Last night I had a dream that I got a call from the automated substitute calling machine thingy and the job was for a Saturday, I assume to supervise detention. In the dream, I was sitting on the couch with my husband and I leaned over and whispered to ask him if we had plans that day and he said yes. So I declined the job as it told me that it paid “around $2,100.” I told B that and he said that the plans were something stupid that I don’t even remember like we were going to eat dinner or a game was on that night. It was actually a nightmare 😫😭
This may come as a surprise to some, but even though I look different from you, it does not actually mean that I am Chinese.
“What does this have to do with substitute teaching,” you ask. I would ask myself the same question only a few years ago. But first, let me start this story with a little background. A study done by Penn State in 2012 concluded the following about the area where I live.
PARKERSBURG – A new study completed by Penn State University professors has determined the Mid-Ohio Valley is among the least ethnic diverse areas in the country.
The Parkersburg-Vienna-Marietta area is 96 percent white, according to the study, and is the second least diverse area in the country. The Mid-Ohio Valley was topped only by Laredo, Texas, which is almost 96 percent Hispanic. (full articlehere)
The fact that it took a study to tell me this is a little humorous, because it just takes a day in the town to be in the middle of this reality. I don’t have exact numbers on the breakdown of my particular “city,” but in the state of West Virginia where I live, I am a proud part of a whopping .8% Asian minority (from Census Bureau quick facts). I have lived in this town since 1990 when I was 5 except for my 4 years in Boston for college. I was born in the U.S. but my parents were not. Being culturally “different” from the VAST majority is not new to me. I don’t feel disadvantaged, I don’t feel different in a bad way, and I am fortunate enough to have never worried for my safety because of my outward appearance. Racial prejudice is around just as it is everywhere, but I’ve fortunately never encountered it in a violent way nor have I heard about that in the area. I’m lucky to be able to proudly embrace my ancestry and nationalities.
OK back to subbing.
I was working in Ohio at the time, but it’s only about 10 miles from where I live. I overheard some boys in the class talking about me being Chinese (note: I am not). A girl told them to “stop being racist” and one of the boys said, “I’m not being racist.” He proceeded to make his eyes slanty by pulling on the corners. I was so absolutely shocked that I didn’t do anything about it. Before I started subbing, I never thought I would need an action plan for encountering this kind of behavior in a 7th grade class. I didn’t think about getting personally hurt in that way. I made a note to the teacher and I can only wonder if the issue was ever addressed
Only a few days later, I returned to the same school and as the kids were changing classes, I heard some of the kids yell, “Our teacher is a Chinese! We have a Chinese!” This was 5th grade.
All of this happened 3 years ago, when I was very new to subbing, new to taking any education classes, and new to working with students. I have always been very introverted and passive. I hadn’t developed the thick skin needed for dealing with brash children with no filters. I would absolutely say something if this happens again. I wouldn’t care to drop everything, forgo all plans, and give an impromptu, one hour lesson on diversity and sensitivity. If I didn’t do it, who knows if they would ever be corrected and who knows what the results would be if some of these kids went on fostering an idea like a group of people being funny or ugly or lesser for the simple fact that they look different. They may end up being like the elderly folks who rudely stare at my husband and I when we go to Bob Evans for dinner. They may end up being like the teacher’s husband who asked if I was related to the Asian exchange student. They may choose to ignore someone who needed their help or maybe would have otherwise made a great friend. Or it could even end up worse.
Here is a little bit of the lesson for those of you who might need it: It’s totally ok to be curious about someone’s nationality! Just don’t be an insensitive asshole.
It was one of my earliest adventures in substituting. I was used to lording over kindergarteners but suddenly I was a tiny, inexperienced woman in a sea of 8th grade super-giants who towered over me. Luckily, they all had to sit on the floor.
Successes: Not many. At this point, I was still learning through trial and error. I still do that and I will my whole life, but the problem is that I hadn’t been through any trials yet. The teacher left 4 or 5 bags of jolly ranchers to be given out as prizes for bingo winners, which is great because sugar. I called out the numbers and once in a while, I would ask if a student knew what the symbol or note was in the picture (a half rest, a whole note, a “C,” etc.), and that student got a piece of candy. I thought it was a good reward system that I thought of myself, which is ridiculous now that I think of it, because having to name the symbols and define the terms should have been part of the game in the first place.
Failures:I had trouble controlling the loud, over-active boys. They started throwing the bingo chips, which was the #1 no-no and I should have shut down the game right at that moment, but I gave it a glare and kept going until someone got a bingo. Then I shut it down. However, since we were playing on the floor of the music room with no pencils in sight—and I knew I would never get a straight answer if I simply asked them if they had any pencils—my threat of forcing them to do a word search failed. I walked around and asked if anyone knew how to beat box (no one.) until I finally came up with playing Name That Tune. The boys enjoyed it! Especially the ones that I would think were “too cool for school.” I only wish I had more titles ready for them because no one could think of any on the spot.
The next class was worse—much worse. I can only be thankful that they only had 5 minutes left before I shut them down, but it was a brutal 5 minutes. It quickly became chaos as I realized I had not given any instructions before disbanding the game. Whoops.
P.S. I also got asked for my number by a giant of an 8th grader who looked like an acne-riddled version of Fulton from the Mighty Ducks. Fantastic. I said no btw.
What I learned: BE PREPARED to expect the unexpected. Grow some balls and also have a contingency plan. The principal (I assume) walked in on my last class—all girls and they were behaving wonderfully. I quickly learned that this can happen at any time and I can only hope he didn’t walk through one of my earlier classes because I would have had no idea.
What I can try next time: Have some emergency plans- writing prompts, more organized games, formatted discussions, team oriented activities, a talent show even.
Grow said balls. Point out the detention pad first thing. Issue one to the first kid who truly deserves one. Praise good behavior.
Come with 30 sharpened pencils every time to every class. No classroom has enough sharpened pencils and damn do those kids love to get up and sharpen them some pencils.
Looking back, I think I could have done a fine job if I was given this assignment today (3 years later). I’m glad I’ve stuck with it because being tossed into a battlefield of drooling giants is sometimes the best way to learn.
Sure, I am a loving mother and I work in education, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am really not a big fan of kids. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. I have a love of learning, teaching, students, and having intelligent and thought-provoking discussions so it all makes sense to me.
I’m not a crazy person trying to compare my belabored work day with an Army ranger out in the field. I’m also not one of those moms who wonders why I don’t make 6 figures because I’m a “chauffer,” a “maid,” a “teacher,” a “chef,” and a “momgineer!” Heck, I fully understand that the job of a sub is not nearly as difficult as any full time teacher. But it does come with its own set of stresses and believe it or not, is often more unappreciated than even our regular classroom teachers.
Just like any job you’ve never done, you can easily call it simple. But it can be very daunting. Imagine your income depending on waking up to a phone call at 7:00am (if it even comes at all), having to be there at 7:45, knowing only a general location and maybe what type of class it is. Once you arrive, you have maybe 15-30 minutes (depending on circumstances) to either decipher 6 pages of scrawled out notes for 8 class periods or figure out how to stretch a one-sentence instruction into a 7 hour day. Depending on your placement, you could supervise more than 150 students in one day. Imagine the possibilities of personalities that are bound to show up throughout the day.
A best case scenario is to become a regular fixture at one school or better yet a long term sub for one specific classroom, but this is an elusive luxury. When you’re trying to make a living, beggars can’t be choosers. I’ve been a substitute teacher at at least 8 different schools for kindergarten through 12th grade, phys ed, music, Spanish, art, English, math, religion, health, special education classes, and one of the worst jobs ever-the roving sub, going to a different classroom every single period and covering a different teacher and class 8 times in one day (future post to come). I’ve also made fantastic connections, met some amazing students, and have learned tons about the industry from the inside. It’s like a paid internship and I’m not the snot nosed kid, I’m the boss! Ok not really, but…
This is what I do:
supervise and manage a room full of kids, preteens, or teens (I dare you to tell me that I don’t deserve some sort of respect for that) follow a lesson plan teach and instruct discipline, if necessary reward, if earned lead to safety, if I must engage and connect with the students keep the peace keep students on task improvise constantly make important decisions quickly take on general responsibility for someone’s most prized and priceless possession (30-200 of the little buggers per day) a hella lot of other stuff and if I make a mistake, the consequences can be huge
This is not what I do:
watch movies all day (OK GAWD once in a while I do but it’s not my choice and they’re usually about the reconstruction era!!) put my feet up and put sunglasses on nap chain the doors and scream at the children play on my phone while the spit balls fly wipe any noses or butts
I can’t speak for ANYONE ELSE who is out there subbing. Word on the street is, they’re not all as awesome as I am. All I’m saying is, I’m not a damn baby sitter.
One year ago, I was completing my student teaching and earning my masters degree in education (rockin’ a BFA in fine arts) while working as a part time substitute teacher, part time retail employee, part time craft seller, full time wife and mother of two. You go girl! Today, I am 30 years old, I coach cheerleading at a ridiculously small Catholic school and I am certified to teach English in 5th-12th grade, but I haven’t found a full time teaching job just yet. I pick up sub jobs when they come my way and I feel a little bit like a piece of plastic being tossed about in a choppy sea, just like Katy Perry said I would. I’m still married to B and we are still raising two little girls, Lulu in 2nd grade and Gigi in Kindergarten, and loving our cats Freddie Mercury and Mr. Meowgi. So in other words, living the dream.
Believe it or not, every teacher you’ve ever had also had a life (whaaaaaaaattttt??!!). In addition to mom, wife, and employee, I live for art, design, literature, and down and dirty rock and roll. I’m tattooed, pierced, Asian, fashionable, Christian, bit of a foodie, slight theater geek, kind of a hippie, etc. etc. I could go on, but I think I’ll reveal more about myself along the way.
Hello and welcome to my blog, y’all. My focus here is going to be about my work in education, but I’d like to consider this more than an education blog. I consider myself unique (yeah I know, like everyone else) and generally entertaining so I want to offer a unique and generally entertaining perspective to the standard teacher’s blog. They’re an amazing resource, but I personally don’t have a ton of tips and pinteresty ideas. However, I do have plenty of stories from the field that may offer a little insight into the grimy underbelly of the world of substitute teaching and maintaining an enjoyable life well.