“Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me…
Hello teacher what’s my lesson
Look right through me
- Gary Jules. Song “Mad World”
Thursday morning, I received another call to teach Spanish – this time for a middle school that I hadn’t taught at much. In fact, I’d only been there three times: my second sub job ever for Music (no plans were left); Spanish, which was a challenging day, to say the least; and a rambunctious preschool class. Since it was a difficult middle school, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
When I arrived, the teacher was there. He explained that he was going on a field trip, so he’d still be there to teach first period and I’d only have a few classes to run. Not too bad, right? The bonus of this school’s location is that it’s near a Starbucks, so I made my way over for a cup of coffee and did some reading.
The teacher warned me about the eighth-graders, but getting through the class was another matter. While they weren’t killing one another or being disrespectful to me, all but about five students could care less about the class or doing any work. Fifty-minutes were spent nagging and warning that they wouldn’t accumulate the five tickets they needed for this class. Once they reached 100 from all the teachers, they’d get free time and once they reached 500, they’d get a pizza party. In my class that day, they received ZERO tickets. Did they care? No.
Fourth-grade went much better and fifth-grade was a dream. Even with the light schedule and fairly easy day, I was wiped out. I chalked it up to staying up late because of the Celtics game the previous night.
When I came home from school, there was a call to sub music the next day. It was at a school where I’d only taught PE twice before*. I was relieved that at least it wasn’t Spanish.
When I arrived to the classroom, I thought there were no plans, which made the large number of papers and Bose speaker (along with my usual handbag, lunch bag, and laptop) worth carrying as I commuted on bicycle. But in the far corner of the room, I found a DVD, a video, a couple of picture books, and plans. I was going to have four 1/2-grade classes and one sixth-grade class.
The television and wires into the DVD and VCR were a mess, but there were instructions to switch wires to get each player to work. As I carefully moved the television closer the rug where the students would sit, the power strip that held a bunch of chords separated, making me feel like when the same thing happens to the scientist at the clock tower in the movie “Back to the Future”. In fact, I may have sounded a similar, Aaack!
When I finally figured out what went where for which and when, I was ready. The first and second-grade classes ran the gamut from easy to difficult. Throughout the day, I had autistic, and mentally handicapped children mixed in with the mainstream students. Some kids required their own aides, while others needed support, which I had to provide. On top of that, there were the usual behavior problems. I made sure to sit next to those students, sending them to the other side of the room if they talked too much.
Here are some of the highlights from the Disney video:
At some point in the video, Johnny Appleseed wades through a river.
“Is that Jesus?” a girl asked.
“No, that’s Johnny Appleseed,” I explained.
“Oh, because Jesus can walk on water.”
“Johnny Appleseed is just walking through the water.”
In another clip, two skaters kiss.
“EWWWW!” There was a collective shout, mostly by the boys.
One girl turned back to face the shouters. “That’s not gross!”
“Yes it is,” responded one boy.
“No it isn’t. I kiss my mom on the cheek.”
Toot the tugboat toots out a distress signal.
“What’s S.O.S. mean?” asked a student.
“It means, save our ship,” I replied.
“I know what S.O.B. means,” a boy said.
The sixth-grade class would’ve gone off without a hitch if, when I opened the case, I hadn’t found the DVD cracked in half. (Swell.) A student recommended another DVD, which wound up being so boring that most of the class wandered away from the TV to talk in clusters. I didn’t blame them.
By the time the day ended, I was wiped out, though there was little reason to be. I’m burned out. Having to anticipate what a day will be like and constantly switching gears midstream as I figure out the students and little wrenches get thrown into the mix is mentally challenging. I’m at the point where I need a good, long break, but our spring break isn’t until the week of April 19th (Patriot’s Day is to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord. I swear this is only other holiday we get for the American Revolution).
Being a substitute teacher is to have a job that is constantly in flux. I rarely teach the subjects that I know well. I have little choice in where I go and what type of class I get. But more than the new situations and figuring out the students, subjects, and routines, is that my job is a little lonely. I don’t have camaraderie with the teachers or the students like I used to as an assistant. Even on the days that I write, which many might consider solitary, I can reach out to fellow bloggers or talk to family and friends on the phone. Being a substitute teacher is about as isolating as I felt being a new mother before I reached out to other mothers.
Once I’ve been to a school a number of times and have started to get to know the teachers and students, I don’t get another assignment there for weeks or even months. More and more, I find myself retreating to the classroom during my breaks, instead of going to the teachers’ room. I don’t know anyone well enough to have more than polite conversation, and at this point, that takes a mental stamina that I don’t want to exert. So, I microwave my food, and then return to the room to work or read.
There are a lot of good aspects to subbing, but these days I’d like some stability with students, subjects, and coworkers. Do other subs feel this way? How about other teachers? Writers? Parents? What do you do to connect with other people?