Tuesday, March 23, 2010


“One, two three, four

Can I have a little more?

Five, six, seven eight nine ten I love you.

A, B, C, D

Can I bring my friend to tea?

E, F, G H I J I love you.”

- Lennon, John; McCartney, Paul. Song “All Together Now” The Beatles

The last two days I’ve been a P.E. teacher. I’m beginning to get the idea that substitute teachers are petrified to teach Gym and Spanish. The call came Sunday night, so I had my workout clothes all ready for work.

I’d subbed gym at this school before* for the same teacher, so I knew what to expect. Since this was a hybrid Montessori school, I was going to have a plethora of three to five-year-olds in the afternoon. The co-teacher is funny to see in action, but he’s not interactive with me. “Follow my lead,” is what he said to me at the start of the day. There was no schedule printed anywhere, so he let me know which class was coming just before they arrived and when I had a break just before the break. Because of the myopia, I ate my lunch at 11:00 am, not realizing we also had a thirty-minute break at 12pm. As if the job ain’t unstable enough…

For almost every class, the students were doing endurance run testing. Sounds easy, right? Everything with children is complicated because when there are multi-step instructions, they don’t listen carefully. Two chairs, one crate, one bucket filled with beanbags, three kids. One child was to sit on the chair, holding an empty crate. The other was to sit between the bucket and chair across the room. The runner started behind the chair. When the whistle blew, s/he was to run to the opposite chair, grab a beanbag from the chair, run back and place it in the crate, run around that chair, and repeat for six-minutes. At the end, beanbags are counted to show how many laps were run. What could possibly go wrong?

  1. Students forgetting to replace beanbag on chair or throwing beanbags to one another
  2. Students handing out two beanbags at once, even though they know it’s cheating
  3. Students wandering from their stations
  4. Students dropping their crates
  5. Runners taking two beanbags, even though they know it’s cheating
  6. Runners not running around the chair after they place the beanbags in the crate
  7. Holders of crate running to dump beanbags in the bucket before they’ve been tallied

By the way, remember the spitter in Spanish? He didn’t spit, but he did commit sin #7. In the same class, a girl spit on another student. And spitting isn’t even on her Ed. plan.

The next morning, the phone rang so early that I was contemplating whether to do a plank pose after my pushups. I was to work for the same P.E. teacher, but this time I was beginning at the school, which is three blocks down the street and at some undetermined hour, I’d be driving to the original school I’d worked at the day before. I had done a two-school schedule for another teacher last spring, so I knew what to expect. I’m sure there will be no problems…

I arrived at the school ten-minutes early so I could sort out my afternoon schedule when I was told that the particular gym teacher no longer worked there. She did last year, but now she was at another school clear across town. At least, that’s what they thought – I should check with the other gym teacher and the gatekeeper. I’m sure that will clear things up…

The P.E. teacher was surprised that I’d been sent there, so I left a message for the gatekeeper. She called back a few minutes later, saying that the absent teacher had told her to send the sub to this school. I told the gatekeeper the other school that had been mentioned. She said it was too early to verify, so I said I’d just head that way. Did I mention that it was pouring rain? Things are going to look up – I just know it.

I arrived at the allegedly correct school, but the principal couldn’t tell me if I was supposed to be there. Yes, that is correct. So, I made my way to the gym and spoke with the other teacher, who said, yes, I was in the right place and I’d be there until 11:00 am, when I’d head over the to the other school, but he didn’t know my schedule. Not to worry because the second gym teacher will fill me in on a “need to know” basis…

My stint at the first school wound up being wonderful. The two kindergarten classes that came in were adorable. I got two hugs and I ran Simon Says with each group. The gym teacher told me, “You make Simon Says more fun than I do.” “You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself,” I replied. He made the warm ups fun, counting in lots of different ways – singles, by twos, in Spanish, and by reciting the alphabet. He also gave the students a variety of nicknames: Stretch, Big Willie Style, Lower-case C, and Waffles. His trick was to keep them moving and when it was time to dance, he told them that I said another school’s kindergartners danced better, so they had to prove me wrong. When they were done, I told them, “You are the best of all the kindergartens in the city.” They beamed.

In the first kindergarten class was a girl with Down syndrome, whose assistant couldn’t be there, so I was in charge of keeping an eye on her. There were two girls in particular who always looked out for her, holding her hands and encouraging her to participate. But other kids came over to hug her or to show her how to do the routine - “Watch me!” or “Try this!” When she was It, they’d stop in front of her and say, “Tag me!” Then they’d fall on the floor like a turtle in its back during Turtle Tag. Watching this class choked me up.

Then I returned to yesterday’s school. The three-year-olds have seen me enough, that I got quite a few hugs and requests to hold my hands while they jogged (which meant that I had to jog). In fact, a few began fighting over my two hands, so we ran in a chain and periodically rotated. That was the upside.

The last two classes had to do the endurance test again, which caused all the above problems. One group of three colluded to steal beanbags, which I didn’t notice until the race was nearly over. Instead of having the normal fifteen to twenty-two bags, this one had thirty in the crate. The part that bothered me the most was that I’d missed it because I had been running in every direction to keep students doing what they were supposed to do while the other teacher sat on a chair with his head down or periodically left the room. If he didn’t care about the rules, why should I?

Between Montessori in the fall, Spanish this winter, and a few days of gym this year, the young ones at this school not only recognize me – they actually know my name. A couple of the Montessori teachers go out of their way to include me during lunch, so there is one place I’m feeling more comfortable. For now.

“Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came.”

- Portnoy, Gary; Angelo, Judy Hart. “Cheers Theme Song”

* My first P.E. experience at this school:


** My first P.E. experience at this school:



  1. I actually went home from school in the middle of the day with a migraine and it sounds like I might have had an easier day than you. Mad props for all you manage during your day. And I'm glad you're at least finding one place where you feel comfortable. :)

  2. Glad to hear that you felt more comfortable. Hopefully, you will start to feel more and more comfortable with your subbing.

  3. Sarahjayne, I'm sorry that you had a migraine. I hope it's gone. Believe it or not, I actually counted today as a good day. Maybe I can't tell the difference. They're all zany.

    Choices, I figure now that the kids are hugging me and calling me Ms. M from memory, I won't be called back for a month.

  4. Thanks for linking to my blog :) I wish they'd stop calling you to sub, when will you ever get any writing done?!

  5. Hi

    I'm kind of inclined to think it was the game (the bean bag) game that was the problem rather than the kiddies - the game gave the kiddies plenty of opportunities to play fast and loose with the rules (I snorted at the other teacher who just sat there...!!). I was so glad the second subbing stint turned out more than ok after the mix-up! They did sound utterly adorable and I like that they were attentive and kind to the child with Down's Syndrome. And the whole class with their teacher and you sounded like such fun especially for the kids.

    Yes, I really think it was the beanbag game that was the problem! Much nicer to have something like Simon Says with you!

    Take care

  6. Karen G, this writing time has been severely limited, which has been tough. I'm assuming there will be a dry spell at some point and I plan to take advantage of it.

    Old Kitty, I agree - the bean bags were too tempting. Simon Says always works with little one in a pinch, especially since I'm willing to shake my hips, pinch my cheeks, and stick out my tongue.

  7. It sounds like you had some pretty good classes today. I don't understand about the changing schools like that? A sub in our county stays in a school all day. Do you switch because they don't have enough students in the school for a full-time PE teacher?

  8. It sounds like your day started out badly, but I'm glad that it ended well at least! It's difficult not having a routine or a roadmap and constantly having to start over everyday. You seem to do it all with grace and humor :)

  9. Wow, you've had some busy days! And it sounds like you manage to get P.E. fairly often, huh?

  10. VKT, some schools require two gym teachers because they either have very large classes taught together or they divide the gym in half. In some of those cases, a gym teacher works in two schools, but may be full-time. They do the same with instrumental music. Sometimes they do it with subjects like art and music because they can't afford a full-time person. I took myself off for instrumental music because those teachers go to three schools in one day.

    Katheen, it was more like bad start, sweet middle, and hectic end!

    Shelley Sly, I think I get P.E. a lot because other subs won't put it on their lists. Tomorrow, it's going to be Art. Hopefully I'll get some writing in at the end of the week.

  11. You are a P.E. pro! It's nice when kids remember you and have good memories of you. It's so much better than you walking into a class and hearing, "OH NO, not HER!" Haha :)

    I'm curious, do you sub for high school?

  12. You amazing woman. I always find your accounts of teaching so interesting. I'm such an introvert, I'd have a difficult time doing what you do. And that you do it with such grace and style is another thing I admire. Thanks for the great post.

  13. Tiffany, I do work at the high school, but not as often as I'd like. They gave me more high school jobs in the beginning of the year. If I only put high school, I'd work there more but work less overall.

    Thanks, Roxy. When I'm writing these posts, I don't think grace and style after what gets thrown my way.

  14. I don't miss substitute teaching! Thank goodness I have my own classroom - so much easier to deal with! You poor thing :)

  15. Jemi, thanks for the comment. Substitute teaching is like graduate school - something you have to get through.

  16. wow. what an experience! substitute teaching sounds intense. lol.

    but my fingers are crossed for your success!

    i don't doubt you'll get very far, very quickly :D

  17. Thanks, Tahereh. Now I feel bad for all the times my classes were mean to sub when I was young (Not me, of course).

    Your blog is hysterical - it puts queries in perspective.

  18. This is harrowing!!!! I keep flashing back to when I subbed...

  19. Beth, the day I subbed for computer lab was much, much worse.