Tuesday, February 23, 2010


“I don’t at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.”

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

“It’s perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying against one, behind one’s back, that are absolutely and entirely true.”

- Oscar Wilde

Waking up at 5:25am this morning was brutal. During winter break, I’d gotten in a terrible habit of staying up until midnight or later, so trying to readjust the night before was futile. Believing that there was NO WAY I was going to get a sub call the day after vacation, I almost didn’t set my alarm. But the call came at 5:59am.

It could’ve been worse. I was reporting to a decent school to teach Phys. Ed.; a job I’d done a few times last spring. But I’d always subbed for the part-time gym coteacher. Since she’s a mom, she starts first period, takes no breaks, and leaves early. The good part is that they’d let me leave when her schedule was done. Working with the full-time teacher was always pleasant, but this time, he was the absent teacher. I looked forward to working with the part-time teacher, since we knew each other from my old school.

When I got to the office, the assistant principal printed me out the schedule and told me that it would be an easy day. After I spoke with the other PE teacher, I realized how easy it would be. We co-taught almost all day, and I had the first two periods, plus the last period off.

Since I had a big break, I went to the teacher’s room. While I was on my laptop, an assistant came in and made a pot of coffee. I wanted coffee. After she left, I investigated. For fifty-cents, I could have some. There was even a Styrofoam cup. My problem was that I only had thirty-cents in my wallet because when I entered the school, I gave my last dollar to a collection for Haiti. I tried not to bemoan my charitable donation, but… coffee.

Then I remembered, with city meters charging a quarter for a measely fifteen-minutes, I had change in the car. I ran out to get a couple of quarters. After pouring coffee and sugar, I checked the fridge for milk. No milk. So I made my way to the cafeteria, and found a kid-sized container. But there was nobody there. Should I leave money? I didn’t know how much to leave and they wouldn’t know what it was for, so, yes, I took the milk. At the time, I intended to go back, but then I forgot. I know; it’s terrible. When I’m called back to the school, I’ll pay them the quarter or fifty-cents. Remember, this was a coffee emergency.

The first class was a bunch of sixth-graders, many I had recently subbed for music*. I remembered them being chatty during ballroom dancing practice last year, and they hadn’t changed. While the other teacher did fitness tests, the other students tossed balls around or went outside. This gym's outside door leads right to the playground. The weather was actually moderate enough that the students could go out without coats and I could stand in the doorway without freezing to death.

It was funny seeing a group of girls playing some game where someone was sick or dying or something. Some were wearing makeup, their bodies were developing, a few were taller than me, but they played just like the third graders next period. The only difference was that the third-grade girls were smaller and one of them brought a pastel plastic pony, which they kept hiding and had to “save”. The owner of the pony cried when it got lost in the bleachers, but the other teacher fished it out.

I got a lot of exercise throughout the day. With each class, I did all the warm-ups like I always do, but they also had to practice for their upcoming endurance run fitness-test. The other teacher ran back and forth for two-minutes, so I did as well. If I had to run the full six-minutes like they do for the test, I would’ve fainted. I know, pathetic.

The last two periods were first and second-graders. During the first group’s class, a boy came up to me and asked, “May I borrow a writing implement and piece of paper?” Stifling a chuckle, I told him I didn’t have either. Then I told the teacher what he said. She replied, “When you were at lunch, a kindergartener asked, ‘Can I use the facilities?’” (So, when agents and editors tell you that kids or teenagers wouldn’t use certain vocabulary, don’t believe them.)

The last group was a much easier group to watch. No boys were jumping on top of each other or stealing other students’ jackets or lassoing one another around the neck with hula-hoops. One boy asked me if I would toss a football with him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how lousy I was, so I played. When we stopped playing, he told me how much he loved playing football.

I noticed he had an accent, so I asked, “Where are you from?”

“Haiti,” he replied.

“Have you lived here long?”

“Have I lived here long? I’ve lived here FOREVER!

Then I noticed a girl was upset. I asked her about it, but couldn’t make heads or tails of the issue. I thought it was because they were playing a game that they were in some vehicle, and there were already two passengers, and they wouldn’t let her be a third passenger. When I said something about a game, she got impatient with me, explaining:

“When we have a problem, instead of talking directly to the other person, we can use passengers to give the message. I asked to be a passenger, but she said there were already two, but I said there could be three. She still wouldn’t let me.” The girl pouted and quivered her lip for emphasis.

I tried talking to the other girl, but she was already dismayed because she’d pushed a taller girl by accident, and even though her passengers had tried to explain the situation, tall girl wouldn’t forgive her. Apparently, this was a different issue than the first issue in which passengers were necessary.

“Maybe you girls should stop using passengers,” I offered. The first girl shook her head. “No, our teacher said we should.” To me, it seemed like bringing a lot of students unnecessarily into the mix. What originally involved three girls had ballooned into at least seven. I could see them huddled, whispering. It created a lot of drama, which girls are already notorious for. Getting other girls involved sounds like a way to encourage gossip – encouragement they don’t need.

Boys and girls, regardless of age, always go right into those stereotypical roles during gym**. The boys are physical with one another and play more aggressive ball games, while the girls tend to role-play and sit around talking. With each grade, it’s the PE teachers’ job to make sure the boys play without injuring each other and encourage the girls to stop talking and get moving. When I sub Phys. Ed. I enjoy the students, but also get to view them in their natural habitat, which is great for writing for and about them.

* Post from my music day:


**Some previous PE jobs:





  1. Hi

    I do like the children asking for "a writing implement" and to use the "facilities"! Wonderful.

    And coffee emergencies. Oh must have coffee... can't function without coffee... I would have done what you did and taken the milk! LOL!

    I do remember my mixed PE lessons with a shudder. And we girlies did tend to gather in batches to gossip and chat... how funny. There were the few competitive girls who were really into their sports but mainly we bunched around and chatted. LOL! Your post is bringing a flood of memories for me.

    Yes, I agree - these situations are such wonderful inspirations for your writing.

    Take care

  2. What a bizarre game! The regular teacher gave them a task that *encouraged* them to gossip...? Girls hardly need any prompting to do that...

  3. Old Kitty, that's exactly how I remember it too. A few jock females would play, while the rest of us just tried to get out of everything. There's no other class where I can observe the children just being themselves.

    Hampshireflyer, it IS bizarre. I guess this teacher thinks using passengers/messengers will make the problems easier to solve or that she doesn't have to get involved in each little spat. Perhaps she's never heard of the game "Telephone".

  4. Ha! I have always been weary of subbing for PE because I was never an active participant, therefore I assume I will sympathize too much with the students and nothing would ever get accomplished. But you make it sound okay! Maybe I will give it a shot sometime.

    It's always interesting to see students in their natural environment and really being themselves. Love that!

  5. I find it so interesting that you navigate what is essentially a new job everyday. Things like coffee etiquette and where is the bathroom...that is all so stressful when you are starting a new job, how do you do it so frequently?

  6. Theresa,

    Hats off to you! I guess I never truly appreciated what a substitute teacher faces in a day!

  7. Tiffany, as a PE sub, I don't think it's our job to push them very hard. If there's a game, everyone usually wants to play and if there are stations, there's usually something out that interests every student. There were only balls out when the sixth-graders were waiting to test, so (of course) the girls opted out.

    Rebecca, read my first post if you want to know how much I dreaded doing this job. It's completely out of my comfort zone to be thrown into a new situation every day. But in a weird way, that has become routine. Sadly, the longer I sub, the more I know the layout and etiquette of each school.

  8. Thanks, VKT! Just like each day, each class brings its own surprises.

  9. OH I love that you spy on the girls! Maybe I'm a silly teenager written in someone's novel!!

  10. M. Gray, you made me laugh. I'd say it's watch or observe, rather than spy!

  11. It is funny to see that girls will be girls and boys will be boys. LOL.

    I'm glad your day job gives you so much fodder for writing. Make sure you carry a pen ... er excuse me... a *writing implement* and paper more often--both for the writer in you and the student's borrowing needs.

  12. Remarkable, Theresa. I really enjoy your blog. I posted an award for you this morning. There are absolutely no requirements for it. I just wanted to tell you how great you are!

  13. Jackee, before I became a parent, I would've sworn the differences between boys and girls was nurture and not nature. Boy was I wrong.

    In all fairness, I could've gotten him a writing implement and parchment, but it was gym/exercise time!

    Roxy, thank you for the compliment AND the award.