Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Physical Dread

“A good plan is like a road map; it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.”

- H. Stanley Judd

As I dried off after showering, the dreaded phone rang. I guess I’d be having the oil changed and fixing the ding I put in the right-front quarter panel another day. Those chores could’ve been done on my no-call day yesterday, but I ironed, cleaned the bathroom, and wrote instead. The job was to teach Phys. Ed. AGAIN, but this time at a school I’ve only taught at once before. Where was the bathroom again?

Last spring, I could tell from the moment I spoke with the co-teacher that there was no love between him and the absent teacher. It’s the only time I’ve seen two gym teachers NOT work together. When I opened her supply room, I knew why. There was barely a bare spot on the ground or shelf, as it was littered with papers, gym equipment, and I don’t know what else. It took me a minute or two to locate the plan book. Besides instructing me to do warm-ups and the importance of taking attendance and leaving notes about students who failed to wear sneakers, there were NO PLANS. I was provided with pages of games I could play. This was before I was a seasoned gym sub, so I was apprehensive. Despite the mess and lack of direction, the day went well except for one group of eighth-grade boys who kept sneaking on the other side of the accordion wall.

This time, although I wasn’t looking forward to the day, I knew what to expect. When I reached the office, the principal introduced himself. I wanted to say, “Yes, I know your name. I’ve put it on all the cover letters when I submit resumes, but you’ve never called me in for an interview.” You’ll be glad to know I refrained, and instead, said with a smile, “Hi. Nice to meet you.”

The room was in the same condition and there were NO PLANS, but the co-teacher told me a little about the schedule. I'd have four regular classes, but other teachers would run ballroom dancing and the ungraded class, so I just had to provide support. This already sounded easier than last time. HA!

When I was an assistant, the ballroom dancing program began, so I knew what to expect and how to help. First period, the students filed in, but there was no ballroom dancing teacher. Nuts. I told them to get in their warm-up spots. “We don’t do warm-ups on ballroom dancing days,” a student explained. I wasn’t using the term TIME KILLER to a ten-year-old, so I said, “Since the teacher isn’t here, we’ll do warm-ups. If he’s still not here by the time we’re done, we’ll play a game.” After stretching and jogging, still no teacher. I agreed to let them play Capture the Flag. A couple of girls explained how the game worked. Just as the gym was set up the captains were almost done choosing teams, the teacher showed up fifteen-minutes late. Great.

Imagine telling a bunch of kids that instead of playing a fun game, they had to DANCE with members of the opposite sex. Imagining it? Well, considering that was the case, they actually got in their places (mostly) with some minor grumbling. Have you seen the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom”? When the students are in the early stages of the program, it doesn’t look like in the film. They’re awkward and mortified to be touching one another, so most girls pair up while most boys practice the steps on their own. I watched them shuffle through samba, swing, merengue, and tango. By the performance, they’ll be lovely and will bring tears to their parents’ and teachers’ eyes, but they’re not there yet. Not even close.

Seventh-graders came in batches, since they were rehearsing for a Michael Jackson tribute concert for Music class. They wanted to play mat ball, which is kick ball with mats. I asked one student to give me the ball while the captains chose teams; he said with a smirk, “Let a brother hold it. I’m from the hood.” I laughed and shook my head, so he handed it over. I know that a ball is too tempting for a student to leave idle. While some girls played, five sat out, although I encouraged them to join a few times. When girl-one told girl-two that the mat was tagged so she was out, girl-two replied, “Bitch, nuh-huh.” At that moment, girl-two got socked with the ball, so I didn’t bother reprimanding her.

During my break, I noticed that Miss Snark’s First Victim’s 250-word dialogue entries had started going up*. Mine had no comments, so I started commenting on other entries (I was obligated to do at least five). When I finished, I noticed I had one comment on my entry. I hit the comment button with apprehension. It said, “LOVE this! I was totally sucked into the story. Well done!” which made me feel writerly.

My next group was a bunch of kindergarteners, but I wasn’t able to locate my sunshine personality. They played freeze-tag and I did the usual refereeing when kids got too aggressive. After that, I had three autistic children. There were supposed to be five, but one was absent and another was with a different specialist. Good thing because with the Occupational Therapist, an assistant, and me, we had our hands full. One student kept trying to open all the doors. Another was aggressive with a hula-hoop, and got it taken away, which made him cry and howl. The third student kept hopping on the hopper and saying, “I won. You lost.”

Third and fourth-graders arrived for the last class. After enduring my millionth set of stretches and jumping jacks, the students agreed to play Capture the Flag. Did you read the capture the flag section of, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief? My game went way worse than Camp Half-Blood’s game with the monster. One boy was accused of hovering too close to the flag, so a few students started chasing him. I immediately went to intervene. As I did, a problem boy grabbed a large orange cone and raced after the boy as well. I got there in time to grab the cone, but the boy who was being chased fell on his face. Luckily, no blood. I gave the chaser a time out and then he apologized.

I was done with games, so I gave them balls, hula-hoops, and hoppers until their classroom teacher came to save me. They were fine during that, and I wished I had done that the whole time. With younger students, games often cause petty fights.

For those of you subbing or about to sub, I’m sorry if my previous PE stories gave you confidence that you too can teach gym. If you’ve put yourself down as a result of these humorous tales, only to read this one, it’s probably not too late to take yourselves off the list. As for me, I’m trying to muster some energy to cook dinner.

*Here are the dialogue entries (I'm #14 of the Talking Heads):


  1. I always admire teachers and think what they must go through. I know I couldn't handle it.

  2. Hi

    I'm exhausted just reading this.LOL! It's really annoying when you're subbing for someone who doesn't give you a plan! Thank goodness for that co-teacher. I don't know how you keep on top of it all - and I'm so in awe, really and truly. My PE teachers were never as nice as you, that's for darned sure!! Oh and I do like that one of your class were rehearsing for a Michael Jackson concert tribute. Wow.

    And a big YAY to your Ms Snark adventure!!! I'm sure you'll have lots more fab comments waiting for you once you find time to RELAX! Good grief what a day!

    Take care

  3. Niki, some days I can't handle it. My phone rang fifteen minutes ago, and my first thought was, "Not another job!" It wasn't... yet.

    Old Kitty, that co-teacher is great. He knows there will be nothing for the sub. It took him ten minutes to find the sub book (with no plans in it). It wound up being in another room. The the principal came in to give me the class lists, so I'd at least have their names.

    I got a second comment. If you want to check, I'm #14.

  4. Oh boy. I can so relate to the "change of plans" saga with the teacher coming in fifteen minutes late.

    Last year I subbed for elementary phys ed, and there were no plans left. Great. Well, I had subbed for this teacher twice before, and both times she requested that they play kickball. So, to be safe, I started setting up for kickball, when the secretary walked in and gave me a print-out of an email that listed a few games to choose from. At the bottom it said: "No Kickball." Of course. As you can imagine, the kids were disappointed.

    Ah, the craziness of subbing.

  5. Aw, just keep in mind your ration of good to bad days. I'm sure good wins out--don't let a hard day wear you out!

  6. Shelley, kickball/mat ball is universally loved. Gym teachers should never make that kind of rule!

    Last year, I subbed gym at my old school with my old class and a girl got injured during kickball. The nurse demanded "no kickball" because it was the second injury in a week (The first one wasn't on my watch). I was there for several other days and had to enforce the "no kickball" rule.

  7. Why doesn't that Principal tighten that ship and get every teacher to have not only lesson plans but BACK-UP lesson plans. There is no excuse for what you had to put up with.

    And another thing, with all of the experience you have had in classrooms, why hasn't he looked at your resume???? You want me to call him for you? kidding.....Theresa, please let me know if I can do anything to help you. You deserve your own classroom instead of having to deal with situations like this!

  8. Thank you for your vote of confidence, VKT. This teacher has been teaching for years, and has a reputation for not working very hard. I haven't been to too many schools in Cambridge that make teachers have prepared lessons for subs.

    Because there are few jobs, I'm just another resume in the pile. Since I was only in the school once before, I didn't have any name recognition or a reputation. There hasn't been a job there for many months. Or anywhere around here, for that matter.

  9. My kids love playing Capture the Flag, but I laugh when I hear them talk about dancing with members of the opposite sex - they hate it! Congratulations on your wonderful comment on Miss Snark's First Victim's entry - very cool!

  10. Susan, thanks for the comment. My son should start his PE ballroom dancing in March.

  11. Hi Theresa, lovely meeting you in cyber world, thanks for your lovely comments on my 'sort of witty' blog, I enjoyed your blog posts, will visit again, thanks for visiting me, and love the italian 'wolf' expression,

  12. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Brigid. As I commented on your post, I love those Irish sayings.

  13. Hey! If you feel comfortable shoot me your e-mail. I couldn't find it on your blog. I just wanted to say thanks for your words of encouragement today! I really needed them!

  14. When I read your blog, I'm always in awe of the many hats you have to wear as a sub. My good friend was subbing my daughter's class yesterday, so I helped out and totally admired how she can handle that hard class when I know she'd rather have the older kids (not these first graders). There's an autistic kid in her class too.

    And I hope you get that huge book deal soon, too, friend. I really do. (And if not, then your own classroom!)

  15. Thanks, Jackee. I hope that both of us make a decent living from our writing sometime soon.