Thursday, April 29, 2010

No Más

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”

- Fitzhugh Dodson

The good thing about the substitute gatekeeper is that she calls later in the evening than the “real” gatekeeper. The regular one called until 7:00 pm. This meant any teacher who called in sick after that time wouldn’t get a substitute until the next morning (5:30 am). Later night calls = more sleep in the morning. So, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the calls came in around 8:00 pm. Unfortunately, it also means I’ve worked (too much) everyday so far this week. Since I was on vacation and won’t get paid for last week, this is good. (It’s terrible.)

Monday = French (5th-8th grades)

Tuesday = Kindergarten

Wednesday = Spanish (9th-12th grades)

Thursday = Science (7th-8th grades)

If I receive a call for Friday, I’ll cry. As I said on Facebook, these erratic assignments are giving me whiplash. (Friend me, if you’d like. Theresa Brown Milstein.)

I hadn’t worked at the high school for a few weeks, so I looked forward to spending the day in Community R. You know how many of my sub job posts begin with mornings that are difficult and days that get better? This was one of those days.

When I arrived at the office, the secretary handed me the schedule and attendance with the so-called plans for Spanish scribbled on the front by said secretary. Drum roll please:

Have students complete packet.

Finish movie. May already be done.

What movie? What packet? What if someone forgot them? Are there more copies? What if they complete the packet? Any alternatives? Anything else I should know?

When I reached the classroom, there was a TV/DVR combo, along with a DVD on Central America sitting on the cart. At least that was taken care of. Soon, the students filed in.

I told them to work on the packet. “We completed that.”

I mentioned the movie. “We saw that.”

I found a movie on Mexico. “We saw that too.”

Gulp. After searching the room for something, I ran to the office and found a useless (because there’s NO WORK in it) sub folder in the mailbox and grabbed the DVD inside.

Holding up, “Il Postino”, I asked, “Have you seen this?”


Groan. “I’ll be right back.”

I dashed back to the office. Mind you, I’ve left a roomful of students unsupervised, praying they wouldn’t steal my money out of my wallet or download porn onto my laptop. I was fairly certain they didn’t seem the type to do either. Then I explained my “situation” to the secretary. She tried the teacher. He didn’t answer. (What are the odds?)

I admitted, “I have Spanish handouts but they’re too easy for high school. At this point, I’m not sure what to do with them.”

“I’ll find something for you.”


Then I left the office dismayed because I’ve NEVER, in over a year of subbing, EVER had NOTHING. The school is huge, so it’s not like the library is right there for me to grab another movie. The DVDs at home weren’t appropriate for an older Spanish class. (Dora the Explorer?) And how could I possibly know what they were learning. There are classes where I can come up with impromptu lessons. High School Spanish is not one of them.

I returned to the room and tell the students, “Nothing new was left. I’m waiting for the office to bring something.”

One student said, “Just put ‘Central America’ on. We can watch it again.”

“Okay, when the secretary comes in, we’ll do something else.”

They sat and watched the DVD for at least twenty minutes until the secretary came in with “Selena” and some film I’d never head of. I told the students their choices. “We’ve seen ‘Selena’ so many times!” one student wailed. With little choice, I put in the other DVD, which wound up being like a Spanish soap opera. The students watched the film, occasionally making fun of it. They were so good even though I was unprepared and left the room. They didn’t even touch my wallet or computer. Sniff.

Second period was at the Freshman Academy/Ninth-Grade High School. Armed with my pile of DVDs, I headed over. Those students had finished the packet, but hadn’t seen “Central America”. Easy class. While they watched, I edited. You’d have to ask my beta reader, Aubrie if the chapters* I forwarded were coherent.

A Math teacher at the school asked me when the Spanish teacher was returning. I asked how long the Spanish teacher had been out. It turns out he’d gone on a trip to Central America two days before break and hadn’t returned. “Must’ve gotten sick,” the Math teacher mused. All I knew was that it explained why the students had completed the packet and had watched an inordinate number of DVDs.

Last period, the students had previously done all the work and seen all the movies but the Spanish Soap Opera film. Halfway through, I let them slack because the movie really was BAD. A couple of girls drew and colored, while the boys played basketball with a garbage can and crumpled paper. Oh yeah, I’m gonna get that “Sub of the Year” award any day now.

These students attend each class for an-hour-and twenty-minutes. If the teacher misses this many days with inadequate work, it adversely affects their education. I’m sure they’re happy to slack, but I’m incensed on their behalf. And tired. I need a break.

*Aubrie’s blog:


  1. I'm just not going to think about what this says about our public school system.

  2. I am incensed with you.

    Sounds like you did a great job considering all you were up against!!

  3. This sounds like a better day than some of the others you've had. I understand about the hour and 20 minute class periods (my schools have them too) and how absences in such long classes can affect learning and progress. I think you did well with what you were given (er, not given, really)

    Hope you get a day off soon. Take care of yourself, my friend.

  4. Oh my goodness!

    The things you have to put up with! I'm just so impressed the kids were quite good about it all. It's not fair on you or the kids if nothing is planned properly or there aren't any back-up plans.

    I really think full time teachers who need subs must be made to write at least a page and a half of good solid instructions with a back up plan BEFORE they can have leave! Seriously!

    As always, I am in AWE at your ability to stay calm and run around and keep all these classes as good as they are!

    You get my vote for Substitute Teacher of the Year Extraordinaire!

    p.s. great that you managed to sneak an edit or two in the process!!

    Take care

  5. KarenG, the office seemed quite unconcerned about it. And if I copied handout that had nothing to do with what they were doing, they would've known it was a time killer rather than "real work" and acted up.

    Bossy Betty, thank you.

    Shelley, thank you. My feeling is that if these students only have four classes a day, they'd better be good.

    Old Kitty, everything he left had been used up. He must've known it.

    Thanks for my "award". I may have earned it today with middle schoolers. They're cute, but oh so goofy and draining.

  6. You are truly amazing Theresa, the things you put up with on a daily basis amaze me. I have a friend who subs but she doesn't take it seriously.

    I don't know how you manage to go back each and every day and deal with all the silliness but I think it's amazing that you do!

  7. Wow, no plans for days and days. Sounds like my classes before they hired me--no plans, no education for weeks! Believe me, if it doesn't hurt them education-wise, it will hurt their work-ethic wise. Good luck to the teacher when she returns.

    I'm glad they are calling you a little later so you can sleep later. That's always a plus.

    And tomorrow's Friday, so that's a plus!

    I'm thinking you're probably up for the "Sub of the Year Award" :) No joke!

  8. Jen, thank you. At this point, the only thing that's keeping me going is a paycheck and the end of the school year in June.

    Tiffany, I'm so happy tomorrow is Friday. I'm happy for you too! You've had some week.

    I hope the award is sparkly.

  9. Hopefully nothing has happened to the teacher. Still, I am appalled at the haphazard carry on you and the students are subjected to.

    Fingers crossed you have a day to yourself tomorrow. You deserve it.

  10. Awww thanks for the mention :)

    Yes, the chapters are going very well!

    I can't believe that teacher had nothing for you to do. Like I said earlier, my husband had me drive to school the morning he was sick just so that the sub had something to do. Can't everyone be responsible like that?

  11. Wow, I'm with you in that I feel for the students. They're being shortchanged, and they sound like a good bunch, willing and interested in learning. What a shame. Why do you suppose it's like this, so unorganized, not even some generic back-up plan in place for sudden absences?

  12. Ann, thank you! I hope I have off too. It's well after 8pm, and no call, so I'll have to see tomorrow morning. It's rare that I have a Friday off.

    Aubrie, your husband sounds like a dedicated teacher.

    Joanne, the teachers are supposed to have sub folder with canned plans, but it's probably just for one lesson. By the time I subbed, it was his fifth day out.

  13. Craziness! I probably would have made them just watch the movie that was there, and told them if they didn't want to see it a second time, to work silently at their desks....of course, I've never subbed HS, so I have no clue how that would go over with that age group.

  14. Hate to open up a can of worms, but I presume your in the state sector, what happens in the private schools, do they use the same bank of teachers or do they have a better system?

  15. You brave, brave soul. Sounds like they were a decent bunch of kids though!

  16. That's a lot of work. At least they had something to watch. I just hope you get an off on Friday!
    Happy Friday...:)

  17. Vagabond Teacher, when I tell them to work silently at their desks, they often say they have no work. With only four classes in big blocks, they have their HW done the previous night. A few who had other work, did it. In HS, especially with such long classes, if the teacher doesn't leave proper work, it's a big problem. K-8, I can always improvise.

    Brigid, private schools pay way less overall and I don't think there's a system that links subs to different private schools. For Cambridge, I can work in any of their schools and the pay is decent for subbing.

  18. India, the students were decent. Community R can go either way. I was happy I got good groups.

    Mr. Stupid, it's 5:49 now, and I have the phone beside me, waiting for the dreaded call.

  19. This would make good fodder for a book!
    And though it's unrelated it reminds me of James Herriot's thankless North-Yorkshire adventures in veterinary surgery.
    Theresa Milstein, "all schools great and small".

    It's small comfort but it sounds like your doing your best in really poor conditions, there's pride to be had there.

  20. Alesa, thank you for the compliment. I never hear of that book.

  21. Oops, I guess the joke loses it's punch then. Sorry about that: I guess I overestimated the fame of those books in the US.

    "All creatures great and small" is the name of the first US omnibus.

    The semi autobiographic books retell a vet's difficult first steps in his chosen career... Eccentric Yorkshire farmers with their farm animals that have as much character as anyone else in the book... 3am calvings in freezing barns... etc.

    The tone is mostly light, the writing is elegant and riddled with good humor. A very fun to read.

  22. Alesa, it sounds like something I should read. Not only does it seem funny, but maybe it will give me some ideas about going ahead with my stories. Thanks!

  23. Speaking of books, have you ever read 'Teacher Man' by Frank McCourt? I'm sure you'd love it. You should also watch 'Teachers' - it's a hilarious UK sitcom (not sure if you can get it there, but if you can it's worth it!).

  24. Talli, I loved Teacher Man. Frank McCourt is my hero.

    I'll see if I can get ahold of "Teachers". Thanks!

  25. Wow. How many movies do these kids watch in school? I don't think I watched any in high school Spanish. I'm not sure whether to be jealous or dismayed. ;)

  26. Rebecca, based on the quality of that last film, dismayed.

  27. I find that sometimes when you sub, the teachers just give the sub busy work to do like ditto's and watching movies. It makes the job harder. The sign of a good teacher is to improvise and you seem to be doing that very well.

  28. Choices, I'm not a big fan of busy work. It definitely makes our job harder.