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Substitute Teaching: Back To The Salty Mines

Substitute teaching is the bomb. Literally. I often feel like I might explode or implode. Maybe both at once. How would that work? I can’t say because my teacher was gone that day and we had a sub.

Recently, I reluctantly emerged from retirement and a nice, prolonged nap on the couch in order to go back to teaching. It took almost five months to get my California and Nevada licenses renewed. These are renewals. In other words, if I haven’t committed a capital offense in the interim, why does it take so long? By the time I started work, school was almost over for the year.

During that time, I got a bit in debt. Now I’m digging my way out of it, somewhat successfully, but keep getting hit with new surprises. Like the fact that property taxes doubled. Why? Because we bought a place that needed improvements and we improved it? And this is how you repay us? Nice.

Substitute teaching: Back to the Salty Mines on chezgigi.com

Substitute teaching is gratifying in one respect: the shortage of teachers being what it is, the schools love having substitutes. We used to be the lowest of the low. Wannabes, noses pressed up against the classroom windows, begging to be recognized as viable members of society. Now, we are greeted with tossed flowers and marching bands.

And at the age of almost 70, I was offered a full time teaching position. Which I promptly turned down. They wouldn’t give me a job in 2011, and now, when there is no way I’d want to put up with what it entails, they offer me one? I don’t think so.

As it stands now, I never have to talk to a parent, make a lesson plan, or go to meeting. I can leave at 3, toddle home, and take a nap on the couch. That is what I majored in, after all. I’m very good at it. I’m thinking of designing a Udemy course: Napping 101. Except every time I sit down to write the curriculum, I fall asleep.

Aside from all that, getting up at 6am is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a while. Being done at 3 compensates a bit, but not much.

The first few weeks of subbing were a cold dash of water in the face. I sincerely believed that the kids in a small town would be sweet and nice, so much nicer than the kids in the wicked city. Boy, was I wrong.

Unless my memory has gone kaflewy, they are worse than big city kids. I had some pretty bad days in Vegas when I was subbing, but eventually I had long term assignments, like my ESL class. The kids were new to the US and some barely spoke English. I loved that. They were the best kids ever, not having learned to be snots yet, and hence, were un-corrupted. It was great.

The middle school here is my metier. Elementary kids require too much supervision and the high school is on block schedule or something. That leaves sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. The Golden Mean. And I do mean, mean.

My first week I subbed for a teacher whose every class was out of control. One eighth grade girl who was routinely in trouble, came in late one day while everyone else was working. She sat down, pulled her desk closer to the person next to her, and started talking. I told her to change seats and to refrain from talking. I didn’t care whether she did the work or not. She ignored me completely, got out of her seat and went to talk to a group sitting on the floor, working. I told her again to quit talking and sit down and she, without even looking up–I can barely write this–held the palm of her hand up and out and facing me.

And kept talking.

If I didn’t know I’d end up in county jail for an undisclosed length of time AND lose my job, she might have ended up against the wall. But I am nothing if not restrained. I would hate lockup. The cots are uncomfortable and I probably couldn’t count on decent coffee.

Had I done anything remotely like that to a teacher when I was growing up, it would be the following Tuesday before I woke up again. I have to say, the girls “outweigh” the boys when it comes to trouble making and snottiness. Not sure why; maybe it’s an opposite sex thing. My mother always said boys were easier. She had two of each, so she knew a bit about the subject.

Administration is supportive and ready with a hall monitor when I need them, although one administrator has gone out on maternity leave. I shall miss her. She gave the classes essays to do when they messed up and I liked that. They were quiet, they wrote without a murmur, and they didn’t dare say anything.

I was exhausted at the end of each day, even on minimum days. It stymied me, because I wasn’t digging ditches, after all. All of it had to be mental. I confessed to a friend that I had very strong negative feelings towards the kids.

(We all know what I really said, so there’s no need to repeat it here.)

He gave me some excellent advice, which I will impart to you. He told me that I never had any authority, so I needed to let that go. This reminded me of that handy co-dependent advice, so I was right there with that tip. Letting go is a special skill I haven’t mastered yet, but that’s okay. I have the gist of it down.

He added that I cannot make a kid do what they refuse to do, so I should just do what I do, and they do what they do. I actually tell them when they ask me if they “have to do” something the teacher left for them, to wit, “I can’t make you eat, breathe, believe in God, or do your work. It’s totally up to you.”

He also told me that if I don’t engage with them, I can’t be angry with them. That my audience is composed of the ones who listen, and eventually, hopefully, the others will follow suit. As a substitute, I don’t even have to care if they learn anything.

After that, I began separating the satellites from their demi gods and goddesses, and ignoring the latter altogether. Each and every time I move one of them, they protest, as if changing seats is a worse punishment than writing essays on why they should be nice to substitutes. I really don’t care if they sit in their assigned seats, but they quickly lose any privilege afforded them by unmercifully abusing the privileges.

The kids actually take pride in making subs quit. If they can get them to cry first, it’s extra points.

How did the dreaded adults find this out? A group of kids were overheard plotting that very thing, and kids, like so many petty criminals before them, announce their plots, and tell us their conspiracies.

I told them to “bring it,” that they probably wouldn’t do much that I haven’t seen already. I added that contrary to their beloved opinion of themselves, they weren’t unique or different from every other kid in the lower 49.

Why they want subs to quit, I don’t know. Without subs, they’d either have to be crowded into another class, or they’d have another sub. Do they really think they’ll be sent out to play instead?

My take is that most kids are clueless and don’t learn well, anyway. After all, they don’t want a bad report from a sub, and they don’t want to have to write essays when they get into trouble, but they keep doing the very things that lead to those outcomes.

What else is that but the definition of insanity? Welcome to our future, people.


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13 thoughts on “Substitute Teaching: Back To The Salty Mines

  • March 26, 2023 at 4:56 pm

    Oh Lordy. Middle school is very interesting indeed. They’re trying to figure out what type of monster they want to be when they grow up.
    But you’ve got this covered. The little tarps are no match for you.
    But I do really feel for you, six AM is the middle of the night these days.

    • March 26, 2023 at 5:17 pm

      I love that! They’re trying to figure out what type of monster they want to be! That’s great. And yes, 6am IS the middle of the night. Particularly up here where it’s still dark, even after springing forward.

      If this was Vegas, I’d tell more stories, but being that there’s only one middle school makes it a little awkward if anyone should find my posts.

  • March 26, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    Keep notes. There may be another book in this!
    There’s a middle school three blocks from us. It’s amazing how the students range from little kids to almost adult looking.

    • March 27, 2023 at 2:08 am

      So funny you should mention that. There’s a couple in the school who are both eighth graders. They’ve been going together for a while. He has a full beard and she looks very womanly. They sit together quietly at the back, never loud, or obnoxious. They actually look like they could be the parents of some of the sixth graders! It is kind of strange. I could never imagine myself like that at the age of 14.

  • March 27, 2023 at 5:25 am

    Oh heck no. I was tall, but that wasn’t good. Otherwise, just the gal with glasses and a book. Boy friends? Not a chance.

  • March 27, 2023 at 1:29 pm

    LOVE IT!! Such a great presentation too. I once subbed 2nd grade in Houston, we were in a trailer on the playground. One little girl managed to slide through the jalousie window!

    • March 27, 2023 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you!
      She must have been tiny- that’s only about six inches wide, right? Shades of Oliver Twist!

  • March 27, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    Well Gigi, I had a year plus in Seattle in the 80s subbing and they were grades up to 5 – little horrors. What I heard from the teachers is that some of the worst classes were what they called “throwaways” – a bunch of kids from the previous year known to be trouble and all put in the same class (grade-wise, of course) with a brand new teacher! The teachers I subbed for were always out sick. Go figure. I was lucky enough to stay at one school for three or four month nearer my home with an ESL class of just a few SE Asian kids. They were smart, respectful, funny and a joy to teach.
    Thing is, I was paid by the hour and could never be sure (sometimes) where in the city or for how long the job so salary was unreliable. Plus I discovered it was less than a third of a beginning contracted teacher. I hope your pay has since then – especially since you are so much in demand now that so fewer want to be a teacher in the USA. Oh – they start calling a 5 in morning to see if you are available. Ugh. Now I am happy to sleep to noon if I wish and I do!!
    At least you were able to renew your licenses without having to take any “tests”. Just to get a license in Washington to sub (I was fully licensed in Oregon at the time having spent three years at Portland State University in my 40s for the license and a Reading Certificate or whatever they called it) I was given an absurd test to write about some arcane theories. Luckily I had taken a year of ITIP and some motivation courses (required) so I winged it with fancy language and b.s. (I had no idea of the theories the test was asking). I watched the examiner as he read my paper and he really looked puzzled but probably an administrator who had no idea of those theories either. I almost laughed.

    • March 28, 2023 at 5:03 am

      That is one way to be baptized by fire. Some people seem to be able to cope with it and even make a dent- judicial rewards, engaging studies, etc. As a sub, its much harder, of course, because you aren’t there every day unless it’s long term. In this school, I see the same kids sometimes twice a day, so if they are trouble, it’s hard to get away from them. The aides are wonderful.

      I don’t remember much of the exam. I think I had to take Nevada Constitution and a couple of other tests. It was the Praxis, I think. But there are few things more obscure than the language used in schools. One district wrote me a letter once telling me Brandon had been accepted into GATE, Gifted and Talented, and I could barely understand what they were telling me. And I’m not stupid. Sheesh.

      As for the substitute pay, it is very good in California, is decent in Nevada now, and is supposed to be the highest in Arizona, where we want to move next. So, if I hadn’t had such a late start, we would have been fine. No states I know of pay by the hour. It is paid by the day or half day. For instance, I am working two half days this week and will be paid well for just an hour and a half. I’d rather a full day’s pay, but since it isn’t available, this is acceptable.

      They text me by around 6 if teachers call in sick, but I usually check by 7. In Nevada, there’s a job board online, so you can bid on jobs the previous day. It’s a good system. This is too small a town for that. I’m going down to Reno to finish my application for Washoe and if I have an empty week, I can stay down there and work. Come home on the weekend. I was going to camp out in my car maybe, by a 24 hour gym with a pool! I could use the pool at night when it gets quiet and have access to the showers.

      So onward and upward. Eventually, I’ll get to the point where I only have to work two or three days a week to help us along. And if I want to take a week or two off, that will be fine, too. I really want to start traveling. Flying to Spain is on the radar!

  • April 21, 2023 at 12:43 am

    Love and Fear.
    My weapons of choice are blank terror and true empathy, it might not sound very progressive but it works like a charm.
    Which is what I call progressive 😉

    • April 21, 2023 at 1:05 am

      Can’t do much better than that! Thanks!

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