The (Usually) Unsinkable Sub
by Margy Ferguson
***nuzzle, nuzzle, nuzzle***
***nuzzle, nuzzle, lick, lick, lick***
***lick, rasp, lick, lick, rasp, rasp, rasp, SNEEZE! whuffle, snuffle***
"Aaarrrrrggghhhhh!!! Have a heart! Yuk."
***mumble, mumble, mumble*** "...wretched beast..."
***turning groggy self over to peer at clock*** "Ummmff..."
***thinking to groggy self*** "...If I get up NOW, I can have the bathroom first..."
I am sitting on the edge of the bed, absent-mindedly petting the cat (who needs an alarm anymore?). Cat jumps off bed, licks my bare toes, goes into bathroom, leaps up on sink, meows. I stagger in, turn on cold water faucet so she can have a drink (who is the trained seal here?), and grin evilly to myself---ha, ha! I beat Husband to the bathroom!
So begins another day as a substitute teacher. Over the past 6+ years, I have learned that if I can get my bod moving by 5:30, the day goes better, as the sub-caller ( a real person in our district) often calls as early as 6:00 A.M.
***RING, RING, RING*** I pick up phone; "Hi, Julie, howzzit goin"?"
"How'd you know it was me?"
"Julie, wake up--who else calls me this early? Whatcha got today??"
" Well, Mr. T. needs a sub all day today at R.; the principal is sick, so he is gonna be principal, and wants you to sub in his room. Are you available?"
"Oh, sure, I can do that, no sweat. Hey, you sound a little croaky--you gettin' a cold?"
"Yeah, my kids gave it to me." ***sniff, snuffle***
"Well, at least they're good at sharing. You take care, and thanks for calling."
By now I have showered and had breakfast. Just need to read the paper and fix a lunch and grab a few things, then I can get over to the school well before the kids show up in the classroom.
Lunch, lunch, how I do hate to pack a lunch! Maybe it's from all the years of doing it for my own kids. But, it's cheaper this way. Besides, this morning I have time to figure out a good one--maybe a salad and some crackers and a piece of fruit. There are mornings when I get called after school has already begun--sometimes a teacher will realize that they are at death's door and should really go home. Those are 'quick lunch' days--I grab a carton of yogurt, make a quick pb sandwich and go, as they need me ASAP.
Clothes are no longer an issue. I used to go 'dressed up' but it was pricey and my feet always hurt. Now I wear pants, shirt, fleece vest in the winter (how come school budgets never cover heat in the winter, or A.C. in the summer/fall??), socks and sneakers. I am not exactly a fashion plate, but I am clean, comfy, and washable. Where else can you wear Winnie-the-Pooh earrings and get compliments from your co-workers? The sneakers are very expensive, but are well worth it for the support they give. I have large feet and arches about the height of the one in St. Louis.
Okay, now to pack the ol' tote bag. I used to take everything but the kitchen sink, but over the years I have refined it, having learned that, if I dig deep enough, I can usually find paper clips, stapler, rubber bands, bandaids, kleenex, etc. in the classroom. Usually. So, now I grab my trusty set of math flash cards, a video (thank God for Marty Stauffer's "Wild America" series!), MadLibs, a couple of color pages/word finds (depending on the grade), and one or two music tapes. NorthSounds are great for calming the kids down...and sometimes me, too!
I pack 3-4 books to read to the kids in grades K-2, but with the 3's and 4's, I take a chapter book. Doesn't matter that I don't finish it, if they get hooked, they can always check it out of the library. For the 5th's and 6th's, I usually just continue in whatever book their teacher is reading. I love to read to kids and have been known to holler, at the end of a lesson, 'I CAN'T STAND IT ANY LONGER, I MUST READ TO YOU NOW!", which the little kids think is very funny, and the older kids think is very wierd. I'm okay with it either way.
If I can get to the classroom well ahead of the kids--45 min. or so--I have time to find the lesson plans (God willing there are some...), the attendance sheet, check to see if there are any specials that day (library, music, PE, computer lab), check to see if I have recess duty, run any copies I might need, say howdy-do to the other teachers, etc. Also, if there are no name-tags on the desks, I can make some quickly. I use 3 x 5 cards and the att. list for the names. Some people like seating charts but they drive me nuts. I'd much rather read a kid's name off their desk top than haul a piece of paper around with me all day and refer to it constantly.
If there are no lesson plans (lots of times there aren't), or if they are vague ('math, 10:00-10:30'), then I make up my own. I work in math, spelling, reading, and for the older kids, some geography and/or history. Math reviews always work. Sometimes I wander the room and think up story problems and have the kids write down the problem and then solve it. "Shelley got 15 cats for her birthday, but her Mom said she could keep only 12, how many cats does she need to give away?" That sort of thing. I often take a menu from a local pizza place to use for math with the older kids. Spelling is easy--if I can't find the list they are working on, I just use frequency words and we play Spelling Baseball. Of course, if the teacher has left plans, I use them and follow them to the best of my ability. So many times, though, the plans are written for the teacher, not a sub--took me 3 days once to figure out that "W.S." meant 'work sheet'. At first I was embarrassed to ask for help from the same-grade teacher, but not any more. One time there were plans, and they were complete, but they had been written on PURPLE paper in regular pencil!!! Had to hold them up to the light, and turn them this way and that to read them!! I never did figure that one out.....
Time out here to clarify something. No matter the class, no matter the grade, no matter who you are told is a 'trustworthy student', if a sub asks the class, "What page are you on in math?", that sub will get at least 4 different answers, including my all-time favorite: "We never do math on Wednesdays. Honest!" The trustworthy kids may well be that, but they also don't want to be Teacher's Pets or a Snitch, and so they won't tell, either. (Besides, it's much more fun to see if you can get the sub confused!)
So, we get through the day, and all is well. I try hard to be a 'real' teacher instead of a 'warm body' when I'm subbing. I'm a late bloomer, having graduated with my teaching degree at the age of 51, and I have chosen to be a career sub. I don't want the hassle of grades, snotty parents, meetings, committees, workshops to re-invent the wheel, etc., I want to TEACH, and as a sub, I can do that. All day.
At the end of the day, I try to leave a little time for "Kooshing". I toss a koosh ball to a child and give them a compliment---"Thanks for getting the lights during the video", etc. The child then tosses me the koosh and tries to think of a thank-you for me. I do this with the entire class. It forces me to keep thinking positively, even about the ornery kids. And I like the kids to leave feeling good about themselves.
Continued in next month's Gazette