Monday, October 5, 2009


“My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.’”

Tom Hanks as character, Forrest Gump in movie “Forrest Gump”

Reporting for sub duty, whether I received the call the previous evening or that morning, is a minefield of possibilities. The only information I’m given is: which school I’m reporting to, what time I am to report, which grade and/or subject, and the name of the absent teacher. But until I reach the classroom, I don’t know what I need to do. I place the possibilities into four categories.

If I sub gym, I really don’t need lesson plans from the instructor, unless s/he is working on something specific. Kindergarten, first and second grades like games, such as “Stuck in the Mud”, which is similar to Freeze Tag, is a popular one. Third-grade and up can play games like Dodge Ball and Kick Ball. If I want to be less structured, there’s always a closet full of jump ropes and various balls to keep the students entertained and exercised.

The best sub jobs are when the absent teacher has left very specific plans. This will include detailed instructions about the routine and work expected, and all handouts/DVDs are provided. The younger the grade, the more specifics I need because, let me tell you, little children will call you out if you say or do anything different than their teacher. For upper-grades, when you get a different group of students every forty-five minutes to hour-and-fifteen-minutes, there’s usually less detail necessary. Those jobs are easier because there are normally just one or two different types of classes with repetitive assignments. By the way, specific plans should include assigned seats, otherwise students who shouldn’t sit together will invariable do so.

Less ideal jobs are the ones in which I’ve been left papers or a DVD, but much not much instruction (sometimes I have to hunt for the DVD and/or something to play it on). Often, I need to make decisions on the fly, before the students begin asking me questions and I appear unknowledgeable. Once I’ve figured everything out, the day goes smoothly. That’s what happened on Friday; I was left two packets, but no notes. Was I to collect the homework or did they need it for the debate the following week? Were all the classes preparing for the debate and watching the DVD? Should I make connections during the DVD that would be helpful? But something is better than nothing.

The worst jobs have no plans at all. This is more likely to happen when I get a morning call, like I did today. I was to report to the same job as last Friday, for the same teacher. Since this Social Studies instructor left handouts without much instruction last week, I had a sinking suspicion there would be nothing today. At home, I scrambled to find some old Social Studies papers, but I hadn’t done upper-grade European History since I’d student-taught. Unfortunately, until Friday, I hadn’t had any upper-grade Social Studies gigs since I began subbing, so I wasn’t sure which storage box those old lesson plans are buried in. I arrived at the school nice and early, working with the next-door teacher to come up with a lesson for my three groups. I’d have them for long periods, so I had to be prepared. We came up with a textbook chapter to read, plus questions to answer regarding The Enlightenment period – not the most exciting way to spend a class, but acceptable. I don’t like having to ask another teacher for assistance, but without knowing which materials the absent teacher previously used, I wasn’t in a very good position to decide on my own.

The lesson must’ve been adequate because, after a little cajoling, each group got quiet and went to work. If students think you’re wasting their time, they’ll waste your time. While the students were working, I spent some minutes preparing for tomorrow’s lesson, just in case I’m called again. Even if it’s for nothing, I’ll sleep easier knowing that if the early morning call comes for the same time/same place/same teacher, I’ll be prepared.


  1. Perhaps you should study ballet, or would that be redundant considering how adept you're becoming at being on your toes all the time. ; j

  2. It's funny you say that. I wasn't allowed to take ballet, so I'm devoid of grace and coordination.

    But subbing makes my mind sharp.

  3. I remember you saying you weren't allowed to dance... When you mentioned that your seven year old daughter enjoyed it so much. So it was ballet you weren't allowed to do.
    Well, you seem well balanced enough without. ; j You have no trouble making your point without pointe slippers.

    And grace can be achieved through other means, like yoga for instance.
    Speaking of which, yeah bikram yoga... Not my idea of a good time, and the health benefits of it are debatable too.

  4. In high school, I took dance as a gym credit. It was tragic. If I wasn't going in the wrong direction, my feet weren't cooperating, and don't ask about my form.