Friday, December 11, 2009


“And I was a physical education major with a child psychology minor at Temple, which means if you ask me a question about a child’s behavior, I will advise you to tell the child to take a lap.”

- Bill Cosby

Yesterday evening, I had the longest conversation with the sub caller that I’d ever had. I had left her a message the previous day, asking her to speak with me about adding classes I’d be willing to teach at the high school. Like the last time I’d left a message with a question, she didn’t return my call. But when she phoned last night for a Physical Education (PE) job, I asked, “Did you get my message about adding subjects?” She had. So I asked, “Are you the right person to speak to?” She was. Then she asked what I wanted to add, but I was cooking dinner, so I didn’t have the list in front of me.

Suddenly she became friendly, rattling off the subjects I hadn’t signed up for and recommending certain ones. We agreed that teachers normally leave work anyway, so I don’t really have to know the subject. Besides, a couple of times they've called me for subjects I wasn't listed to teach, and those worked out fine. I’m hoping this will get me more work in the high school.

Now I’m listed for high school: French, Spanish, Latin, Chemistry, Math, Dance, and a few other subjects I’m not qualified to teach. I only said no to Technical Arts, English Language Learners, and Instrumental Music. I also put myself down for high school gym, since it’s worked out fine in the K-8 schools.

This morning, it felt funny to dress down for work, but that’s what I did. I put on yoga pants, sneakers and a dressy sweatshirt (Yes, dressy sweatshirt – not embellishments, but it’s a-line and has cute sleeves). When I left the house, the biting chill nipped at my bare calves and sifted through the tiny holes in my running shoes. From a previous post*, I’ve revealed that these sneakers have NEVER been used for running, so the breathing holes are a detriment.

If you ask most students what their favorite subject is, they’ll say, “Gym.” I would never have said that. To tell you how much I disliked PE, I met my husband in early morning gym in our senior year because, without taking it, we wouldn’t have been able to graduate. My husband was worse that me, having skipped it for all of high school, while I had to make up the entire quarter for missing one day too many. That said, teaching Physical Education is much easier than many other subjects, and when I meet subs who are intimidated by it I always encourage them to give it a whirl.

The PE teacher I worked with had a wonderful rapport with the students. He was so funny that I wound up laughing all day. He interacted with the children the same way I like to, but rarely get to do now since I don’t know them as well. When a student acted up, the teacher diffused the situation with humor rather than a harsh demeanor or yelling.

“Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200.” I’m sure they didn’t get the Monopoly reference, but it made me chuckle.

“I’m watching you,” he’d warn, moving his fingers forward and back from his eyes to the student, which they seemed to like because most would copy the move, but then they’d behave.

“I have all of your home numbers on speed dial. You’re fifty-three.” Each student he said that to (making up a different number) didn’t quite believe it, but didn’t want to push it… just in case.

No wonder that all the times I’d bring the Montessori students to the cafeteria, when he’d pass by they’d whisper his name, point, and then shout his name and wave their hands vigorously to get his attention like he was a rock star.

We began with fourth-graders who did the usual laps and stretches to blaring pop music (Ugh). After that, they tossed a ball around and played a ball game. It was the same routine with the next class, except the number of students was uneven, so I had to be a partner with someone for ball tossing and a team evener for the ball game. I was going to get my glasses so I could see better, but I knew that wouldn’t really help my lack of coordination.

Next came the three-year-olds, after their lunch but before their (attempted) nap. The younger the children are, the more difficult they are to deal with in PE. When I’d attempt to get a student to behave (stopping them from throwing jump ropes at one another or into the basketball net, for instance), they would try to run away, but after I’d catch up with them, they’d often fall to the ground in protest (Reminding me of Reggie Miller’s tactic of getting fouls called against the other team in basketball). As the gym teacher lifted one student to his feet, he asked, "What's wrong?" "I want a popsicle," the tike replied. In keeping up with the Montessori theme, using jump ropes was called, "work". Even though the period felt like f o r e v e r, it was only thirty-minutes.

As the next group of students ran around the gym for warm up, I had to encourage/nag them to keep moving.

A girl said, “You don’t know what we’re going through!”

“Of course I do. I had to take gym when I was a kid.”

“In first-grade?”

I didn’t know whether she couldn’t imagine I was ever a six-year-old or that she thought I was so old that she couldn’t fathom that either gym or running had been invented yet. She didn’t elaborate.

The last group of the day came in, eyeing me curiously as they made their way to sit in a circle in the center of the room. I stood near them, waiting for the PE teacher to begin the class.

One child asked, “Weren’t you just our Spanish teacher?”

“Yes, but today I’m your gym teacher,” I replied.

“How do you do that?” asked the gullible kid.

“I’m like Superwoman,” I said. I think the other teacher was rubbing off on me.

“Like Super Woman, but without a cape?” another child asked.

“Yes. If a teacher is in need, I come in and teach,” I explained.

I got a chorus of Wow and Superwoman. Put it that way, and my job doesn’t sound so terrible.



  1. Hi

    Oh excellent!! Super Teacher Woman Without the Cape!

    The teacher guy who does the moving of fingers from his eyes to the offending student reminds me of the Robert De Niro character in Meet the Parents!

    Take care

  2. I didn't think of that, Old Kitty! The gym teacher puts on the same tough guy attitude.

  3. "Look at the school!
    With a call! And a plan!
    It's Substituteteacherwoman!"
    "Like super woman, without a cape."
    -a 6yo student

    Sounds like it would make a fitting T shirt. : j

    Good teachers have always struck me as super beings...

  4. Alesa, if I go back to daily subbing, maybe I will turn this into a t-shirt. I could see the quote going on the back - where the cape would be.