Monday, April 12, 2010

Smells Like Teen Spirit

“A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.”

- Rudolf Steiner

Friday morning, I received a call to sub Spanish in two schools. I’d begin in my children’s school and end in the middle school that had given me so much trouble in Math a couple of days before*. Great.

I’d never had the middle school students at the first school, and they were well behaved. In fact, they were so good that I could do other things while they did the dialogue assignment. When I was done, I left in the rain to head to the other school. There, I only had one seventh-grade class (the nicer one than the other day), and then there would be a pep rally.

The seventh-grade class was entertaining, if not the brightest bunch. Some students kept asking what words in their textbook meant. “There’s a glossary in the back of the book, you know,” I replied. They didn’t know.

Several of the students had face paint and wore light blue t-shirts. I asked two boys which sports they played. One replied, “I’m a cheerleader for the girls’ team.” Then he pointed to his friend and said, “He’s the cheerleader for the boys’ team.” His friend laughed and replied, “No, I’m the cheerleader for the girls’ team. He’s the cheerleader for the boys’ team.” In case you haven’t had the pleasure of spending time with eighth-grade boys, they spend a lot of time accusing/joking with one another of being gay and racist. Adorable.

Then it was time for the pep rally. Here’s where I admit that I didn’t rush to join everyone in the auditorium. My seventh-graders left to meet up in their homerooms, but my group never showed up. Attending a rally for students I barely knew, although an easy way to spend the next hour-and-a-half, was going to be boring and depressing.

When I slipped into the auditorium, it seems that all I’d missed was someone singing “The Star Spangled Banner”. All of the seats were taken, so I stood in the back with the other teachers and late parents. All three teams (boys’ basketball, boys’ hockey, and girls’ hockey) were along the back by the doors, waiting to be called one at a time, while the coach told us something wonderful about each individual.

I had a moment of déjà vu because the “coach” used to work at my old school and ran the rallies there. In fact, he held one when my daughter was two-years-old. I brought her because I’d never attended one before, and thought it would be fun. As soon as the music blared, she held her ears and began to cry, so I hurried out of the auditorium. For the next two years, she told me “Rawees are vewy woud.”

At this rally, many students did a shtick when their name was called. One threw candy at the audience, which made the kids NUTS. After the second student did that, the coach wouldn’t allow any more sweets to be tossed before an audience member died. Another student actually threw cash, which caused a similar riot.

Remember all of those twins? Two sets of twins and one from a third set were on various teams. Well, one girl pretended she was her sister and dissed the coach/gym teacher, instead of meeting him on the podium. But then the “correct” twin ran up and hugged the coach.

Another student did a split when she got to the stage. One boy, who’s number 34 (that’s a big number – it was Michael Jordan’s on The Bulls). He stripped off jersey after jersey with that number on it until he got to his shirt. How he managed to wear about eight or nine jerseys and not appear bulky, I have no idea.

With each student’s march down the aisle, a song of his/her choosing was played. A large male made his way down while his own written and performed song was played. I went to clap when I remembered that he’d given so much trouble in that first Math class, and then put my hands at my sides. I know – petty.

The coach gave away two MP3 players. Students were supposed to find out if they won by checking for an American flag sticker that was hidden under two seats. Nobody could find them. Luckily, the students had raffle tickets for other prizes, so the coach used those instead.

As a sub, this was the fourth time I attended an event in this auditorium. The first was when the illustrator, E.B. Lewis spoke to the fourth and fifth-graders. The second was an unsuccessful anti-bullying show. I say “unsuccessful” because on the way out of the auditorium, middle school boys shoved one another and someone got tripped. The third was the music concert I wrote about in December.**. And the fourth, was this rally.

I don’t know these students. Sure, some I know by name at this point, and I recognize everyone in the middle school and quite a few in the elementary school. I sub at the school more often than other schools. But this isn’t my school. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not a teacher there. So, watching these performances and rallies, which are designed to create a community, remind me that I’m not a part of that community.

Math mayhem:



  1. I used to wear teen spirit! lol

    Anyways, I know what's it's like to feel like you're not really a part of the community. My husband subbed as an organist in a lot of churches and always brought me along. I hated it because I never knew anyone there. Now he doesn't bring me any more!

    I think you are more a part of the school community than you think. :) Especially if you keep coming back to certain schools and the kids remember you.

  2. Hi

    I only ever know of pep rallies watching American teen films - e.g. Grease!! It's a very strange type of thing to do - a kind of tribal bonding with cheerleaders and songs!

    I hope you feel a little bit part of this particular community - if only because you do know some of the kids and have taught there before! Although there is something aesthetic about watching from the outside too - you tend to see things objectively - always a good thing for a writerly mind!


    Take care

  3. Aubrie, it's true that the students and teachers recognize me. Hopefully that will translate into a job.

    I can relate to the organ story because I used to tag along with my husband to his science functions, which felt weird until I started knowing people.

    Old Kitty, I never attended a pep rally until I moved to Cambridge. Here, it's all about the Red Sox (and then the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins).

    You're right about it being good for my writerly mind. I like that term!

  4. Hi Theresa, That was an education, Can you tell me when the next one is one, I like the sound of cash being thrown to the audience !!
    In a strange way, your piece today reminded me of my 'swimming' piece from the weekend.
    Do we sub-consciously do it ? Does it suit our observant nature, maybe so. Like Old Kitty, our American schools info comes from Grease and Flashdance movies.

  5. Another exciting day in the educations circles. Still if you recognize the students, you are more than on the fringes of this community.

    Hope you had a lovely weekend.

  6. In the teaching world, I do believe that we always find our niche. Whether it will at a particular school or grade level, that is where we find community. Of all the schools, I sub in, I have found that the school that I used to teach at is and always will be my community!

  7. I'm so with you. I haven't had to attend any pep rallies as a sub, but I've gone to assemblies where the kids give a preview of a school play, or a band or choir concert, and it was always at a school that I didn't know the kids. I felt really out of place.

    Hope you have a good day of work this week!

  8. I understand how you feel. It's kind of like attending a church every so often and not being invited the Wednesday night dinners (or if you do go, it's very awkward!). It's just weird.

    I am really hoping something opens up for you soon.

  9. Sounds like an interesting school! I can imagine how, if you don't know these kids, it would be rather awkward. :(

  10. don't worry Theresa -- you're a part of the writing community, and that's all that really matters, isn't it? :D hehe

    we LOVE you.

    i'll wear face paint for you anytime.


  11. Brigid, I think it was a handful of dollar bills - Probably ten in all. Unfortunately, I missed out.

    I loved your swimming post.

    And yes, life here is just like Flashdance and Grease. It used to be like Dynasty, but now we're in a recession.

    Choices, two or three schools are kind of like my regulars. It's nice not to walk in as a complete stranger.

    Ann, I don't feel like a stranger, but I'm still called SUBSTITUTE, so it's not like they really know me either.

  12. Shelley, hope you have a good week too. Today was gym, which was fine.

    Thanks, Tiffany. I hope you're enjoying your spring break.

    Talli, they do a lot at the school. It's nice there, so I'd love an opportunity to get a job, even with some challenging students.

  13. Tahereh, you make me laugh whether I'm at your blog or you're at mine. You're right - I AM part of the writing community.

    You can wear face paint when I figure out my number. I may have to pick Walt Clyde Frazier's #10 from the New York Knicks.

  14. Theresa,

    That doesn't sound like much fun except for the money tossing! Are you wanting to move from subbing to full time employment as a teacher? The blogging world would be dimmer without the light of your descriptive humor!

  15. Theresa, I am part of my school community. My kids love me and I get along well with my peers. I do club and class advisor stuff and I still hate pep rallys, homecoming and winterfest court assmblies because they are lame.

    And it's nothing but a zoo getting into and out of the gym. All for a half hour which has made the kids crazy all day with the thought of missing half a class.

    I had to go to a basketball game a few weeks ago when a student of mine wanted to recognize me as his favorite teacher, and I showed just before half-time and left right after.

    I know that's terrible, but I couldn't handle any more time at school. So you're a better person than me. :) And hopefully you'll be rewarded with a job.

  16. This brought me right back to being a student. I never loved the pep rallies. I hated the scramble to find your friends, god forbid you sit alone or with someone who wasn't your best friend.

    And the noise. Yeah, I'm with your daughter. They are vewy woud.

    I don't know why I never just hid in the bathroom with a book. I can't believe I thought I was being "good" by going to those things.

  17. Beth, I'm sure I could find something to complain about as a full-time teacher. It may be a small price to pay!

    Sarahjayne, I don't blame you. There are teachers that do that all of the time, but I don't know if that will be me. My poor daughter- I rarely go to her soccer games - my husband takes her.

    Lora, I never went to games in high school. Okay, maybe once. We didn't have pep rallies in my school, which I'm very happy about!

  18. It's weird being the outsider, huh? This was a great post. I love reading about your (mis)adventures as a substitute.

  19. I appreciate the opening quotation about community especially "when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.” Hopefully this quote will include you in a future appointment.

  20. Theresa,

    I bet you make a great impression on these kids to the point that they remember you. You certainly do more for them than some of their teachers no doubt if their lesson plans are any indication. I honestly think you ought to make appointments, go see the principals that you subbed for, point out how very flexible and versatile you are and tell them they ought to hire you!

  21. B. Miller, thanks for visiting. I like how you put it - (mis)adventures.

    Paul C, I like the quotes and hope it does too.

    VKT, I've been thinking about what you suggested. Right now, I've been vocal when I can that I'm looking for a job. Unfortunately, all of the middle school history teachers are young, so unless they are females who go out on maternity leave...

    I e-mailed a sub blog to find out if there's a right way to go about giving my resume.

  22. My kids know the subs that sub regularly for their classes - they speak about them like they'd speak of their regular classroom teachers. I agree with Aubrie in that you're probably more a part of the community than you think.

    What a wild, elaborate pep rally! I hated pep rallies in high school as I was never part of any sports team (except track, and we didn't get pep rallies) nor did I care about any of our school sports. Yet one more aspect of high school I'm so glad I'm done with!

  23. Susan, it's nice that your kids speak of sub like classroom teachers. My group (not me) tortured subs. And when we were in high school, if the teacher was absent we had a period off.

    At the school I used to work at, the Patriots and Red Sox pep rallies had skits, songs, and dances.

  24. This is my first time commenting. I love your description of the students! I've never taught that age group before; I've only ever taught high school students and college students. But the line that I identified with the most about this entry was about how you felt like you weren't "a part of that community". I've never been a sub, but I've worked as an adjunct for several years. Even though adjuncts may get to teach at the same school for several years, we still often feel like outsiders because there's no guarantee that we'll get asked back the following semester, or at all; not to mention we don't get invited to most department events. So it's good to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

  25. Neurotic Workaholic, thanks for commenting. I've always thought it was lousy to be an adjunct. The pay is less and there isn't the same job security. Recently, I heard that colleges are relying on more adjuncts than ever. So unfair.

  26. Two things:

    1 - Wait until you see the kids in the real world. When they either get excited to see you or run away in terror then you know you're in the school community.

    2 - Jordan's number for the Bulls was 23. Except for when he came back from retirement the first time and wore 45 and one time when his uniform was messed up and wore 12 for a game.

  27. Chris, thanks for commenting..

    I think it was 23 and I just spaced out since I wrote the post after it happened and didn't take notes. Should've double-checked my facts. Maybe that was Ewing on the Knicks. Again, I'm not fact-checking.

    When I've seen former students, I've gotten hugs, even from some tall guys who used to be in my fifth-grade classes. I can't avoid all these students since I live in the same city.