I thought I could empty out that tote bag next to my desk at home. It contains a zipper pouch full of stickers, a pad of Post-It notes, a Sharpie, a chalk holder, and a pen. It’s got my “baseball,” two water bottles and some granola bars. There’s also a comb and a hair tie or three.
With that bag, I was ready to hit the ground running and deal with a class of 25 students or less on ninety minutes’ notice.
I am a substitute teacher.
It’s something I’d resisted for years. When I began volunteering in the school library the year Little Brother entered kindergarten, a few teachers asked me why I didn’t sub.
I guess I could have, but I never did. I never wanted to have to walk into somebody else’s classroom with little to no warning and deal with a bunch of kids who were chomping at the bit to take advantage of unsuspecting substitutes, all while wearing uncomfortable shoes.
And then the librarian asked if I would sub for her when needed. That was OK, because I’d volunteered so much in there that I knew exactly what to do and when to do it and where everything was.
Last fall, the school’s substitute-teacher pool was decimated after a couple of teachers were out long-term. I was asked to consider subbing for the classroom teachers.
To my surprise, I found out that I liked it. It’s not a huge school, so I know most of the kids (by face, if not by name.) And they all know me.
There’s a lot on a substitute teacher’s plate. You never know, going in, how detailed the lesson plans are going to be (or if there will be lesson plans at all). You might have to teach subjects you’re ill-prepared for (physics, anyone?) Murphy’s Law will have it that you’ll have at least one Duty (morning dropoff, recess, or bus) and there’s always the chance that your Special will be canceled, which means no bathroom break for you.
What does a substitute teacher do?
- She reassures the children that their regular teacher is OK and will be back soon.
- She tries to keep classroom routines and procedures in place.
- She listens to children who need to tell her how their regular teacher usually does things. Every ten minutes.
- She puts happy-face stickers in homework notebooks and remembers not to write cursive with students who have not yet made their First Communion.
- She remembers that the second-grader she met in the library two years ago is hearing-impaired and needs the teacher to face her when speaking–even though there’s nothing in the sub plans to remind her.
- She figures out, on the fly, how to deal with various other special needs that present themselves without warning in the sub plans: the kid with a behavior chart, the OCD child who can’t work if she can’t find her pencil case, although there’s a perfectly good pencil on her desk that she could be using, the one who just doesn’t do any work all day long.
- She muddles her way through fire drills and lockdown drills and shelter-in-place drills.
- She leaves a journal for the teacher, detailing what work was completed in each class period.
- And she uses her Teacher Glare liberally with older students whom she’s known since they were in Pre-K, and who should know by now that she doesn’t put up with much.
When I started working at CatholicMom.com last March, I took my name off the sub list. My job affords me a very flexible schedule, but I really can’t be at school on 90 minutes’ notice anymore. I subbed a few times last spring for teachers who had made reservations before I started working at CatholicMom, but that was really it. I went back to my one-morning-per-week library volunteer gig and was happy as a clam to be there.
And then this summer, the librarian asked once again if I could sub for her. She gave me more than two weeks’ notice, so I had plenty of time to make sure that I got things done at work. It was flattering when more than one teacher said, “You’re HERE? You’re subbing???” but I had to remind them that this was an unusual circimstance–and that I’d see them Friday as usual for library.
When I walked in to the school Friday morning and signed my name in the volunteer roster, I heard voices from the office: “She’s here. You can ask her right now.” Uh-oh…I knew what was coming. Sure enough, they needed me to sub one day next week for a middle-school teacher who’s been out for a week already.
It’s just one day, I had plenty of notice, and I knew they wouldn’t ask me if they hadn’t exhausted other alternatives first.
So on Thursday I’ll be picking up that tote bag once again, packing my lunch, and heading to school dressed in my teacher clothes, hoping I don’t have outdoor-recess duty–and packing an extra hair tie in case I do.