Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roller Coaster


All day-to-day substitute assignments are made on as as-needed basis under specific contractual guidelines.

Only the Substitute Caller is authorized to arrange substitute assignments.

If you know in advance that you will not be available to substitute on a day or days you are normally available, please contact... .

If you have accepted an assignment, except in case of emergency, you should report to the school you have been assigned to."

- Excerpts from a letter I received in the mail from Human Resources today

From under the covers, I could feel the chill permeating the bedroom, and knew it was going to be a cold day ahead. When I entered the kitchen to flip on the coffeemaker switch, the heater was already kicking, sounding like a waterfall (Don’t ask). Instead of sporting my cap, I knew when I was outdoors I’d be wearing what I call my Russian Hat, which is lined with faux fur and has earflaps.

As usual, my son was in denial regarding the chill. When it was time to put on our coats to take my children to school, he argued that his fleece was perfectly suitable.

“It’s nineteen degrees,” I said.

“You always say it’s cold when it isn’t! My coat is too big!” he screamed. He thinks the louder he is, the more right he is.

I used the trump card. “If you don’t put on your coat, you can take the bus.”

On the way out, I got my usual apology, but I was already feeling too little, too late. And I was wrong about the temperature; the car thermometer read eighteen degrees. I decided to hide the fleece until spring.

After I dropped them off, I continued on to the school I’d be subbing at for today and tomorrow, and it was for the science teacher I’d subbed for when he was out a week for knee surgery in September. I was confident that I’d been personally requested, and thought that except for a group or two, the days should be relatively easy. I was also confident that there would be plans, since I’d been called the previous evening.

Then I reached the classroom and saw that there were no plans. Not only that, but another substitute teacher had subbed in the room the previous day. Knowing that I’d been home yesterday while another sub had taught the classes made me feel like someone had cheated on me. Looking at the sub’s* notes, I was amazed that she filled out both sides of a yellow legal paper – I never write that much. Then I was smug to note that she’d had some discipline problems (I’m petty). After that, I had to focus on the fact that I had no lesson plans. Should the sixth-graders continue on with the textbook they’d used yesterday and should the seventh-graders pursue their projects (Which didn’t seem to go too well)?

I looked for the other Science teacher, but another teacher said he’d spoken with the absent instructor the day before, and he helped me plan. It turned out that the seventh-graders would be on a field trip today so I wouldn’t have them first period (hooray!), but they’d return before last period, so I’d have the last group (boo!), though the teacher thought he’d just take them to review the outing (Hooray!). I told the teacher that I was happy to take them last period, but it seemed less about me, and more that there would be no point in doing a regular lesson after an exciting day. The students wound up reporting for class anyway (Boo!).

Repeating the sixth-grade lessons from yesterday: reading from the chapter, taking notes, and answering the questions at the end was going to be monotonous, but what choice did I have? The other science teacher also visited me, and gave me alternative plans for the seventh-graders for tomorrow (plate tectonics chapter) and suggested that for the sixth-grade, I could have them draw and compare plant and animals cells. That was better.

This is how the day went:

1st group: B+ (They’ve behaved better)

2nd group: A (As always)

3rd group: D – (Would've gone better if I had enough books for them to

each have their own. Did yesterday’s sub let some students take

textbooks home?)

4th group: B (Which for that group is like an A)

The real downside of this two-day gig was that I was going to miss my husband making potato pancakes in my daughter's class tomorrow. She was disappointed when I told her, but I can’t keep taking days off every time they have something because I don’t work enough as it is. And I was hoping that I could at least go to her class publication breakfast (yes, she’s published before me) and choral concert on Tuesday next week. But if I do get that three-day Spanish sub job I mentioned the other day, I’ll miss that too. At least my husband can go to both; if he couldn’t I would’ve taken those days off because at least one parent should be there.

Last spring, I missed my son’s Music class performance, and although my husband recorded it, the sound was poor due to the room’s acoustics. This fall, my husband went to a breakfast, and we both forgot to have him bring the camera, so I missed my son do a performance we weren’t notified about because the teacher wanted it to be a surprise. I was surprised that I missed something important.

Not only does being a substitute provide me with daily roller coaster rides, but it puts my children on a bit of a roller coaster ride as well. It disappoints them and pains me each time I miss out on an event. The nice part about being a teaching assistant was that I could shift my hours to be there for almost everything that my children did. And I know I’ll have little flexibility when I get a full-time teaching job. As a sub I don’t have the choice to move my hours and keep my pay, yet I don’t have the salary of a full-time teacher. It’s the reality, and I just have to roll with it.

Fifteen minutes after the dismissal bell, when I picked up my children from the office, my son (wearing a guilty face) handed me a gift he'd made at the clay place a block from their school. Inside was a coaster with a picture of a sad face and the word "glum", and on the back was the definition "unhappy". He explained that their assignment was to put a vocabulary word on the coaster, and he chose "glum" because he liked how it sounded. It was the perfect present. We bundled ourselves up and faced the brisk afternoon.

* mistress’s


  1. Being a Substitute Teacher sounds like it can prepare you for anything. You always have to be ready, you always have to be positive and you always have to handle any situation.

  2. Eight problem boys in one class isn't a situation I like to handle. I'll see how it goes today.