No one ever graduates from education with the dream of being a substitute teacher. Wandering through schools and classes, teaching everything, establishing meaningful relationships with few students and being woken up early with a surprise junior high placement.
However, this year I have taken a new approach to subbing and found the experience quite delightful… but at the end of the day, I am still a sub. I have created my own meaningful exchanges with children and have been quite happy with the results. But I wanted to share some of my stories.
Often when people hear that I am subbing they comment, “Oh, that’s a pretty good job.”
I look them squarely in the eyes and say, “Honestly, what were you like for the sub?” Even the best pupil can be contaminated by peer pressure to torture the sub. I, myself, who was considered a good student had my moments of switching names or desks, skipping classes and taking advantage of classroom expectations. I often utter the threat half heartily to classes, “Be careful… Karma always comes back to you. ”
I have found being proactive is effective. If I can meet the students as they come in and introduce myself I can usually catch them off guard and discover their real names. However, with the rotation of students and classrooms, especially in the older grades this is not always possible. I get the occasional smart-aleck, inappropriate name but I try never to react because sometimes they are telling the truth!
There are the blatantly rude students, for example, with twenty minutes left in the class the students asked if they could leave. I told them to take a seat and wait, they just walked out of my class! These are rarer than the norm. But you do feel helpless as they walk out of class and you don’t know their names to call them back. It also makes it awkward for the students who stayed. You can see the panic in their eyes as they know you are going to ask them the names of their peers.
There was an adorable grade one boy who was enjoying the extra attention as I helped him with his work. I was complimenting his wonderful efforts and he kept finding reasons to have me return. (Six-year-olds are not subtle with their emotions. ) Something happened at the table where he worked, I diffused the problem by saying, “We are all unique. We each have talents and traits that make us special.” I continued, “I have a cracky tongue.” Then I showed him my tongue. I stuck it out of my mouth, and then I pushed down on my tongue with my teeth exposing the fissures. It was quite a reveal!
Instead of being impressed, my new found friend was repulsed. He looked at me with wide eyes and confessed, “My mom and dad said I am not supposed to speak to strangers.” He immediately turned to his work with new intensity. I tried to plead my case. I assured him that you can’t be a substitute teacher without being a safe person. But he was having none of it. As I left his side somewhere between dumbfounded and completely amused, I thought, “This is too adorable to even feel rejected.”
Between the good, the bad, and the ugly moments of subbing… there are moments that I truly cherish. The beautiful hand-drawn notes of love and encouragement, the smile on the students faces when you paid them a compliment, a moment when you felt like the class performed really well on a task, these make my job meaningful. However, I need to tell you about the beautiful moment that happened yesterday. I arrived at my job and as I sat down at the teacher’s desk and looked over her classroom I noticed a present on her desk. Then something wonderful happened. I noticed the package was addressed to me! It read, “To the lovely sub Danielle”
I can’t describe the emotion of seeing that package. At a time when I felt the rejection of being passed up for six teaching jobs this year, it was as if God was telling me, “You are right where I want you to be. Keep going. You make a difference. I will magnify your offerings and you do bless my children.”
So I ask again, how did you treat your sub?