to handle a variety of subjects. As Mr. Bergstrom tells Lisa: “It’s the life of a substitute teacher. Today he might be wearing gym shorts. Tomorrow he’s speaking French. Or pretending to know how to run a band saw.”
And yet, all good things must come to an end. No matter the impact, all substitutes must eventually leave. As does Mr. Bergstrom, who is off to help kids in the projects of Capital City … those who “need it more.”
Devastated to lose her newfound mentor, Lisa chases Mr. Bergstrom to his departing train.
“Were you just gonna leave? Just like that? You’re the best teacher I’ll ever have,” she says through tears. You can hear the pain in her voice. She’s back to being all alone.
That’s when Mr. Bergstrom hands Lisa a piece of paper before bidding her farewell, telling her “whenever you feel like there’s nobody you can rely on, this is all you need to know.” And it’s the best parting gift he could have given.
The note has a simple, yet profound message.
“You are Lisa Simpson.”
Anyone who’s ever felt misunderstood or undervalued might spend their whole life trying to learn this—they are enough. The fact that it was taught by practically a stranger makes it all the more powerful.
There are so many Mr. Bergstroms out there, who support students and help them grow into their full potential, in ways both big and small. With a note, with a kind word, a meaningful teaching style or with simply being there. Though it’s heartbreaking to say goodbye, the connections substitute teachers create leave the world a better place. They are a gift.
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