Four Days in the Life of a Substitute Teacher

This week I spent four days with a group of eighth graders in an urban school, substitute teaching for various members of their teaching team.  The first two days I stood in for the social studies teacher.  Then I stood in for a math teacher.  Finally, I played reading teacher.  To say the experience was grueling is an understatement.  To say it was extremely satisfying is also an understatement.

Over the past four days, I experienced the following.

  • I heard the “f” word more times each day than one would when watching a comedy routine or an R-rated movie.  I heard other choice words as well, but that word was most popular with the students.
  • I was challenged by two 13-year-old males.  They stood inches from me and stared me down, daring me to touch them so they could hit me.  They did this because I would not let them into the classroom before the rest of the students arrived and they did not like that I blocked the door.
  • I watched students chase each other around the room for two seconds before I jumped between them and managed to get them to sit down.  Yes, I know I was not considering my safety.
  • A student ran into the room after lunch, then ran on top of the desks from one side of the room to the other.
  • After repeatedly telling students to leave the locker room attached to the classroom, I had to leave this enclosed place to calm down the students in the classroom who were getting out of control.  Before I could get to the phone to call a teacher for help, a student who was fooling around in the locker area put his elbow through a pane of glass in the door.  I called down the hallway to an assistant principal who came running.  Security and administrators flooded the room.  When things were cleaned up and certain students removed, I sat at the teacher’s desk and held back tears.  The students left in the room were so quiet it was as if I were alone.  After what had been a good day, I now had an injured child and a broken window nagging at my conscience.  When the students left to go home, I finally allowed myself to cry.  (Everyone I talked with about it, including the permanent teacher who had been in meetings all day, said that the incident was not surprising.  No one in administration blamed me for what happened and welcomed me back the next day with a smile.)

By now, you may be assuming I will never want to go to that school again.  However, that is not how I feel.  This week, I will be going to an elementary, middle, and high school in other districts, but I really want to go back to that middle school.  Why?  Well, here is what else I experienced.

  • More than a few students told me I was the best substitute teacher they have ever had.
  • One student came into class and said to the others, “Listen up!  This teacher is mad nice!  You better be nice to her!”  Then, he went to his own class.
  • Some of the students remembered me from a month ago and still had the “I’m proud of me!” stickers I gave them on their notebooks.  They were excited to show them to me.
  • For every child that had a behavior issue, five kids were there to learn something and thought I made the learning fun.
  • More than a few students were grateful for my one-on-one help.
  • More than a few students earned pencils and stickers from me for good work habits and polite behavior.  Middle school kids love scratch and sniff stickers and cool pencils.
  • They liked the way I sang Dynamite by Taio Cruz.  I did that to get their attention and it worked.
  • After my first day there, some students greeted me with a smile.
  • Students asked if I liked working there and if I was coming back.
  • One student saw my tears after the door incident and, instead of leaving the school for home, went to find the teaching-team lead to help me.
  • When the student ran across the desks, another student left the room and raced down the hall to get a male teacher to help me.
  • Last, but not least, the staff was incredibly supportive, especially when I was having trouble.  Six kids landed in in-school suspension because of their behavior while I was teaching, which showed me that they read the detailed notes I left them and wanted to show the students that such behavior has consequences.  They treated me as a professional, shared their stories, and made me feel a part of the school.  I would work with that group any time.

I learned that if I maintain my positive attitude toward students and not judge a group based on bad experiences with some, I could find great joy in working almost anywhere.  Yes, the experience was exhausting.  What started as a cold this week is now bronchitis because I am so worn out.  I hope I get a chance to go back, though.  Those kids taught me so much about … everything.  I think I taught them a thing or two along the way as well.