The Athletic Substitute Teacher

His rollercoaster of a journey started out with what he thought would be just another substitute teaching job. With Ms. Bettini, the 9th grade and AP Biology teacher, out on furternity leave, Shaker needed to find a substitute teacher that wasn’t just going to take attendance and then disregard the students. When Mr. Bruton stepped up to the plate, he didn’t realize just how much more he’d be doing than just teaching AP Biology at Shaker High School. 


I remember the nervous excitement that we all shared – that “we have a sub!” feeling filled the air and we were all prepared to either do no work or be bored to death. As soon as Mr. Bruton walked in, this expectation was dismissed. Somehow, this tall, smiling young man immediately captured our respect and liking for him. Straight away, it was apparent that Mr. Bruton wanted to establish a connection with each and every one of us and transcend past just a biology class. On top of this stressful substitute teaching job, he was also studying for and completing his master’s program at school at the same time.

Over the course of the few months that Mr. Bruton was our teacher, we learned not only where ribosomes are assembled or how the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell – we would also discover Mr. Bruton’s history of athleticism and love for sports. Specifically, we learned that Mr. Bruton wasn’t any ordinary high school or college student – he excelled at cross country running. Through his busy schedule, Mr. Bruton somehow always found time for what he loved doing – and that was running. He says that he participated in indoor track, outdoor track, and cross country for all four years at SUNY Oneonta. 


What started out as a confused shock slowly developed into a saddening realization of what this meant. While some of us were pretty sure of what was about to be said, we tried to dampen this awareness with hopeful remarks. What was said was exactly what some of us expected but yet – it still brought a shock to all of us. Mr. Bruton, a visitor for the day, had walked into the room a bit differently than he had on his first day of teaching – still the same smile, the same walk, but this time bald and slightly skinnier than I remember. He told us that he had been diagnosed with cancer just a few months ago. In what felt like an eternity later, he announced that he had beaten it and is now cancer free!


Just one year after being diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Bruton started coaching cross country as the assistant coach. Mr. Bruton says that he was careful when starting out – he didn’t want to disrupt the thriving and incredible environment that the head coach had built and shaped over so many years. Adding a new coach, not to mention a first year coach, is a hard and intricate process that many teams struggle with or even fall apart trying to do. Mr. Bruton was very aware of this and wanted the team to continue on its usual flow. He says that bringing in values, strategies, and practices that he learned throughout his time on the track team in High School and College helped him effectively relate to and coach his cross country runners in only his first year with the daunting job. Mr. Bruton tries to take all of the lessons and teaching styles from his past track and cross country coaches and merge them into one coaching style – and so far, its been working great. 


Mr. Bruton is now in his third year of coaching and his second year as a full time Earth Science teacher at Shaker High School. Despite being occupied with demanding classes at school and having to substitute for an AP Bio teacher for weeks, Mr. Bruton always made sure that he wasn’t ignoring his love for sports. Mr. Bruton and his complex story is yet another perfect representation of just how far the values and lessons that you learn from sports can extend and the impact they will forever have on you.