“And I thought what I felt was simple
And I thought that I don't belong
And now that I am leaving
Now I know that I did something wrong 'cause I missed you
Yeah yeah, I missed you”
- Song, “Stay” Lisa Loeb
A couple of days before break, they held a holiday lunch for the teachers. The woman I’m subbing for visited with her baby. I was tempted to ask her when she was returning, if she was returning, at least for this year, next year.
But I didn’t ask.
Some of the students must've seen her because they asked me questions after lunch. While I was in the middle of explaining the Byzantine Empire, one 8th-grade girl said, “It will be weird if Ms. (Redacted) returns. We’re used to you.” A few others murmured in agreement.
I replied with my standard, “She’s supposed to come back the end of February or beginning of March. Sometimes people who go out on maternity leave decide to stay out the rest of the year. As soon as I know, you’ll know. I’m sure I won’t have any more information before February.”
Even though this speech has been given several times over the last couple of months, there are always a few who exclaim, “She may not come back?” Though I’ve noticed this chorus has died down.
In my 7th-grade class, the students were working on packets about the Islamic Empire while I visited each table. When I reached one group of girls, one said, “I don’t want Ms. (Redacted) to come back. I want you to stay here.”
I once again gave my standard speech.
The girls all protested. “No, we like you. You’re nice.”
“I’m too nice. I’m a pushover.”
“No, no. We like doing work for you.”
I smirked and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. The truth is the other teacher is harsher, but she probably has quieter students. But I believe my classes have become interesting with students responsible for much of their learning under my direction. It took me some time to leave her routine of textbook read alouds because it was easier, but I’m glad I’ve been putting in the extra prep time to do more projects.
Last week, I had one 7th-grade class create their own countries. They are designing posters with a country name, government system economy/resources, ethnic/religious issues, and creating a map. Some have also designed flags. One group made up an anthem. Two groups have decided to start a war against one another. Another group has made a utopia. They’re really into it.
Two boys came up to me and said, “I really like this project,” and, “Thanks for letting us do this project.”
Yeah, that’s kinda cool.
When I first taught, I thought I’d be a tougher disciplinarian. But in truth, I don’t mind a little noise if they’re working. I do mind if they’re talking when I’m talking so that’s non-negotiable.
The last day of school before break, a student gave me a thank you/holiday card. In it he wrote, “You’re the best sub I’ve ever had. I like your relaxed teaching style.”
Last year, I was subbing an AP Biology class, and overheard several students discussing the absent teacher.
One boy said, “When she asked us to do that assignment, I made a joke, ‘I’m not going to do work today.’ She didn’t think it was funny. She looked so disappointed.”
“I hate when she’s disappointed,” a girl agreed.
That conversation stuck with me. To have a group respect and know their teacher cares so much they loathe to disappoint her… that’s better than teaching by fear or being a pushover.
I’m not there, but I’m working on it.
At the end of the holiday lunch day, I was about to leave the school. One 8th-grade girl waited for her mother by the door.
“I hope you stay.”
“If you don’t stay, what will you DO?”
Wipe the concern off your face. I won’t be panhandling. Probably.
“I’ll look for another long-term sub job for the spring. If I don’t get one, I’ll be a daily sub again.”
“Why don’t you just get a full-time job?”
Why didn’t I think of that?
“I’m trying, honey. The economy isn’t great, so there aren’t that many jobs.”
“Oh.” She hesitated. “The days you don’t work, what do you DO?”
What does she think? I eat cookies and watch Oprah? As if.
“I clean my house and do laundry. I like cooking, so I cook nicer meals. And I’m a writer, so I spend a lot of time writing.”
She looked relieved. “Oh.”
It’s nice to feel wanted. But this age it’s all about predictability. I’ve become their new routine. If/when the other teacher returns, they’ll readjust in no time, I’m sure. And having this experience on my resume should help me with a full-time job in the future.
When I first got the job, I was overwhelmed. For the first month I felt like a person in one of those 12-step programs. If I thought past, “One day at a time,” I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
And then it got easier.
Now I’ll admit, I like teaching. Even though it’s not American History and I’ve had to master the material and they’re in the awkward ages of 12-15 and one class is uber-challenging…
They’ve grown on me.
That day with all the compliments, I realized I’m going to miss them. Before I was living from field trip to field trip, weekend to weekend, break to break. The next break in five weeks may be near the end of my job.
I miss my free time. I miss my cooking time. I miss time with my kids. I miss time with my husband. I miss writing time.
But when it’s time to leave these students, my heart will break a little.
I’ll have to channel this woe into writing...